Missed Classic 85: Drive-In Adventure (1982)

From The Adventure Gamer

Written by Joe Pranevich

Sex sells. Whether you personally consume pornography or not, it is undeniable that whenever a new media technology came along, it quickly adapted for adult entertainment. Pornography influenced the rise of VHS in the 1970s, the early internet in the 1980s, and eventually the broadband push in the 2000s. Some of these claims are spurious, of course– do people really favor phones with larger screens now because of porn?– but it is undeniable that adult entertainment is a massive and often hidden economic lever that has shaped our technology landscape.

Adventure games were not immune to this pressure. In 1981, On-Line Systems (later known as Sierra On-Line) released Softporn Adventure; it supposedly sold so well that 25% of Apple II computers owned a legitimate copy, not even accounting for piracy. In 1986, Infocom released Leather Goddesses of Phobos, their final true hit. Even though it came out late in Infocom’s lifespan, it still became their 5th best selling game of all time. Both of these had remakes (Leisure Suit Larry, for one) and sequels. Larry sold 300,000 copies in its first year! There was a market for lewd (and more than lewd?) games.

And yet, none of those games could be called “pornographic”. At best, they contained sexy situations and innuendo. Graphical nudity, where present, was censored. In honor of making it to Leather Goddesses in my Infocom marathon, I am taking a detour back to the dawn of the genre to investigate the very first X-Rated work of interactive fiction, 1982’s Drive-In Adventure. It’s not a great game by any stretch, but at the time it must have seemed revolutionary. It also must have evinced a certain sense of nostalgia for those that played it; it warranted, by my count, no less than three ports or updates in the years that followed. In the interests of our readers (and Google search ranking), I will keep this review as close to PG-13 as possible. I’ll talk about the naughty bits, but forgive me if I must be a bit circumspect.

“Le Coucher de la Mariée” (1896) was the first adult film.

Let’s start with the basics: Drive-In was written by Douglas C. Rogers and distributed by Program Dynamics for the Commodore 64. As far as I have been able to determine, this is Rogers’s first and only adventure game, although he remained close to the genre for many years. The game credits name a distributor, but I have been unable to confirm that it was sold commercially. My guess is that the game primarily made its rounds through the early Commodore 64 BBS scene, no doubt helped thanks to its unusual subject matter. Even so, it includes this note at startup:


Following his work on this game, Rogers remained active in the interactive fiction community for many years. Through the 80s, he ran “Adventureland BBS” (also known as “Mister Rogers Neighborhood BBS”), one of the largest repositories of interactive fiction at the time. He operated it until approximately 1994. In 1990, he released “Adventure Author”, a front-end to simplify the process of creating Adventure Game Toolkit (AGT) games. Although he helped others to write and distribute adventures, Rogers does not appear to have written any further works that survive to the present. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to reach Rogers in time for this review. I have a million questions about how this game came to be, what choices he made when designing it, and how it was distributed. I’d also love to learn more about his work to improve AGT authoring and what games, if any, took advantage of his toolkit.

Before I begin, I discovered one more interesting coincidence: After Rogers closed his BBS, Bob Newell (who we introduced last week as the author of Pesach Adventure) launched the “GobblerNet Adventure Games BBS” as an unofficial successor. It was strange to see Newell’s name pop up again so soon, but I love that for their very different games and approaches, a common thread connects these two promoters and lovers of interactive fiction.

Are you ready for some smut? It’s time to play the game.

Is watching the movie an option?

Journey to the Snack Bar

Well, here it is! The big evening! Your buddy Arnie set you up with this little number named Andrea, and here you are! What do you know? She LOOKS OK, at least! After that last blind date of Arnie’s, his LIFE depended on that. Thing is, he didn’t tell you a damn thing about her. What she likes and doesn’t like, how far she goes and how fast… all the important stuff you need to know.
With this background, your DRIVE-IN ADVENTURE is about to begin. As with all adventures, you direct the computer with VERB-NOUN two-word English sentences. Your sensual computer will be your eyes and ears and hands and… well… you’ll find out.

The game opens and we find ourselves sitting in a car next to our blind date, Andrea. We immediately discover that we cannot even hold hands with our date because the “noise from the movie” is too distracting. If you are not familiar, drive-ins worked by parking your car facing the screen in a large open space. Next to each car would be a pole with a portable speaker. You bring that speaker into your car to listen to the film in beautiful monaural glory. Even in its opening moments, we already hit the first parser problem: how the heck are we supposed to turn off the speaker? We cannot drop it, move it, or turn it off. You can beat your head against this all you like, but the answer turns out to be “loudspeaker off”. Moments after being told that you have to enter commands in “verb noun” format, we have to break the rule to continue. This won’t be the only case like this! Not only will we have similar constructions (“radio on” will be needed in just a moment), but we have weird commands like “put arm” if we want to snuggle up. The author clearly knew how a good parser should work but chose to make one of the first commands of the game nearly impossible to guess.

Beyond cosying up to our date, we cannot do anything more at this stage except hold hands. If you ask for “help” (one of the nice features of the game!), you are told that refreshments are in order. It’s time to take a trip to the snackbar!

