Francis was impressed: the spoon without a doubt made up for You Don't Have To Be Megalomaniacal To Work Here But It Helps!!!. He'd been expecting the lift behind the wall panelling in the unpleasantly enthusiastic secretary's office, and the deeply curving slide as the floor dropped open was standard for the model, but the way the enormous padded scoop sprang from above the ceiling to fork him neatly and arc through the concealed chute when he reached across to stir his complimentary lemon tea came as an interesting surprise. It was easy to see why everyone aspired to the Black Board.
A section of floor Jaycloth-cartoned, and an alarmed black-clad underling appeared with an explosive hiss. Obviously unfamiliar with the equipment, he twisted in mid-air and landed heavily facing an exhaustive bookcase. There was a briefly agonised moment, and the doorman pirouetted towards Francis.
"Mr Perkins," he silked tenaciously, "the Black Board will see you now."
"But my name is not - " began Francis. The doorman cut him off with a gesture and exaggerated the precaution of glancing about himself as if acting out a script.
"The Black Board would be obliged if you adopt a pseudonym," he explained. "This way," he added, pulling an edition of Chaucer from the bookcase and leaping backwards. After a while he replaced the book and seized the volume next to it. The bookcase swung open, revealing an escalator reminiscent of those of the London Underground.
The doorman regarded it with confusion. "So what did I order installed at St Pancrs? No matter. Follow me. And stay on the right," he added as Francis gingerly stepped upon the rapid steps and settled his balance.
The room was impenetrably dark by design. Francis shuffled uncomfortably before the looming shapes. There was the pressure of a supersonic note, and an amplified voice gargled from above.
"THE BLACK BOARD WELCOMES YOU, FRANCIS IRONSTEIN. WE SHALL ATTEND TO YOU IN A MOMENT. FIRST, WE MUST DEAL WITH THIS UNDERLING."
The voice dopplered across to the doorman, who had been consulting a clipboard and writing furious memos. "YOUR INEPTITUDE HAS DIMINISHED THE PERCEPTION OF THE BLACK BOARD AS ALL POWERFUL. WE DO NOT TOLERATE FAILURE IN THIS ORGANISATION."
Smoke mushroomed from the floor as a trapdoor thundered open full six feet to the doorman's right. There was an embarrassed pause. Suddenly the doorman clapped a hand to the side of his head. "Aaarghh," he yelped theatrically. "My inner ear." He listed to one side and doubling his legs under him, flung himself gamely through the hole. The trapdoor banged shut. "SO PERISH ALL THOSE WHO FAIL THE BLACK BOARD," said the voice petulantly. "EVENTUALLY."
The voice turned once more to Francis. "AND NOW FOR YOU, PROFESSOR, WE HAVE READ YOUR APPLICATION AND FIND IT TO BE OF INTEREST. TELL US MORE OF YOURSELF. FOR EXAMPLE, YOUR NEWEST PLOT TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD, RECENTLY FOILED, WE UNDERSTAND BY THE PLITOR OF THE 'AMAZON QUEEN'?"
"Boooo," said a voice of recognisably readerish qualities, "Aaarghh," it continued to the sound of heavy blows.
Francis sat back in the black leather chair that had zoomed under him from a panel in the wall. He had carefully prepared for this moment. There was no shame in failing to take over the world, as any of the Black Board would attest. "Well," he found himself saying, "it's a long story."
"DOT DOT DOT," recited the Black Board in unison, and Francis knew he had them.
Elsewhere, the reviewer was being throttled by Rondo Hatton on the orders of a sinister shadowy figure, "But it's a tried and tested literary device to get across the atmosphere of the game," he gurgled, "That is exactly what it is like."
"Tried and tested by you alone, I recall," murmured the sinister shadowy figure, "We closed Game Zone to stop it last time, and it's not going to work now. Such grotesque self-indulgence exceeds even" - and here it put an audible cocked eyebrow in its speech - "AMIGA POWER's slack rules." It smacked the back of a hand into an open palm. "Facts. Now."
