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Zak - Tips or Thoughts for a First-Timer


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I've decided to finally play through Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. This will be my first time ever playing. I'm feeling a bit rusty at adventuring and honestly don't know much about the game. I'm mostly just hoping I can do it without a walk-through - even if it will take me a long time.


Just wondered if there were any specific tips or things I need to know before this endeavour? But please no spoilers!  [Or use the spoiler tag, I'll happily read them after I finish.]


And yes, I know there's a review and feature on Mojo about it - I haven't read them and I'm not going to until I finish. I want to be genuinely surprised. 


I've always gotten the impression that Zak is not really well-liked.  Or like it's the weird cousin who shows up at the family reunion. Am I wrong?

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Honestly, I would just play the game with a walkthrough. Better to "cheat" and have played Zak at all than to get frustrated and miss out, as I gather many have.


I personally like Zak about as much as anybody outside of Germany seems to. I like how it's something of a reaction to Maniac Mansion, which was a "single location" game in a sense, while Zak is wide open and globe-trotting -- kind of a wackier Indiana Jones. The main objection to Zak is that it's the most dated LucasArts game in terms of design philosophy. As with Maniac, you can die and get stuck, but these flaws are magnified with Zak because of its scope. Nothing is worse than realizing you've been stalemated because you simply failed to pick an item that is in a location you can no longer access. At least with Maniac, the nature of the game is such that you could get back to wherever you were relatively quickly if you had to start over. 


Because it's relatively unforgiving, Zak is probably the most "Sierra-like" of the LucasArts catalog. It predates the jump in art/animation that came with Last Crusade and lacks the trailblazer status of Maniac, so it's sort of a middle child in that early period of SCUMM before Loom and Monkey Island 1 finished the recipe and firmed up the policy never to deny the player a winnable state. I think you almost have to be familiar with the kinds of adventure games that were otherwise being released in 1988 to get a sense of how Zak represented progress, and how a lot of its worst aspects in hindsight were practically pro-forma in those days. The mazes in particular are unpleasant and utterly bald attempts to pad the game's duration, but they were also an uncritically accepted feature of the genre at the time.


Zak's introduction of multiple valid puzzle solutions was something of a quiet breakthrough in my opinion, and the game deserves credit for its ambition. I think it's telling, however, that the most enjoyable scene for me is an extremely self-contained one: when you have Zak wreak havoc on the airplane and ruin a stewardess's day. It's a classic "being an asshole" adventure game moment that would have made Guybrush proud.

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Good to know! I'm familiar with "Save Early, Save Often" (I came up with Sierra and LucasArts side-by-side), and I expected it to have some dead-ends but I'll keep more on top of it now that you both say that. Also, thanks for the heads-up about mazes. I will make sure to have a lot of pencil/paper at the ready too. 


I'm looking forward to doing this "the old fashioned way". Bit of an attempt to jumpstart that part of my brain towards creative problem-solving. 

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You know, a list of "Make sure you... X" for adventure games is probably not a bad idea. I'd rather not use a guide, but there are times when old adventure games are just too unforgiving, so a list of the real "gotchas" would be good. ScummVM at least makes it easier to save.


That said, whatever flaws Zak has, my memories of it are very fond. It's a really charming and fun game. And very much of its time in terms of cultural references and outlook. I'm sure you'll have fun!

Edited by ThunderPeel2001
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  • 3 weeks later...

Alright - I give. It's been about a week on this one thing and I need a hint - but I'm worried about looking up anything because I don't want any actual details. If anyone either knows Zak well - or doesn't mind looking up the answer for me and letting me know if I'm on the right track ... I would be eternally grateful. 


Spoiler, just because I've done this to myself:


In Mexico - I arrive to the room with the yellow shard, and I have to draw a design with the yellow crayon on a plaque - presumably to allow the release of the shard. Is this design supposed to be a map of a path of the maze? Yes or no only - if it's something else, I guess I just haven't found the correct reference yet. Not really sure which I'm hoping for.


I did a test run of a couple of maze areas and found my way in / out without much issue .... and without actually making a map.

