Pixel Perfect Memories: Bureaucracy

We have a book day, a movie day, and music every day.  I was thinking, "How come we don't have a video game day?"   And so it begins.

My goal is not to discuss games that most of you geeks have played or know a lot about.  So you won't see me reviewing the likes of Tecmo Super Bowl, Zelda: A Link to the Past, or MLB: The Show, despite my love for all of them.   My hope is that I may reveal a gem or two that you haven't played.

In return, hopefully you can do the same for me.   While my taste tends to lean towards adventure games, I dabble in all genres.  I don't know how often I'll run this.  Once a month, at least.  Perhaps more often if the market warrants it.

The first game you may not have played is a brilliant text adventure by Infocom titled Bureaucracy.  Released in 1987, it was Douglas Adams' second game with the company (the first being the more famous Hitchhiker game) and arguably the better of the two.

Normally, descriptions written by the company on their boxes are horribly exaggerated and sometimes not accurate. In this case, Infocom does a better job than I ever could of describing the game. Here's the plot, in a nutshell.

Once upon a time, a man moved from one apartment in London to another. He dutifully notified everyone of his new address, including his bank; he went to the bank and filled out a change of address form himself. The man was very happy in his new apartment.

Then, one day, the man tried to use his credit card but couldn't. He discovered that his bank had invalidated his credit card. Apparently, the bank had sent a new card to his old address.

For weeks, this man tried to get the bank to acknowledge his change of address form. He talked to many bank officials, and filled out new forms, and tried to get a new credit card issued, but nothing worked. The man had no credit, and the bank behaved like, well, a bank.

It's a sad story, one that gets replayed every day for millions of people worldwide. Of course, sometimes it's not a bank at fault: sometimes it's the postal service, or an insurance company, or the telephone company, or an airline, or the Government. But all of us, at one time or another, feel persecuted by a bureaucracy.

You begin in your new house. As per the letter in your package, you will fly to Paris just as soon as you get some money to take you to the airport. That money should be in today's mail, so you should be off soon... unless, of course, there's been some problem with the mail.

Oh by the way: The man in our story about the bank was Douglas Adams, the principal author of this game. The bank did finally send him a letter, apologizing for the inconvenience - but they sent it to his old address.

What ensues is comic madness, and unless you are a very good puzzle-solver, it will lean towards madness. As your blood pressure rises while playing the game, so does the character's. Yes, there's a blood pressure gauge at the top of the screen that goes up for every mistake you make. And yes, you can have a heart attack if it gets too high.

I did need a few hints to win this one, but even I was amazed at my persistence with some of the puzzles. The game's tightly developed plot and brazen humour kept me away from the hint book several times. While there are a couple of instances where the game seems unfair, with a possible "walking dead" situation, you will be duly rewarded with the genius that was Douglas Adams.

I do not believe the game is freeware, so I will not link to any downloadable versions. But you can still find copies of the game or the entire Infocom collection from various Activision compilations.  The original packaging came with some of the best "feelies" of all time, including a carbonless application for a credit card that was not the same on every page.  For example, on the white sheet was a line labeled "Annual Income."  On the yellow sheet it was "Spouse's Weight."  And on the pink sheet it was labeled "pancakes eaten today."  The entire game is filled with similar bureaucratic jokes.

So, now talk about this, whatever you're playing, or about your secret obsession for your Commodore 64.

70 thoughts on “Pixel Perfect Memories: Bureaucracy”

  1. Burrocracy is no game!!!!

    So, you are saying that Douglas Adams is Kafka with a sense of humor? Wouldn't that make him Stanislaw Lem?

  2. Ahh text games. I was a fan of NetHack, though I wouldn't recommend people try it over something like Dungeon Crawl.

    Lately I've been doing science playing Portal 2.

    1. I've got it sitting on my counter in shrink wrap. I can't tell whether I want to bust straight in, on finish Mass Effect 2 first.

      1. I really need to go find Mass Effect 2 one of these days. Although I should probably finish up New Vegas before jumping into anything else.

        1. Did you play the first? I'm really enjoying the fact that it carries over your character from the first game. Subtle little "oh yeah, remember when you did that?" things. I'm surprised more games don't do stuff like that.

          1. I did, although I played through the whole thing before I realized I could have created my own character, which was dumb of me. I have been working on an evil character that I might finish and carry over to the second game.

