Sunday, November 8, 2020

Game 387: Defender of Boston: The Rock Island Mystery (1992)

This is not a confidence-inspiring title screen.
          
Defender of Boston: The Rock Island Mystery
United States
Independently developed and published as shareware
Released in 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 26 October 2020
         
Defender of Boston is set in 1921. The player is an agent for the Faunus Foundation, protecting the world from "the terrors that lurk beyond space and time." An associate of the foundation, Fred Black, has disappeared from a small island off the coast of Boston, where he was studying a "dangerous artifact." (There is a real Rock Island southeast of Boston, in Quincy, but despite its name, it's a peninsula.) The Lovecraftian setting and allusions are intentional.
         
The in-game backstory.
      
Character creation involves allocating a pool of points to 21 different attributes and skills, including "Strength," "Shooting," "First Aid," "Fast Talk," "Ti-Chi" [sic], and "Listen." Different skills require different points to add a level in that skill, from 45 for "Ninjutsu" to 2 for "Listen." The player selects a portrait from 11 options, all badly degraded from television and film stills. The "name" field will not accept capital letters.
 
Portrait options. I get Sylvester Stallone, Cybill Shepherd, and MacGyver in the top row and Charles Bronson and Columbo on the bottom. The rest is a mystery. Maybe Kim Basinger in the third row?
       
The game begins in the house that the Faunus Foundation has rented for you on Rock Island. The tiny window makes poor use of screen real estate. Icons on the left correspond to searching, fighting with a melee weapon, shooting, fighting with hands and feet, inventory, various object-oriented actions, and talking. A clock tells the current time, minutes passing at about a rate of one every 15 seconds. All actions are driven by the mouse; the only keyboard commands that seem to work are F)ight and T)hrow, plus the arrow keys for moving between rooms.
        
Character creation. I'm going to wish I put some points into "ninjutsu."
       
The character comes with some letters that flesh out the back story. The first is written to the character from Gina Faunus from the Faunus Foundation. It says that not only has Fred Black disappeared, his house was burned to the ground and his wife was found shot to death in the back yard. That feels like information that should have been included in the backstory. The other four letters were written by Fred Black to the Faunus foundation. They describe an artifact that Black found, about which he grew increasingly paranoid. It's hard to know whether to take his frequently-ALL CAPS writings at face value, but he says that the THING emits a "hyper field" which "burns the minds of men as well as animals." The artifact seems to have arrived as a meteor, which spooked some other organizations, as strange men in suits were swarming all around the crash area that night. Black managed to find and retrieve the artifact anyway. Later, however, it went missing. Black claims to know exactly what the THING is, although he won't write it; he says that it has the potentiality to destroy life on Earth.
        
The action begins.
       
The fourth letter asks the reader to disregard the previous letters. The THING, he says, has been found--it just rolled under his nightstand. He discovered a tag on it claiming it was the property of a Dr. Novac, to whom he returned it. It's not dangerous after all, just an Indian artifact. Everything is fine here. The implication is that this fourth letter was written by someone else, who wanted to avoid a Faunus investigation.
        
One of Fred Black's letters. It's hard to tell whether the spelling errors are diegetic.
       
The rented house has a few rooms with a few items, like hip boots, an extra shirt and pair of pants, and a blanket. There are a couple of dark rooms that I can't explore until I find a light source. Clothing and a backpack are otherwise the only two items that I start with.
   
So far, I've described a game with a potentially-interesting plot but an amateur interface. Everything goes to hell the moment you leave the house, however, and suddenly enter an interface that makes no sense. A small map appears in the upper-left corner. The main view screen changes to some kind of weird radar on which you can see other entities approaching you (I am almost immediately swarmed by dogs, though they seem non-hostile). To move, you use the arrow keys to turn your facing direction, as reflected in the compass, and then use forward and reverse keys to move in those directions. Once you start moving, it's hard to stop, as if you were flying through space rather than just walking through a field. You actually have to hit the "reverse" key to slow and stop your forward movement, but you don't want to hit it too many times because then you're actually walking in reverse. It's a system that would make a lot more sense for vehicle travel than foot travel.
       
Coming upon a neighbor's house.
      
Some experimentation suggests that the "V" key helps you lock on to people and other targets, as does clicking on them. Meanwhile, using the "Search" button at random places in the wild gets you plants, like berries, an ear of corn, and a sprig of poison ivy.
    
It's easy to get moving so fast that you get lost, so I very slowly creep down the driveway to the road, then across to another house. The game identifies it as the "Vela house." I knock on the door. Some man answers, which gives me a chance to try out the dialogue system.
    
