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Thread: Access Software Megathread

  1. Access Software Megathread

    Access Software, now a part of Microsoft Studios has made some of my favoirte games, particularly their contributions to the adventure genre. I've decided to put together a little tribute/history thread to celebrate what I love so much about these guys.

    Access was founded by brothers Bruce and Roger Carver in Salt Lake City Utah. Their early career consisted primarily of making Commodore 64 titles for US Gold. I'm not really all that familiar with their early years, but a partial list of titles follows:

    Beach Head 1983
    Neutral Zone 1983
    Raid Over Moscow 1984
    Scrolls of Abadon 1984
    10th Frame 1986
    Heavy Metal 1988

    [thumb][/thumb] [thumb][/thumb]

    Echelon was the first game Access released on the PC (it came out on the Commodore64 and Apple II first), as well as the first game that Chris Jones worked on. CJ would later become one of the two main creative forces in the company.

    Echelon was a pretty cool 3D space sim, that had a developing story and some light puzzle and adventure elements to it. It's not all that accessible, and I have trouble getting into it now, but it was pretty nifty stuff at the time. The PC port was the first game to feature Access' "Real Sound" technology.

    Mean Streets
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    Mean Streets was released in 1989. It was the first game in what would become Acesss' flagship series, the Tex Murphy adventures. It starred the world-weary film-noir PI, Tex, in a post-WWIII San Francisco.

    Mean Streets was technically very impressive when it hit the market. It used a downright amazing digital audio system that ran on the little PC beeper and actually delivered some quality digital music and speech. It was also one of the first adventure games to use a 256 color palette, making it a very good looking game during the time when Maniac Mansion and Space Quest 3 were the standard. It also featured a fully polygonal 3D engine for traveling from destination to destination, reportedly based on Echelon's engine.

    Unfortunately it was a bit muddled in terms of what it wanted to be. While at its heart it was an adventure game it featured action/shooting sequences, and the travel was basically a flight simulator. Some adventure purists felt these elements were out of place. I,myself, enjoyed the humor of this game, but I thought the gameplay was too all over the place.

    Crime Wave

    Access' next game was the hilariously awful and 80s-tastic Narc rip-off, Crime Wave. I really need to find my copy and fire it up for chuckles. It featured grainy, digitized characters, and used the same sound engine as Mean Streets. I beleive the plot centered around the president's daughter getting kidnapped or some such generica. Probably worth playing for camp value, but not a sterling part of Access' legacy. It was also Access' last action game, which is probably for the best.


    Countdown was released in 1990 and was the first game to be directed by Chris Jones. I haven't played this game in many years, but I remember it being very good. It was a serious thriller/espionage game where you played an amnesiac prisoner trying to escape a facility and uncover his past within a certain time limit. Unlike Mean Streets it was a point-and-click adventure in the vain of the LucasArts games of the day. This style of play suited me alot better. I'd very much like to go back and play this one again.

    In 1990, Access introduced what would become their beiggest cash cow, and eventually the game that would cost them their creative freedom, Links: The Challenge of Golf. It was a quality product and the series would be one of the biggest names in video golf, and would pay for some of their more risky ventures. I won't really be talking about the later games in the series.

    The Martian Memorandum

    In 1991, Mean Streets got a sequel. Titled "Martian Memorandum", Tex's second adventure marked a big step up from the first title. Martian Memorandum dropped all the peripheral gameplay and opted for a very conventional point and click interface, which suited me just fine. It again featured digitized characters and voices, but this time had some nice adlib music to help set the mood. The character interaction was a highlight, featuring branching coversation paths, where you would have to coax the info you needed out of characters. It wasn't really a hugely innovative title, nor the technical marvel that other Tex games were, but it was just a very entertaining and funny adventure with a good story.

    Amazon: Guardians of Eden

    In 1992 Access put out another adventure game, much in the vain of Countdown and Martian Memorandum. It was called Amazon: Guardians of Eden. I rememeber it beign decent, but fairly unremakable. I'd still like to try it again sometime. Does anyone else have anything to add about this one?