"It's a point-and-click adventure," squealed the reviewer as Rondo twisted his nose," Taking place in 1941 it tells the story of Joe King, pilot for hire, who stumbles across Francis's plot to take over the world and foils it with the aid of Amazons, household appliances and native intelligence and intelligence."
The sinister shadowy figure's lip curled, "Background blurb," the figure stated. It was a sentence.
It was just another day at the Sam Cruise detective agency, except it was the office of Joe King (pilot for hire), and it was empty because Joe was dressed in drag on the back of a speeding flatbed lorry. "Step on it, Sparky," barked Joe, ducking bullets and flinging chickens at Rico and Eddy. He juggled his ersatz boxom and waved a fist on general principle.
"And then what happened?" asked Naomi as the camera pulled out and went wobbly to show it was later on and Joe was relating the story in the local trading post. Joe Smired.
"After disposing of Rico and Eddy, punching out Anderson and flying famous actress Faye Russell to the Amazon, except we crashed, the rest was simple.""
The projector snickered to a halt, and Francis's shadow unrolled across the screen. "But it wasn't simple," he commenced, rippling the screen pleasantly with a pointer. "Unbeknownst to Mr King, the area of the jungle in which he had crashed housed my secret base. I had, of course, surrounded my base with guards and traps - traps with logical (yet slightly obtuse) disarming procedures. My guards were under strict orders to give away weaknesses in casual conversation and be extraordinarily stupid. Should Mr King still be fooled, he had only to examine each chamber closely and move any objects to be found."
"SO, PLAGIARISING MYSELF AND MR THREEPWOOD," harrumphed a subsidiary voice of the Black Board.
"Paying homage, Mr Chuck," countered Francis, smiling so hard his eyes squeaked. The projector clattered into life, but was beaten up before it could flee.
Observing his rod and reel
"Funny," babbled the reviewer. "Yes, it's funny. Your main character cracks wise to a high degree, and the dialogue is very good. Eeeegh. I mean, it sparkles with wit. The routine with the shirty Death, for example, who you're trying to hire as a ferryman. Observing his rod and reel, you ask politely about the one that got away. He thinks for a moment and then admits that Harry Houdini led him a merry dance.
Then there are the in-jokes. The game's filled with them. Expect to see lines from the likes of Star Wars and Evil Dead ("2" - Ed) and doors to open with the sample from Doom, and to meet a thinly-guised Abbott and Costello and equally transparent Men of Low Moral Fibre. The programmers have clearly played many point-and-click games and know how to make one consistently entertaining.
"Hooray," said the programmers.
"Up to a point," said the reviewer.
"Kill him," said the programmers.
Joe breathed through his nose as the imprisoned loon attempted to give him a glove puppet for the seventeenth time. He shook his head, and, at last, the loon seemed satisfied.
"I'll take it," piped up another prisoner, renewing the argument. Joe's bawl of defeat melded with Francis's bellow of laughter. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and he slapped his knee and sprang the pointer off the floor into an outstretched hand. "Now that's comedy!" he said when he'd regained his breath.
"NO IT ISN'T", countered the Black Board. "AFTER INVESTING TIME IN SETTING UP YOUR CHARACTERS AND WRITING WITTY DIALOGUE FOR TEM, DROPPING SUDDENLY INTO SURREALISM IS DISAPPOINTING AND UNSATISFYING. THE SEQUENCE IN THE GAME WITH THE GORILLA, THE SEQUENCE WITH THE GORIALLA RETURNED BUT DISGUISED AS A DINOSAUR, AND THE INTERMINABLE CROSSTALK BETWEEN THE PRISONERS IN THE AMAZON GAOL, ARE EXTRAORDINARLY UNFUNNY."
Hang on," said Francis, "What do you mean, 'in the game'?"
