Written by: Rik

Date posted: July 21, 2013

Hello everyone, and welcome to our latest discussion review. Today we’re talking about Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? – the first in a long-running, and incredibly commercially successful, series of educational games, all of which feature the master criminal (and V.I.L.E agent) Carmen. Later adventures would see the player pursuing Ms Sandiego through time and space, but for now we’re dealing with the globe-trotting first game, although not, as we shall see, the original release.

We were fortunate enough to be joined by sometime-contributor Jo for this one, while I took on the editing/writing-up duties.

 

Preamble and floral leggings

Rik: Welcome! You’re both looking well I must say.

Jo: Thanks, I’ve been working out

Stoo: I, erm, haven’t…but thanks anyway.

Rik: Ok, so…are we ready to get started? I’ll be your host for today.

Jo: Yes! I’ve had another quick go this morning. I even solved my first case AND I got promoted to Investigator! *air punch*

Stoo: I also appear to be an Investigator.

Rik: I’m a Senior Investigator I think. I’ll check that later.

Rik: I guess we should start by clarifying exactly which version we played.

Jo: Well, I played the Deluxe Version seeing as I had access to the CDROM…

Rik: Aha, well, you say that but…it’s the Deluxe Deluxe version.

Jo: Wha??

Rik: But not the triple-deluxe version.

Rik: The original was in EGA, released in 1985, then the ‘deluxe’ version, was the VGA re-release, which is similar to the one we played, but lacking some bells and whistles.

Jo: So what comes after deluxe?

Rik: The one we played. Basically the same as the deluxe version but with extra animations and voices, especially for CD-ROM owners!

Rik: Then in about 1996 they did a whole new version with FMV…

Jo: FMV?

Off we go to Baghdad...

Off we go to Baghdad…

Stoo: Heh, I’m not surprised, that was the time when games companies were getting very excited over FMV… “hey we can use all this space for video”.

Jo: *Googles FMV*

Rik: The version we played is from the time when games companies got excited about mildly enhanced CD content. “It’s like the disc version, but with some extra stuff, like a terrible intro sequence, or music streamed from the CD”…hang on, Jo – are you saying you don’t know what FMV is?

Jo: Yes. Am I going to be fired from FFG?

Rik: We haven’t gone through any formal procedures. So you could take Stoo to court if we did.

Jo: Are you going to refer me to HR?

Stoo: I think we can let this go with a verbal warning. Jo: – you’re warned. We expect extensive knowledge of obscure mid 90s gaming references.

Jo: Argh! I’ll shape up, I promise.

Rik: The only time people say ‘FMV’ is to refer to terrible video sequences in games from the 90s. It just means video really.

Jo: What does the “FM” mean?

Rik: Full motion…both words are kind of redundant. What other kind of video is there?

Jo: I might try and squeeze it into a sentence today and then ridicule that person for not knowing.

Stoo: Well I frequently try and strike up conversations about MegaRace or 7th Guest. Then wonder why people are making their excuses and walking away…

Jo: I tried to explain to someone yesterday that I would be reviewing a game from the 90s. Their response: “Oh… I didn’t realise you were *that* old…”

Rik: *slap*

Jo: I would have preferred the polite walk-away response.

Stoo: The 90s are now retro, good grief what happened…

Rik: We got older.

Jo: Now 90s fashion is cool again. Crop tops, neon colours, floral leggings…

Rik: I never had floral leggings. I wasn’t cool even then.

Jo: I wish I never had floral leggings.

 

Chortle out loud

Rik: Anyway, let’s talk about the game! So we should point out that this is a game that’s meant to be educational.

Jo: “Edutainment” I believe is the correct term…

Stoo: Yep, trick the kids into learning some geography.

Rik: I was going to say, 10 points to the first person who says ‘edutainment’. It’s a fairly simple setup. You chase criminals across the globe, at each location you get clues about where they’ve gone next…

Stoo: And also clues as to their identity.

You can check the details of suspects manually, but it’s easier not to bother.

