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Chex Quest is a non-violent first-person shooter video game created in 1996 by Digital Café as a Chex cereal promotion aimed at children aged 6–9 and up. It is a total conversion of the more violent video game Doom (specifically the Ultimate Doom version of the game). Chex Quest won both the Golden EFFIE Award for Advertising Effectiveness in 1996 and the Golden Reggie Award for Promotional Achievement in 1998, and it is known today for having been the first video game ever to be included in cereal boxes as a prize. The game's cult following has been remarked upon by the press as being composed of unusually devoted fans of this advertising vehicle from a bygone age.
Originally based on the Doom engine, the gameplay present in Chex Quest is substantially identical to its predecessor. The game is played in the first person with the player character navigating through quasi-3D environments while enemies attempt to attack and immobilize him. Along the way various cereal-themed power-ups, weapons, and ammunition can be found that can boost the player character's life meter and make him better able to counter-attack or flee his enemies. When the final boss is defeated in the last level, the game is won.
A few notable differences from Doom are evident, however, regarding enemy profiles (specifically the loss of long-range attacks in low-level enemies and the loss of movement in high-level enemies) and the number of levels in each world (restricted to 5 levels in Chex Quest).
Set on a distant planet named Bazoik, the game follows the Chex Warrior, a humanoid in an anthropomorphic piece of Chex cereal armor, as he fights to eradicate the Flemoid invasion. These slimy, green creatures have infested the planet and captured many helpless citizens whom the Chex Warrior must save. His only weapon is a device called a "zorcher", which teleports his enemies instead of killing them. The game starts at the landing pad of the research facility on Bazoik, after which the protagonist is teleported to the storage facility. The other levels include the laboratory, the arboretum, and finally, the underground caverns of Bazoik, where the Flemoids seem to be making a home for themselves.
Produced with a small team of developers on a budget of around $500,000, Chex Quest began life as the brainchild of the WatersMolitor promotion agency - an award-winning group that had been hired by Ralston Foods[nb 1] to reinvigorate the Chex cereal brand. The original idea was that a non-violent CD-ROM computer game should be released with 5.7 million boxes of Rice Chex, Wheat Chex, and Corn Chex cereals in order to cast Chex as a cereal that was exciting and fun for children while appealing to modern sensibilities by targeting home PC owners. The game would be a high-quality program whose normal retail value would be between $30 and $35. However, it would be offered to consumers for free with no increase to the cost of the cereal box.
In support of the promotion: coupons and advertisements were included in newspapers and magazines with total circulation of 42 million; promotional art was added to the front of all boxes containing the game; a 30-second television advertisement was broadcast; and a website (chexquest.com) was launched to present game tips, Chex recipes, and further plot details such as character biographies. To cut down on development costs, WatersMolitor formed a promotional partnership with America Online who actually manufactured the CDs in exchange for which all copies of Chex Quest came bundled with the AOL software and a "50 Free Hours" subscription offer. WatersMolitor also created a telephone help-line for gamers who encountered problems with the game and hired fledgling new media company, Digital Café to provide coding, plot, animations, original music and art for the game.
The development of Chex Quest differed from traditional video game development in that the basic game engine had already been created and the bulk of the creation process consisted of aesthetic changes made to the music and artwork from the original Ultimate Doom. Although both had previously modded Doom levels in the past, Chex Quest was the first foray into professional game development for lead artist Charles Jacobi and programmer Scott Holman. In an interview with PC Gamer magazine in 2009, Jacobi stated that the biggest reason for the lasting success of Chex Quest has been that it is still essentially a disguised version of Doom with basically unaltered game dynamics. Indeed, the game has been recognized for having a sense of humor about its identity and origins.
Humorous aspects of the conversion take the form of ironic in-jokes related to Doom resulting from the more or less exact "translation" of previous non-essential Doom decorations into their non-essential Chex Quest equivalents. Thus the bloodied bodies and the twitching torsos from Doom become the goo-covered cereal pieces and the cereal victims twitching to extract themselves from goo in Chex Quest. Likewise, according to the plot the "health" meter represents the Chex Warrior's ability to move, with 0% representing being completely covered in slime and unable to move. Picture of the Chex Warrior in the status bar display becomes progressively more coated in slime, as opposed to bleeding as does the face in Doom.
