Missed Classic 10: Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man - Introduction (1984)

Written by Joe Pranevich

This summer is shaping up to be a pretty good one for Marvel. Avengers: Age of Ultron led off the Marvel summer calendar with a cool 1.4 billion dollars at the box office so far, and in just a few days we will have the long-awaited Ant-Man. Frankly, I have no idea how they will make a movie about Ant-Man into a blockbuster, but if they manage it then we should all give up and give Marvel a license to print money and cut out the middleman. As promised back in the first post in our summer series on Questprobe, it’s time to take a look at the second game in that series: Spider-Man, from 1984.

As we discussed back in the previous game, Scott Adams was trying to do the impossible: produce a 12-part adventure game series on a comic book-like schedule with a new game released every 4-months. While the first game was cover-dated August 1984, the sequel we will look at is dated January 1985. Comic books are somewhat strange in the way they postdate their work (designed to improve their “shelf life”) and so the sequel probably released to market in November or December 1984, just in time for the holiday rush. I suspect in hindsight that it was good business to release their most popular character at a time when sales would be at their peak. That puts the decision to release the Hulk’s episode first in a bit of a different light. But before we talk about this game, I want to take a look at where Spider-Man was in late 1984.

The cover of Spider-Man’s first story. To hyphenate, or not to hyphenate?

Spider-Man in the 1980s

The story behind Spider-Man is well known, but let me recap the basics. The character first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 in August of 1962 and was popular enough to get his own book seven months later with the publication of Amazing Spider-Man #1. Marvel’s early Silver Age material sought to redefine the tropes of the genre and Spider-Man is a great example of that: Peter Parker was a character who was immediately relatable, gifted with extraordinary powers, but also suffered through very mundane problems such as bullies at school, taking care of his widowed Aunt May, and struggling to maintain a balance between his costumed existence and his mundane one. This was quite different from most earlier comics where the focus was almost exclusively on the travails of the costumed persona.

By the 1980s, Spider-Man continued to be a Marvel flagship brand. While the Hulk found success on TV and remains the longest-running Marvel Universe live-action television show to date, Marvel was less successful with their Spider-Man attempts. Even so, from 1974 to 1984, some new Spider-Man material was on the air every year. He may not have had the Hulk’s breakout show, but he made up for that in quantity.

Here’s a few of Spider-Man’s many appearances:

The Electric Company (1974-1976)

Spider-Man appeared in a series of vaguely-educational shorts as part of The Electric Company, a show targeting those too old for Sesame Street, starting in the fourth season. New Spider-Man material was produced over the next several years, all staring Danny Seagren as the titular Spider-Man. The shorts are campy and crazy and do not appear to be all that educational, but perhaps they supported literacy? I have no idea. You can watch episodes on Youtube, of course.

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-1979)
Spider-Man’s first real live-action show, this one stars Nicholas Hammond as Spider-Man. It lasted for twelve episodes plus a pilot movie, spread over two brief seasons. Although the episodes aired individually, they have been spliced together in pairs for home video release as mini-movies. Here’s the pilot episode right here!

Spider-Woman (1979-1980)

Spider-Man had been animated almost since the beginning, but in 1979 Marvel produced a short-lived “Spider-Woman” cartoon for ABC. This show starred Jessica Drew (voiced by Joan Van Ark) as a woman with spider-powers that she received after being bitten by a poisonous spider. The show ran for 16 episodes, several of which included cameos by her better-known male counterpart. Contrary to what Wikipedia has to say, the character of Spider-Woman was not created for TV, but first appeared in an issue of Marvel Spotlight in 1977. Here’s the very first episode of that one, too!

Spider-Man (1981-1982) and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-1983)

The next two animated Spider-Man shows aired simultaneously, part of a trio of animated Marvel fare that took place in the same fictional universe. (The third part of that trio was 1982’s The Incredible Hulk.) The first features Spider-Man alone, while the latter has Spider-Man joining a team of “Spider-Friends” to combat crime. Despite the connection, the two shows did not share a voice cast so Spider-Man was voiced by Ted Schwartz in the stand-alone show, while Dan Gilvezan voiced him for Amazing Friends. In the latter, Spider-Man is joined by Iceman and Firestar. Amazing Friends was the show that introduced me to Spider-Man as a kid and I’m still quite fond of it. You can watch both Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends on Youtube.

