Game 70: Heart of China (1991) - Introduction

Written by Aperama

Heart of China – 1991's most 'under the radar' adventure game for me

This is probably a first for me here at the Adventure Gamer – an exciting game that prior to this blog I'd never really heard of, but now I'm legitimately excited to get started in on (Countdown had me cautiously optimistic – this is full­blown finger­quivering anticipation!) Heart of China is the third adventure game created by Dynamix. If you've read Joe's work on Willy Beamish (or would like to follow that to Ilmari's post on Rise of the Dragon), you'd know that Dynamix is essentially Sierra­lite – a company best known for simulators that was bought out during the late eighties-­early nineties and decided that this change meant that they ought to start producing adventure games. This company will see quite a few more releases to be covered on this blog (with a lot of ex-Sierra employees 'jumping ship' later on – Jim Walls went from creating 'Police Quest' to 'Blue Force'.. a game about.. motorbike cops. Huge leap, as I'm sure you can tell.) This game has a few interesting quirks to it, definitely, and just from gathering information I can already begin to form an opinion of what I'm in for. But first? A little bit about the name at the dead top of the manual.. Jeff Tunnell.

Or as you all probably better know him – 'the guy who made The Incredible Machine'

This game marks a five year hiatus by Jeff, one of the founders of Dynamix – it seems to me as though this game really was his baby. He's listed under just about every aspect of the game – design, production.. even writing. He's the face on the back cover (literally). Why'd he leave (even though the following games were still published by Dynamix/Sierra, so it was clearly quite amiable)? The Incredible Machine. It was and is definitely a relic of PC gaming history, and is definitely a game I remember from my childhood. That said, this is the final adventure by Dynamix bearing his name.. well, sorta. Beamish was technically his last title, but we've taken things in the seemingly wrong chronology. Regardless, it seems to me that he spent more time on this game due to how many times I see his name popping up. Heart of China definitely appears as though it is a bit of a labor of love, as it has just about everything that someone could call 'cutting edge' at this point in time – we're getting into the days of good audio and graphics that can at least stand up compared to today's standards, with a game that promises branching pathways a la Indiana Jones, multiple playable characters... It shares the 'photographed actors' of such absolute classics as Countdown and Les Man.. urgh. Well, that's not necessarily a negative, though I must also temper that statement with a factoid from Wikipedia. 'Because of tight production budgets, Dynamix recruited the majority of its actors from the company's own employees and families.' This is something that will either be honest good fun from their up front efforts to do their best, or unintentionally hilarious. I'm not sure which, but the back cover does feature a ninja, which can only be a good thing.. right? Right?

No seriously, Tunnell's name is ­everywhere­!

I always love peeking through manuals of this vintage. Whilst gaming in this era was technically limited, it's pretty rare you find a manual where the developers weren't legitimately putting their best foot forward. They were designed to really drag people's attention, and are definitely a lost art. The opening to this is a little too wordy as compared to the 'fun' manuals I could compare it to (even of other Dynamix titles – Beamish's approach was far more interesting), but not only does it give an idea of the gameplay, but it's quick to start with a message – 'we've listened to all of the player complaints about our previous titles and are attempting to make them all better'. They clearly wanted to use every trick they had up their sleeves, attempting to emphasise through the manual that you'll be playing 'through the eyes' of characters, and that everything will have an impact. One thing I definitely don't look forward to is for all of the promise of branching plots and likely multiple solutions to puzzles... the game runs on a timer. I really do loathe timers, but hopefully it won't be particularly painful as these things sometimes can be. The manual directly says what ending we'll be 'aiming' for, also, which does give some degree of promise to me – but this game could be quite difficult to write about depending on how well this attempt actually pans out in practice, but multiple endings and branching plots are definitely something of a novelty this early in the 1990s. One very interesting note is that every time the game goes in an 'open' direction (where multiple things may occur), it will actually say 'plot branch' to give an idea of a good point to (I presume) take a save and trial things in different ways if things feel like they might not have gone quite the way I may have wanted them to.

Thankfully, this 'VCR MENU' doesn't date the game at all.. right?

The plot synopsis (which I'm gathering between the manual and back cover of the game) comes to a rather simple story. 'Lucky' Jake Masters is an ex­World War 1 pilot who has been hired by Kate Lomax's father, a 'ruthless American land baron'. She's been kidnapped somewhere in the 'lush mountains of Central China', and he's being led by a 'shadowy master of stealth and cunning from a far away land', Zhao Chi. Who is, by the way, a ninja. The manual then goes on to give an idea that there is romance to be had between Kate and Lucky (which will be measured via 'the Romance Meter'), that I need to ensure that the two are 'nose to nose' by the time they return to Paris (where Kate Lomax's father is going to be). If I've done everything right, 'Lomax will give all of your aeroplanes back, $125,000 plus a $20,000 bonus, a new car and an all expense paid trip to Monte Carlo along with free meals at all of his restaurants.' I don't get why an 'American land baron' is going to have restaurants in Monte Carlo, but I'll assume this makes sense in­game. I also assume that this means I will be losing several aeroplanes, which is a kinda sucky thought! (What happens if I don't get the free meals? Does that mean that I have to replay the game, even if I get all of the other goodies on offer?)

This is also getting up to the point where DOS and Amiga
versions of games are of a similar quality –
I've interlaced Amiga (slide 1­3­5 left to right) and DOS (2­4­6)
from an early­game screenshot via Mobygames,
 and for the most part they're pretty alike

I feel a little hesitant to read what appears to have also come via the 'Travel Guide' which appears to have also come with some copies of the game. It feels like I'm reading a little too much information within, even – but this is definitely where the 'flavor' side of things comes into full swing. It's written as though it were a dossier by a 'Josephine Andrews' in regards to several of the in­game locations and characters. I feel like I don't want to read about the main character before I see him in­game, so I'm skimming over bits and pieces. I'd be very impressed if there are actually red herrings in here, but I'm all too concerned that the short section on 'homeopathic remedies' is all but an answer to a puzzle I'm going to encounter later on, or that I'm going to know all of the locations within the game just by reading up the short list on 'Istanbul', information about rickshaws in Hong Kong, a piece on the 'ancient fortress of Chengdu'.. I will likely revisit it at a later point either during or after the game, but for the time being? I'll just give you all that I was willing to risk properly spoiling for myself..

This article on Turkish headgear!

The game promises to have a fairly similar interface to other Dynamix titles – the majority of actions are performed via context-­sensitive mouse slides, with a few action sequences – tank shootouts and a fightout atop the Orient Express are listed in the manual, though part of me wouldn't be surprised to find some other little tidbits coming my way – Heart of China seems a game that Dynamix clearly worked on throwing everything they could think of at. I'm quite excited about the prospect of a game that I've never really heard of, and hope that it has everything that it promises. If nothing else, I feel very confident that the game will be interesting, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what the game has ahead of me. Has anyone actually played this title to give me an idea of what I'm in for? I'd love to hear all of your thoughts!

At last, an adventure game with real, ultimate power.

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.

Example bet (yes, I'm going to try bringing it back because Retrosmack has sadly fallen to the wayside – I'll donate 20 CAPs to the winner):

N gnyr frg hcba gur Uvtu Frnf
Bs zbfgyl yrffre ynepravrf
Uvf jbzna'f nybbs
Uvf gevny'f ol gbbgu
Bs jubz qb V fcrnx bs, cyrnfr?

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