By Al Giovetti, 05/06/97
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
In 1992, Microprose attempted to widen their audience to include the Animated Graphic Adventure gamers. Rex Nebular, Dragonsphere, and Return of the Phantom were released as a part of the effort to establish this new product line. Rex Nebular was the first graphic adventure game ever produced by Microprose, which was released right on the heels of the first Microprose role-playing adventure game, Darklands. While Darklands was marred by bugs which persisted until the Gold Edition, version 8 of the game was released, Rex Nebular was a quality project that ran without a hitch on the machines of its day.
The Microprose graphic animated adventure games had excellent graphics, plot, puzzles, and characterization, but never caught on with the public and the Microprose graphic animated adventure group was dropped from the microprose lineup. The game was produced with the Microprose Adventure Development (MADS) game system, and from a special animated game division of Microprose. Later all of the graphic adventure group were laid off by Microprose, when the game's did not sell. The greatest tragedy of the whole system is that these games were excellent.
A priceless vase is lost on a distant planet that doesn't exist! An irate colonel wants the vase back! And only one man is exprienced enough. . .skilled enough. . .And foolish enough to retrieve it! Rex Nebular. . .interstellar adventurer and bungling bachelor extraordinaire!
In the most far-out animated graphic adventure ever to land on store shelves, Rex Nebular will have you journeying through strange locations to unravel the myriad of puzzles and mysteries on Terra Androgena. . .a plaent populated entirely by bizarre alien women! A multituede of puzzles to unlock! Unprecedented, state-of-the-art graphics to astound even the most experienced animated graphic adventure players! All-new MADS (MicroProse Adventure Development System) interface lets players control specific actions of Rex Nebular!
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender. MicroProse enters the animated graphics adventure arena with a bang with this bawdy, irreverent outer space action farce. Interstellar super stud Rex Nebular is marooned on a world populated entirely by women. Can he escape? More importantly, does he want to? State-of-the-art graphics and animation dazzle your senses while outrageous humor tickles your funny bone. For IBM-PC/compatibles.
Welcome to the outrageous universe of Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender, MicroProse's off-the-wall entry into the animated graphics adventure gaming (AGA) genre.
"When we began this project, we thought we could contribute something significant to this genre," said Rex Nebular producer and game designer Matt Gruson. "Some games were strong technologically but weak in content and design. Others were the opposite. We planned to produce an AGA that would be strong on all counts. I think we've done that."
Rex Nebular, Gruson pointed out, boasts the most impressive graphics technology ever developed for a computer game. "We are absolutely pushing the state-of-the-art in image processing and animation," he said. "We're almost intimidated by how advanced Rex is, because our next game is going to have to live up to it."
One area in which these spectacular animation techniques are seen is during human movement, where Gruson and his team designed and coded their own video processing tools to create an animation process similar to rotoscoping, "but much more advanced." Characters in Rex Nebular move with uncanny realism and even reach for objects in realistic fashion. Most AGAs simply have selected objects disappear from view.
For the game's dazzling visual style, Gruson recruited Kenn Nishiuye, a highly-regarded artist in and out of computer gaming, as Art Director. Nishiuye's work can be seen in many popular Sierra AGAs. "Kenn was amazed at the power of our animation tools. He had to re-learn what he could and could not do. Because our artists can perform tasks that once required programmers, they have more control over their work. The results are spectacular."
Despite all the technology, Gruson knew that Rex Nebular must also be fun and challenging. The story is filled with puzzles and brain-teasers that reward intelligent and logical thinking. Multiple skill levels keep the game challenging for players of varying intuitive powers, and "naughty" and "nice" modes let players dictate how far the humor will go. A streamlined interface makes entering commands easy and comprehensive.
"There's no struggle to figure out how to tell the game what you want to do," Gruson said. "Along with a standard list of commands and actions, each object you encounter has its own specific list of verbs." Other innovations include an auto-resurrect mode which returns a recently killed character to the point in the game just prior to the moment of death.
The game also automatically saves your progress at the end of a session and allows you to resume there on the next play. "The only time that you need to save are at decision points, places where you may want to return to see the results of a different course of action," Gruson explained.
Rex Nebular will be released initially for IBM-PC/compatibles. Tentative machine requirements include 640K of RAM, 575K of free memory, and about 10MB of hard disk space for the entire game. 1 MB of RAM will be needed to hear the game's digitized speech. All major sound cards are supported. The game will also be structured to take full advantage of any machine enhancements a player might have, such as extended memory, video RAM, graphics accelerators, etc.
Al's Original Review
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
Rex Nebular, a character who resembles Han Solo of StarWars, is the space smuggler pilot of a specially altered cargo ship called the Slippery Pig, which was modeled after the Millenium Falcon. Rex is mostly a down-on-his-luck pilot who will do almost anything for money where galactic deliveries are concerned. Rex gets a job from Colonel Stone, a wealthy Elvis Impersonator, to retrieve a valuable vase from Terra Androgena, a planet populated only by xenophobic women. Apparently, Terra Androgena's biology proficient women killed all of the technology proficient men in the Gender Wars, and promptly used a cloaking device to cause the planet to disappear. In order to reproduce without men, the women invented the extremely distasteful Gender Bender, a machine which turns women into men and vice versa.
Rex discovers Terra Androgena, and his ship is immediately disabled by a planetary defense craft. The Slippery Pig crashes beneath the sea and Rex must find the vase on a planet of hostile women. Rex also finds the need to use the gender bender to change into a woman (who graphically resembles graphic adventure game inventor Roberta Williams of Sierra On-Line) in order to avoid detection by the women who populate the planet and obtain essential artifacts.
