Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Missed Classic: It Came From The Desert - How to Lose a Town in Ten Days

Written by TBD

Doctor Greg Bradley Journal entry #2: Things are not going well. I've collected evidence about the giant ants but the mayor's ignored it all. Dusty's angry at me, and the entire town's about to be destroyed. If only I'd made some smarter decisions perhaps we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now. The whole town's getting together for a last stand on Main Street. I don't like our chances, but we have to try...

June 1, 1951:

When we last met our intrepid geologist, he'd just been forced to undergo treatment in hospital after being defeated by ants at J.D.'s Farm. Backtracking a little by reloading, I succeed in defeating the ants at J.D.'s Farm and got a tissue sample off a dead ant for my trouble. (let's just pretend the incident with the hospital never happened, shall we.)

I took the evidence to Doctor H.G. Wells (groan), who told me the results would be ready tomorrow.


I visited a few more places, notably the Neptune Society, where the local crackpots meet to discuss their crackpot theories.

This guy's name is Billy Bob Morse. I'm unsure at this point if he has twelve followers or just owns twelve folding chairs.

June 2, 1951: 

The next day, I first visited Dusty, who told me about disturbances at Pumphouse 3.

Clearly the ants are to blame for the disturbances. Ants that carry flashlights!

The cop at the police station mentioned the pumphouse as well. Guess where I'm going today? But first, a quick visit to the University Lab. The doctor mentioned that the tissue sample I gave him came from an enormous ant!!! Thanks doc, perhaps I should have mentioned that I took the sample off the leg of an enormous ant to save you the trouble.

He helped me though, by telling me that with ants that big, the only place they'd be vulnerable would be their antennae. I already knew that, but that was only because I've played this game before.

I decided to warn the mayor. As usual in situation like these, the mayor immediately got on board and helped solve the problem.

What part of "I took this tissue junk from an ant as big as a farmhouse" don't you understand?

Pumphouse 3 was a bust – no ants or evidence was there, and it takes a while to get there and back too, wasting most of my day.

I'm starting to believe this clue may just be a dead end

June 3, 1951: 

The next day my neighbour, Ben, popped around to give me a leg he'd found while camping near the quarry.

This would have been useful if I already didn't have an ant tissue sample analyzed, but thanks for the effort anyway, Ben.

My daily visit to Dusty told me that the M-1 mine was the place to be so I took off for the ore plant. The worker confirmed that something was going on there so I took the train to M-1. 

I try to mime something to the effect of "You know you're behind sound-proof glass, right?" but I'm not sure she understood me. Fortunately I'm very good at reading lips.

This guy really doesn't seem terribly concerned. ALL YOUR WORKERS ARE PROBABLY DEAD!

Let me guess. Giant ant???

Got him in the antennae. Doctor Wells' advice proved useful

I also visited the fortune teller today and she told me something that was probably useless.

And I'm not certain vhy I paid you fifty bucks for that insight.

June 4, 1951: 

Geez had dropped off a track casting which Doctor Wells would have analyzed in a few days. It seems if I don't find evidence in this game, someone else will. 

Can I just save you the trouble and tell you it will be the track of an unusually large ant.

A trip to the police station also proved useful. I now had a sound recording that I could get analyzed.

This is great. I now have two more pieces of evidence being analyzed without having to do anything. I'm starting to wonder why I bother to leave my house every morning.

On the way to the quarry, after Biff had mentioned that they'd called asking me to identify something, I met Ice and the Hellcats...

Action Sequence 5: Chicken

They clearly want directions to the closest KFC
I think the trick to this game is to simply drive full speed on the middle of the road. If you swerve or slow down you lose and get stuck in a car wreck and of course, back to the hospital for another escape.

Perhaps I would have seen them 'come out of nowhere' if I had fixed my rear vision mirror at some point

Win or lose and I get the same result - the challenge of a final show down at the Drive-in

As the Hellcats wanted to 'finish what we started' I then go to the drive-in for the next minigame

Action sequence 6: Knife fight

This sequence is a simple fight game. There's 3 types of attack or defense. I'm not sure what they do but I ended up winning by largely ignoring defense and using my right-hand stab move.

First chicken, now swiss cheese? What's with the food obsession, Ice?

All self-respecting scientists carry around a switchblade in case a knife fight spontaneously breaks out

You gonna cry now, Ice Ice Baby? (And you'll get that reference in 38 years!)

June 5, 1951:

After being analyzed, the sound recording showed that the car was wrecked by, surprise surprise, giant ants! I now had two pieces of evidence, but the mayor still wasn't impressed.

And, just to get things straight, certain doom is a bad thing, right?