Dialogue is beneath six initial buttons: "Ask question," "Fast talk," "Super cool," "Nasty," "Apologetic," and "Friendly." All the options except for "Ask question" seem like initial poses; how the NPC reacts to them determines whether he'll even answer the questions under "Ask questions." Various skills come into play here.
      
Dialogue options with Mr. Vela.
      
From Steeven [sic] Vela, I learn that one night in July, he saw a "gross bleeding green skinned monster" go past his window, but the rest of the paragraph is weird, and I don't know if I'm supposed to take him seriously. His explanation for what might have happened at the Black farm is equally fanciful:
    
The large green glowing stinking fish monsters may have wondered [sic] in during a blood hunting trip to steal the life from the helpless pet kitten the Black's [sic] loved dearly. The fish beast may have burped so volumously [sic] after consuming Mr [sic] Black and the kitten that the house fire started soon after from a spark triggered by Mrs. Black's latent telekinetic powers awakened under stress.
     
Despite all the sics, you almost have to admire a paragraph that long that, correctly, does not use a single comma.
   
In further conversation, he offers that the "slimy wet fishmen" are disguising themselves as clowns, and they have a "devil dog" with them. Adjectives show up bizarrely in his conversation ("wet slimy" appears several times), and I wonder if there isn't some procedural generation going on.
    
I push my way into Steeven's house and find a book called The Fish Beast in his kitchen. He appears to be writing it. Some of its language echoes what he's just said. It describes two men named Joe and Frank walking home from a party when they get lost and Joe believes a slimy fish beast dressed as a clown is attacking them. Running from the beast, he ends up on the beach, where a giant octopus asks him where to find the "ongo poungo." Frank then walks up, but Joe is convinced that it isn't Frank but rather a disguised fish-beast.
   
Unfriendly wild dogs attack me as I head up the road, so I duck into another house. This one has no one home. I find a 20-gauge shotgun in the bedroom, but apparently with no shells. When I head back outside, all I can do is fight with my fists. 
          
I find my first weapon, but no ammo. Note the new options in the right panel.
         
I'll cover combat more later. For now, I run from the wild dogs to the next structure down the road. It's a post office, but no one answers my knocks and the door is locked. The next one is a general store, where the proprietor invites me to "take anything [I] need"; she'll put it on my tab. That's pretty generous considering I just arrived. My options are cigarettes, a bottle of bleach, a bottle of gas, a bag of sugar, and a mess kit. I note them but leave them all in place for now, since I'm apparently going to have to spend a decent part of the game running from wild dogs. The store clerk is named Karen Bradshaw, and she says she saw a strange green man walk into the ocean recently. She also tells me that a family recently disappeared from a house where a bunch of men in black suits moved in.
    
Wild dogs continue to nip my heels as I head down the road, ruining my chance to talk to some NPCs. I need to find a weapon fast. Moving down the road, I check another building. It is identified as the "Rogars Farm," and the person who answers the door is named as "Micheal Rogars" despite being a woman. I browbeat him or her into conversation. 
        
I figure out what approach works on "Micheal Rogars."
       
He or she reports that he or she saw Fred Black the night of 18 July. Black was holding a strange-looking box ("it was really heavy and had 4 squares of glass on the surface with odd writing") and was troubled by something he had seen and the appearance of a man in black. After we're done talking, I toss the house. The living room has a dead cat in the aquarium and another shotgun, again with no ammunition.
           
I feel like this should have been a dialogue option.
         
Further down the road is the sheriff's office. He isn't there. The game says that there's a painting of Calvin Coolidge on the wall. I was going to make fun of the game, but I remember that although Coolidge wasn't president until 1923, he was governor of Massachusetts before that. Then again, the game does say "President Coolidge," so it's still wrong. I hope to find some ammunition, but the only thing useful I find is a handgun--a 7mm handgun, which I guess would be useful against the dogs. But no ammo. I should have taken more levels in ninjutsu. 
   
As I leave the sheriff's office, the pack of dogs pursuing me is joined by a wasp and, briefly, a chicken. I run a distance down the road before finding a rustic cabin inhabited by one Andrew "Dice" Kennedy. He claims to have heard a "pitched whining sound" on 13 July that made the animals a bit crazy. He also tells me about a strange pack of bird-watchers who appeared in July, just before all the birds on the island except owls disappeared. I leave just as he starts to make misogynistic comments about Marilyn Monroe.
        
This island seriously needs an animal control officer.
         