    In 1992 they picked up Aaron Conners, a writer who would later become a major creative force for Access.

    Under a Killing Moon

    1994 saw the release of Access' crowning acheivment and one of my personal favorite games, Under a Killing Moon. The brain child of Chris Jones and Aaron Conners, UAKM was a direct sequel to Martian Memorandum, but took the series to a whole new level in terms of design, production value, and technologhy. Everything about this game was perfect.

    Released right in the midst of the SegaCD era, UAKM was billed as an "interactive movie". It has the honorable distinction of being the only game ever billed as an Interactive Movie not to suck. It featured alot of live-action actors against CG backgrounds for cinemas, conversations, etc, all of which seemed perfectly appropriate. Spanning a then-unheard-of 4 CDs, UAKM used an unprecedented amount of video and voice.

    UAKM was a pretty astonishing peice of technology when it came out. It was the first true 3D point-and-click adventure game that I can recall, and it was one of the first PC games that I had ever seen that was in hi-res, texture mapped 3D. and it looked damned good, too, with hardly any repeating textures (textures were based on pre-rendered version of the environments, then mapped onto simplified geometry). During a time when Myst was supposed to be impressive, UAKM seemed impossible. I still vividly recall seeing it for the first time and looking at the first environment and just assuming it was pre-rendered, and then being totally floored as I could walk around freely.

    UAKM was a great, great game, too. It kept true to its adventure roots, despite playing out in full 3D, but had a much more developed sense of presentation and story. You'd really get to know and like the characters of Tex's home block of Chandler Ave. The humor was a very big component, and it never got in the way of the story. It was absolutely massive for an adventure game, too, especially such a detailed one. It was probably a good 10-15 hours to get through, even if you knew what you were doing.

    Speaking of which, it introduced a great hint system which I wish more adventures would adopt. You earned points by acheiving goals, a la old Sierra games, but you could use these points to "buy" hints if you got stuck. This made it so that you could always progress, but it would hurt your score. Getting stuck in adventure games can be really frustrating so this was a great innovation.

    The Pandora Directive
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    In 1996 Access released a sequel to Under a Killing Moon titled "The Pandora Directive". Unfortunately it had very little marketing or publicity, and the name was totally unrecognizeable as part of the series (something which was equally true of the preivious games in the series). It bombed pretty hard. It was probably out for a year before I had ever heard of it, and I was a big fan of UAKM.

    It was, however a very good game. Pandora Dircetive used UAKM's engine with virtually no modification. The video was a bit better, the textures a bit nicer, but it wasn't a huge advance. It continued the ground work layed by UAKM, but had a more elaborate story, longer quest, and branching story paths. It was more dramatically effective, but it sacrificed some of the humor of the previous games to do so. For that reason I like UAKM better, but I admit Pandora is better in terms of design (great puzzles, great quest).

    Tex Murphy: Overseer

    This is where access got into trouble. Aarron and Chris were working on the next game in the Tex series, tentatively called "Trance". Intel approached Access, offering to fund their next game, with the catch being that they wanted it on shelves in 9 months time. The game was to be bundled with new computers as a technology showcase, and was to be the first game to use the DVD-ROM format.

    With the immense time pressure, Chris and Aaron dropped trance and decided to make a new title based on Mean Streets, figuring it would take less time for them to work out the kinks in an established story. I hesistate to call it a remake, becuase it has nothing in common with Mean Streets except the basic story line. The result was Tex Murphy: Overseer.

    Tex Murphy: Overseer was rushed to market. No one denies that. It was slightly buggy. The implimentation of the 3D acceleration and the DVD technology was particularly questionable (the DVD required hardware acceleration from a list of supported "cards" which no one really had, and the 3D didn't make use of any standard like Direct3D).

    TM:O was not a bad game, though. In fact I'm surprised it came out as good as it did, all things considered. The meat of the game was a flashback to Tex's first case, and retells the story of Mean Streets not only using the gameplay style of the later games, but from the perspective of them as well, with Tex reflecting on his naivite.