At this point I thought it best to just pack up and leave town. I'm only a visitor after all. I can just take the main highway and...

Oh, son of a... fine, I'll stay and try to save the day.

June 6, 1951:

Today, Geez came over and suggested I charter a plane from an extremely stereotypical french pilot to investigate the area around the M-1 mine.

The accent's bad enough, but the beret and cigarette? Laying it on a bit thick aren't you, Louie?
 Action sequence 7: Plane fli... damn


Unfortunately my plane flying skills weren't up to the task and I didn't even make it past the runway.

The police told me a dead girl had been found at the Neptune Society. I went there to investigate and found out that the dead girl was Jackie's friend - Jackie being crazy Billy Bob's daughter.

Oh, Billy Bob. I liked you a lot better when you were wearing silly hats and spouting nonsense about being chosen

Important safety tip: Crazy cult leaders are tougher than your average street thug. My health bar is just about depleted as I finally get him

After cutting her father severely, Jackie asked if she could stay at my place. Of course I agreed. She paid me with useful information.

I'm sure Biff'll be happy to see my new houseguest.

But Dusty, not so much. She would have much preferred it if I left the abused daughter of a psycho stay with dear old profusely bleeding dad. 

June 7, 1951:

I started the day visiting our old friend Doctor Wells

Seriously, doc. Why are you still getting surprised about this stuff?

Doctor Wells had finally tested all my evidence and gives me his most useful clue: I need to check the weather reports. The mayor for some reason still doesn't believe me.

Search for ants when weather is mild - got it!
I really, REALLY, hate this guy!

Back home, Jackie gives me more info on the Neptune Society's insane plans, while at KBUG radio, Dusty refuses to believe that I'm just having Jackie stay over so she doesn't have to stay with people who are likely to sacrifice her to the ant-god.

For no real reason I checked out the drive-in which was showing a great new cross-promotion
I tried flying a plane again and this time succeeded but found no ants near the M-1 mine. Must be the wrong type of weather, damn.

Action sequence 7: Plane fli... ahh, forgot to check the weather

I really like that the plane view is exactly the same as the map, except bigger. While being distracted by this detail, I accidentally crashed into a volcano.

You and I both know I'm going to try to escape so why don't I just leave now and save us both the trouble?

I got caught escaping the hospital and lost a few days. When I woke, things had gotten worse.

June 9, 1951:

Oh, so NOW you want to talk to me.

Good to see Dr. Wells wearing a different jacket and getting out of the office for a change

The weather was right, so I took a plane for another spin, hoping to find the nest entrance.

Action sequence 7: Plane flight

While flying the plane near the M-1 mine and southwest volcano, I come across lots of ants. I can spray them with some kind of insect spray., which is fun.


After flying around for a while looking for an ant's nest, I ran out of fuel and got a sunburn trying to walk back to town. I woke up in hopital and decided to accept treatment.

June 12, 1951:


About bloody time

This game does a really great job of increasing the tension. The townspeople gradually go from regular people to slightly concerned to really concerned to oh-my-god-we're-all-going-to-die in a vaguely realistic fashion (apart from the stupid mayor)

Interesting trivia: 3 out of every 5 people arrested by the Lizard Breath Police are football referees.

Now that I've been put in charge, it's time we really started to take the fight back to the ants!

Strategy sequence: Human Resource Deployment

I could decide how many army men, construction workers, police officers or civilians to place in each location

I considered putting one soldier, citizen, cop and construction worker at each location so we could drown out the ants by singing “YMCA” constantly, but instead decided to protect the most important area – the southwest - where all the action seems to be focussed, with a few soldiers at key locations elsewhere.
The weather is right, so back to Hilber's field I go to take my plane to the M-1 mine. I'd set up some of the army to defend the airfield. Unfortunately this didn't help my plan as one of the tanks 'accidentally' shot me instead of an ant.

Seriously? Are there any ants in the vicinity of me right now?

I accept treatment in the hospital and go back to Hilbers Field. But I get no luck.

June 13, 1951:

This is the point where I realised it would be almost impossible to win. But Doctor Greg Bradley doesn't give up!

I go back to the cop station where my command centre is, and put all my remaining construction workers and soldiers at Hilber's field in the hope that I can get a plane up and running in a few days. Unfortunately, I checked each day and it was still never repaired, or at least not early enough.

I go home to rest but I can't even get any peace there...

Biff, what have I told you about advertising our private parties on Facebook? Wait. Oh, you're talking about ants, aren't you

It seems no matter how many I kill, they won't stop coming

Yep. Things are pretty f...ed up, right now

So, with things being about as hopeless as they can be, I think I'll spend another two days in a hospital bed.