I make it next to a library. The game notes that the floor and bookshelves are strewn with cigarette butts. It was a different time. A search of the room reveals a box of matches and something called a "diary of dice." This latter item is a diary of the man I've just met, Andrew capital-"D" "Dice" Kennedy. The diary suggests that he only recently arrived on the island, that his purpose there is to broadcast something. Someone named "Mr. Concrite" sent him some books, including something titled The Way the World Is and something called a "Pisro scroll."
    
Kennedy does not like Steven (spelled differently here) Vela, who apparently stopped by to read some of his writing. Kennedy calls him a terrible writer and a "maroon." "Ever [sic] other word is green or slimy," he notes, so I guess that was just a quirk of the character. Later, he recounts an explosion that knocked out his broadcasting equipment, followed by a military presence on the island (they say a plane went down), followed by a disappearance of birds. Fred Black came by to show Kennedy his artifact ("it plays tricks on your mind"). Kennedy heard gunshots the night that Fred Black disappeared. When I'm done, my only question is why the diary is in the library.
   
I have a real-life interruption that takes me from the game while the book is still open. When I return, hours, perhaps days, have passed, and my character is dying of hunger and thirst. I reload, but I'm back at Kennedy's cabin. I think I take the same path, but I can't find the library again. Instead, I find an oak tree. Nothing about it looks special to me, but the game assures me that "it is the only one of it [sic] type on the island . . . maybe the only one of its kind in the world." While I'm trying to figure out what's special about it, I get attacked by a "bushpig." We don't really have those in the U.S., unless it just means "wild pig," in which case we don't really have them much in Massachusetts.
   
I decide to fight this one. I activate my melee attack options, which are "pommel" (I assume it means "pummel"), "throw weapon," and "kick." I rely on kick. Combat is accomplished by clicking on the target, which brings up a little portrait with its health bar. The pig won't stand still--it keeps running back and forth across my path--so I have to time my attacks for when it's close by. Attacking depletes the "physical" meter, but that restores quite quickly. It's like the "cool down" effect used in other games with action-oriented combat.
         
I showed that pig who's boss.
        
My desire to kill the bush pig becomes more acute when the game informs me that an approaching NPC is named "Frank." I momentarily forget, see, that I'm looking for Fred Black, not Frank Black. Frank Black was the main character in Millennium. After I kill the pig and talk to Frank, I remember this. He thinks the mob killed Fred Black. He says there's a criminal loose on the island and "Bob" might be hiding him. On the subject of interesting landmarks, he has a surprisingly verbose message about conservation.
         
Noted.
          
Late in the game, I check out the "crafting" menu, and I see that it has all kinds of recipes for healing potions, antidotes, and the like. They require various miscellaneous items, like cow dung, bottled water, and ears of corn--all the things that you find roaming the island with "search" active. I need to do a more thorough job picking that stuff up.
    
If cow dung, jelly fish, and hemlock are the cure, I'm not sure I want to know what the disease is.
    
I was tempted to make this a BRIEF and reject the game for lack of character development, but a) I'm not 100% sure the skills don't improve through use; and b) this game is just too wacky to abandon. I have to know where it's going.
    
Defender of Boston was written by Tim Wisseman of North Fork, California, with artwork by his brother, Kenneth. Wisseman would have been in his mid-20s when he released the game. North Fork is one of the more interesting places from which a computer game developer might hail, way up in the Sierra Nevadas, northeast of Fresno. Wisseman still lives there, running a business in which he makes and sells "magic props." In addition to Defender, he also released a strategy game the same year called VGA Planets; in 1994, it was a finalist for Computer Gaming World's "Online Game of the Year." I have written to Mr. Wisseman to see if he'd like to comment on my entries.
     
I think I need to start over. If I'm going to be kicking dogs and pigs for a while, I'd better invest in some of that ninjutsu. Also, it's clear that I'm going to need to make a map and take more careful notes. Still, this was a useful exploratory session. I can't wait to see what happens next.
    
Time so far: 2 hours
 

97 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Maybe not...I dunno.

      (2,1) is Sophia Loren right?

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    2. (3,3) has a hat that makes me think of Capone but the face doesn't fit.

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    3. Partner picked (2,2) as Tom Cruise

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    4. (3.2) its not Kyle

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    5. (1,2) looks like Cybill Shepherd.

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    6. Duh... and that was one of the ones Chet mentioned.

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    7. 3.3 is Elliot Ness from the TV series Untouchables.
      3.2 looks too weird for Kyle Reese, more like some punk-ish character maybe?
      2.3 I feel like I've seen somewhere before, but the name doesn't spring to mind, probably a TV actor.