The super-hero trinity when I was a kid. I really liked this show. 

In addition to TV, Spider-Man also starred in the aptly-named Spider-Man video game (1982) for the Atari 2600. In this action game, Spider-Man has to swing around a skyscraper to defeat the evil Green Goblin. I haven’t played it, but it looks pretty fun.

Would not score high in a PISSED rating, though.

A “Mighty” Connection

Perhaps the most important of these Spider-Man television series is ironically the one that you probably have not heard about. Starting in 1975, Toei, the Japanese television and film company, began a series of superhero shows in Japan. Their first two shows were pretty typical fare featuring teams of super-powered heroes fighting monsters in Japan. But in 1978, Toei instead elected to adapt an American superhero: Spider-Man. Of course, they did so in an absolutely crazy way, changing his name and origin story, and even giving him a giant robot to fight off the villains with. And yes, it’s even on Youtube! When that show ended, Toei planned a sequel based on Captain America but for whatever reason elected to split from the Marvel relationship. The resulting show, Battle Fever J, merged in aspects of Spider-Man (especially the giant robot fights), color-coded heroes that were supposed to represent different countries from the aborted Captain America show, and aspects of their previous Japanese hero efforts. It was a hit! After Battle Fever J concluded it was followed by similar team shows as part of a “Super Sentai” maxi-series. Thirteen seasons later, Toei produced a season which should be immediately recognizable to the American geek audience: Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger.

These guys...

Transformed into these guys...

Yes, thanks to the magic of Spider-Man and his amazing Japanese giant robot, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were born! Both Super Sentai and Power Rangers are still going strong today. The former is celebrating its 40th anniversary season, while Power Rangers is working on its 22nd, entitled Power Rangers Dino Charge. And you thought this would just be about Spider-Man?

Enter Questprobe

All of that set the stage for Scott Adam’s second Questprobe adventure: Spider-Man. On the technical front, Scott must have made a good use of time because this is the first game in the series powered by the S.A.G.A.+ engine and I look forward to discovering the differences. Just reading the manual, I can tell that it is a huge step forward. The Hulk had a basic two-words parser that would have been comfortable in Adventure (1977), but was archaic by 1984. The new engine supports complete sentences, stringing multiple commands together with a comma, and in general appears to be much more flexible. I look forward to experimenting and discussing it when we get to the PISSED rating.

The original title screen, art credited to Marvel.

The game itself is credited to Scott Adams as writer, while the text and art for the game are credited only to Marvel Comics rather than a specific artist. That is for this specific version only. Adventure International released alternate (and even text-only) versions for other platforms with their own porting teams. While I’m not sure I have a comprehensive list, I know that some of the porting efforts were conducted by Brian Howarth, an adventure author with his own “Mysterious Adventures” series. The art for the downscaled version was done by Teoman Irmak, an artist that has done some absolutely fantastic digital art in the last 40 years. He has a great portfolio page and if you are in to digital art, I recommend checking him out.

The game is dedicated to John Mathias which is just a tiny bit of foreshadowing. From what I’ve been able to discover online, John is the business associate that helped Scott Adams find his feet again after the Adventure International bankruptcy and Scott would continue working with him on non-gaming projects for at least the next twenty-five years of his career.

Alternate title screen, probably by Teoman Irmak. I like it quite a bit more than the original one.

Manual & Tie-in Comic
Just like the previous entry in the series, Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man has a tie-in comic but this time kids did not need to buy it separately. That is actually a huge improvement because so much of the framing story of these games are in the comics and I felt a bit uncomfortable last time judging the game with something you had to pay extra to understand. This time the comic was written and penciled by Al Milgrom, who was pulling duty on The Spectacular Spider-Man comic, Amazing’s lesser-known cousin. This was an excellent choice as he understood the Spider-Man voice very well. I also suspect that he may have been one of the anonymous Marvel staffers that contributed art to the game itself, but I haven’t found any details one way or the other.

The comic cover. Presumably the box art was adapted from the same original art.

