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Lo-Fi Let's Play: Tass Times in Tonetown

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[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!]

A few of you have asked about Tass Times in Tonetown, Michael and Muffy Berlyn’s 1986 love letter to weird neon new-wave. I’d never played it before, so I spent some time with it for the series, and it’s immediately evident to me why it’s so well-loved. There’s so much charming and offbeat detail within — I’d go so far as to assume that many things about Tass Times set the tone for the big adventure game boom of the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s. Perhaps you’ll see what I mean if you watch the video.

The game came with a newspaper that served as the player’s guide to the weird world of Tonetown — frankly amazing stuff when it comes to world-building, establishing the language and tass-centric values of the game’s fantasy world. Some of the newspaper’s info, from fashion trends to the editor’s own name, is essential to solving puzzles.

That’s something we don’t really have today — an environment whereby physical objects form meaningful companionship to the world of games. It makes me wonder about whether there’s still a market opportunity for traditional physical objects that go with our digital experiences, or whether instantaneous download culture has changed the way we think about and play things altogether.

Michael was already known for Infocom titles like Suspended, Cutthroats and Infidel when Tass Times in Tonetown came out, and even today the Berlyns continue to develop and advocate for the potential of innovative interactive fiction. You can see here they’ve developed some storytelling and adventure-oriented games for mobile platforms in recent years.

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.

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Leigh Alexander


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