Adventure Afterlife - 20 years of Adventure games - Part 6 1997

No Caption Provided

For those of you who have not read any entries in this series these before, I'm playing through a couple of adventure games from each year following the release of Monkey Island 2. It’s been over a year since the last entry, a lot has happened for me personally. I had a really terrible time for a lot of last year, but happily at the end I managed to achieve a pretty big career goal.

The last few years have been incredible for the adventure game genre, ( there’s never been a better time to be playing video games) but people are still dragging out the old adventure games are dead thing, and I’m still getting frustrated. It’s especially annoying when I see games that have original voices, or distinctive game worlds selling themselves short.

1997 was a heck of a year for games, Final Fantasy VII was released wowing console audiences and shipping a heck of a plot of PlayStations. Mario Kart, Star Fox and GoldenEye were released on N64. On PC 1997 was also the year Quake shipped.

The Last Express

The Last Express is a really interesting game. I’ve been meaning to play it for years, after I tried and failed to run it on my underpowered phone a few years ago I finally picked up the Gold Edition on Steam. It’s kind of incredible to me that it came out in 1997, whilst FFVII used FMV cut scenes to incredible effect, there was still a separation between game and cut scene. The Last Express uses rotoscoped actors, who move around a the Orient Express to set schedules, meeting and conversing with other passengers. Much of the game involves the player snooping on these conversations, and later in passengers rooms trying to solve your friend’s murder, avoid detection ( as a stowaway and escaped criminal)and retrieve a lost treasure. If the player meets another character in the narrow confines of the train they’ll often apologize and get out of the way. There’s an incredible sense of place and time. It’s also worth mentioning that the game was directed by Jordan Mechner, who created both Prince of Persia and Karateka who paved the way for rotoscoping in games with the first prince and is also a screenwriter in addition to game designer.

At this point in the game I had a bomb in my pocket, it didn't change the outcome but it was tense to say the least.
At this point in the game I had a bomb in my pocket, it didn't change the outcome but it was tense to say the least.

The game is broken into discrete chunks of story in roughly two hour time period in which time ticks by as you play, in order to pass to the next one the player has to complete certain objects before they run out of time and (usually) die. If you fail the game will then send you back to try again. The framework of different train stops is used to indicate this but other than that it’s up to the player to figure out what they need to do. The re-release on Steam adds a hint system that will step in if you want when you die. Whilst I usually hate using hint systems, I found it helpful in my playthrough. The freedom can be in part exhilarating as you eavesdrop on an important or interesting conversation, figure out a clue or experience the thrill of learning something you shouldn’t. The time aspect adds a tension, that elevates the drama and reminds you that you’re in a video game and it wants you do complete your tasks or it will kill you. It seems designed for you to fail and try again, so you experience different aspects of the game. Whilst you sit in the dining car listening to a couple chatting, two of the train guards might be having a juicy conversation elsewhere. You can talk to these other passengers, always mindful that some of them are probably lying to you.

The combat in this game is a bit of a pain.
The combat in this game is a bit of a pain.

There are a number of puzzles scattered about, that rely on you finding the right inventory items in time or else paying attention to the movements of others on the train. If you discover someone else snooping in the train compartments, is it a good idea to leave the giant gold egg you retrieved in your room? With some of these puzzles you’ll likely fail before you discover there’s a problem and things begin to feel like a Groundhog day experiment where you try to learn the right steps in the right order. There are also a few puzzles such as a bomb defusal where I knew what I wanted to do but had no idea how to tell the game how to do it. At other points I just had no idea where I was meant to be going or what my aim way in that time period.The navigation can be fiddly at times, and there are also a number of combat sequences that require clicking in the right place at the right time. It's always hard implementing combat in these kinds of game, but I just found it too fiddly to gain any satisfaction from.

Overall though it’s an incredible game, which I don’t hear talked about enough outside adventure game discussion. It’s sometimes frustrating, but rewarding. It has an incredible sense of place and time which wasn't really present in a lot lot of other games of this time. It uses the interactivity and the players sense of time and place to tell it's story.

The Curse of Monkey Island

If you ask people to name a point and click adventure it’s likely Monkey Island will appear on there somewhere. The series is often brought up in general adventure game discussions, by players who often haven’t played any other adventures. Monkey Island 1 & 2 are the most often cited, widely played on both PC and Amiga, the strong world, humor, and characters have left a mark in many gamer’s brains. You’ll also remember it’s after Monkey Island 2 was released, I set the start of this blog series.