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    8. Ah 3.3 I was going for Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca but Elliot Ness fits. In either case, it is not a thin mustache but a compression artefact below his nose.

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    9. could row 2, no.3 be Dustin Hoffman? (from Marathon Man perhaps)

      my first thought for 3/3 was the guy from the black & white film clip shown in Home Alone, but it's possible it could be from the 40s Dick Tracy films?

      The quality on these is so poor that I might be imagining things tho!

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    10. 2.2 and 2.3 are Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman from Rain Man. I did a Google image search for Rain Man and the 5th result is the exact image of both of them.

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    11. 3.1 is Kim Basinger, in a still from Batman.
      3.2 is giving me Rutger Hauer vibes, maybe from Blind Fury, but I've got a niggling feeling that it's not him, that I know who it is, and it's annoying that I don't remember!
      4.1 is Bruce Willis.

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    12. The other half also picked (4,1) as Willis.

      Hauer from Split Second almost fits (3,2) - everything cept the jacket.

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    13. While I think Tristan might be right that 2,1 is Sophia Loren, it also looks a lot like Susanna Hoffs from The Bangles.

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    14. 3,2 is Arnold Schwarzenegger from Kindergarten Cop

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    15. Looking at a few photos, I can't track down a still of Sophia Loren with 2.1's hairstyle, but I didn't look very hard. 3.2 is definitely Rutger Hauer from Split Second. Mikrakov is dead on the money with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. I'm not sold on 3.1 or 4.1. They kind of look like Kim Basinger and Charles Bronson, but the weird compression seems to have screwed with detecting who they actually are. Plus Basinger didn't wear a purple dress in Batman, IIRC.

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    16. Kindergarten Cop! Nice one. Maybe Sophia Loren is actually Kim Cattrall.

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    17. 2.1 Molly Ringwald? Haircut is right but face just a bit off...

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    18. Although I could be wrong, my guess was Spencer Tracy for 3,3. Although Robert Stack (Eliot Ness) also fits.

      Couldn't find a matching picture for either.

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    19. Good shout. 3.2 is definitely Arnie in Kindergarten Cop.: https://twitter.com/louiserawauthor/status/966669957009412096

      MorpheusKitami, Tom Cruise doesn't have violet skin either, so I think it's safe to say the images have been re-coloured. ;)

      Anyway, I think you're right, it's not from Batman, as I don't think she wears a dress in that style during the film. I still think it is Basinger, but I don't know from where.

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    20. Hah I’ve gone back to thinking 3,2 is hauer.

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    21. Isn't (3,3) Frank Sinatra?

      This picture: https://youtu.be/hOKdDwMxfOc

      I can't find its original source but people post it a lot.

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    22. Regarding (3,2) - originally I only compared it with the movie footage, but now I am 100% certain as it seems to be based on this photo: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099938/mediaviewer/rm4090524928

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    23. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    24. My guess for (2,1( is Victoria Principal.

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    25. Matt, it's close but the shoulders are off, slanted the wrong way.

      The main problem here is that the hat is a popular older one, so LOTS of time it could have been worn. Including period pieces.

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    26. Kelvin, yeah, but Tom Cruise can be written off as weird scanner error. There's some definite adding in terms of pixels, since whatever 3.2 has in his hands was added in afterward.
      I'm not sure on 3.2 either way, it looks like that shot from Kindergarten Cop, but its from a foreign edition which seems weird. Its definitely close though, but Hauer is just dead same with those glasses in 3.2.

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    27. Drawde--Yes, I see what you mean about that picture. But it looks a lot like Sinatra to me even if it's not that particular picture. The face shape is right (his jaw is more pointed than Robert Stack's) and there's a few pictures with him wearing that hat and showing the exact same crease on the side of his face.

      (Disclaimer: I am really bad at recognizing faces in real life.)

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    28. Sorry, MorpheusKitami, I meant that 3.1's purple dress is likely miscoloured, just like Cruise's face (and possibly Columbo's jacket). I wasn't talking about 3.2 at that point. Apologies for the confusion. :)

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  2. I am happy that you didn't turn this one to a brief.

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  3. Well, this game is fascinating and also bananas.