Let’s all go to the lobby… er… snack bar.

Leaving the car is easy and we find ourselves in a sea of parked vehicles. Unfortunately, the unfairness of the parser gives way to the unfairness of the adventure itself. We can explore, but going more than a room or two results in the message “You are lost!” and we have to restart the game. The game practically taunts us to explore: there are different cars in different spaces, debris such as a broken speaker, and even a (ewww) used condom. An explorable children’s playground is to the north, with swings, a slide, and a see-saw. You can even climb up the slide! Despite having a few things to see, all of these rooms and objects will turn out to be red herrings so I’ll just skip them.

Beyond the playground is the snackbar and bathrooms. Even getting inside is an exercise in parser frustration. It might seem that since you got there from the south, you’d just go north again to enter. Nope! You have to type “go snackbar” then “go counter” to walk up to the salesperson. The menu is surprisingly inexpensive (popcorn for $0.50!) and we can easily buy whatever we want then return to the car. As a good adventurer should, I check out the bathroom. (That is also an exercise in frustration: a sign shows the men’s room to the west but we can only get in by typing “go mens”.) Once there, we discover a machine selling “Super-Chiefs” for $0.50 for a package of two. Of course, we have no change. The puzzle is that we need to order something at the snackbar to break our single $1 bill so that we can use the rest to buy… something. No explanation is given for what a “Super-Chief” is, and the game’s parser pours salt in the wound. Even if we guess (correctly) that it is selling condoms, the game only recognizes the word “rubber”. There is no hint anywhere that “rubber” is the correct synonym for condom; the game doesn’t even recognize “super-chief” as a synonym! There is a small final trick in that everything we buy in the snackbar is bought in pairs, one for us and one for our date. We must factor that in and not buy anything over $0.25 or else we run out of cash. I grab colas for Andrea and use the change to purchase condoms. Time to head back to the car!

Lucy in the sky with Super-Chiefs.

Heavy Petting

Returning to the car, we arrive at the heavy petting portion of the game and there’s no more adventuring to be done. From here, we have to slowly seduce our date. We can start with “hold hands” and “kiss neck” and usually we have to do the same command over and over again until the message repeats. That lets you know that she’s happy with what you have been doing and you can escalate. Here is an example exchange from early in the session:

> kiss neck
The perfume is sweet…maybe jasmine.
> kiss neck
Nice curve right THERE, where the ear and the neck meet..
> kiss neck
> kiss neck

You get the idea. Honestly, there’s a lot of trial and error since we don’t know what’s possible. I was stuck for a while because we reached a point where the only thing to do is blow into her ear. (And she responds by blowing back into yours…) Without a help system or consulting the source, I’m not sure I would ever think to try that. Kids in the 80s sure did strange things…

In all honesty, that is just one of many examples where the text seems “off”. Unless I miss my mark, Rogers was in his mid-30s when he wrote this game, but some of the sexual descriptions seem immature:

> kiss lips
WOW! Her tongue just flicked yours!

While I can think of many ways to describe the amazing feeling of making out with a woman in the backseat of a car (an activity that I’ve partook in once or twice), “flicking” is not a term I would use.

After making out, the game tells us that it is too cramped in the front seat for further activities. Getting into the backseat is easy enough (“go backseat”), but getting Andrea to join you requires the inscrutable command “call andrea”. Once there, we can get her shirt off and do some biting and sucking until she gets bored. Where would you go after that? I’ll give you one hint: she likes to have her tummy rubbed. Yes, we move from heavy petting to actual petting. After that, the hints state that you should move to her legs and I’m sure you can see how the progression of clothing removal and fondling continues from here.

The climax of the game, if I can abuse that word, is similarly inscrutable. You reach a point where you can have sex with her (using the command “f*ck p*ssy”), and while she likes it, the game does not end. To reach the ending, we have to type “f*ck andrea” which somehow– and I have no idea how– is a different action than “f*ck p*ssy”. Hopefully by now we also remembered to have safe sex; if we did, the game ends and we get a “Congratulations!” message. If not, we lose because she gets pregnant. Since I had spotted the condom at the beginning of the game, I was well prepared. I won!

Time played: 2 hr 15 min

Once is enough, thanks.

This is a strange game. Just from a pornographic side, it’s tremendously vanilla. The parser doesn’t recognize the word “ass”, there is no girl-on-boy oral, and none of the sexual descriptions are very descriptive. Basic aspects of female arousal are either never described or feel off in some way. Prior to researching the game, I was sure that I would discover that the text was translated from another language. How else could you explain the strange word choices (“flicking”) and the bizarre differences between the two uses of the word “fuck”. Alternatively, I expected to find that the game had been written by a 13-year old who knew all about sex from reading stolen Playboys and Piers Anthony novels. I try to never be rude when I review these games; their creators put a lot of their blood, sweat, and tears into making something for us to enjoy. This game is no different, but I would be remiss if I didn’t try to explain how the text came up short.