Rex Nebular is the first graphic adventure produced by Microprose, right on the heals of their first role-playing adventure, Darklands. Unlike Darklands, Rex Nebular is virtually bug-free. Rex Nebular does have very high production standards and has virtually reinvented scanned images with a new graphic rotoscopic process that produces attractive, realistic, and smoothly animated images from filmed actors. The process also integrates the animated images with the backgrounds, blending them into one picture where the character and the background use all of the colors from the full 256-color palette available to VGA. The resolution is still 320 x 200, but the greater colors and the integrated animated character and background display produce a uniquely attractive product. The explosive decompression losing ending sequence has proved a uniquely popular animation sequence.
The professionally composed Rex Nebular theme music blends together over 16 stand alone music scores and many other composed bits to form a seamless movie-like sound track. Each Rex Nebular animation, background and item can have its own musical theme or stand alone music score which is blended together. The music, which can be turned on or off but has no volume control, is mood enhancing, interesting, and never becomes monotonous, repetitive, or annoying as do many of the barnyard-like noises passing for music in other games. There are an enormous number of Foley and electronic produced squashes, splats, thuds, and squeaks. The beginning animation is enhanced by over a minute of digital speech with simultaneous text display.
Steve Meretzky of Infocom fame wrote Rex's comical log to enhance the materials that come in the box with the nine disks of code, which use up 12 megabytes of hard disk space. The slots for over 100 save games which takes up only 4 kilobytes of space are more than adequate for most adventurers. The game has both a naughty and nice mode which might be required in a game where there is only one man on a planet full of women. The nice mode eliminates the one sexual encounter and most of the blood and gore gratuitous violence that can be seen throughout the naughty mode.
The interface uses a mouse-activated, text-constructed parser that combines ten standard action words with object-specific action words to produce text-parser-like sentences. The treasure hunt-like puzzles require the player to find objects and to discern how they are used. Producer-developer Matt Gruson has insured that the game has no dead ends by providing second chances to acquire essential artifacts. The game can be played in easy, intermediate, and advanced mode. Intermediate is recommended, since advanced mode has significantly less hints and is more lethal, while intermediate mode has more interesting puzzles.
There are a variety of interesting characters to meet, such as the intelligent 12-foot tall reptilian buddy beast that befriends Rex in the female underground complex. Happily, Rex Nebular has no annoying obligatory arcade sequences, reflecting the preferences of the Microprose staff. The logically designed connecting scenes are simple, but interesting, obviating the need to map or have an automapping utility. Essential items can be maintained and manipulated in the unlimited and versatile inventory. Rex is highly recommended for novice and advanced players, who enjoy graphic adventure in the form of interactive fiction and will not find Rex's disrespectful attitude offensve.
Strict graphic animated adventure play. Easy puzzles inspite of the three difficulty levels. Difficulty was achieved by unfortunately making the hard level more lethal. A constructed phrase type parsar, similar to one used in modern games made getting Rex do what you want easier than in Colossal Cave or other early 80's adventures.
Rex Nebular the game conveniently restored the game to a point prior to any lethal event so that you could immediately try again to cheat death without a reboot or restore. This feature has become a popular staple of some game series, since it is so convenient.
Rex was a galactic hero and womanizer, not quite the bumbling heros like Roger Wilco in Space Quest and other Steve Meretzky Infocom classics. Rex was a more sophisticated Larry Laffer from the Liesure Suit Larry series.
Rex is hired to find a valuable vase on a planet infested only by man-killing women. Rex must complete certain puzzles as a man and others as a woman
The graphics were 256-color, 320x200 pixel resolution. A special technique blended the animated characters and objects with the static background so that they did not look pasted on. The full use of the 256-color pallete made the low resolution gralphics appear more detailed, giving the illusion of higher resolution.
AnimationBackgrounds and objects in the environment did not remain static since they were also animated to blend with the characters. Colors were cycled to enhance the background animation effects and blending.
Voice ActorsReal actors were rotoscoped for the parts but the voice overs are limited to about a minute narration at the beginning of the game.
Music ScoreThe original atmosphere music score was composed by Jeff Briggs, a Microprose employee who would later co-design the award winning Colonozation with Sid Meier and leave microprose to co-found Firaxis, with theme music for areas, objects, and characters. The sound track was more like a movie score than a game score, when compared to contemporaries.
Sound EffectsA variable plethora of sound effects digitized to increase their quality.
UtilitiesThe game had over one hundred save games, repetitive items, but lacked autotravel or automapping unless you used the travel cheat codes.
Multi-player FeaturesThere were no multi-player features, save a gathering of the family around the designated game player. These games can and still do hold an audience for family entertainment in the "nice" mode.
FuturePerhaps some day Microprose will re-release these graphic animated adventures on CD so that the current generation of gamers can enjoy them. But for now Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gener Bender is out of print and only exists on the shelves of adventure gamers and reviewers who savor the flavor of vintage games.
Cheats, Hints, WalkthroughRex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender Walkthrough
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender Cheats
Rex Nebular Cheat Site
A 33 page Hint Book was available directly from Microprose for $10. The hint book was just that, hints and did not contain a complete walkthrough. The hints were vague and hard to follow.
JournalistsAl obtained most of the information from the review through playing the game through to the end, interviewing Matt Gruson
ReferencesAl Giovetti, Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Benders, Compute, 1993
Al Giovetti, Dragonsphere, QuestBusters, number (issue) 109, pg. 7, 14.
Al Giovetti, Return of the Phantom, QuestBusters, volume 10, number 9, September, 1993, pg. 6-7.
Chuck Miller, Computer and Net Player, volume 3, number 11, April, 1997, pg. 106.
Al Giovetti, Rex Nebular Producer and Designer Matt Gruson Interview, November, 1982.