Monday, February 2, 2009

Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Nuclear Houseplant?

I apologize for the title of this post. I apologize to you, and I apologize to Immanuel Kant. I won't be this pretentious again.

I also apologize for what I'm about to do, because in this post, I'm going to violate a standard I thought I would uphold forever. I am going to explain the new title of the blog. There are two reasons for this. First, several of my readers are non-gamers. They're nice friends and colleagues who have the kindness to read this blog even when it's not about anything they're particularly into. And sometimes they even find something to say! So they deserve an explanation, I think.

Second, the rest of you probably think I'm a blooming idiot for calling the blog "nuclear houseplant" and then tacking up a sprite of Chuck the Plant. "Chuck the Plant isn't nuclear," you say. "That other houseplant, the one upstairs, the one you give the radioactive pool water to, that one's a nuclear houseplant!" I know. It's an outrage. You'll want the explanation right away, I'm sure, so skip down past the next three paragraphs, if you would.

Non-gamer friends, this stuff comes from a game called Maniac Mansion. It's an old game by Lucasfilm (later Lucasarts), one I first played on an Amiga and first owned and finished on an NES. The game is a brilliant send-up of B-grade horror movies, mostly, and it is clever and hilarious and minutely detailed from beginning to end. In terms of gameplay, though, its real appeal lies in its clever mechanic: at the beginning of the game, the player is assigned one and selects two additional unique characters, all teenagers out to rescue the first character's girlfriend. None of the characters has a skill-set sufficient to complete all the game's puzzles, and in fact, each character has one special skill the player has to take advantage of to finish the game. So all the way through, the game requires the player to position characters strategically, figure out each character's special skill, and have the characters cooperate with each other. I may have more to say about this someday.

Well, in the course of this adventure, among several other seeming game non-sequiturs—items that exist for no apparent reason—the player eventually finds an unassuming little potted plant sitting on a shelf. If the player moves the mouse pointer over the potted plant, it becomes obvious that this plant is named Chuck the Plant. But Chuck never does anything significant: he sits on the shelf and brightens one room in the game and that's it. I really did think you could talk to Chuck, but I think that's only possible in another game that includes Chuck the Plant as a reference.

Now, there is another plant in the game that's quite important. This one is an unnamed carnivorous-looking plant on the third floor of the mansion. The plant needs to be used as a ladder (the gamers can vouch I'm not making this up) so that the kids can reach the attic, which has no stair access. So what the kids have to do is use a jar to gather water from the swimming pool out back, which doubles as a cooling vat for the rods in the house's nuclear reactor. They then pour this water in the carnivorous plant's pot, causing it to mutate and grow tall enough to allow them to reach the ceiling. But it's still hungry, so they have to give it some Pepsi to get it to go into a burping spell. Then they can climb the plant to the next floor.

So here's the thing. One plant in Maniac Mansion is "nuclear," and the other plant is Chuck. I don't have them confused, though according to the Wikipedia article on Chuck the Plant (!), some people do find it hard to keep the two straight. I just mashed them up and came out with a title that I thought was fun and short and a graphic that I thought went with it.

So why not just show the actually radioactive plant? I didn't need to use Chuck, after all. Well, Chuck is one of those weird things. He's in the game, and there's no reason for him to be there, but he is, and he even has a name. Chuck the Plant. To my nine-year-old brain, the fact that that plant was clickable and had a name was fun and satisfying out of all proportion. It's one of those details that shows the love that goes into some games, I guess, and Chuck must have been one of the first details of that kind that I noticed in a game. In some ways, it's because of Chuck that I'm writing this now. Speaking of which, how about I stop now? Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy Nuclear Houseplant.

That picture at the top? That comes from


  1. Sweet Kant reference. it portends well for the quality of the blog selbst.

  2. Danke schön, Iroquois. I really appreciate that, speaking as a Versus CluClu Land fan!