By Leigh Alexander on August 20th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.
[I've been doing a series of Let's Play videos exploring old adventures, text games and lost design forms from the 1980s Apple IIe and Commodore 64 era. In a time when young men shout over new action games, I will talk softly over strange old ones. Come along on a visitation of a different era that's one part meditations on my childhood, one part adventure game criticism, and one part preservation effort. Bonus: Everyone says the quiet talk, lo-fi handmade feel and keyboard tapping triggers ASMR responses. Please enjoy!]
The only thing I love as much as the sullen, radical 90s is the gaudy, late 1980s-capitalism aesthetic that sowed the seeds for it to bloom. You know, giant brick-shaped cell phones and heavy metal babes on car hoods. I think in 1989, my mother was buying me penny-saving mass-produced Marshall’s T-shirts that had neon skateboards on them, and the marquee ‘radical.’ Maybe.
Dream Zone was published in 1987 — that’s about as ‘late’ as I’ll go for this series these days, but it deserves a special exception. It’s made by JAM Software, the company founded by Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin while they were still in high school — you know, the company that would go on to become Naughty Dog. This is the second game they ever made, and they were probably about 17 years old when they made it, if my math is correct.
So what you have here is this awesome, trying-hard-to-be-cool, late 1980s teen angst aesthetic. Upon beginning the game, your initial conundrum is ‘don’t wake your parents,’ and things rapidly accelerate from there into ‘facing down a totally bad-ass toilet’ and ‘trying to convince a gorilla you’re old enough to drink.’ Although from a gameplay perspective the middle bit, set in a corporate labyrinth staffed by actual pigs in suits, is just miserable, it’s a surprisingly astute little critique of capitalist bureaucracy from the perspective of teen boys at the end of the 80s. Ahead of its time, even.
I absolutely love Dream Zone — this is from my channel’s archives, in fact, because I missed you guys last week while I was in Cologne for GDC Europe and Gamescom and am a bit behind. We’re back to your regularly-scheduled Lo-Fi Let’s Play programming, and I will bring you a brand-new video next week. Later, skaters, hang loose, dudes!
The entire Lo-Fi Let’s Play series is available and regularly updated at my YouTube channel if you’d like to subscribe, but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on, with some additional written analysis and commentary.