Art is Art and Water is Water

March 1, 2019

Hintline Bling: Sierra

Filed under: Twitter Threads — foone @ 10:26 pm

Original Twitter thread from December, 30, 2018

It is 2018 and I am still mad about a 1989 game I have never played: Sierra‘s The Colonel’s Bequest.

So around 1993 I bought what was probably my first commercial computer game: Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood. This 1991 game is one of the best Sierra adventures and is utterly beautiful and well designed. It’s also very, very hard.

And all my previous sierra games I’d played had been “borrowed.” Pirated, really. Sorta. See, back in the early 90s, Sierra handled the format problems of the fragmented PC market in the most brute force way possible: they shipped both floppy formats.

So you’d buy a game and it’d come with 14 disks: 4 for 3.5″ floppy disk computers, 10 for 5.25″ computers. Hey, it worked. And it was the most customer-friendly way to do it. God knows how much they spent on media, though.

And my best friend at the time had his dad’s hand-me-down Tandy 1000 EX. A very cheap PC-jr clone, but a capable machine. The main limitation? 5.25″ disk drive only, non-upgradable.

Whereas, I had a Packard Bell 486 with both 5.25″ and 3.5″ drives. So he basically just gave me all his 3.5″ disks, since they were no use to him on his 5.25″-only drive.

So I ended up playing a lot of sierra games that I didn’t buy, like Gold Rush and Space Quest 3. And the nice thing about having gotten them from a friend? I had my own free hintbook! Not a real hint book: HIM.

So I’d call him up on some random Thursday (well, call his parents. this was the 90s: no one had cellphones except doctors and drug dealers) or wait until I saw him at church, and go “HEY HOW DO I FIX THE HYPERDRIVE IN SPACE QUEST 3? THE RAT KEEPS STEALING MY WIRES.”

It was a great way to play Sierra games. It was hard enough to get hints that I didn’t just ask him for all the answers, and I didn’t have a book so I wasn’t tempted to read ahead. So I’d actually try, and try very hard … but I had hints in case I was really stuck.

But then I bought my own sierra adventure, one he didn’t have: Robin Hood. Great game. Hard game. NO STRATEGY GUIDE AND NO FRIEND TO CALL UP. I could just look up answers on the internet, of course… OH WAIT NO I COULDN’T, IT WAS NINETEEN NINTY-FUCKING-THREE.

So did I buy a hint guide? No. That would have made too much sense, and I didn’t know where to buy one to start with. But there was another solution: 1-900-370-KLUE!

See, Sierra shut down their old customer service line, and set up a special hint line, so that their customer support techs weren’t busy answering questions about how to defeat Manannan in King’s Quest IV. And the replacement they set up was entirely automated. It was a telephone tree, like “PRESS ONE FOR HINTS ON CASTLE OF DR. BRAIN, PRESS TWO FOR HINTS ON CODENAME ICEMAN“, etc. It was also a 1-900 number. For people not in the US that means it’s a premium number. It was $0.75 for the first minute and $0.50 for each additional minute. I ended up getting grounded from the computer for most of one summer because of how much I called them and how much it cost.

And the thing is, it didn’t start charging as soon as you got to the game you wanted. No, that would be too nice and make too much sense. It started charging as soon as you called, and the first few minutes was always spent going through the LONG LIST OF SIERRA GAMES.

And the game right before the one I was always calling about (Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood)? That’d be The Colonel’s Bequest: A Laura Bow Adventure, AKA Laura Bow 1.

Which is a long-ass title. a long, slow title, with subtitles, and an “also known as” every time I called I had to sit through “IF YOU ARE CALLING FOR THE COLONELS BEQUEST, A LAURA BOW ADVENTURE, ALSO KNOWN AS LAURA BOW ONE, PRESS 6”

I WAS NEVER CALLING FOR THAT.

YOU ARE CHARGING ME 50 CENTS TO LISTEN TO LIST THIS LONG-ASS GAME NAME, SIERRA. I DO NOT HAVE MUCH MONEY. ACTUALLY, I HAVE NO MONEY, I AM NINE. MY PARENTS DON’T HAVE MUCH MONEY, THOUGH. AND THEY ARE NOT GONNA BE HAPPY TO FIND OUT LITTLE FOONEY SPENT $60 CALLING UP A 1-900 NUMBER BECAUSE HE CAN’T FIGURE OUT THE STUPID GARGOYLE’S PUZZLE WHILE TRYING TO ESCAPE THE MONASTERY WITH THE KING’S JESTER.

“It wasn’t my fault, mom & dad! it was LAURA BOW! she slowed me down with her colonel’s bequest. if it wasn’t for that game, I’d have only spent, like, $45!”

(I don’t really remember how much it was , I’m not sure I ever was actually told. I am pretty sure it was more than I paid for the game, which was probably only like $30 since it wasn’t super-new when I bought it)

Also I would LOVE to have access to that line again. Recordings, the script it used, anything. It was a very neat system: they had to unroll a strategy guide into a series of questions you could select from a phone tree. Neat idea, and a great way to make a little extra cash.

BTW, I’d joked before about setting up a sort of remake of this hintline, but for modern indie games:

And since then, I now have a roommate who is into phone systems about as much as I’m into floppies. So this might actually happen.

Also regarding that hintline, (who would be the one who’d know!) says it’s likely gone:

 

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