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

[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.

16 Comments

  1. Oakreef says:

    “but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on”

    Collusion! Corruption! The very rot that is destroying computer games!

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      CAUGHT ME RED HANDED

      • Oakreef says:

        I really love these videos by the way. They’re a little before my time (I grew up on MS-DOS, Mega Drive nad Windows 95) but for some reason it bothers me how overlooked home computers are in the history of video games. Watching them kind of makes me want to go out and buy a ZX Spectrum or something. I think I might be turning into a hipster of some sort.

        • Leigh Alexander says:

          Well, no need, really — you can emulate everything. Most of my videos come from games I found in a browser emulator on VirtualApple.org; I downloaded Tass for free and emulated it using DOSBOX. I’d love if the videos inspire people to go back in time a bit and play some earlier design forms!

  2. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    I’m slightly inclined to try and bring “tass” into contemporary usage.

    Who’s with me?

    • Ross Angus says:

      I’ll give it a go, if you don’t think it will make me taciturn.

  3. Wulfram says:

    I remember getting this as part of the Interplay 10th anniversary collection, though I don’t think I ever got anywhere with it

  4. NeutronSoup says:

    Yay! Thanks for playing this one. It reminds me that I never actually completed it – I think it’s time to head back. My 6-year-old may even be interested in this.

    Also, the CGA graphics hurt. :-) I played it on a Commodore 64, which was a much better visual experience.

  5. waltC says:

    Bought it and played on an Amiga in 32-color mode (that still looked CGA’ish, IIRC)–still recall the title. The game I thought was sort of weird, but the Amiga 8-bit stereo sound track was memorable…;) For some reason. Even though I cannot actually remember the tune(s) I do remember that impression of the musical tracks.

  6. drinniol says:

    Skylanders and Disney Infinity prove that yes, there is a market for physical objects that go with our digital experiences. Not a PC adventure game market, mind.

  7. thedosbox says:

    It makes me wonder about whether there’s still a market opportunity for traditional physical objects that go with our digital experiences

    Marvel seem to think so, with their Infinity games: link to polygon.com

  8. Lugg says:

    Whoa, you weren’t kidding about the ASMR responses. What trickery is this? :D Very cool.

  9. Humanabyss says:

    Why did you ignore that the third dev on this game was a transgender woman?

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      I didn’t know there was a third dev! Sloppy research. Tell everyone about her here!

  10. geldonyetich says:

    So close. It was probably “use terminal.”

    I remember playing Tass Times In Tonetown back in the day when it was out for the C-64. It even had music! But I was too young and bereft of the manual, so naturally I didn’t get very far.

  11. felisc says:

    Yipee, I love these. And quite the colourful looking game.
    (*By the way, this is lofi letsplay 15, which you mistakenly named 14. I’m whispering, so no one else has to know*)