Lane Mastodon by Steve Meretzsky, Infocom(1988)

The Evil, Ugly Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: Hey, look, it's just another Infocom classic! Terrible graphics, terrible writing, terrible plot, terrible interface, terrible! They really don't make IF like they used ta!

The Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder's Verdict: The whole thing is kind of cute, but I prefer Hergé.

My Verdict: It probably wasn't the greatest idea ever, but it's kinda interesting.

Game Information

Game Type: Infocomic(Runnable without interpreters. Versions for IBM DOS and the Commodore 64 are known to exist.)

Author Info: Steve Meretzsky is one of the most prolific authors of interactive fiction to have ever lived. He is best known for his grand works for Infocom, but he also authored the Spellcasting series for Legend in the 90s, among other things.

Other Games By This Author: Planetfall, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, and many more.

Download Link: No dice. This be commercial!

The Review...

It's a little bit ironic that a company which prided itself on its commitment to text adventures even while companies like Level 9 and Magnetic Scrolls were releasing great interactive fiction with graphics in the mid 80s would eventually themselves delve into the realm of graphics adventures towards the end of their existence, simultaneously killing their reputation with the diehard text adventuring crew as well as utterly failing to gain any new graphic-loving fans. It was a bit of a sad ending for old Infocom. Oh well - all good things must come to an end. Now that we look back on those old forays into the untapped graphical realm, we can at least acknowledge Infocom was ahead of its time. Er, maybe. In fact, Infocom's graphic adventures are not so shabby - probably better all around than their Infocomics, one of which I am about to review. Not on the level of their classic text adventures by any means, but they still should've been enough to keep Infocom alive into the the 90s. But it was not to be.

Lane Mastodon was the first of four "Infocomics" released by Infocom in association with Tom Synder Productions. The idea was to take the concept of a comic book and make it into a game. Sounds fine, right? Unfortunately, these games weren't exactly games. They didn't really require any interaction from the player whatsoever - these were stories that had to be read just like a regular comic book had to be read. The only advantage this computerized comic book had on a regular comic book was that the player could switch between the characters in the story at various points during the game, thus gaining the ability to watch the plot unravel through several people's perspectives. Unfortunately, Lane Mastodon took this limited concept and went absolutely nowhere. This game is weak. The first thing you'll notice is that the graphics are really rather lame - harshly drawn lines with only occasional bursts of color to lighten the mood. Very representative of the technological limitations of the time, but at least Sierra Online had the AGI engine back then. And King's Quest I looks a heck of a lot better than this. The plot is goofball, but promising: Lane Mastodon is this superhero guy who has to stop these evil aliens from the planet Jupiter who are plotting an invasion of Earth. The first phase of this attack involves the pelting of Earth with these lasers which magnify whatever animals they hit to a gigantic size. Erm, yes, I'm not making this up...supposedly having all these giant animals running around on Earth makes it better suited to the aliens' lifestyle(don't ask). Now, apparently these lasers either never hit people, or if they do they don't make them bigger - only animals are affected. At any rate, the opening sequence of this game is classic: the animations are crude, but it doesn't get better than seeing a giant cat jump on Big Ben and knock it over. And, hooeee, that rat is a hoot too. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't really proceed to do much aside from borrowing a few time honored comic book/science fiction literary cliches and supplying a steady dose of goofy humor. The only thing really consistent about the plot is its inconsistency, making me wonder if this wasn't a bit of a rush job. An even more damning criticism I have to make about this game is the writing: it's the definition of averageness. Dull! Even the humor is more cute than genuinely hilarious - so what if there's a Leather Goddesses of Phobos reference here and there? That doesn't necessarily incite me to laughter. Sometimes I wonder if Steve Meretzsky ever truly recovered from A Mind Forever Voyaging's failure to become as big a hit as a couple of his previous works. Will we ever know? Anyway, what makes this game weaker than the recent comp game Exhibition is that the characters you may switch to throughout this game are all kinda weak and one dimensional. There's not much psychological development, in other words - just simplistic, dumb characters who have very predictable ways of looking at life and the world. Really, the addition of the extra perspectives don't really add many interesting things to the game. I suppose they were only implemented to make the game replayable and longer.

Even if the story and writing had been excellent, Lane Mastodon probably would have failed to achieve classic status due to the mediocre interface, and, indeed, the whole "Infocomics" concept to begin with. As I mentioned earlier, the player is not required to interact with the game much, but they do have the ability to fast forward and rewind through scenes they do not wish to see, to select at various points the character whose' eyes they wish to watch the story from, and also, instead of using the standard save-load function, they may utilize the Infocomics' unique "bookmarking" system that is self explanatory. You bookmark the game at a certain place, and the next time you start up the game you go directly to where you bookmarked! Wowza! That's all well and good, but I know I'm not alone in thinking that interactive movies disguised as playable interactive fiction are lame, lame, lame, and are almost always less interesting than a good movie or book. The appeal of computer games to begin with is the level of interaction that is involved between the player and the computer - if you take that away, the computer game has lost that quality it has that makes it unique. Clearly, what really kills this game is the low level quality of the plot and the writing(even more so than the graphics) because the game has nothing else to fall back on. No gameplay, no interaction - it's all up to the graphics, the plot, and the writing to captivate the player, and it looks to me to have been a complete failure. If the graphics, the plot, and the writing were superior, I would of course give the game a higher rating than I am about to, but that doesn't change the fact that this whole non-playable "interactive" movie concept is a pretty rotten idea. I watch movies. I read books. I listen to albums and symphonies. I *play* computer games. Dammit!

That "dammit" was for emphasis, by the way.


But that "dammit" was my semi-polite way of swearing at you.

Simple Rating: 5/10

Complicated Rating: 11/50

Story: 4/10

Writing: 5/10

Playability: 2/10

Puzzle Quality: 0/10(My first, and possibly last, 0. But this game has no puzzles at all! There's no way to "lose" or to "win.")

Parser Responsiveness: 0/10(Hmm, I guess that wasn't my last 0. This game doesn't even have a parser.)

Reader Remarks

Pus Monkey sprach the following on December 2nd, 1999:

"Sad ending for Infocom," my foot!  I still balance my checkbook with Cornerstone!!

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