June 15, 1951 - The Day We Lost:

You do know ants don't have higher brain functions, don't you, sheriff?

Time to do the heroic thing and join the rest of the town for the last stand

Soon after this I realised I can enter the tank. Wish I'd known this back at Hilbers Field 4 days ago

Once again, I killed a few but there were too many...

The end. Or is it?

Wait – I lost. This can't be the end. Well it's not. I may have lost this playthrough, but there's always reloads and restarts. I've actually played this game quite a few times and gotten quite good at the action minigames by now. I know to protect Hilbers Field no matter what and know where to find many pieces of evidence.

I loved that this game lets you continue playing beyond your mistakes. No matter how much you screw up, you eventually get all evidence because others have found it for you. It really gives me a feeling that I'm not the only one trying to find answers, even though I'm clearly still the star of the game. The multiple ways to find each piece of evidence is also great. There is no dying – failing an action sequence just makes the game harder by losing time, and escaping hospital can even mostly mitigate the lost time from failing.

Playing the game to completion despite being in a dead-man walking situation is also much more satisfying than in pure adventure games. I get more clues and know where to go, doing better and learning to not making the same mistakes next time. It's also very hard to get into a full-on dead man walking situation until you're very near the end anyway. If you continue to make the right decisions and win the minigames you can still win despite overwhelming odds (though it's possible that letting the airfield get destroyed made the game unwinnable.)

Losing this game was, surprisingly, a really fun experience. I got to experience an interesting story with a downer ending but not one in which the hero had no chance - he just made a few mistakes along the way (but not as many mistakes as the mayor who really should have started paying attention much earlier.) The story got more intense as the days ticked by - while a few days in hospital at the start of the game doesn't make a major difference, towards the end of the game the situation really deteriorates after a day or two of inactivity. I genuinely got emotional about the last stand and the town being destroyed at the end and for a game made in the late 80s/early 90s to evoke such feelings is a rare thing.

Next week we'll get to the final part of the game as I finally discover the ant's nest and hopefully finish the game with a win this time.

11 comments:

  1. Great stuff!

    Pretty much as I remember it from the Amiga days. That mayor was a real jerk back then as well.

    I could never reliably win the "chicken" minigame though.

    Will you be playing the Antheads sequel/expansion as well?

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    1. I've had fun replaying this game so I'd love to do another Missed Classic on Antheads in future so, if people want to read one, yes, absolutely (not immediately though)

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    2. I said it before and I'll say it again. These Cinemaware games are good stuff.

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  2. I think you missed the part at the fortune-teller where she teleports you to Britannia... (where there is also a Giant Ant problem, at least in a couple of the games).

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    1. Also, she'll ask you some questions before sending you there, like "Thou didst saw a beggar asking for alms. Dost thou A) Sacrifice some of your gold to him or B) Valiantly kick his poverty-ridden ass?"

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    2. I can't believe I didn't pick up on your reference at first Andy. Of course, she looks just like the Ultima gypsy. *facepalm*

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  3. And the 13th Doll kickstarter has passed its goal.

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/64161490/the-13th-doll-a-fan-game-of-the-7th-guest/description

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  4. Great game, with an incredible atmosphere.

    I think I remember that if you go to the fortune teller on the first day, there's a very creepy sequence where she seems to be "possessed" by the ants' hive mind for a few seconds. It's been a while, though.

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    1. I'll definitely be trying that! I'll let you know.

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    2. It's text only, so don't expect a marvel. :)

      Also, only this century, with the internet, did I discover that the game is, as you mention in the post, full of situations where, if you don't do what you need to do on the proper day(s), some NPC does it for you a couple of days later (which is not great, since the game has a time limit, but at least you don't get stuck).

      This extends to the mayor: it is possible to convince him of the ants' existence days before an ant eats his car, by showing him all 4 pieces of (analyzed) evidence (a footprint, a recording, etc.), but most players (including me back then) fail to do so -- after all, he's so dismissive of the first pieces of evidence you show him -- and only get access to the troops a few days later than ideal.

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    3. I forgot to let you know what I found. I tried the fortune teller almost every day in a few playthroughs but didn't find anything like that.

      It did sound vaguely familiar though, so I'm wondering if perhaps it happened in the sequel.

      Or perhaps it's a random event that I missed on this occasion - but that doesn't seem likely. The game seems to be on a constant schedule with events playing out at certain times regularly unless I change things.

      Or maybe it only happens between certain hours, which would make it hard to see...

      On the first day (in two of my playthroughs) her comments are: "Say nothink...I know vie you've come. You are troubled by the coming of the meteor... You have the right to be nervous. Something dark is on the horizon. I see...great HOLES in the ground. The image fades....I can say no more"

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