[Mr Creosote] Today we'll talk about Sunny Shine - On the Funny Side of Life (which, despite its English title, is in German). This game has been mentioned on the Spieleveteranen Podcast as one of the games which Boris Schneider-Johne produced during his time at Rainbow Arts. He said (translated by me): "It's not worth searching the Internet for this game and to start up an emulator. I can't stress this enough!" Of course, as fanatical fans of promotial games, we can't do him that favour...
[Elwood] We'll certainly get back to the question whether we agree with Mr Schneider-Johne on that later. However, for now, we should say a few words about him: Boris Schneider-Johne is one of the best known popular figures of the early German computer game scene. Then called "just" Boris Schneider", he wrote game reviews for the magazines Happy Computer and Power Play, he acted as translator of heavyweights like Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and - most importantly - the first two Monkey Island games (The Secret of Monkey Island & Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck's Revenge). To make a long story short: He's a man who knows how a good Adventure game should look. The expectations should be somewhere between high and immense (in spite of his warning).
[Mr Creosote] Before we start talking about the game itself, we should mention two things. First, the company whose products are being promoted: cigarette maker Philip Morris is advertising for its "L&M" line. Second, there is one important difference between this game and what became common in the promotial genre later on: Players were supposed to pay 60DM for this permanent commercial break. To put this into perspective: This was in the lower range of what was considered 'full price' then.
[Elwood] I wouldn't even call this 'lower range'. You could find virtually every new game for 60 Marks in some shop. 60 Marks was definitely quite a heavy mark. A promotial game would have to be truely excellent to warrant this price tag. Then, we're talking about Rainbow Arts here - that wasn't some garage company, but they usually offered high quality. Apart from Schneider-Johne, another heavyweight of the scene back then was involved in the game on the acoustic leel: Chris Hülsbek, the 'sound magician'.
[Mr Creosote] So we're launching the game, in a good temper because of our high expectations... the protagonist is a graphical artist called 'Sunny Shine' (I know 'Sunny' as a female name, but this one is a guy) who is currently working on an advertising campaign for L&M. As part of the contract, Sunny gets to drive a rare oldtimer. Stopping at a corner store to buy new cigarettes, catastrophe occurs: a road roller get out of control and flattens the valuable car! Sunny has to get lots of money really fast to buy a replacement.
[Elwood] Astoundingly - Sunny is a man of high spirits - he's less concerned about the money itself, but about locating a 'new' oldtimer of the same build. The nice tobacconist knows the solution, though: a rich 'bird' supposedly drives one of these through L.A. (where the game takes place) from time to time.
[Mr Creosote] Actually, you'd think either the insurance of the driver or of his employer could be held responsible. But this is just a thin motive for the game anyway: You have to get money any way possible. Your first stop is a television quiz show.
[Elwood] This is never really explained by the way. After the accident, you're simply taken to the television studio and you're 'allowed' to answer some questions about american history.
[Mr Creosote] After this short interlude, the 'real' Adventure game begins: Sunny walks (lacking a car) through Los Angeles and he has to solve puzzles, talk to people and so on. Always trying to earn lots and lots of money.
[Elwood] The first impression: This is a game in the spirit of Lucasfilm Games. Off the top of my head, it reminded me of Zak McKracken...
[Mr Creosote] Zak, yes, the whole setting is definitely very similar. Above that, there are similarities with Leisure Suit Larry. Sunny is basically a more successful variant of Larry Laffer.
[Elwood] The game makes that completely clear right from the first scene: In Sunnys flat, you can find pieces of female underwear, hinting at those visits not having been too long ago.
Presentation & Game Mechanics
[Mr Creosote] This is also where the first disappointment crept in: You need a bit of good will to identify the underwear visually. The graphics aren't breathtaking...
[Elwood] I'm not an expert of the graphical standards on the Atari, but I'm sure this could have been better. However, the graphics are - in my opinion - still 'good enough'. The music - remember, by Chris Hülsbek - could be described as Monkey Island meets Turrican. It's quite obvious who composed it. Though it also doesn't really improve the game... To sum up: The athmosphere could be... improved. Could have been better.
[Mr Creosote] Graphically, I'd simply call the game behind its times by a few years. In 1987, it would have been quite good. In 1990... oh, well. Still alright, but certainly not 'pretty'. Concerning the music, my impression was that it seemed to be put into the game rather artificially. During most of the game, there is complete silence. In some rooms, you find stereos, radios and once, you even meet a band - and then, you can 'turn music on'. Not really organically implemented. It sounded alright, but from the technical point of view, it sounded much more like the C64's SID chip rather than the ST.
[Elwood] This is where we have to keep the acoustic capabilities of the Atari in mind. It was to music what the Amiga was to graphics. To try and shine with a C64 'soundalike' is kind of an embarassement. Also, it is exactly like Mr Creosote said: The music is never really part of the game, but always seems artificially fitted. Though we haven't crossed the line of being bearable. So far, this is all below average, but it could still be balanced out with humour or good puzzles.
