Review of "Tinseltown Blues"

Tinseltown Blues is a Z-machine interactive fiction game and is © 2002 by Chip Hayes. It was the only entry (and winner) of the first Spring Thing competition in 2002.

Review by David Welbourn (originally posted at Mark J. Musante's IF-Review)

Dude, Where's My Script?

Before I start the review, let me review my thoughts, first...

I just finished playing Tinseltown Blues. Fun game. You play a scriptwriter whose golden ticket to fame and fortune is a series of scripts you've written on the life and times of Walter Mondale. Unhappily for you, a freak accident separates you from your precious scripts and, after a brief period of unconciousness, you find yourself desperately searching the entire studio lot for any trace of them. You must find all seven scripts before 5 pm or all is lost!

Now, since this is Paramount Studios, you might briefly be tempted to just go to the Lost and Found and ask the clerk if anyone's turned in your scripts. But no, this is IF, and there is no Lost and Found. Instead, your scripts will be scattered and hidden in the most unlikely places possible.

So. Not a deep story. It's a scavenger hunt. With puzzles.

The puzzles are the star attraction here, and they're a good mix. Good puzzles, too. Part of the fun is getting to use props, costumes, and special effects equipment in fun and devious ways. Most of the puzzles feel fresh, or at least are fresh twists on old favourites. I was particularly fond of one puzzle that I mentally dubbed "Son of the Atomic Chihuahua".

Happily, I found all of the puzzles to be of medium difficulty, by which I mean that no puzzle was solved instantly at first sight, but all were solved after a reasonable amount of experimentation and persistence. Although I did have three guess-the-verb moments, where I had the right idea but couldn't quite guess the right syntax to use. Still, eventually, I did guess correctly.

And, if puzzles are the star, then Zork is the co-star. Fans of the Zork universe will be delighted to visit the studio sets for "Zork: The Movie". At times it really does feel like playing a long lost Infocom classic, especially Hollywood Hijinx (which is also a scavenger hunt puzzlefest set in Hollywood).

A wave of warm and fuzzy nostalgia washes over you as the word escapes your lips, but nothing much else occurs.

Nostalgia is definitely one of the themes here. And, since Tinseltown Blues is set at Paramount Studios, there's plenty of opportunity for the game to reminisce about old movies and film stars in the real world. Unfortunately, I found this to be one of the weaker areas in the game. I'm not a movie buff, and rote recitation of film and movie star statistics is about as interesting to me as rote history, but your mileage may vary. On the other hand, I once visited the Paramount Studios in real life, and thus I got the same warm I've-been-there fuzzies from places like the water tank as I did from the Zork sets, so that was pretty cool.

Although, well, if it is Paramount Studios, it's been sent through the wackifier just a little. Most of the NPC's either have jokey names like I.M. Sowritch ("I am so rich") and the aforementioned Nurse Bunwarmer, or names from the Zork universe. Somehow, I can't quite picture Eddie Murphy rubbing elbows with one of the Flatheads, but this is a minor quibble. Maybe these odd characters come from a Frobozz County somewhere between Beverly Hills and Toontown.

Speaking of the NPC's, no new advances in NPC behaviour here. Conversation is particularly sparse: most NPC's will respond to a "hi" at least, but they have only a few useful responses (if any) when asked about topics. This was a bit disappointing, especially when you meet a friendly woman who ought to be able to tell you about the studio, her boss, and other gossip. I rather wanted to chat her up, but couldn't. Mostly, the NPC's are there to react to events, and move around according to their schedules.

The studio lot is a big place. Be prepared to make a map. Lots of locations are called "Outside the XYZ Building" and there's no teleport stations in sight. Learn to curse the width of the Zukor building as you traipse east to west and back east again as the weight of your possessions wears you out. It can get a bit tedious. A tighter layout would have worked better, I think. Can't some of those adjacent outdoor locations be combined?

And yes, inventory items have weight (and size) in this game. It's not a big deal most of the time, just learn to leave the big and heavy items in places where you can find them again if you need them. Only when you decide to take two large items across the map does it become truly annoying, because you'll need to make two trips. On the plus side, it seems like you can carry any number of small items, without needing to put any of them into your knapsack.

The implementation is pretty darned solid. It passed the Adam Cadre test, didn't it? [Ed note: this was the one and only game submitted to Adam Cadre's Spring Comp wherein submitted games "must not hang, crash, or generate errors"] By freakish mischance, I did find a couple bugs, but I don't think the average player would run into them.

What other implementation problems exist are comfortably minor, which I'm sure will be fixed in future releases. For example, occasionally you will see something mentioned in the room description that isn't implemented at all, not even with a default "you don't need to refer to that" message when you try to examine it. This is particularly perplexing in a copyroom that claims to contain a copy machine but doesn't. I wondered, why is this room here? It turns out that one of the NPC's uses it; I just visited at the wrong time of day. I may be imagining it, but minor problems seem to be more of an issue in the western half of the map than the eastern, suggesting that the western half was written later.

A word to the wise: save. If you play like I do, you'll run out of time after accomplishing only half of your quest. Once you solve a major puzzle, you may wish to restore and replay, optimizing your moves, and then save. I ended up starting from the beginning again, and optimizing my moves from there.

To sum up: a great game for puzzle fans. Fame and fortune can be yours -- just find those scripts!

✍️🏻 See my handwritten notes.