You can check the details of suspects manually, but it’s easier not to bother.

Rik: Yes, you need to make sure you have identified the correct thief and have a warrant for their arrest before you find them.

Jo: Yeah – I have several points to make about this bit. I don’t know whether it was just that I completely couldn’t remember how to play this game given the 15 year (or more?!) time gap since I last played, or whether the set up wasn’t overly obvious, but I flunked my first few cases for not getting a warrant. Then not getting the warrant for the right person. This morning I found myself wondering how much evidence you needed to get a warrant for the correct thief.

Stoo: You need to identify four features.

Rik: Sometimes fewer. You can keep checking with Warren the Warrant robot. If you only have two or three, you can call Warren and he’ll tell you how many suspects it could be, if there isn’t only one name.

Stoo: Ah ok, but four was always enough for me.

Jo: I think I went with three and arrested the wrong chap. The Chief wasn’t happy.

Rik: I arrested the wrong people a few times, I kept misinterpreting some of the clues. Some fairly terrible mistakes on my part: “His eyes were the colour of tortoiseshell…” That’s green right? (Obviously not).

Jo: That said, I think some of the clues are a bit, er, vague! This morning I had “She had velvety sable wisps…”

Stoo: It is quite a lot more liberal with location clues than identity ones, so I was more likely to turn up at the last location without an ID, than run out of time by running to wrong locations.

Rik: And there’s a grey area sometimes about whether the clue is about identity or suspect. For example, they say the suspect got into a limousine with some flags on them – the clue is about the country represented by the flag…NOT that the suspect drives a limo!

Stoo: I had one about “she like going mountain climbing”, but I already knew from other clues she was off to Argentina, which has the Andes. So I wasn’t sure if that was an ID or location clue.

Rik: I think roughly speaking the ‘speak to person’, ‘investigate place’ clues are location based, and the ‘call someone’ relate to identity…I think Crime Net can be a mixture? Actually they’re mainly location based.

Jo: I think the location clues can also be misleading. This morning I had a lot of clues about Scotland (including a recorded message with a terrible Scottish accent). Then on the map you could only fly to London…

Rik: I found that clues relating to Europe were rather loose about about where things were. I’ve got a note here – “Orkney=London???”

Jo: Well first clue was “He invited me to a Rugby match in Bristol” followed by something else about Aberdeen. So it was pretty muddled.

Rik: Having said that, I was grateful for such vagueness when I didn’t have a clue.

Stoo: Well, it’s relatively rare it gives you two locations right next to each other, like, you wouldn’t get Scotland AND England.

Rik: I think there’s only one per country. The only tricky ones are, say, a couple of South American countries next to each other. I must admit, though, my geography is *terrible*

Stoo: Well, I have a question here…did the game originally come with some sort of reference book? Or did it just expect you to know where Luzon is. I’ve been using Wikipedia a hell of a lot!

Jo: I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of age-group it was aimed at.

Rik: I think it did…but maybe the version we have ‘not for resale’ didn’t! I wondered whether kids were meant to run off to the library between cases, then figured it probably wouldn’t have been very fair.

Getting a promotion. Thanks, Chief!

Getting a promotion. Thanks, Chief!

Stoo: Yeah exactly, I mean I kick myself for forgetting where the Indus river is, but I assume they’re not expecting all 10 year olds to know that.

Rik: So I guess we’re kind of reviewing blind in terms of not having the reference materials. But then we have the internet instead – thank God! I initially got myself into a tangle thinking it would be cheating to look at the internet.

Stoo: Ah, I assumed we were meant to look at some kind of reference.

Rik: The moment I got stuck, I thought, there’s no way kids would be able to do this. I would have thought, though, given all the in-game help you get they might mention the reference materials. I mean, the chief says ‘press the send button to do this’ or ‘press the cancel button to do that’ – I would have thought at some point, say when you messed up a case, he might say ‘try looking at the reference materials’ or something. But no wonder we were crap at the game when we were kids! Serves us right for getting a version without the manual.