Despite my own reservations, the game was well-liked enough that it was ported or remade several times:

  • In 1987, someone adapted the original Commodore BASIC version of the game to QuickBasic and compiled it for DOS. This version keeps the original copyright date and is listed as a 1982 game on the sites that include it, but the QuickBasic v2 library it was compiled against didn’t exist before 1985 and the timestamps on the file place it in 1987. There are a handful of textual differences between this edition and the Commodore one that I played, but it is unclear when those differences were introduced.
  • In 1988, Alan Pilon posted the game to QuickBasic v4 and released it as Passion Pit. Despite saying that it is “so totally different … that I have absolutely no qualms about representing this program as mine”, much of the text appears to be the same with added colors, a rotating name for the female companion, and other details. Pilon released the game through Western Reserve Automation, Inc. a company that he incorporated in 1986.
  • In 1990, “Stark” ported the game to the Adventure Game Toolkit as Crusin. I have been unable to get this version of the software to run. Reviews state that he removed the adventure portions outside of the car in favor of a more streamlined experience, but I do not know that from personal experience.

I first played this game through the DOS version, before realizing that the Commodore 64 edition was the original. That version includes one further change which I found unconscionable and which initially made me decide not to review the game: the ending is much more explicitly “date rape” with Andrea saying “No” and you continue anyway. I could say a lot about this– about how American culture through the 80s made light of date rape through movies like Sixteen Candles, or even objectified it as “manly” thanks to James Bond and similar films. It is also true that many pornographic games fall prey to this trope as well, from Larry Laffer’s use of the “Spanish Fly” in the first Leisure Suit Larry (1987) game to the mind-control antics in Voyeur (1992). That is a much larger discussion, but suffice it to say that I was not comfortable playing a game where the solution to the final puzzle of the game is rape.

Shakespeare could not have put it better: “No more yankie my wankie. The Donger need food!”

Final Rating

Let’s get to the final score. I have a feeling this will not score high…

Puzzles and Solvability – There is an adventure game puzzle or two with the snack bar and the condom dispenser, plus many red herrings scattered around the drive-in lot and adjacent playground. Unfortunately, “seduction” consists of typing the same things over and over again until the message changes. I have to give credit for the novel help system, but hinting what body part to touch next could have been better integrated into the text of the game itself. My score: 1.

Interface and Inventory – I have never played a game that seemed to hate its player so much. Moments after being told to only use verb-noun commands, the game forces you to do something else. Movement is inconsistent. Everything is so much harder than it needs to be and I still have no idea what the difference is between the two “f*cking” commands. I suspect that this game was remade so many times in part because someone saw the promise in the premise, but was frustrated by the engine wrapped around it. My score: 0.

Story and Setting – There is a setting and a nugget of a story, although the game punishes you for trying to explore thanks to the “You are lost!” failure messages. The story is unfortunately as deep as a mud puddle and there isn’t a ton to say about it. My score: 1.

Sound and Graphics – No sound or graphics. My score: 0.

Environment and Atmosphere – I feel dirty playing this game, so I guess the environment is good in that respect. The drive-in theater has a sense of gloomy seediness with broken speakers, discarded condoms, and similar, although the overall presentation is sparse. We just see “red” or “blue” cars, for example, but no beaten up Ford Focuses. There’s not really enough detail to help you really feel the location. My score: 1.

Dialog and Acting – For a sex game, the text is mostly unsexy and the dialog is sparse. You never learn a single thing about your date, or even have her say one word to you that isn’t gasping thanks to your touch or pushing you away because you haven’t turned her on enough yet. My score: 1.

Let’s add that up: (1+0+1+0+1+1)/.6 = 7 points! I think I’ve said quite enough rude words for one evening so we’ll leave that score stand.

Drive-In Adventure wins the prize for being the lowest-rated game on the site, a record that has stood since Trickster’s days. Fans of Psycho can finally breathe easy that a worse game has been found! In all seriousness however, it is not unexpected that a 1982 game written in Commodore BASIC would struggle with an interface, overly sparse text, and a limited depiction of a NPC. These were very early days for our industry. You may be shocked to learn that this whole game fits into 400 lines of BASIC code, although those are very dense multi-statement lines that are quite challenging to read and parse through manually.

I especially don’t want to sell Douglas Rogers short for what he created here. My frustrations aside, he was the first person (that we know of) to cross that barrier from erotic to lewd. He saw the limits that had been set by Softporn the year before and set out to cross them. The fact that his work was ported at least twice to newer systems shows that it resonated with his audience, and I have no doubt that those later implementers looked at this game with a sense of rose-tinted nostalgia. We also cannot sell short Rogers’s other contributions to our industry, including distributing titles on his BBS and his AGT front-end. Writing smut just wasn’t his calling and I hope that he looks back on this game with a sense of bemused embarrassment, but nothing more negative than that.

Up next for me will probably be a bonus Leather Goddesses review. I had intended this as a placeholder post for the LGoP playthrough since TBD already played and rated the game, but we decided that a one-off post won’t hurt. Until then, stay safe and stay healthy.

Original URL: https://advgamer.blogspot.com/2020/04/missed-classic-85-drive-in-adventure.html