            1. I never have the heart to make an evil character. In Fallout, in order to make an evil character, I would be nice to everyone and friend to all living things, then go into the backroom and steal everything I could get my hands on to make my karma level drop.

              1. Although I find villains more fascinating in scripted drama and I generally play villains on stage and film, I'm the same way. For whatever reason, I can't get into a story in a videogame if I'm the villain.

                1. I always play the game the first time as the most good character I can be. But I do like to at least try to run through it again evilly. Its hard, but I try.

                2. No kidding. Hero's Quest: So You Want To Be a Hero? is sort of an adventure/RPG, and you can play through the game as the hero, the magician, or the thief. Even though the game was more comedic than anything, I still couldn't play as the thief. I don't know what it is.

      1. wouldn't surprise me...that's how long the first game took. Of course I've spent another 30 or so playing challenges and fan mods.

      2. So far yes. I think I've put in about that so far and don't have much left. There's also a co-op mode though, and the puzzles in that one are harder. If anyone has the Xbox 360 version and wants to play, send me an email.

            1. My XBL name is the same as my WGOM name. Add it, and if I'm ever online, send me an invite. I'd like to check out the Coop levels, and the friend that I generally play with on XBL has finally gotten tired of red rings.

                1. Maybe we should have a little matrix with citizen Live & PlayStation Network nicknames? I know we kind of passed them around for PSN once, but I would be happy to add you folks.

    2. I bought Portal 2 last week despite owning but never beating Portal 1 (I got it for $45 with $20 in gift cards). I am going to rectify that this week or weekend, hopefully.

    3. My friend has Nethack hosted on his web server, so I play every so often. Fun game, kind of brutal learning curve, though.

    1. You managed to drown your entire party attempting to ford a dry creek bed... God himself isn't even sure how that's possible.

  3. We only had a Vic 20.

    Games I remember:
    Gorf, Mole Attack, Pin Ball, Lunar Lander (which was impossible).

    When our joystick broke, my dad made a new one using the remaining bits from it, plus some pieces he plundered from work.
    It was in a plywood box, maybe 10" or 11" cubed. The stick itself was another 10" or 11" out of the center of the box, made of copper pipe, with one trigger on the top (and another trigger was on the upper-left corner of the box. Rather than hold the thing, the point was to sit around it like a Sit 'n Spin.

    1. We had Lunar Lander as well, and I believe it played Also Spoke Zarathrusta in the background. I successfully landed the lander maybe one out of every 40 times.

      1. So, you were really good at it!
        If landing on the moon was that difficult, I can't see how anyone would ever dream of going to the moon.

    2. We had some Apple knockoff that was shortly put out of business for making Apple knockoffs. The games I remember the most are Rusky Duck (some Cold War spy game), David's Midnight Magic (a terribly addictive pinball game), and some text football game that we would change the code on to make ourselves totally awesome.

  4. I've found lately that I've gone away from the bigger, high end games and gone towards the simpler games which have a short learning curve and good game play. In particular, I do love puzzle games. Braid was an amazing game. I also like that I can get about 5 XBLA games for the price of one "real" game. Perhaps somebody here can recommend some good ones for me.

    1. Super Meat Boy is the best game I played last year, and is one of the best games I've played this entire generation. It's brilliant.

      1. A big "Dido" to this. Brutally difficult, yet it never feels unfair due to its excellent level design and gameplay mechanics.

        1. Yes. It cannot be understated how brilliant the game design is. You restart instantly after dying which makes it feel like less of a chore to retry something several times.

          1. You restart instantly after dying which makes it feel like less of a chore to retry something several dozen times.


              1. Normally, I'd be right there with you. I made it through about 15 minutes of I Wanna Be the Guy before deciding that, much as I loved the concept, I simply hated dying constantly. This game, though, makes it all different somehow. It's partially the absolutely instant respawn, but part of it is some unquantifiable push to learn from your mistakes and beat the level that most platform hell games just don't have.

                Plus watching the replay after you beat a level showing all the ghosts at once is pure joy.

                1. That is true. If there's one good thing about the Twins' rain out tonight, I got to check it out. Seeing 25 exploding meats is pretty awesome.

              1. Actually, the death mechanic is quite a bit like that. You cease to exist, and then you start over, no loading screen, no flashy "haw haw, you died!" screen. You just try again.