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  4. Definitely interested... and don't want to have to play it myself, so keep going! :D

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  5. Making comments about Marilyn Monroe is disturbing whether or not they misogynistic, she wasn't alive at the time the game takes place.
    I'm pretty sure the movement system in this might have been cribbed from Sapiens, I remember that having a weird-ass movement system, at least in the Windows version.
    Until you mentioned that the creators were from California, I swear this sounded like some weird foreign production. Weird translation issues were sort of the bread and butter of French games that made it into English. Having all the weird cultural issues sort of confirmed that, among those you didn't notice 7mm isn't really used by popular cartridges in America, certainly not so in 1921. Its an incredibly weird choice for a sheriff to have, since even the .32 cartridges were low-power stuff. (20 gauge isn't weird though, since its the third most popular shotgun round, behind 12 g and .410)
    Also, I like how the game describes the bushpig as being upset as the two of you duke it out.

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    1. I don't think Sapiens had crossed the Atlantic by that time - the Channel at best - and in any case it does not look like much like Sapiens ; Sapiens at least gave you a clear indication of what features were around you, instead of dots like on a radar.

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    2. 7mm is a common hunting round, has been going back into the 50's at least. I don't know about older, but I suspect it was around. .32 were common police and secret service pistols in the teens. My Great Grandfather was in the Secret Service, and I have his badge and service pistol...a .32. 20 gauge has been more common in my lifetime than .410...I'm in my 50's now...my first shotgun as a 20 gauge side-by-side.

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    3. Huh, really? Did they call it 7mm though or just .32?

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    4. The only 7mm pistol round I've found is the 7x20mm Nambu; a smaller-diameter variant of the 8mm Nambu pistol in use by Japanese forces during the interwar period into WWII. All others are 7.62, 7.63 7.65mm etc... such as the Tokarev (7.62x26mm) or the better known .32. Maybe the game is referring to a .32, even though that's much closer to 8mm?

      There is a revolver cartridge called a .30 Short, which is 7.26mm diameter bullet. It's also so rare that wiki doesn't even have an entry for it.

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    5. The misogyny of Andrew Dice Clay^H Kennedy is so powerful that it transcends time.

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  6. I find it hard enough to take "Lovecraftian" horror seriously just because it's been done to death, not to mention the themes Lovecraft explored for horror motifs are either horribly racist or just incompatible with a 21st-century worldview. The universe is big and uncaring... sooo scary. But the thing is, without those, most "Lovecraftian" works are just left with tentacle monsters and people going insane because somebody coughed too loudly.

    This, however is the first time I've seen incompetent Lovecraftian horror.

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    1. A lot of Lovecraft's actual writings were incompetent Lovecraftian horror. And a lot less interesting than this game appears to be.

      Also, in fairness to the developer, I don't think that the Lovecraftian schtick had really been done to death in 1992.

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    2. Lovecraft was done to death while Lovecraft was still writing it. His own short-story "The Unnamable" is as vicious a deliberate self-parody as you could ask for.

      Which isn't to say it's not iconic for a reason, or that you can't wring further mileage out of it, but you need more than just "creepy fishmen, cosmic horror, something something, they all go mad".

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    3. Lovecraft? I got more of a Stephen King vibe myself.

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    4. I don't know; I think the problem is that people don't really understand the appeal of Lovecraft's work and so go for the easy parts: The protagonist going insane; tentacles; fish-people; cults. Ie, the really pulpy stuff that's easy to put into a game or movie.

      Whilst the world is quite a deal more secular than it was in his time, I think people still find the cosmic nihilism to be frightening. The problem is that there's few good examples of works taking what actually is scary about Lovecraft's works - but I would say that it being done right hasn't been done to death. You could argue that most Stephen King's horror stories are very Lovecraftian -- The Mist is an obvious example, but so is IT.

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    5. From what I've seen, a lot of King's works follow a lot of the general Lovecraft form. IT, for example, is a cosmic force that only looked like a spider because that was the closest thing humans could perceive IT as. And reality itself made sure one of IT's children survived. And the demon from "Needful Things" couldn't be harmed by humans. It was only driven off when the conflict reached a point that the main character magically spouted out words in some other language that sent it away, and only did so specifically because of the conflict.

      King's works have many instances where humans not only can't understand what's going on, but can't even handle what's going on without reality itself interceding.

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    6. As a person with a decidedly not 21st century worldview, Lovecraftian horror is my favorite genre of horror ;)

      A lot of modern "Lovecraftian" works don't feel very Lovecraftian, probably because their authors have a very 21st century worldview. And also because pop culture has reduced Lovecraft to Cthulhu and people going mad. Lovecraft himself is often laughed about too, "haha he was afraid of seafood and named his cat n-----man so silly", and while the man certainly had strange views and unusual phobias, if you look at some of his original artwork and at modern day photos of weird sea creatures, you can kinda get it. There's a drawing of Cthulhu made by the man himself, and Cthulhu looks pretty disgusting on it. Some fat, squat creature with a messy mass of tentacles hanging from its misshapen face. Not the big muscly monster we often see painted in modern artworks.