The comic is an excellent introduction to Peter Parker and his powers: it demonstrates his webbing, his spider-sense, and describes a great deal of his backstory. In the book, he’s battling against a recently-escaped Mysterio and both characters are depicted very well. Peter gets to show off his nerdy analytical side-- he has a brain to go with his super-strength-- while Mysterio is shown as being almost equally brilliant in his field. He accomplishes theater-quality special effects in his exploits and the curtain is pulled back nicely to show how he does what he does. As a Spider-Man story on it’s own, it’s pretty good. At the end, the Chief Examiner shows up and tries to scan them both, but ends up only with Peter.

Spider-Man to the rescue!

But in parallel to the Spider-Man sequences, we also get a more detailed look at what’s going on with the Chief Examiner’s world and it complicates and adds color to the story we learned from The Hulk. While the previous issue depicted a good-vs-evil struggle between peaceful philosophers and an unstoppable “black fleet”, this one reveals that there are three players on the field. The “bio gems” that we encountered in the first game are actually prisons containing an evil life-form. The “Natter energy eggs” are essentially prison wardens, designed to explode and destroy their captives if they detect an attempt to escape or are otherwise tampered with. It is one of these “bio gems” that is controlling the Chief Examiner, not Durgin the Philosopher as we thought. In fact, it is holding Durgin captive for an as-yet unknown purpose.

Spider-Man discovers a Bio gem!

These bio gems are springing into action to prevent the black fleet from overrunning the universe precisely because they intend to do so later. It’s an enemy-of-my-enemy thing that you might only find in comic books, but it makes the previous game make so much more sense: the super-heroes are not only being recruited/scanned to defeat the fleet, but each time they are given a puzzle that proves they could also “rescue” a bio gem. It’s a great bit of added depth and it makes me wonder where this series is going. I only hope we get a bit of the big picture before the whole series collapses.

The bio gem’s sinister plot revealed: destroy all organic life!

One minor drawback from this game versus the previous is that we no longer get the nice full-page bios of each character you may meet, instead we just get a compressed paragraph or so on each. Obviously the manual already had a high-enough page count, but it is something that I really liked about the first game. Oh well.

Okay, okay. Enough background. Let’s play!

Questprobe featuring Spider-Man

Nothing like revealing all your enemies before you even start the game...

Peter Parker Journal #1 - It all feels fuzzy, like I’m in a dream. I’m at the Daily Bugle, dressed as Spider-Man, but all of the employees are gone and the office is empty. But there are super-villains there, practically in every room. I’m looking for these gems, but when I do manage to find one, it explodes and I die. I want to wake up. On the bright side, at least I am wearing pants.

I start up the game and find myself in a hallway. Ah yes, I remember this now. I played this game back on my Commodore 64 when I was perhaps 7 or 8 years old. I vaguely remember that it has Sandman and a water guy and that you can climb the side of the building, but that’s about it. I know I didn’t make it very far, but it was one of a number of games that I was given as gifts from a relative. This was the only Questprobe game.

Right away, I can see a few small differences with the engine. The prompt is “Spider-Man, I want you to:” and then I can type “go north” or “dance a hula”, but it’s understandable for new players to adventure games. That’s a nice touch. Of course, the game does not recognize hula dancing, but that isn’t the point. The window also changes to yellow when you just have to press any key to continue, then switches to white when you can type. Another nice feature for new players in the S.A.G.A.+ engine.

There’s a sign in the starting room, so naturally I read it and am given an overview of the plot: I have to “prove myself worthy” of Spider-Man powers by collecting and storing all of the *Gems. That’s pretty much the same as last time and a bit disappointing as I had hoped for something a bit deeper than just a scavenger hunt. Finding the gems in the previous game was the most annoying part and if I have to dig random holes again this time, I won’t be pleased.

Why is there a crib in an office complex?

I head off to the west and get an alert from my Spider Sense. That means that something bad is about to happen, right? On the ground is some dirt and I hear someone say “Ouch”. Well, there’s the Sandman that I remembered from being a kid. The room also contains a crib and when I look inside it, I see formula. I’m not sure if it’s a chemical formula or baby formula, but I assume the latter since it was found in a crib. I can’t seem to get it because…

Sandman appears! The sand in the room flies up and forms Sandman. There’s a really nice animation for this, not like the still comic-book panels that The Hulk had, actual animation. Another benefit of the new engine, I suspect. So with him in the room, I can’t get the formula from the crib. I try the violent approach and hit Sandman, but that doesn’t get me anywhere. I guess I will come back later. In case you were curious, Sandman is one of Spider-Man’s oldest villains, having appeared in Amazing #4 in 1963.