    Sadly all these factors led to TM:O selling even less than PD. With a decline now "established", it became difficult to convince investors to allow Access to continues the series. Not long after Microsoft bought them out (some time in 2000, I think). They were merged into MGS and Access as it was no longer exists. They still work on the Links games.


    TM:O was supposed to set up a trilogy. The flashback was bookended with a little story about Tex and his romantic interest Chelsea that ended with a completely nasty cliffhanger. Feeling guilty for leaving fans hanging, Access got the actors from the games together and produced a series of 1940s-style "radio plays" called "Tex Murphy: Radio Theater" to continue the plot. These were released for free on a popular internet fan site, and were greatly appreciated by fans. I think this is one of the cooler gestures I've seen a developer make for its fans.

    At Microsoft, Access was renamed Indie Built, and they continued the Links series as well as developing Amped and Top Spin. Based on the success of these games MS sold Indie to Take-Two.

    The Future:

    By most accounts Aaron and Chris Jones are not happy with MS's management. I saw an interview with Aaron in which he remarked:
    ...we've been working on s**t we couldn't care less about for so long, we'll do damn near anything to go back to doing what we're good at and what we love!
    At the time he and CJ were trying to raise the money to fund a new tex game out of pocket, since MS would have nothing to do with it. They had supposedly written a story for the next game and also had plans for an online game based on the Tex universe. I don't beleive either of these are still on track.

    Chris Jones left Indie a while back to pursue other intrests. He produced a movie, and formed a new company with some Access vets. They currently just work on golf stuff.

    Aaron Connors is still with Indie Built, and they maintain the rights to the Tex series. He was heard to remark that he is still trying to make a new Tex game happen.
    Last edited by Frogacuda; 08 Sep 2005 at 09:36 AM.

  2. Holy stretched thread, Batman!

  3. #3
    Great thread.

    Access Software had a pretty big impact on me as a kid. I loved Raid Over Moscow and Beach Head; there was nothing else like them on the market. I used play Leader Board against my dad. It's the only golf game I have put a lot of time into.

    I haven't played much of the Tex Murphy series. UAKM blew me away technology-wise but I only played the demo back then and decided I wasn't interested. I definitely plan on giving it another chance though.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frogacuda
    It has the honorable distinction of being the only game ever billed as an Interactive Movie not to suck.
    Sierra's Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within is another one not to suck.

  4. Raid Over Moscow was very cool. It's the only one of their C64 games I spent any real tine with.

  5. I remember their World Class Leaderboard- released on Genesis around 1992 by U.S. Gold and ported from the Amiga by Tiertex. It was a sort of okayish golf game with an annoying announcer- if you hit a tree, he'd say "uhhh... looks like he hit the tree, Jim". This can get annoying to the point where you want to go find the announcer and conk him with your 9 Iron.

    Admittedly this one doesn't hold a candle to Sega's own Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf (based on the arcade game Super Masters).

    Finished in 2018: 20 games (AC: 10, PC: 3, PS4: 5, SCD: 1, Gen: 1)

  6. Revive! Updated the end a bit based on new information I've leard.

  7. Crime Wave is the only game I've played of that bunch, and I remember it being laughably awful

  8. I remember being totally amazed by the audio on Mean Streets - the fact that you could have digitized speech without a dedicated sound card (my PC at the time did not have one), just blew me away.
    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Holliday View Post
    K3V is awesome!

  9. Funny that out of all those games, Raid Over Moscow and Beach Head (plus its sequel) are the only ones I've played to any great extent. Both were excellent, especially ROM.

    But thanks for the thread, Frog.
    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure it is always right. -Learned Hand

    "Jesus christ you are still THE WORST." -FirstBlood

  10. Beach Head 2 was pretty cool. I remember playing my brother and several freinds in the Head to Head games.

    Leaderboard was pretty cool on the C-64, but the time it took to draw the course was it's biggest flaw.

    Raid over Moscow was a tough title. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I had a bootleg copy, because I had a hard time figuring out what to do on some levels.


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