What did they do to Elaine?!!!
What did they do to Elaine?!!!

Curse of Monkey Island is the first Monkey Island without series creator Ron Gilbert at the helm. While it would spawn a further two games; Escape from Monkey Island and Tales of Monkey Island, there’s a sizable contingent of fans who want a 'rue' sequel to Monkey Island 2. It's a weird feeling for a game to have so many sequels, yet it feels unfinished; until recently I'd have compared it to the same feelings that swirl around Shenmue 3. I’ll probably revisit Escape and Tales, later but for this entry I want to focus on Curse. It appeared recently on Steam and Gog with no fanfare and a barebones ScummVM implementation. Whilst the game runs and is still enjoyable if you play you’ll need to use ScummVM’s save system as the original doesn’t work in modern windows. I managed to loose a save by leaving it idle on the title screen where ScummVM’s autosave wiped over my progress. It’s nice the game is available again, but there’s little context to the release; and it would have been nice if the game received the same love as Full Throttle. My fan theory is that someone at Disney, has gone rogue inside the Skywalker archives and has built their own secret list of games which they release into the night….hastagbuildingthecovertlist.

Curse of Monkey Island sees the series shift to cel style animation, there’s an almost Disney-esque quality to it. The original Pirates of the Caribbean ride was a big inspiration to the original games, so it’s apt but does mean the game loses some of the weird grossness from the originals. It was also the first game that was voiced, the cast were reassembled the voice the special editions of 1 & 2 which I suggest you play with the fan patch that lets you enjoy the VO without the awful new graphics. The cast is superb, Dominic Armato is the voice of Guybrush. The game also introduces the character of Murray who feels very much part of the series, driven by excellent dialogue and a hilarious performance by Denny Delk.

( The game doesn't run in widescreen by default)

The game makes use of the higher fidelity music and vocal performances to great effect. Music is a huge part of the game, there’s a segment where Guybrush finds himself on a ship with a crew who refuses to do their job and instead launch into a sea shanty. The player then gets to pick dialog options which then integrate back into the song. All this is sung in time to the music and is just magical.

Look at this screenshot...the evil..oh the eeeevil.
Look at this screenshot...the evil..oh the eeeevil.

There’s a ton of extra dialog in the game, and it’s fun just to explore the world and talk to the pirates. There are also a lot fun responses if you use the wrong item on a character, and after obtaining a balloon early on can spend as much as the game as you like speaking in a squeaky helium voice.The puzzles are generally enjoyable, there are a few pixel hunts and the odd twist of logic. It’s perfectly possible to solve them in different orders, largely because the instinct to steal anything and everything is so strong. I’d still prefer the game let me do this then force linearity.

Another musical moment.
Another musical moment.

The writing is also extremely good with plenty of masterful callbacks to the original games which feel appropriate and integrated with the story. Stan the salesman shows back up, but just as he did in pixel form the squares of his jacket resolutely refuse to move when he does. My main criticism is as right as it gets Monkey Island there are few places where it misses the mark. These largely focus on Elaine, the plot has Guybrush propose to Elaine his love interest from the first two games, leading her to accept a cursed ring that turns her to gold. Whilst this twist is very Monkey Island, their relationship felt a little more ambiguous in the earlier games. Elaine was often off solving her own problems, which generally got spoiled by Guybrush. There’s a lot of ambiguity in Monkey Island 1 & 2, and some readings of the game have you question how much is real. Curse looses some of the ambiguity, as a result of the higher res art and main arc.

Curse sits in an interesting position of being an awesome game it’s own right. It used the tech of it’s time to tell it’s story well, so perhaps it’s unfair that it’s often compared to an imaginary Monkey Island 3 that never actually got made. I can't think of many games that use music and animation in quite this way. It's still funny, and the characters new and old stand out as some of my all time favourites in games.

It’s sometimes a bit of a pitfall to look at games purely through tech, in the case of both Last Express and Curse of Monkey Island the tech was used to well effect to tell their stories. Animation, and professional actors were called in to capture not only voice but movement. Strong narrative game design and implementation uses the technology at hand as an integral part of the storytelling. The narrative isn't just the words, it's all the elements coming together. They use many of the same tools but in different ways that are appropriate for the stories they tell. 1997 was an astounding year for games.

Both are available on Steam & GOG, so I encourage you to seek them out and try them for yourselves.