      Cthulhu, and most of Lovecraft's mythos, have become cool thanks to pop culture. Not necessarily scary and disgusting, but cool. Google Cthulhu and look at the image results. Most of the illustrations make him appear like some kind of Godzilla, a big badass monster that's gonna make you go "whoa" when you look at it, not go mad.

      My favorite illustrator of Lovecraftian entities (and other classic horror/fantasy creatures from the pulp era) is KingovRats on deviantart. His illustrations are made with pencils and ink, black and white. My favorites of his are Spawn of Cthulhu and Hound of Tindalos. Masses of writhing tentacles that almost look like nests of worms, strange anatomies that seem to defy the laws of physics (Hound of Tindalos is the best example for this), weird shapes that look unsettling and disgusting to most people. That's what Lovecraftian creatures should b3 imagined as.

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    7. One of the things which bothers me about "Lovbecraftian" works is that Lovecraft himself never repeated himself. Yes, some of his creatures or races are named in multiple stories to give the illusion of a shared universe, but Cthulhu himself appears in ONLY one story ("Call of Cthulhu"). The same can be said for the Deep Ones, the Mi-Go or the Shoggoths, they appear in a story focused on them, and then they are named in other stories, but don't appear on them.

      Another thing that many people seem to miss is that Lovecraft transitioned slowly from horror stories to something akin to "horror sci fi". In "At the Mountains of Madness", when the protagonists discover that the human race is the byproduct of the Old Ones tampering, they don't get any existential horror. Their reaction is more akin to wonder, and they keep investigating the "true Earth history" instead of recoiling with horror against "the awful truths of an uncaring universe" (which would have been the reaction of the protagonists of earlier stories). ¡The protagonists of "At the Mountains of Madness", instead of viewing the Old Ones as horrible monsters, they end admiring them ("whatever they had been, they were men!"). So there is a lot of nuance here which gets sadly missed to people who tries to do "Lovecraftian tales". When I found in Internet the Guillermo del Toro's script for the cinematic adaptation of "At the Mountains of Madness", and I found there that the Shoggoths were a poorly disguised copy of The Thing, with the addition that they were REPULSED BY SALT, I got the impression that Del Toro isn't able to see beyond the tentacles andsquamous skin.

      I find that the best modern takes to "Lovecraftian horror" is tales in which something happens that throws the laws of physics out the window, something closer to "Annihilation / Southern Reach", "Stalker" or "Solaris". I also consider "Alien" a good Lovecraftian tale in the sense of "humans have no business out of Earth".

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    8. Personally, I'm one of those people who enjoys "Lovecraftian" games because I don't care much about Lovecraftian horror, but find the Mythos to be a fascinating setting for weird/urban fantasy.

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    9. I don't like reading Lovecraft much. I like the universe though.

      As for Cthulu - He lost round 1 to a steamboat. Pretty shabby performance by an elder god, but I guess he had a lot of ring rust.

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  7. I LOL'd when the pack of dogs chasing you was joined by a wasp (not to mention the chicken). This sounds potentially epic.

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  8. VGA Planets is a pretty solid 4X from that era; it was one of those play-by-email games where doing all the things in one turn could take an hour+.

    I didn't know the author had made anything else.

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    1. I had older friends who played it at the time and I was super envious.

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  9. I gotta get my hands on this. What a strange game. The only game you've covered so far that this even vaguely resembles is Sentinel Worlds, but that's just aesthetic (cluttered multi-perspective/multi-modal interface, portraits obviously based on celebrities, lowercase text everywhere). I'm curious to find out whether it's randomized like you suggested.

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  10. So many things about this entry amuse me. I really want to know where this one goes. So many things about it just make it impossible to tell what is characters going mad, and what's just wrong. Maybe the interface is also an exercise in driving the player mad, beating Eternal Darkness to the punch on Lovecraftian horror games with madness inducing effects directed at the player.

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  11. This will be fun to read about! I played through this game earlier this year while checking out a bunch of DOS shareware games I'd been curious about. If I recall correctly, all you received upon registration was a physical copy of the game disk and a hand-drawn map of the game world. I've uploaded a copy of the map here: https://imgur.com/tenGkWw

    No, I didn't get this map by registering, I just found it online somewhere.

    I won't comment any more, other than to say I really enjoyed the game, despite (or, maybe more accurately, because of) the weird UI and numerous typos. It certainly has atmosphere and the kind of charm that can come from one person making a game all by themselves.