Jo: Well, that’s what I’m just having a look at now…I mean the only thing that we have is the CDROM and the instructions inlay. There definitely isn’t anything about a reference book in the instructions. [Edit: moderate research suggests there should be a document called the “World Almanack” to assist you.]

Rik: Another thing I realised this time was that if you go wrong, you always retrace your steps. It sounds obvious when you think about it, but I’m sure I used to just go chasing about at random when I got stuck.

Jo: Me too. Is there a time limit for each case?

Stoo: Yep.

Jo: I always worried that once you’d gone to the wrong country, that was it, you’d pretty much lost. If you eventually got to the right one it would be too late and the theif would be long gone…

Rik: You can make some mistakes I think. I wondered about whether it would save time and help you go quicker if you got the location after one clue.

Stoo: But you might miss an ID clue, so I always work through the list.

Rik: But say, if you already have the warrant, would you catch them quicker if you didn’t look at each one? But, really, running out of time wasn’t a problem for me. Wrong warrant, though, yes – more than once!

Jo: I have to say the language tapes and answer phone messages are a bit baffling. As I mentioned earlier, the Scottish accent was terrible.

Rik: How on earth are you meant to guess the language? Unless it’s French or something. I felt a bit racist, going “that sounds kind of Asian”.

Stoo: Oh yes, the language tapes are the hardest to figure out.

Rik: “Lesson 1: ‘Excuse me, where is the train station’…*random foreign language*”…”Oh yeah, I know, it’s Vietnam!”

Jo: I am actually laughing outloud. But I can’t say LOL. Actually it’s more of a chortle. COL? Chortling out loud?

Rik: See if it catches on.

Jo: I’ll keep you posted.

 

Where on earth can she be?

Rik: Did you find the game getting tougher as you went along?

Jo: Er… I really didn’t get very far. I only got promoted to Investigator this morning. That’s why I was late…

Stoo: I didn’t but I probably didn’t play far enough.

A V.I.L.E agent, up to no good.

A V.I.L.E agent, up to no good.

Jo: I found Gumshoe pretty tough as I flunked case after case. Then I had a strop and refused to play it.

Rik: Well, for what it’s worth, I found the clues a little more vague, and they don’t give you someone to phone for clues re: identity in every location. Apart from that I couldn’t tell much difference.

Stoo: It did seem like every case plays out very much the same.

Jo: I read that there’s about 80 cases altogether… I assume that at some point you have to try and catch Carmen Sandiego? Maybe she’s the “boss” level or something…

Rik: My intention was to try and catch Carmen. But the game really seemed to drag… I had assumed that once you caught one V.I.L.E agent they were off the list, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Jo: No, I’m not sure it is either.

Rik: So, what we’re saying is, none of us know where in the world Carmen Sandiego is.

Jo: Not a clue. Wasn’t there also a TV show?

Rik: *sings* Wheeeeere is Carrrmen San-di-ego? (Car-men San-di-ego) Where on eaaaaaarth can she beee-eeee-eeh?

Jo: Yup, that’s the one.

Rik: By which I mean, yes. It was on Nickelodeon.

Jo: The script seemed to be full of geographical facts. “In England, they drive on the left hand side of the road”.

Rik: I’m pretty sure I remember a scene set in red-buses-and-bobbies London.

Stoo: Wikipedia says: three TV shows! Ah, two were game shows.

Jo: “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandidego” apparently.

Rik: The cartoon had two kids chasing around the world after Carmen. But the whole show took place inside a computer controlled by ‘The Player’.

Jo: Haha…VIDEO GAME SPINOFF!

 

Hello Mr Priest, what brings you to Iran?

Rik: Back to the game…let’s talk a bit about the aesthetics. I was really keen for us to play this version of the game as it had all the extra voices.

Jo: Yeah, I think that adds a fair bit if I’m honest. It’s a pretty static setup altogether.

