Finally grown up! Own flat! TV! Washing machine! Too bad it all costs money. Then we’ll look for a job.
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There is a saying: Life is a lousy game, but its graphics are awesome. And although we actually play to break out of everyday work, there have been subtle attempts at life simulation since the early days of computer games. What do I have with them? Little Computer People Watching the little guy on screen slouching in a chair or petting his dog. Instead of lolling around in a chair yourself or petting a dog. The principle has of course been pumped up over the years and today they can sims achieve all the great things that I’m not smart enough or pretty enough to do.
There is of course a similar principle in board games. The most well-known representative here is probably still The Game of Life by Hasbro, in which the aim of the game is of course personal inner peace, fulfillment in artistic expression and in cooperation with others… nonsense! Of course, in the end it was all about coal, mice, money! Nevertheless – maybe because it was equally unfair to everyone with its luck factor – it was always fun from time to time. And here and now, in this article, it should be about a game that peacefully united the two worlds of computer and board games: Jones in the Fast Lane.
Which warrior should it be?
My house, my car, my yacht!
Basically, the game looks like an implementation of a classic board game spiced up with multimedia frills. But it was actually designed for the computer from the start. Although the game was primarily an in-house production by Sierra, they bought the idea from outside: Kelly Walker and three family members whaley – by name Christopher, meredith and Robert designed a text-based game called Keeping up with the Joneses. This is a figure of speech whose origin, as is so often the case, cannot be explained. In various newspapers from 1913 onwards comic strip of this name Arthur Momand drawn and some people assume that’s why the name stuck, but that’s not certain. By the way, there is no real German equivalent. It means something like “not wanting to be inferior to your neighbors” or just like in the adverts “my house, my car, my yacht!”. The basic idea isn’t that different from Game of Life, but it’s a bit more nuanced because there are four different goals that the player can work towards. But I’ll get to that in a moment. Chronologically important to the story is that this prototype was sold to Sierra. Two of the Whaleys went to college and selling them seemed like a good idea. The game was soon on the desk of Warren Schwader, the lead programmer of Jones in the Fast Lane. In case this name doesn’t mean anything to you: John Romero In an interview with Inside Games in 2001, he called him “one of the great early game designers”.
So let’s jump back to February 1981, because that’s when Warren became Sierra’s first staff programmer. For the years before that, he had worked at Parker on injection molding machines that made filler parts. When the machines were running reasonably smoothly, he quickly became underwhelmed and began using the machine’s 30-second cycles to design programs for the Apple 2 on paper. After his shift, he took the sheets home and typed them. This could have gone on for a while, but Parker closed his department overnight and Warren was left on the street. More precisely, he was sitting in his room. Because instead of looking for another job on a boring machine, he lived on the severance pay and unemployment benefits and worked on implementing the cribbage card game. His life savings dried up, but when his mother died, Warren took over the care of his disabled older brother. The money he received from the state for this care was enough to continue working on the game on the side. Eventually he released some titles for the Apple 2 on cassette. He himself said in an interview that he had unerringly chosen the exact time when the floppy disk drive prevailed for the Apple 2.
Accordingly, the sales of his early games were rather moderate. Schrader recalls a few hundred copies; his completed cribbage set came to about two thousand. But what is the crucial part for our story: Ken Williams saw the games and was suitably impressed. Some of the games were written in assembler – not a matter of course for home developers in the late 70s and early 80s. So Schrader was welcomed into the still small and wild Sierra family, but didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the team:
Warren is a Jehovah’s Witness, which can be quite a challenge for a computer game developer who takes his faith seriously. He wasn’t able to help develop many of the games developed at Sierra because they contained too much violence, gambling or sex. Over the years, this has made him, by his own admission, the “Hoyle guy”. In 1989 and 1990 he worked on the first two issues of the Hoyle-Official Book of Games (a collection of card games) as a programmer, designer and graphic artist. This, by the way, in the script language SCI, which was actually developed for the adventure series, which probably didn’t exactly simplify the programming. He was therefore predestined to tackle a board game-like project and spice it up with multimedia elements. Considering that with myst and Rebel Assault THE reasons to buy a CD-ROM drive that are known today only appeared in 1993, and Sierra was on board here very early, as it was in other areas. With Mixed up Mother Goose Ken Williams released another game on CD-ROM that same year – so close together that Schrader isn’t sure which was released first. Either way, Jones in the Fast Lane was released on CD-ROM. And she had a lot of space to give away. Theoretically. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
The EGA version offers drawings instead of digital figures, but is also very colorful
EGA? VGA? doesn’t matter?
The game starts with a nice sequence of consecutive images. Here two families compete vigorously with each other to be the first to reach the finish line on a running track and later in a rowing boat on the water. The boat in particular is overloaded with all sorts of status symbols and household appliances. The game shifts the focus a little bit to wealth and possessions as the only means of bliss, but who cares. It’s no different with the game of life. The Sierra people involved are also shown during this sequence. And most of them twice, because Sierra was reluctant to waste money on real actors or speakers, so here, among other things Marc Crowe and Josh Mandel can be admired in picture and sound. But only if you bought the right version in the store. The EGA version naturally lags behind the VGA version, but makes the best of its possibilities. But I’ll go into that a little bit in a moment.
First of all, the players can choose an alter ego. There are two men and two women to choose from – although they are really just characters. There are no advantages or disadvantages. So you can choose as you please between the guy who probably also wears his sunglasses at night, the man in the shirt and with a mustache, the red-haired woman and the woman who strolls through the day dressed in different shades of pink. It is perhaps also interesting that only women wear shorts. The men prefer to sweat. Said figures are digitized images that will represent you in the future game and will be displayed continuously during your turn. In the EGA version there are drawn figures instead of the digital avatars, but that doesn’t matter at all because they don’t have much to do anyway. Except that if you buy more expensive clothes later in the game, they’ll wear them in the walk animation too. Kind. You can compete with up to four players. Or you get the computer opponent on board, who plays the eponymous Jones. Interestingly, this is a cartoon character, but otherwise can only be admired in these running animations. As is often the case with games like this, a joint gaming experience is always nicer than an AI – and that’s mainly because I lose to Jones regularly…