Through The Moongate

Back in August last year, I was excited to find out about the forthcoming Kickstarter for Through The Moongate. This two part book would cover the history of Richard Garriott and Origin from school days all the way up to Portalarium. The Kickstarter met its goal and part 1 was duly published in June/July this year, on time no less (a real rarity for a Kickstarter).

There have been a handful of Origin/Garriott histories produced before, the obvious example being the Official Book Of Ultima. That particular book was less than comprehensive, stopped at Ultima 6 and only looked at Richard Garriott’s side of the story. Through the Moongate was something new and far more detailed. While centered around Ultima, it would cover Origin’s other games and tell the stories of all the people behind them rather than just concenrating entirely on Lord British at the top.

The book arrived at my door some months back and it’s about time I had a quick look at it on here. I’ve not seen the paperback in person but the hardback book I received is extremely high quality and I have no complaints there whatsoever. I didn’t want to wait so by the time it arrived I’d already read the early release chapters as they trickled out, usually on my phone while on a train journey somewhere. Not the ideal way to read any book and it’s only yesterday that I actually sat down to read the final product properly.

So far, I’m a third of the way through on the second read and if anything enjoying it even more than the first time. The early stages offer a detailed biography of Garriott’s formative years, while telling the stories of the relevant people and influences around him. It’s extensively researched and the narrative often weaves around to introduce important figures such as Steve Jackson or even discuss the origins of home computing. The author (Andrea Contato) provides a framework for the story never assuming too much knowledge from the reader. As an Origin nut, there are times I’d prefer a bit more knowledge being assumed but I realise I may not be the typical audience.

These early stages of the book include anecdotes from Richard’s family and friends which flesh out the story far beyond the official book of Ultima. The early Ultimas were very much reflections of their author and his environment, something which is shown in far greater detail here than anywhere previously. If you are at all interested in the history of Origin (and if you aren’t this is the wrong site), it’s essential reading. It’s the later chapters where Andrea’s research truly shines for me however, as Origin begins to expand. There are a wealth of Origin alumni whose stories need to be told and it’s these that I most want to hear.

Which is the cue for me to bring up part 2, the Kickstarter for which will begin a few minutes from time of writing. This will cover the story from about 1990, starting with Wing Commander and Ultima 7 through to Portalarium. It was these years when Origin became the behemoth I would know and love in the 90’s. This is what I was most looking forward to reading about from the moment I heard about Through the Moongate. Andrea has spent several years researching and writing these books. The project deserves your support – please head on over to the Kickstarter and splash some cash.

To give full disclosure, I do have some minor involvement in these Kickstarters so I’m not what you would call entirely impartial. I got involved primarily because I want to read the books myself and I’ll still be putting my own hard-earned into the KS like everyone else. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second volume and hope that it gets the backing it deserves.

Escape From Monkey Island Strategy Guide

Escape From Monkey Island was the last in the long line of Lucasarts adventure games and was no doubt one of the factors in its demise. The previous entry Grim Fandango had been critically well received but was something of a commercial failure. Neither game was helped by their use of a new game engine which shelved point and click in favour of Alone In The Dark style tank controls. This was a huge step back and resulted in a control scheme that was slightly more awkward than Sierra’s AGI games had managed a decade earlier, with no benefit whatsoever for anyone playing the game on a PC. The tail end of the 90’s was an era when everything had to be in 3D no matter what though, much to the detriment of adventure games of the time.

At least Grim Fandango had a great game underneath (admittedly with a few unfair puzzles). My memories of Escape From Monkey Island are far less favourable. The humour and story were a real letdown, with much of the game rehashing tired old Monkey Island clichés and failing miserably when trying to introduce anything new. If this was where Lucasarts were heading, I should probably be thankful that Sam and Max 2 and Full Throttle 2 both ended up being cancelled.

Although Escape From Monkey Island may have disappointed fans of Lucasarts adventure games, the genre itself has continued to thrive in the form of escape rooms. These real-life adventure games have gained popularity in recent years, providing players with immersive and challenging experiences that require them to solve puzzles and decipher clues in order to escape. Some escape room companies, such as the award winning entertainment – Secret Chambers, have even taken inspiration from classic adventure games like Monkey Island, creating rooms that pay homage to their humor and puzzles. It just goes to show that while the adventure game genre may have changed, its spirit lives on in new and exciting forms.