Rik: Well, I got to wondering whether they were actually interrupting the flow of the game. I mean, I do like Shirley the travel agent, and she has a good range of stuff to say…

Jo: “SEND ME A COD!”

Hopefully we’ve got the right guy here.

Hopefully we’ve got the right guy here.

Rik: But there are so many cases to solve that eventually she’ll get on your nerves.

Stoo: She’s basically Janine out of Ghostbusters.

Rik: Maybe it’s because I was trying to solve cases quickly.

Stoo: I was hammering escape after a while…yeah Janine that’s great, just get me my plane.

Jo: I find Warren the Robot a bit slow and annoying…

Rik: “WARREN…THE…WARRANT….ROBOT”

Jo: “RE-RE-REPORTING…FOR…D-D-DUTY”

Rik: “INVESTIGATOOOR”

Jo: SHUT UP AND GET ME A WARRANT!

Rik: I don’t think either of those two are in the standard ‘deluxe’ version of the game.

Jo: It can’t be very deluxe then.

Rik: You can probably get stuff done more quickly though.

Jo: Did either of you run out of time on any cases?

Rik: I meant real time. Time in my life, not spent pressing escape.

Stoo: Actually one thing that amused me was, the characters who give you clues, have no relation to the country you’re in. I had a white catholic priest giving me clues in Tehran.

Rik: Hello, Mr Priest, what brings you to Iran?

Stoo: I’m sure it’s a great place to seek converts.

Jo: Every time you go somewhere new, there’s a little factfile with info about that country. At first I wondered if any of it contained clues or anything that might be useful. But I never found anything that helped particularly.

Rik: There’s some extra info you can access under ‘country’, but again that didn’t help me much either. And, whatever’s there, it’s quicker to Google it these days.

Jo: Is there a V.I.L.E character animation everytime you go to the correct country? Because the only way I could tell I’d gone to the right place was if I had someone to phone for clues…

Rik: Not every time. I noticed if you got the first one right there would be. And then towards the end there’d be another.

Jo: So the best way of telling if you’ve gone to the right country is if there are actual clues. If one of the locals says something like “I have no idea who you’re talking about” you’re in the wrong place.

Rik: Yep, that’s right. Retrace your steps immediately!

Stoo: The animations are pretty goofy but, well, this is a game for like 10 year olds I think.

Rik: One thing I never got tired of was the sections in court. The judge is pretty funny… “GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY! I love that word…GUILTY!”

Jo: I like the arrest scenes…a bit panto.

Rik: Pheep! Er, that was meant to be a whistle.

Jo: I got it.

Rik: Am I alone in my admiration for the crazy judge? Or do you think a man of the law shouldn’t be so power-mad and borderline insane?

Stoo: I for one am glad he’s taking criminal scum off the streets!

Rik: Although they seem to be released and reoffend later.

Stoo: His hands are clearly tied by the law. Damn liberal politicians! We need longer sentences.

Rik: Maybe he didn’t conduct fair trials…refusing to listen to evidence and just shouting GUILTY when hitting his gavel maniacally.

Jo: Power. Mad.

Rik: The Chief is quite funny too. “I hope the nightlife…is good”

This man works as a plumber in Zaire, apparently.

This man works as a plumber in Zaire, apparently.

Jo: Especially when he gets a bit stressed, when you lose a case, or don’t have the right warrant. And sometimes he gets excited, like when you see a V.I.L.E henchman…

Rik: “You must be on the right track!”

Jo: Shirley is still my favourite though… “Excellent Vistas!”

Rik: It takes a while to get old, and only does so because you have to travel so much.

Stoo: On another audio note, while it’s great that they included clips of music from each nation, it’s like a 20 second clip that repeats over and over. I wish I could turn it off.

Rik: I didn’t notice the music at all!

Jo: I wonder why the locals didn’t speak, you know, as well as having the speech bubble…

Rik: I’m actually glad they didn’t – as I mentioned earlier, I think the flow of the game might have been spoiled slightly by the additional voices. Although the voices themselves, I do like. And I haven’t played the earlier versions enough to say whether this is definitely the case.