[Mr Creosote] To balance the slight disappointment so far with something (in my opinion) very good: The controls are based on a very sound concept. Everything is point & click (which wasn't completely standard then), but instead of only having a few standard verbs which can be applied to anything, you get specific choices for each object when you click on it. Roughly what Legend Entertainment did in their later Adventures. I really liked this concept...
[Elwood] I can counter that with the conversations: It's obvious that this was supposed to match the standard set by Lucasfilm Games at the time. Though they missed one important detail: colour coding. Who said what could only be surmised fromt he context, because every piece of text had the same colour and because the text didn't appear above the respective heads, but always on the lower part of the screen (which wouldn't be bad by itself).
[Mr Creosote] At least the text colour changed when the game required user interaction, for example when the player had to select one sentence from a multiple choice menu. In general, I have to agree, though: A lot more could have been achieved there with minimal effort. Also, the 'object' based controls have one disadvantage I didn't mention before: The cursor doesn't react when it touches objects in a room. Whether something 'exists' in game terms can only be found out by wildly clicking on everything. And because it fits here: Sunny will only move (in his embarassing 'Moonwalker' animation) if the player clicks on 'something'. Clicking 'just' somewhere into the room, the lazy bugger will just stay where he is.
Puzzles & Game Contents
[Elwood] I think this leads us directly to solving the puzzles. The first piece of advice: Click on everything which looks as if it might 'exist'. This was your strategy, Mr Creosote, wasn't it? (To explain: Mr Creosote was handling the game when we played it.)
[Mr Creosote] Exactly. This is where the basically good concept falls apart: The possibility of unique choices of action for each object isn't even properly used! Apart from the standard actions like 'examine' (and 'drop' for inventory objects), you only ever get the options which are required in this very situation to get on. This way, many puzzles were given away by the interface.
[Elwood] There are even many objects which don't serve any purpose at all. This isn't so bad, basically, because it's realistic, but... the inventory. The inventory!
[Mr Creosote] The inventory... has got an item limit. There are even a few bugs concerning this which we should probably talk about later. For now: You can only ever carry a strictly limited number of objects around with you. Just that there are practically never any hints what you'll need in the near future. Meaning that you have no way of knowing what you should take with you and what you should leave. And you can't even drop objects temporarily. 'Dropping' an object from the inventory means removing it from the game completely.
[Elwood] This is interesting, because there are sometimes various different options to get rid off an object. You can drop a sheet of paper or you can rip it apart... The effect is the same one in both cases. But let's talk about the puzzles...
[Mr Creosote] They range from 'obvious' (offering cigarettes to practically everybody in the game) and 'searching the screen' (finding pixel-sized or, in one case, even invisible objects) to brute-forcing (the ice cream flavours) and nonsense (the second earring).
[Elwood] Some of the puzzles would actually be acceptable - all of these types can be found in better Adventures as well - but it doesn't get better than that. As it is, the game takes place somewhere between crappy and only-just-bearable. This isn't even balanced out by humour. Sunny, as a character, would be an easy target for self-referential and ironic jokes, but there aren't any: Unfortunately, this is all rather serious. His pick-up lines (some of which he can say, some of which he has to) are of the embarassing kind. And the game doesn't leave out any lame 'dirty' joke. Irony: none - puzzles: nasty.
[Mr Creosote] Since this concerns the topic of puzzles as well, let's get back to the quiz at the beginning of the game: Not only is it completely unclear as to its purpose (it could just as well have been left out completely), but the questions are... extremely hard! Without Wikipedia, there's little chance of getting through (other than guessing/luck). And there was no Wikipedia in 1990.
[Elwood] The questions aren't absurd, though, they mostly just don't fall under the category of general knowledge. The biggest problem of the game is still the limited inventory, though - and the amount of planning because of that. This isn't much of a puzzle, though, but it seems more like the inability to program this right.
[Mr Creosote] You also mentioned humour and dialogues: The game is actually supposed to be funny. It just isn't. All those lines are so bad that it was hard to decide which ones to show ont he screenshots! Also, they're full of language mistakes - both grammatically (which could be explained as 'intentional') and simple typos.
[Elwood] Additionally, you're constantly reminded of L&M: In basically every single scene, there is at least one L&M poster, every character smokes (guess, which brand... yes, that's a permanent conversation topic as well!). Events sponsored by L&M are mentioned all the time...
[Mr Creosote] Yes, the advertisement is anything but subtle and it's presented completely without irony. Last, but not least, the game tries to have its characters talk in 'authentic' language which is supposedly meant to be 'cool'. A bit of an own goal. You dig, dude?
Bugs & Dead Ends
[Elwood] While we're complaining anyway, I'd like to disclose a big secret: I won't put an explicit spoiler warning, because there is no fun to lose anyway. The game can't be finished. Yes, it's true! It's not crashing or anything - the programmers simply shot themselves in the foot.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, we mentioned the limited inventory. In the Atari ST version of the game, you can carry either five or six objects at the same time (this differed in the two attempts we made at playing the game). Unfortunately, there was no possbile 'object carrying combination' which would have allowed solving the game.