It did of course get a Prima strategy guide in 2000 which is what I’m supposed to be posting about here. I must have scanned this in years back and never got around to uploading it but the pdf is now available on the downloads page. I don’t normally read any of these things until I’m playing or have just played the game in question so this has been sat around unread for some time. I did have a quick flick through and while it brought back bad memories of the game, it looks to be a potentially decent read with some nice concept art, a history of the first 3 games, brief hints, an entirely useless map section, and a lengthy walkthrough (as told by Guybrush).

You can download the guide here.

One Thing After Another – A Warren Spector Gamebook

I had a look at Warren Spector’s first and so far only novel a couple of weeks back. It may have been his only novel but it turns out he was already a published author as of a year earlier thanks to this:-

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One Thing After Another was published by Puffin in 1987 and based on the TSR Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game. It’s a game book in the regular format with the reader/player flicking between numbered sections as they make decisions throughout. The role-playing elements are very simplistic with the player stats all predetermined and combat simply being a case of rolling one die to decide the outcome. There is the notion of “Karma” points which can be spent at any time to increase the value of a die roll. Learning where to spend these should more of less guarantee victory but a little luck never hurts either.

In this tale, the player takes the role of The Thing from the Fantastic Four. Early on, the gang are all infected by a super hero targeting virus with only the Thing being strong enough to venture out to seek a cure. It’s tricky to describe the plot from here on out as there are numerous paths through the game with no single correct route. The main thread however involves collecting blood samples from Things in alternate dimensions in order to use them in making a cure for the disease. These alternate dimensions feature the familiar cast of Marvel heroes and villains but life has taken a very different turn for all of them. For instance Dr. Doom is on the right side of the law in the first dimension and the Thing is now King Kong sized and indeed climbing the outside of skyscrapers while terrorising the city. This doesn’t make it easy to get a blood sample off him and this was the section that needed several attempts to find the correct path.

You’ll need to collect a sample in all 3 dimensions to win outright on this path but the alternate dimensions can be avoided all together if the player chooses. I found a way to win by visiting a planet populated by some sort of nano-sized dust creatures who had the ability to enter our heroes bodies and cure them. Having multiple successful endings isn’t something I can remember seeing in a game book before. I’m wondering if this is an early example of his disposition toward offering players multiple paths through each situation that we saw in so many of his later games.

I complained somewhat about Spector’s writing style when looking at The Hollow Earth Affair. He uses the exact same style here but being a superhero story it works extremely well and captures the Marvel ethos perfectly, at least in the eyes of someone who has never read a Marvel comic in his life. The book is upbeat, over the top and rattles along at a good pace throughout. It assumes a little more knowledge of the Marvel universe than I possess with some of the characters such as “The Ghost” completely unknown to me. This was never that off-putting – how much do you really need to know about comic book villains anyway?

I will say that the experience of playing this is brief. The multiple paths may offer replay value but it really doesn’t take long to get through any one of the routes as a result. Other than that I’d definitely recommend this one, especially since it’s so cheap and readily available. It’s definitely a whole lot more fun than The Hollow Earth Affair.

Given that I read every game book I could get my hands on as a kid, I’m surprised that I’ve not come across this series before now. My favourite series at the time was always Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf so while I’m on the subject I’ll strongly recommend the Lone Wolf Saga app on Android which is entirely free and so far has the first dozen entries in the series up and running.

The Hollow Earth Affair – A Warren Spector Novel

Before getting his entry into making computer games at Origin, Warren Spector had been working for several years in the world of tabletop role-playing games, first with Steve Jackson games and then moving to rival TSR in 1987. He worked on numerous projects while at TSR but what interested me particularly about his spell there was that he became a published author in 1988.


The book in question is “The Royal Pain/Hollow Earth Affair” which was published by TSR in 1988. It’s the second in a series of 3 novels based upon the Top Secret tabletop game, particularly it’s 1987 Special Intelligence revision. The game involved players taking the role of spies working for the Orion Foundation who would have to do battle with the evil Web.

All of the Double Agent novels were appropriately titled since they contained two stories featuring recurring secret agent characters. In the case of The Hollow Earth Affair, that character is Sebastian Cord, a gambling, womanizing secret agent of some experience who is now getting slightly past his prime. Basically it’s James Bond by another name, although he looks curiously like Bruce Campbell on the book cover. The Origin links to this character go further than just Warren Spector as the first entry in the series had been penned by Aaron Allston, who would go on to create the Claw Marks manual for Wing Commander.