So far, I have learned that my pen/paper map-making skills are incredibly rusty. But, my absurd logic seems still in tact - so I guess I have that going for me.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've just completed it! 


Overall, this was a really fun game. I found it to be funny and charming. I loved the tabloid stories and inspiration. I grew up hearing a lot of these sort of stories so it all felt really familiar to me - in the best way possible. Also there was a lot of the dialogue that wound up making me smile.


If I were to offer someone playing for the first time some advice:

- Use the READ function on everything - some things may surprise you.

- Save often, especially so that you can:

- Try multiple different solutions or find little jokes. I especially enjoyed using the GIVE option a lot.


A few other specific thoughts:



I didn't actually find it too difficult, I think I was making it more difficult in my head by second guessing myself along the way. I managed to make it without a walkthrough, and with only the one hint above - which was really just me hoping that I didn't need to do a bunch of backwards logic if I didn't need to. While I understand that this is a bit different for a Lucas game because you can die ... I thought they did really try to make it difficult to die. And there seemed to be enough hints in the game itself to push you towards drawing the conclusions you needed to solve the puzzles. The only point that I thought could have used a little more of a push was something to indicate a bit more of an expected procedural outline. I got stuck above because I thought I was missing something that didn't exist. When I just went ahead and did the stuff I knew I would need to eventually - it all ended up falling into place in more or less the right order. I'm not sure if this is a flaw in the game, or whether it says something more about game design then or game design now (and our audience expectations). 



Well, you were all correct that these are here solely to pad play time. But I don't really see the point at all. I didn't find them to be actual mazes. Typically, if I clicked through 4 or 5 screens in most areas, I would wind up at my destination. I found this really strange. I was expecting it to be more like Sierra games of the era, where the maps had to be correct so you could find multiple locations and return to them again without dying along the way. Instead these felt very much just like completely useless padding. 



I've been reading the Mojo articles on it and see that many people weren't fans of the cash system - but I didn't think it was that bad. If you need money, there is the Lotto which you can win - at least up to three times. This should be enough money to last you, especially if you're making use of saved games. I have a feeling many people would face issues of getting stuck without cash for the other player characters, but there are some work-arounds if you're willing to do a little give-and-take. 


Multiple Paths

I could tell there were multiple solutions to puzzles, but was slightly disappointed that some of the things never played a bigger role. 


In particular: I noticed the rug corner in Zak's room and then pried up the loose floorboards, and fell down into the "Secret Room". I had hoped that this would be a part of a locked-room / no-escape kind of showdown at the climax of the game - but it seems to only be an alternative way to sneak into the "Secret Room". 

I also feel like I had some inventory items that I never really needed - which just made me feel like I wish I'd known what they could have been used for? 


Missing Components

I think the thing I missed the most is a "Talk to" feature, or more of an opportunity for any of the characters to interact with each other. I wanted to hear more about the motivations of different characters and their backgrounds. That being said, I did like that there were some characters that felt like they had more of a backstory than many characters I've seen in recent media. I saw somewhere that someone didn't feel like they got a sense of who Zak was - but I sure did. I have a voice in my head for him. I felt I knew his motivations. His mom's answering machine messages also helped me to fill in a few gaps. I also liked how each of the female characters seemed to have their own unique interests and special abilities. They did feel a bit limited, but I liked the inclusion of reasons why characters weren't interchangeable. 


Some more details: Annie is the scholar who can read the various other languages but she's very conscientious and likes to follow the rules. This means she won't gamble, steal things or even listen to Zak's messages. I thought this was a nice touch. I was a bit confused when she was willing to distract the Sentry by drinking with him. It felt really out of character for her. The two Mars girls were fairly flat, but still had some unique characteristics. Melissa loves music and won't let anyone touch her boombox - but she's also afraid of heights. Leslie with her changing hair was the hardest one for me to pin-down, her only characteristic aside from her hair seemed to be that she was the one willing to do the stuff no one else was.


A note on timing: I know it will look like I spent a full month on this, but I played only some evenings and some weekend days throughout the month. I didn't time my play-through, but this should not be used as an indicator of how long the game is. 


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