"There's a moment in the game when the programmers lose it completely," gabbled the reviewer as Rondo Hatton filled a bucket of water. "After strolling along for three-quarters of the time, talking to funny people, appreciating complicated dialogue jokes, empathizing with Joe, admiring the phenomenal attention to detail exemplified by the comic, you're given and can then read to discover it really is a comic, and advancing with enjoyable ease through the puzzles, dinosaurs, and, two embarrassing puzzles later, you're more or less taking part in the ridiculously underpowered climax.
It's a finale approaching Dragon's Lair margins of distance; there's no thought involved in anything, the only trick comes in an object's description (leading you to believe it can't be used in a certain manner) being, well, a lie, and it's wholly unworthy of the rest of the game."
The reviewer thought aplunge and was ready upon demmersion. "Even before that point things have been deteriorating. The lengthy, second section of the game takes place in an ancient temple. Although small in size, it's enormously involved and crammed with puzzles. Objects and solutions are, however, SPREAD OUT IN AN ODIOUS MANNER and demand an amazing amount of walking repetitively through the same locations. It's an oddly abrupt and savage slide into mediocrity. Not that it diminished the excellent first three-quarters at all, of course," he added hastily.
"'In the game'. Nuts"
"IT'S NOT SO BAD BEING A LITERARY DEVICE. LOOK AT THE FOUR CYCLISTS OF THE APOCALYPSE."
"Regular characters. WE'll cease to exist once the readers turn the page."
"SOMEONE'S DONE THAT LINE BEFORE."
"He's waiting to go on to the afterlife."
"No he's not. He's a desiccated corpse tightly wrapped in bandages and he's so old he'll integrate as soon as you open that airtight sarcophagus."
Joe breathed through his nose as the zombie concubines mulled this over. They seemed a fairly nice bunch of people - at no point, for example, had they tried to bite ope his head - but they were awfully stubborn. It probably came from arguing among themselves and then waiting for the others to back down. He shuffled uncomfortably. If only he'd thought to step off that low ledge earlier on. The zombie concubines turned back to him.
"You're wrong," the leader snapped, unusually angry. "The Prince is waiting inside the sarcophagus. Waiting for us, and for the appropriate moment."
"Then why don't you open it and see?"
"Right! We bloody well will!"
Impossibly skinny hands reached for the complicated doorknob...
Flashbulbs popped in the approved manner as the reviewer stepped upon the hasty podium. Reporters barked questions in an effort to impress vaudeville king Pallam Betjeman.
"Reviewer - is it true you can't think of an ending for this piece?" asked a journalist when it became clear Pallam was interested but minimally.
"Reviewer, we hear you're awaiting the end of civilisation to say I told you so,"
"Reviewer, are you a giant chicken?"
The reviewer calmed the auditorium with a gesture, pointing at the security squad who hit people until they were quiet. "I have a prepared statement here," he said, shaking open a paper. "There's really little more to add," he began reading carefully. "It looks terrific, revels in magnificently elaborate puns and has surprisingly good music, with each area having its own more than tolerable theme.
With the larger sections you're pretty much free to tackle puzzles in any old order, and the only annoying flaw in logic comes with finding a low ledge and being obliged to trace a long, twisting route around it instead of, for example, being allowed to jump lightly to the ground.
It's far too easy, though, and, jarring with the light comic atmosphere, there's a bit where a squad of typically inept villains gets killed horribly by deathtraps. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed it for the two days it took me to complete, not counting the part where I found a terrible bug that the programmers had missed and which has put back the release date by four months."
He looked up. "That is all. I read you every day," he added in the traditional manner. The reporters left, oneupmanning among themselves and feeling smug, ceasing to exist as they left the auditorium which served them right.
In the silence, the sinister shadowy figure smiled. "Excellent," he said, ostentatiously ticking upon a clipboard. "Come, Rondo." He turned and melted into the shadows, but due to the reviewer being late as usual, the point of it all was lost forever.