The story starts in Nazi Germany where V2 scientists have to abandon work on their new super weapon at the end of the war but the lead scientist, Karl Unland, is given the opportunity to somehow carry on his work. Before we find out how, we jump forward to current day 1988 where Cord is trying to extract a defector from Web only for him to get sucked up into what appears to be a UFO.

None of Cord’s superiors believe this of course and he is put on forced leave. He ultimately recruits aid in the form of another agent, Rodrigo, a South American magician who does contract work for Orion + two of the backroom staff in an attempt to solve the mystery and in the course save the world.

I spare readers the entire plot but if you haven’t guessed by now, the Nazi superweapon was indeed a UFO. In true X-Files fashion this renders anyone without ear protection unconscious when it lands, although it hints elsewhere that they are rendered unconscious because of the large amounts of CFC gas it leaves behind while cooling the engines. The secret base where these were manufactured turns out to be underground at the South pole thus explaining the hole in the ozone layer because of all the CFC gas being released (yes, really).

There is much jetting around the world before reaching the South pole of course, including to Austin, Texas where a chunk of the novel is set. As well as being Cord’s home town, it’s the location for a secret base in the desert complete with UFO. Unland’s ultimate scheme involves using some sort of super CFC to entirely wipe out the ozone layer and destroy all life before repairing the damage with his CFC-be-gone chemical and taking over the cleansed world with his selected few.

To be blunt, The Hollow Earth Affair isn’t a great read. The story is ludicrous and the characters entirely unbelievable thanks to dialog that lies somewhere between Jeffrey Archer and George Lucas. There is a complete absence of any tension and the editing exacerbates this by doing its best to pull you out of the action at ever turn. It’s the literary equivalent of a Saturday morning kid’s cartoon.

It’s that editing that really got to me. In later stages, the narrative will swap between story threads so frequently there is no chance for the reader to get back into one before they have to start on another. This swapping happens several times on a single page in extreme cases.

The story is more or less a poor mans James Bond throughout, complete with the usual gadgets such as a spy watch which can communicate anywhere in the world via satellite, to the underground secret base which gets blown up at the end and a maniacal super villain intent on world domination. This is the Bond of the Roger Moore movies rather than the novels and I was never a fan of those in the first place.

I still can’t say I hated The Hollow Earth Affair for all that. I’m sure it was never meant to be serious literature and is bad enough to be fun most of the time. It did a decent enough job of passing the time on a long train journey. It’s not hard to see the mind that came up with this coming up with the premise for Martian Dreams as they are both equally far-fetched sci-fi tales. Martian Dreams may well have made an equally terrible novel but it was if nothing else much less derivative.

I’m certainly not going to recommend that anyone track this down. Any of the Ultima/Wing Commander novels that I’ve read through on this blog would be far better choices. It appears to be fairly readily available on abebooks for the curious though. I’ve not read the second novel in the book as of yet and will probably keep it that way.

Lemmings – The Official Companion

To go along with my recent playthrough of Lemmings, I’ve broken out the book scanner for the first time in some months and had a quick look at the Official Lemmings Companion.


This was published by Prima back in 1993 quite some time after the game was first released. It’s one of the largest books I’ve scanned in clocking in around 350 pages but doesn’t offer a whole lot more than solutions to all the levels. The main point of interest for me was the disk tucked into the back cover with 16 bonus levels. The disk was missing from my copy but included with my copy of Lemmings as a bonus disk. This despite the use of the phrases “exclusive game disk” and “not available anywhere else” in big letters on the guide’s cover.

There are 4 new levels for each difficulty and it has to be said that they aren’t of the highest quality. You can expect to play through this lot in about 30 minutes if you’ve made it through the main game.


The early levels are painfully simple. E.g.. the one above in which you merely have to dig down then mine across.


They do get harder but nothing like as much as the original game. Perhaps the most memorable involved making it safely across the Prima logo but it was more for the novelty than it being a well designed puzzle. The final level requires making your way across the letters of congrats. It’s just a case of sending a lemming ahead to dig and build with masses of room for error. The book solution mentions there being a hidden exit above the entrance but it’s easy enough to do it properly.


The levels do include additional graphics from Oh No More Lemmings with some curious new traps but I’m sure they were made better use of in the official expansion. The reward for beating them all is a bit of text advertising a game you would already have bought. The overall impression is that these levels were dashed off as quickly as possible to provide an extra for the book.

As such, I won’t recommend bothering playing it but I’ll put the disk image in the downloads section shortly if anyone wants it. It didn’t appear to require the original game to play. The book itself is already scanned and can be downloaded from here