For budgetary reasons, Id Software was contacted and an inexpensive license was obtained for the Doom engine which was considered obsolete in light of Id's recently-released Quake. Because time was also limited, preexisting tools popular with the Doom fan community (such as the level creation tool, Doombuilder) were utilized in level design and sound effects such as the distinctive vocalization of the Flemoids were created by creative director Dean Hyers and audio designer Andrew Benson playing around in a sound booth.
During development, aesthetic decisions had to be run by Ralston for approval and this resulted in a number of modifications. The zorchers, for instance, were originally intended to look like a classic raygun however they were changed to look like a remote control or Star Trek tricorder due to Ralston's concerns that it looked too much like a violent gun. All higher-powered weapons were then designed on the tricorder model. However, the Zorch launcher and Phasing Zorcher were modified again toward the end of the design phase to have a more distinctive look. Zorch weapons were also originally going to "neutralize" flemoids with nutritional foods like banana slices, milk, and strawberries, but due to Ralston's worries that this might encourage food fighting this was changed so that the zorcher emitted pink light and "sent back" the flemoids making them vanish. Early designs for the Chex Warrior also had his head and body all as one giant Chex piece, however this was changed due to aesthetic similarities to the M&M animated characters. The flemoids were originally yellow in color, but this was changed to green due to limitations in the Doom color palette.
Relations to Doom
Some parameters used to start Doom are also used to start Chex Quest. Despite Chex Quest's major changes from its predecessor, there are still a few remaining relics (e.g. levels from other Ultimate Doom episodes and some in-game text).
While Doom has a cheat code scheme in which every cheat starts with 'ID', the codes in Chex Quest are based on the names of the people in the production crew of the game, with a few exceptions. PC speaker sound effects from the DOS version of Doom have been modified and are used in Chex Quest. Whereas Doom is rated M for Mature, Chex Quest was made to be a child-friendly game for all audiences. Nearly every graphic and sound effect from Doom has been replaced, from textures to enemies to weapons.
- The Leftover Levels
Chex Quest has only the first five levels from Ultimate Doom converted for the game. Some leftover levels are playable (as Chex Quest conversions) only via the level warp parameter at startup. These leftover levels include maps 6 through 9 from episode 1 as well as all maps in episodes 2, 3, and 4. In these levels no music is played (the Ultimate Doom MIDIs were removed from the WAD). After the level warp parameter is used to access maps E3M1 or E4M1, the remainder of the levels (through map 5) within the episode selected can be accessed by completing the levels in the episode in order (just as with the standard level progression in Doom or Chex Quest). Unfortunately, bugs prevent any of the other levels from launching upon completion of the level before it, and similarly E4M9 cannot be reached from E4M2 as previously. Completion of E2M5 (via either exit) displays the end graphic originally displayed at the end of The Shores Of Hell, the second episode of the original Doom, and completing E3M5 displays the end sequence from Inferno, the final episode. Likewise, completing E4M5 displays the end graphic from Thy Flesh Consumed, the final episode of Ultimate Doom. Both of the latter two end sequences feature a decapitated rabbit named Daisy.
Episode intermission texts which originally (i.e. in Doom) were displayed upon completion of E1M8, E2M8, E3M8, and E4M8 are now found in modified form for Chex Quest. Thus completion of E1M5 in Chex Quest now displays the new message: "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE NEXT MISSION? PRESS THE ESCAPE KEY TO CONTINUE..." Interestingly, completion of the leftover level E2M5 now displays the message: "YOU'VE DONE IT!!" which never appears in the original Ultimate Doom. Likewise, the episode intermission text displayed upon completion of E3M5 reads: "WONDERFUL JOB!", and that displayed upon completion of E4M5 reads: "FANTASTIC" again neither of which ever appeared in the original game. Charles Jacobi has said that there were never any plans to produce more than five levels and that he knew Scott Holman, another programmer, ran through the text strings and changed any that seemed inappropriate, without knowing where they went.
The skins for the more difficult enemies from Doom have not been converted as these enemies were not employed in Chex Quest levels, but rather the skins have been removed entirely in order to tone down Doom's hellish imagery. This introduces an additional experience for those playing the "leftover levels" as these difficult enemies still exist in a completely invisible form. This also goes for items like the partial invisibility, berserker pack, light amp goggles, and all skull keycards. In addition, the music from the original registered Doom as well as the overworld graphics (depicting Gigeresque scenes of death and hell) and maps that were not modified (E1M6 through E4M9) were left intact, allowing anybody with WAD file editing knowledge to create their own copy of registered Doom (specifically Ultimate Doom).