                1. I do appreciate this option in actions games; however, I hate it in adventure games, especially those of the suspense/horror variety. Where's the suspense if I know I can't screw up?

                  1. I agree with you (and by extension, Spooky below). One of the biggest problems I had wit Prey was that death was an inconsequential slap on the wrist. You didn't even have to worry about starting a boss fight over.

                    However, Super Meat Boy is a little different. It's a platform hell game, limiting the number of lives, or being overly punishing when the player dies would is both frustrating and unplayable.

  5. I got Virtua Tennis 3 for my PS3. We used to play the crap out of the Dreamcast version back freshman year. It's not much more complicated than Pong dressed up all nice. There's "hit", "slice", and "lob". Just get your player in the right spot and pick one. The other tennis game out there, the name escapes me currently TopSpin from 2KSports, has controls where you have to hit and release the button just right and all kinds of crap. VirtaTennis has it where if you are kinda-sorta near the ball, it'll move your guy to hit it for you.

    1. I'm really interested in fooling around with Virtua Tennis 4 with Kinect just to see what that's like. I haven't played one since the Dreamcast days, but I enjoyed it a whole lot.

      On that note, the Dreamcast is probably my favorite system ever. I have well over 100 games for mine, with only about 10 or 15 I still want that I don't have. It's a cheap, fun system to collect for.

      1. Oh man, setting the Dreamcast up to a projecter in the study lounge and playing Soul Calibur 2 caused me to miss a few classes back in the day. There was no way I was going to calculus with a ten game winning streak.

        1. My friends and I used to play SoulCalibur every Friday & Saturday night for like 5 or 6 hours. It was glorious. I once had a 67 game winning streak which caused much anger. But it was definitely the most fun I had playing a game in a group setting. We also had fun playing Quake 3 Arena on the DC, but nothing topped SoulCalibur.

  6. I find this discussion simultaneously awesome (because I love videogames) and sad (because I prety much never get to play them anymore).


    1. I'm with you, there. But I'll be done with classes in a few weeks and hopefully I'll be able to squeeze some more time in.

  7. I never had a C64 (though my best friend and I played Super Zaxon on his Commodore for countless hours), but I still enjoy pulling out the Apple II every once in a while just to see if Number Munchers is as fun as I remember it (it's not, but the nostalgia overrules any naysaying my brain might do).

    1. yeah, I played an emulated version of that on my PC a while back...man I was disappointed in my childhood nostalgia.

      1. What disappoints me now is how degraded my gaming skills are. I once beat Double Dragon II alone. Trying it again pretty recently, I barely made it through one stage.

        1. Ha, yeah. I can still beat Mike Tyson, but a lot of my old skills have faded. I could make it to the final stage of Ninja Gaiden without losing a life. Now, I'm lucky to get through level 2 without dying.

          1. I had the Punch-Out!! without Tyson, and I only beat Mr. Dream once. By decision. I didn't realize that was possible. It was also terribly anti-climatic.

            Did you play the Punch-Out!! for Wii? It is a very, very good game. And it is very, very difficult. I was thankful for the Wii remote holders, because without them I would likely have no Wii remotes.

            1. I have it, and easily got about 2/3 of the way through, but then I just stopped playing. I liked it...I just need to motivate myself to play anything.

                1. Oh good, I'm not the only one. unfortunately my backlog also consists of massive games. I'm only about 1/2 - 2/3 of the way through New Vegas, and even less than that on Dragon Age, not to mention I still want to play Mass Effect 2 and still need to make the T-wolves a championship team in 2K11 (I think 2012 is the year.)

                  Add it all up and it works mildly as a distraction from my not having purchased a PS3.

                  1. Unfortunately a lot of my backlog is massive games as well, but those I kind of tell myself I'm saving for later when I have more time to play games. But even with the shorter stuff, it's just hard to make a decision to commit to one game and play through it. Right now I'm struggling between starting Dead Rising 2, Vanquish, Just Cause 2, Portal 1 & 2, or the story mode in the new Mortal Kombat. Too many good games!

                    1. At any given time I have at least ten games that I've started and not finished. I spent more time acquiring games than I do playing them. My friends are the same way, or at least as we've grown older.

    2. I was born without a nostalgia feature, so I'll skip Number Munchers and continue to assume it was as awesome as I thought at the time.

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