Callahan's Crosstime Saloon Preview

It ain't Cheers, but everybody still knows your name. Travel through time and space with the most unusual group of barflies ever assembled

If you've ever tipped your elbow at Callahan's Place, that lively watering hole out on route 25A in Suffolk County, Long Island, you have an idea what to expect from Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. Callahan's, a fictional bar set in the present, serves as the launching pad for eight books written by Spider Robinson, whom the New York Times has called "the next Robert Heinlein."

The Callahan's books portray a diverse collection of beings: robots, cyborgs, time travelers, and humans. Each story begins with one of the regulars coming into Callahan's with a problem - ranging from minor to truly universal. The patrons use their unique collection of resources to resolve it.

Callahan's may be fictional, but it is all too real to Josh Mandel, the designer of this PC game. He used to hang out on route 25A, and when he encountered the first Callahan's book way back in 1978, he was hooked immediately. "I found this stuff to be so different, so unlike anything in mainstream science fiction, that I was really drawn into it," says Mandel. "I've been wanting to do a computer game about it ever since."

That game was a long time coming. Mandel first put in nine years as a stand-up comic and two years writing advertising copy. In 1990 he joined Sierra On-line, eventually working "on just about every adventure game Sierra created." He helped design or wrote dialogue for more than 20 titles and was lead designer for Freddy Farkas and Space Quest VI.

But still no Callahan's. Why not? Sierra did not want to license products from other sources. But that's not why Mandel left. "I like old-fashioned adventure games with lots of puzzles and a lot of story," he says. "Sierra moved into a more commercial and mass-market direction with less challenging games."

So he moved to Legend Entertainment. "Legend has a history of doing classy adaptations of sci-fi and fantasy work, so that seemed like the perfect fit." Now, a year and a half later, his 18-year-old dream is nearing fruition. And it looks like a winner.

Legend's 22-person production team has created gorgeous artwork: hand-drawn, deeply detailed, 360-degree panoramas. This point-and-click adventure has "dozens and dozens of things on the screen," Mandel says. "The detail and number of responses you get is incredible, definitely surpassing anything on the market today." There will be lots of exploration.

Players will need to solve a plethora of puzzles including logic, inventory, dialogue, and topology. The latter is intended to "force you to consider different views of a space, as other beings would see them," says Mandel.

The game includes five songs written and recorded by author/guitarist Spider Robinson.

Mandel has created five stories within a larger, developing plot line, each of which should take from four to 12 hours to solve. In Callahan's you will:

* go to Transylvania and act as matchmaker for two love-sick vampires;

* travel with a Time Policewoman to Brazil to save a rare species of chocolate plant;

* destroy a satellite that's nullifying the effects of testosterone and making humans submissive;

* free Ralph von Wow Wow, a talking German Shepherd, from a top-secret government installation;

* travel to the future to track down an antidote for a psychic, mind-reading drug run amok; and

* finally, save the universe from serious budget cuts by convincing a multi-universe bean counter that this universe has at least one socially redeeming quality.

Fortunately, that accountant stops by Callahan's for a drink. There he'll discover the game's principal theme: "Shared joy is joy increased and shared pain is pain lessened," says Mandel. "That's a touchy-feely element which I take proudly from the books."

It's an unusually positive and constructive attitude for a computer game. Mandel and Legend believe a market exists for such a game. "This by far is more of a labor of love than anything I've ever worked on. It emphasizes character development, friendship, and relationships."

And as for why no one in Long Island has noticed the strange characters imbibing at a neighborhood bar? "This is New York," says Mandel. "They get away with it because they blend in so well."

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