Bits From my Personal Collection – Amazon, Guardians of Eden, a pulp fiction adventure

Last week I completed an article on Accolade’s attempt to create its own nerdy protagonist with its two Les Manley adventure games. The second title, Les Manley in Lost in L.A. featured 256 colors VGA and digitized actors and reminded me of another 1992 adventure game title, Access Software’s Amazon, Guardians of Eden.

Salt Lake City-based Access Software, most known for its Golf simulators and Tex Murphy adventure titles, was in the late ’80s and early ’90s at the forefront of PC technology, with games utilizing 256 color VGA graphics and digitized actors and settings. The company’s patented RealSound technology enabled 6-bit digitized PCM audio playback through the otherwise squeaky internal PC speaker. At the time soundcards were just slowly starting to appear and by being very expensive, the majority of PC owner’s only option to get any sound was through the internal speaker.

If there’s one game from the heyday of MS-DOS, that’s over the top it has to be Access Software’s 1990 action title Crime Wave.
It was nothing like what IBM/PC owners had seen before with 256 color VGA, digitized actors and backgrounds, and using the RealSound technology to playback digitized audio through the internal speaker.
It was Access’s RealSound technology used in Crime Wave that made my brother and I hook up the internal speaker’s wires to our stereo and blast digitized sound effects at an alarming volume

In 1989 Access Software had released Mean Street, the first title in its Tex Murphy series and one of the first games to fully utilized 256 color VGA. By 1991, the company had released another two adventure titles, Countdown, and Martian Memorandum, the latter being the sequel to Mean Street. While all were praised for their cinematic feel and state-of-the-art use of graphics and sound, none of them were adventure game masterpieces neither story nor design-wise. Nonetheless, Computer Gaming World stated that Countdown was as close to perfect as any game could be. It came closer to earning its self-appointed identification as an interactive movie than any of its predecessors or competitors. The excellent VGA graphics, sound, and controls made the game a feature film compared to the mere cartoons from Sierra On-Line… Impressing the press by being at the forefront of technology definitely had its perks, leaving most rationale behind.

Access Software’s first three adventure titles. Mean Street, the first Tex Murphy game, from 1989.
Countdown from 1990 and Martian Memorandum, the sequel to Mean Street, from 1991.
Common for all was the use of 256 color VGA, digitized actors and settings, and digitized audio

In 1992 Access was ready to ship its next adventure title, Amazon, Guardians of Eden, using essentially the same formula and game engine as earlier titles. It was written and designed by Chris Jones who wrote and designed all of the company’s adventure titles. Amazon was one of the very first adventure titles to utilize SVGA, offering four times the resolution as its VGA counterpart. In SVGA the inventory window would be visible side by side with the game window, essential using the extra pixels to fit more interface and leave a smaller game window. It featured a full soundtrack and some digitized speak.
The game was done in a ’50s b-movie setting, where it follows protagonist Jason Robers as he, in 1957, sets out on an expedition to the Amazon basin, to find his elder brother, Allen who had mysteriously disappeared during an expedition in the South American jungle. Jason meets up with beautiful female explorer, Maya, and becomes entangled with the native’s struggle over emeralds brought over by Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez centuries before.
Chris Jones’ writing is indeed interesting, humoristic, over-the-top, cliche, and kitsch-filled. It blends multiple genres into a pulp which was fresh and exciting but on the verge of being too much.

The original Amazon, Guardians of Eden 5.25″ US release from 1992

Amazon, like earlier titles, used digitized actors and settings. One of the main culprits using digitized footage of real-life actors was that the actors needed to act and in a believable way. Nearly all games in this genre failed on some level, and Amazon was no exception. The B-movie setting, of course, embraced bad acting and sometimes was even strengthened by it but unfortunately, in this case, the acting did nothing good for the title and the same with the voice acting.
While the use of digitized sound effects was neat in the early ’90s, the quality in Amazon was terrible, with hissing and clicking and a pronounced metallic clang. The continuous and absolutely awful footstep sound would drive any sane person to the brink of insanity. The music though was great and fitted well with the different settings.

Amazon, Guardians of Eden was released, exclusively at RadioShack, as a multimedia version on CD-Rom also in 1992

Amazon, Guardians of Eden, while being a technologically interesting and quite entertaining game with a unique blend of styles, an intriguing story, and great puzzles, its game design was flawed with wretched controls, multiple dead ends, frustrating action sequences, and plenty of unforgiven deaths, in essences, it was a product of its time. The graphics looked absolutely great at places but this was more the exception than the rule, in most places the pixelated digitized graphics were murky and a mess to look at.
The game had its short moment in time but probably more importantly, it became an influential stepping stone from the early adventure titles, moving towards the company’s quite excellent Tex Murphy games, Under a Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive in the mid-’90s.

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