    I look forward to reading about the further adventures of the Defender of Boston!

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    1. Brilliant! So they drew a perfectly, unrealistically square map, tailor-made for tile based movement - and then ended up with this abomination of a movement system. I can't even.

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    2. The square is simply what your eyes show you - seeing the true geometry of the universe would drive you mad in an instant. But perhaps when you walk towards a house and suddenly find yourself far past it, treading the lonely paths frequented by those we call the Green Slime Walkers, you will get an inkling...

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    3. The map is a big help, thanks.

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  12. You have to admire the special kind of person who has such a grasp of logic and syntactical precision that they can code an entire game by themselves, but can't do the same level of success for the in-game spelling and grammar. I also admire how they really did try to go for a truly unique setting. It feels a lot more like "We Create Worlds" than a lot of the other indie games in this era were doing (and a lot of the publisher games as well).

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    1. Mathematics and language ability are well-known to be unconnected to each other. This is why they are completely separate tests on the SAT. A good verbal score can get you into a college even if your math score is lacking. In fact, people good at literature typically look down on math people as "Rain Man" autodidacts who might be able to display amazing abilities within a small realm but whose ability to function in a literary environment is stunted and limited.

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    2. I'm great with words and language (I do high quality freelance translation work if anyone needs English -> German or German -> English :p) but I completely suck at maths. Numbers just aren't my thing.

      But I admire maths people for being able to wrap their heads around that complex stuff. It feels almost like magic to me. As for their bad grammar and frequent typos... hey, that's what editors are for. They may usually not be very talented in my field, but I'm a complete idiot when it comes to their field, so it evens out. I'd even say that the average maths person knows more about language (since they are perfectly capable of communicating) than I do about maths, so us language people are the bigger "Fachidioten", as we Germans like to call people with narrow talents :p

      Give a maths person a book and he'll be able to understand the story at a surface level, even if he misses the subtler meanings. Give a language person a book of math formulas and watch him scratch his head on page one.

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    3. Also typos and syntax errors do happen. They happen in the code as well as in the written text displayed on screen. When you are coding you need to spend so much energy on finding the typos in the code (Because those are the ones that cause bugs and glitches and "undocumented features") that I can understand that the mere "cosmetics" of fixing typos in the text take a backseat.

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  13. I do not believe the game is randomized, at least in terms of text. I have no idea why the English is so bizarre.

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  14. Great blog I must say....

    Murder mystery games lean toward adventure. Not to say a detective-ish game couldn´t be rpg but considering that many rpgs have continual fighting/grinding, party members, weapon inventories and the like, usually that doesn´t easily fit with something trying to be a mystery inquiry. However...Myabandonware´s page describes this game and even rates it 3.6 out of 5 as an RPG. They consider it is a mix of adventure as well as RPG and the character in game does indeed improve/develop. I don´t like the visuals of it personally, there you have it, this game prima facie, does fit in the RPG landscape. I suspect from Chet´s look at it so far, he probably won´t rate it as highly as that 3.6 out of 5
    Just my views, but there you have it. Howdy to everyone who participates on this blog and let´s all hope for a much better 2021. I truly think it will be based on how things are developing in the world lately.

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  15. Add me to the list of folks fascinated by this bizarre curio and looking forward to seeing where it goes.

    The one NPC said all birds disappeared from the island except owls, and yet there's a chicken right there chasing you. Can't decide if that makes me more suspicious of the chicken or the NPC.

    I enjoy the mental image of Lt. Columbo investigating a Lovecraftian mystery, even more so with a heaping helping of ninjutsu. "Just one more thing." (kicks nearby wet slimy green bushpig through a wall)

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    1. I'm thinking Inspector Clouseau versus Cato. https://youtu.be/IA8QrOAghZ0

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    2. The owls are not what they seem.

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    3. To me, "birds" in this context implies wild birds. A domesticated chicken simply does not have the same escape options as its migratory cousins.

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    4. A Twin Peaks RPG would be something indeed.

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    5. It's birds we're talking about.
      Twin Beaks.

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  16. After some poking around online, I've found what appears to be a copy of the game's instructions. Although the site in question calls it a "walkthrough," it's not; it's the (fairly brief) instructions, ending with the author's explanation of how to register the shareware. If you wish to review them, I found them at: https://www.freegameempire.com/games/Defender-of-Boston/walkthrough

    The instructions primarily consist of (i) a list of keyboard commands (there are significantly more than you've uncovered so far); (ii) an explanation of what the different character statistics do; and (iii) a breakdown of the indoor and outdoor interfaces. There are also a scant few extremely general "hints" - nothing story- or puzzle-specific; more getting-started advice for playing the game (example: "sometimes it is a better idea to run then fight").