Reception and legacy
On release, the game was received largely positively by gamers. Consumers of diverse ages gave enthusiastic feedback, and there were many requests for the development of sequels. Corporate sales of Chex cereal also saw a tremendous boost with incremental volume over base increasing by 295% and volume share increasing 48% from the previous year. These increases were directly attributed to the release of Chex Quest, and General Mills deemed the promotion "highly successful." Although the promotion only lasted 6 weeks, the game continued to be played well beyond the promotional period and promotional marketing groups considered the brand image to have been revitalized "from old-fashioned and stodgy to exciting, fun and modern."
Despite this, what little critical attention Chex Quest received in the video game press tended to be negative. Comparisons of the game to its forerunner (Doom) and to other similar games of the day were often unfavorable to Chex Quest, which was pejoratively labeled a "Doom clone," and the game was regarded as an imitation with little to no innovation. Noted cereal scholar Scott Bruce decried General Mills' decision to invent a new mascot for Chex cereal for such frivolous purposes, and dismissed the Chex Warrior as not compelling enough to sell the product.
In modern times, Chex Quest is often considered to have been highly innovative and to have pioneered the use of licensed modding to insert product placement into established titles. Although at least 5 million copies were released, the original CDs are uncommon on the secondary market as they were noted by collectors as having great collectible value in the mid-1990s. The game has attracted a sizeable cult following, and its fanbase has been noted with interest by critics for the continued devotion to the game despite its great age. Other critics, however, have characterized the game as bad even for a Doom clone.
In addition to the original game, Digital Café's 1997 sequel entitled Chex Quest 2: Flemoids Take Chextropolis was made freely available for gamers to download from the Chex Quest homepage. Developed on an even tighter schedule than the original game, Chex Quest 2 was rushed to completion and consequently the level design and progression notably suffered. Plans were drafted to allow individual WAD file levels and updates to the game to be posted on the company Web site as an effective way of generating traffic there, and an end sequence suggesting a possible third installation was available for viewing. Before a third title in the series was developed, the promotion came to an end and both Chex Quest 1 and Chex Quest 2 became effectively unavailable until they were posted for download on internet fan pages several years later. A number of fangame editions were completed by fans to act as the third game in the series. However, nearly a decade would pass before a second sequel was created with any claim of canonicity with the original two games.
In 2008, Chex Quest 3, was developed and released as a service to fans by former Digital Café members Charles Jacobi (art director and lead artist) and Scott Holman (programmer). Former Digital Café sound design leader, Andrew Benson, also contributed several songs for the game. Originally intended as a single stand-alone level, Jacobi announced the development of a full sequel at the Chex Quest Fan Page (Chexquest.org) in June 2008, and the full game was released in September of the same year. Chex Quest 3 employs the ZDoom engine, and is considerably larger in size than the previous two games. Jacobi's release also includes ZDoom-based versions of Chex Quest and Chex Quest 2 with significant enhancements. Chex Quest 2 in particular has been remastered with some levels receiving significant revisions or complete overhauls.
In response to an interview question regarding the possibility of a canonical Kickstarter-funded Chex Quest 4, Jacobi pointed out that the franchise is owned by General Mills so a funded project would likely violate copyright and trademark laws. However freely distributed non-tarnishing modifications created by hobbyists would probably be protected as free speech.
From a fan perspective, similarities have been drawn between Chex Quest and GoldenEye with respect to the legal rights to the game subsequent to the original creators' purchase by larger companies. These corporate events have made the likelihood of later official sequels rather uncertain. As with Golden Eye, however, Chex Quest still has a devoted cult fanbase who still create fan-art, new WAD files, and even full sequels to the game more than 12 years after the game's original release—a fact has been used to highlight the capacity for PC games to foster and support community innovation.
Chex Quest has gained a devoted fanbase since its cereal-box release in 1996. Often simultaneous fans of Chex cereal and the Doom series, the active Chex Quest fan community has produced a host of fan-made sequels, and numerous unofficial projects have been undertaken including the Chex Trek series and the Zorchmatch mod. Other examples which have arguably entered the fanon include a fan-made Chex Quest 3 and Chex Quest 4, and such .wad and Game Maker sequels as Return of the Chex Warrior, Chex Quest Project Z, and the Chex Quest platformer. There are fan-made Chex Quest WADs designed for nearly all major Doom ports, even the original Doom engine.
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