Jo: So what’s in the super-Deluxe version?

Rik: It’s just completely different, I think it’s just a completely new game – a remake.

Jo: Did you know that there’s a remake of the game on Facebook?

Rik: What is “Facebook”?

Jo: And there’s a board game. I’m going to get it so we can play it at Christmas.

Rik: Hm…

 

Off to Europe

Rik: So, er what do you reckon overall?

Stoo: Well what I was pondering was: would I have played this much as a kid in 1995? And I reckon I would for a while, but, it gets repetitive really quickly. I’d probably have played for a few hours then gone back to UFO or Hexen or something less parent-approved.

Jo: I remember we played this with our parents and we all struggled to really get very far. As a kid and (even as an adult) I got bored of not figuring out the clues and not progressing.And the progression doesn’t make the game more interesting. From the sounds of it, it’s pretty much the same game, but slightly harder.

Rik: I’m not sure I actually learned anything. Perhaps as a kid, I would have. But it was literally, look up answer, go to country, forget information.

Jo: And of course, some of the info is totally out dated e.g. they don’t use pesetas in Spain anymore…

Rik: We can’t hold that against it I guess.

Stoo: I now remember where the Indus river goes, at least.

Rik: And…? Where does it go?

Don’t upset the judge.

Don’t upset the judge.

Stoo: Pakistan! I suppose playing the game will drum a few geography facts into your head at least. I might be thankful in a pub quiz one day.

Rik: And I do think it is all nicely presented. But as for catching Carmen, no chance.

Jo: I enjoyed playing it again, even though I still found it as difficult as I did as a child and had to repeatedly enlist the help of Google/Wikipedia.

Rik: I think I thought, “I’ll be much better at this than I was as a kid, and finish it easily with the help of the internet” but then that wasn’t the case.

Jo: Yeah, same here.

Stoo: It’s as successful a piece of edutainment as I’ve ever seen. Even if that’s not exactly a high standard to meet.

Rik: There was that game about the European Union we had at school.

Stoo: I had Designasaurus… but actually I liked that. There’s bound to be a bunch of un-memorable ones from school.

Jo: Was Broken Sword ever supposed to be educational? Was any of it factually accurate?

Rik: I think it’s vaguely educational, but in a Da Vinci Code kind of way. Hm, not knowing the name of that European Union game from school is bugging me now. You had to collect ECUs (which is what they were going to call the Euro).

Jo: What was the premise?

Stoo: Wasn’t it just a trivia quiz?

Rik: Off to Europe! That’s what it was called.

Jo: Oh, I thought you were just making a random exclamation.

Rik: Well, enough of this, I’m OFF TO EUROPE. It had arcade sequences and trivia.

Jo: Didn’t we have something called “Granny’s Garden” for the BBC?

Rik: I was scared of the witch.

Stoo: There was a BBC micro game called Hall of Mirrors – for years, I’ve searched emulation sites without luck. Another “bunch of minigames” thing, I think some must have been based on like maths or basic geometry or spelling etc.

Jo: Nothing could be worse than Magic Maths for the Amstrad…

Rik: What else did we have on the Amstrad [CPC]- Fun School? There was one mini game about crossing the road correctly. It was literally, just don’t cross the road without using a crossing.

Jo: Yes, you had to cross the road correctly by pressing the space bar when the green man showed.

Rik: Anyway, I guess we’re digressing. Any other thoughts on Carmen?

Jo: I might give it another go some day, but I don’t think there’s hours of entertainment (or edutainment??) to be had.

Stoo: I’ve had the “Cuba” music looping for about half an hour now and it may be driving me slowly insane.

Rik: Perhaps it’s best left alone for a while then. Good to go back though.

Stoo: Vaguely imformative and fun for a few hours.

Rik: Cool. Well, I think we’ve got enough there. Thank you both!