The room off to the east is an elevator with a call button. I search the room quickly, but don’t find anything of value. Rather than change floors, I’d rather explore the rest of this one first, so I will come back later.

Do you and the Hulk have the same tailor?

To the south, I find the Lizard. He’s another classic Spidey villain from 1963, first appearing in Amazing #6. Already, this game has a very different opening from The Hulk. There, you didn’t find any Marvel characters for a long while as you explored an alien landscape. This time, it seems that they are everywhere. I talk to him and he tells me that I will not get his gem. I’m beginning to see a pattern here with each of the baddies guarding a gem, but we’ll see if that holds up.

To the north is more hallway, but I go west from there and stumble into my old friends the “*Bio gem” and “Natter energy egg”. These were the final puzzle for the Hulk and given what we learned in the manual, perhaps the final puzzle for this one as well. If it’s anything like the comics and the previous game, the egg is about to explode. Just to check, I try picking up the gem and, yep, the egg explodes and I die. Death seems to be like the previous game where you go to heaven with a set of stairs down. If this is like the previous game, even though I have been resurrected and that seems pretty friendly, I probably can’t complete the game now as the gem won’t come back. I double check and yep, it’s gone. I restart from the beginning. No big loss.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

To the north then east is yet another Spider-Man bad guy: the similarly-hyphenated Hydro-Man. He was pretty recent when this game came out, having first appeared in 1981. He is hanging out with an aquarium and I can see a gem in the water. But, as you could probably guess, he doesn’t let me pick it up. I do what I can to get at it, but as “Spider-Man is no vandal”, truly violent means are off the table. I guess I’ll just have to keep going.

At the far northern end of the hallway is Madame Web, a character that I was wholly unfamiliar with before playing this game. She’s another newbie, having first appeared in November 1980. Reading the manual, she seems to be a psychic that can tell me things about the villains that I face. She’s an ally! That’s good. When I talk to her, she suggests that I ask her to scan the villains that I am facing:
  • When I type “scan lizard” , she gives me a chemical formula: “CaCO3 + HCl -> CaCL2 + …”
  • When I type “scan hydro-man”, she just says “solid”. 
  • When I type “scan sandman”, she tells me “you’re above him”

Completely immobile, but still has a super hero costume.

That is some great advice! I really like these hints. Let’s look at the first one first. CaCO3 must be Calcium Carbonate. HCl is immediately recognizable as hydrochloric acid. Thanks to the magic of Google and some basic chemistry refreshers, I know that they combine to form Calcium Chloride (CaCL2), water, and carbon dioxide. I’m not sure how any of that helps, but it’s a nice clue and I like it. The clues for Hydro-Man and Sandman are less immediately apparent, though they give me some things to try and some items to look out for.

I head out of there to go and explore the rest of the building, but I wander into the Bio gem room by mistake and get blown up. That seems like a pretty good place to end, with one floor explored and plenty more to go. I think I solved zero puzzles at this point, but at least I have plenty left to explore.

I don’t know, but I have seen; the sky in heaven is mighty green.

Time played: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Deaths/Reloads: 2
Inventory: <nothing>

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return.

It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw. Don’t forget!

Questprobe Spring-Summer Contest!

Would you like to win this completely un-signed and non-mint copy of Questprobe Vol #1 Issue #1? How about issues #2 and #3 as well? I bet you would! This summer, I will be playing the three Questprobe games, with each “Missed Classic” coming out with a summer Marvel feature: #1 with Avengers: Age of Ultron, #2 prior to Ant-Man in July, then #3 with The Fantastic Four in early August. After that is over, I will wrap up with a series-wide recap and an “epilogue” of how Marvel ended the series (and the Chief Examiner) after the collapse of Adventure International, as well as announce the winner. All you need to do is write a comment (as many as you want) describing why you love or hate a character that appeared in our Questprobe adventure. I will randomly pick from the best comments to select the winner.
  • For #1, the included Marvel characters are: the Hulk, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, Nightmare, and Ultron. 
  • For #2, the included Marvel characters (so far) are: Spider-Man, Mysterio, Joe “Robbie” Robertson, Sandman, the Lizard, Hydro-Man, and Madame Web
Please avoid using characters from later in the series so as not to spoil me on those games. Good luck!

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