[Elwood] Correct: After about three quarters of the game, you get into a situation which requires you to carry at least six objects (one of these, you receive very early in the game, but you only need to use it at the very end). You obviously have to drop something which you will still need later on. You can get past this particular scene, but then you'll be stuck later. As usual, the game lets you play on in spite of this inevitable dead end. Also, said object which you get early on (one of the very first puzzles), can easily be missed - and then you can play until the very last scene and only then notice that you can't win anymore. Great, isn't it?
[Mr Creosote] These dead ends aren't even the exception. They're everywhere. Playing the regular way, you'll always only notice much later that you've been irreversably stuck for long time already. Another game-killing technical bug occured as well: You have to give something specific to one character and get something else in return (in our desperation, we even confirmed this with a walkthrough) - the other character takes what you give him, but doesn't give you his object.
[Elwood] Actually, the Atari version has to be branded unplayable. 60 Marks down the drain - for a technically incompetent promotial game. This is offensive beyond comparison! For this Atari version, there would have to be a special rating. Zero is still too much - definitely!
The C64 version seems to be a little better there, at least the inventory limit is higher...
[Mr Creosote] You can carry seven object there and the bug concerning the 'object exchange' which I mentioned doesn't appear there, either. So we can assume that version is at least theoretically finishable. The rest of the problems, for example the fact that there is still a rather low inventory limit leading to lots of dead ends. remain, though.
[Elwood] Additionally, the game simply isn't good anyway. Without the inventory limit - i.e. without those dead ends - I could have been convinced to give it a 2. With a workable limit... well... with a lot of good will, it could have been a 1. Taking the high price tag and the annoying advertisement into account, I have absolutely no qualms about giving it a zero. And as I said, that is still too good for the Atari version.
[Mr Creosote] We should mention one more bug which is present in the Atari version, but not on the C64 to make it even clearer why we were so frustrated when we played the game: There are two 'shops' in the game. If you try buying something there and your inventory is already 'full', you get a message about not being able to carry any more - though the price of the item you attempted to buy is still deducted from your account!
[Elwood] That is of vital importance, because your task is not just locating an oldtimer, but also buying it in the end.
[Mr Creosote] Concerning the dead ends, we should stress that there would be more than enough of them even without the inventory limit. So the limit is the cause for most frustration as it is, but abolishing it still wouldn't make the game much better.
[Elwood] At least it would be playable then - and there are plenty of games like that. At least we could have discussed a rating above zero. As it is, I unfortunately have to say that this is one of the very worst games I've ever laid my hands on. And that's a lot...
[Mr Creosote] It's sad, but there's really nothing to defend it with. The game is beyond any qualitive measure on all counts: technology, puzzles, language, contents and not least of all, it's one big advertisement to promote smoking which doesn't earn it any points, either. I'd like to single out the language mistakes a second time: This simply doesn't look as if it had been a serious, professional production which anybody has given their best effort. 'Best effort', bah, not even 'yes, yes, let's just get this off our desks quickly, so let me proofread this quickly'.
[Elwood] On the other hand, it could have been intentional sabotage. Something this bad usually couldn't even happen 'by accident' with professionals...
[Mr Creosote] It should be clear from the initial quote that Boris himself (who calls this game a 'sin of his youth') doesn't really want to be associated with the game anymore. Then again, I can't really imagine him thinking that this would have been an acceptable game back then. He must have known better. Also, it isn't like he was really in his 'youth' back then... he was in his 20s.
[Elwood] A reminder: In the course of the same year, he translated Loom and Monkey Island - it's not imaginable that he could have considered 'his' game to be on a comparable quality level. Not even concerning the humour - in Monkey Island, he did a fabulous job of inventive wordplay, so he can do it... if he wants to. I guess he didn't want to in this case.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, to me, Monkey Island is the greatest example of an outstanding German translation which transfers humour 'contextually' instead of literally. This is a very hard thing to do successfully. Also, 'Sunny Shine' violates virtually every game design rule; exactly the same things which the game journalist Boris Schneider before and after this always (rightfully) complained about: dead ends, pixel hunting etc.
[Elwood] The only thing which bothers me is that he allowed his name to be used for the game. Most likely, he was obligated by contract. It must have been a huge embarassement for him!
[Mr Creosote] Then, there's only one final question left open: Has the game convinced you? I.e. will you start smoking now?
[Elwood] It has convinced me that smokers will inevitably become moronic wannabe machos who at least have sex with complete strangers in changing rooms which have been devastated by huns - and that they'll be voted Mr. California shortly after that. Just like real life.
[Mr Creosote] That's the true 'California Feeling'!
[Elwood] Smoking obviously endangers your health: your mental one as well! Hands off - and off this game!