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    1. That text is in a "README" file that accompanies the game, but somehow I overlooked it. I always assume "README" is about technical issues, and something called "MANUAL" is the game manual. I guess I shouldn't assume anything with independent titles.

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    2. It tries to tell you to read it, in the only way it knows how. Shrug.

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    3. I remember README having basic game info a lot back in the day, even for commercial releases.

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  17. Ah, Defender of Boston. A horror investigation-themed RPG/Adventure - what's not to like? Well, everything it seems, the game is absolutely terrible. I applaud your persistence, I was only able to tolerate its bullshit UI for about 15 minutes.

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    1. Who said you could use a profanity in your comment? Chet we need a ruling on this issue of decency.

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    2. Comment rule number 2 says to avoid profanity and vulgar language. I call on Chet to honor the rule and for the poster...vk to apologize.

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    3. Chet your honor is on the line. Your rules say no profanities. VK used one. Either dump your rules and let commenting be an anarchic free for all, or enforce the rule. I don´t care how often someone comments or how loyal they are, if they break the rules, slap them down. Read what vk said. He´s been here a long time, he shouldn´t have done it, and instead he digs in deep and tries to attack me? Arbritrate please Chet. I´m in my rights to call out someone for commenting the wrong way. Or should I bring this up with google?

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    4. Folding, as a newer commenter, you should be aware that I react to being told what to do on my own blog far more negatively than I react to violations of the comment rules.

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    5. I think it's just another alt-right troll bu... um, aggrieved by the racism discussion in DQK posts and Chet's politics in general. I suggest not feeding it more than necessary, although I must admit parts of me do enjoy the WT... um, uncanniness of it all.

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    6. A troll for sure, but I would not be so sure about its politics.

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    7. I don't think this particular troll has any politics. ;)

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  18. "Once you start moving, it's hard to stop, as if you were flying through space rather than just walking through a field. You actually have to hit the "reverse" key to slow and stop your forward movement, but you don't want to hit it too many times because then you're actually walking in reverse."

    Sounds to me like a pretty accurate representation of perambulating while drunk. Maybe your character is meant to be an alcoholic, constantly staggering tipsily around the island?

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  19. >I decide to fight this one. I activate my melee attack options, which are "pommel"

    End him rightly!

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  20. Whoa! It has been 25 years and still when Tim Wisseman's name came up I recognized it. We never even finished a single VGA Planets pbem game. Good times.

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  21. Ah, Defender of Boston! This is one of my favorite games in theory, thanks to its unique (for RPGs) setting and theme, its complex character system, and its strange visuals. It has everything I love about an obscure indie. It's completely unique and bizarre. But damn, does the actual gameplay disappoint.

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  22. From the description so far this reminds me of Deadly Premonition. That's another horror-mystery game in which the janky mechanics and general oddness make it more charming, or at least interesting, than it should be.

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  23. While I fully realise that LSD hadn't been discovered (invented? its semi-synthetic) until the 1940s, but reading your account of this game set in 1921 sure feels like it.
    (This was a masterful article.)

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    1. And here I make the same kind typos the game does…

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    2. I thought it was made in 1922, but it was referenced in James Joyce's Ulysses from the 1910s though that may have been an addition in the later American translation. D.M.T, a much more powerful hallucinogen apparently came out in 1918.

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  24. I would LOVE to roleplay as Columbo. "...Just one more question, ma'am... now, where did I put that clue?... I must have left it back on my desk...No! It's right here in my pocket!...You know, Mrs. Columbo would love this..."

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  25. VGA Planets! That was a very popular game via BBS in mid to late 90s.

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  26. Definitely worth playing. It's something like modern Arkham Horror with the UI of a flight simulator plus a dash of Rogue, but it was clearly a very inspired work despite all its faults, by a designer who has a vision (albeit stubborn).

    The only thing in its reference class in terms of wackiness and stubborn of vision is Dracula in London, a game in a different genre (turn-based RPG + strategy + board game (?)) that may or may not make your CRPG list, but is still worth playing.

    Good luck in the dungeons (when you get to them).

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    1. Hah, flight simulator UI. I didn't make that mental connection but now that you mention it, yeah, that's what it feels like.

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  27. When I saw "landmark" among the list of enemies, I got excited because it seemed like this is one of those games where random pieces of things (like furniture, paintings, the ground) can suddenly attack you, which is always fun.

    But I guess it's just a quirk of the interface?

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