2 Comments

Adventure Afterlife 20 years of Adventure games - Part 5 1996

1996 was a another strong year for adventure games, whilst there weren’t as many releases as previous years two of my favorite adventure games of all time were released, both with a very British flavor. Interestingly one was a brand new series, whilst the other was an adaptation of a British kid’s cartoon, made by a rather unexpected publisher.

Broken Sword

No Caption Provided

I would like to confess something, I have a super-power. I can’t run really fast ( I always sucked at PE), I can’t read minds, and I certainly can’t do what a spider can. What I can do is acquire copies of Broken Sword. Before a recent flood wiped out a chunk of my games collection, I had two PC copies, the GBA version, the PS1 version, the GOG version ( and director’s cut) although I was somewhat surprised to find I don’t have it on Steam. Some of these copies just appeared possibly via other family members others I grabbed back when you didn’t have to trek to the seaside to find independent games shops. I’ve played through this game a lot, and I did it again for this project; but I’ll be straight here it was really hard to find the distance I found when re-playing other games on this list. The writing is still as sharp as ever and if templars, history and conspiracies are your thing, you should play it. What I’ll talk about is it’s opening.

No Caption Provided

George Stobbart is an American on holiday in France, sitting at a small café watching the world go by when a clown passes him. Moments later the café explodes. George rushes inside to help the waitress and discovers a man has been killed. It’s one of my all time favorite game openings, the animation is wonderful and so is the voice work. I would strongly urge you to avoid the Director’s Cut, it tacks on another scene before this with another character, and dulls what is an exceptional opening scene.

Blazing Dragons

The voice over performances are really solid, and make the dialogue shine.
The voice over performances are really solid, and make the dialogue shine.

Blazing Dragons is somewhat of an oddity, it was console only ( PlayStation and Saturn), and was published by Crystal Dynamics. In what is probably their first and last entry in this article series. The game is based around the first series of kid’s series Blazing Dragons created by Python Terry Jones. Blazing Dragons focus around the Dragon Knights of Camelhot, and the evil humans that want to take over and steal all the dragon’s treasure. The game focuses on inventor Flicker and his quest to save the princess Flame from having to marry against her will.

It’s a real shame Blazing Dragons never made it to PC, and I suspect it would have found a far wider audience. The humor is appropriately Python-esque, and whilst it’s dated in places it’s still very funny. Right at the start of the game Flicker picks up a clicker from his bedroom floor, and you can use it on almost any NPC in the game. Many have responses, and it’s fun just clicking around just to hear them.

This is my favourite line in the game, thank you hint lady.
This is my favourite line in the game, thank you hint lady.

Most of the puzzles make sense, though Blazing Dragons takes it’s cartoon logic and runs with it, the inclusion of some helpful lines and a literal help kiosk ( also a source of great one liners) means with persistence you should be able to get through most of the puzzles. There are also a few mini games thrown in which can be incredibly annoying and frustrating, though at least one involving a cat-a-pult ( literal) is reused later in the game to comedic effect.

No Caption Provided

I briefly want to interrupt to say the menu design in this thing is kind of appalling, the amount of times I almost deleted my save was kind of incredible.

It’s interesting that 1996 somehow managed to generate two of the adventure games I’ve replayed the most. Broken Sword takes the record by a mile but I have at some point played through both the Saturn and PlayStation versions of Blazing Dragons. I have to admit to getting stuck on both at various points, though I managed to get through without a guide. If 1996 hits a high point then it’s for writing, both games are funny in different ways, and both will stick with you.

5 Comments

Adventure Afterlife 20 years of adventure games part 4 - 1995

Adventure Afterlife Part 4 1995

No Caption Provided

1995 continues the adventure game high of 1994 with a healthy mix of sequels ( mainly from Sierra), licensed games and new IP. Stylistically the games become more confident, with a move toward more cinematic forms of storytelling and love it or loathe it full motion video. FMV is the most literal interpretation of this concept but not the only one as 1995 also saw the release of Tim Schafer’s classic Full Throttle. It still a diverse line up and if 1993 saw a remarkable number of games regarded as classics then 1995 sees the broadest line up.

Discworld

Discworld currently sits in rights hell and isn’t currently available to buy. If you have a copy luckily SCUMMCVM will handle things for you and there’s also another enhanced soundtrack by Jim Woodrow if you fancy enhancing your audio experience. Discworld is interesting as it marks the first book adaptation I’ve played, and Terry Pratchett the author of the series was heavily involved in it’s creation. Discworld like it’s source material is very British, the voice cast draws from a plethora of well known talent including Python Eric Idle and Blackadder’s Tony Robinson. Given the feel of series it’s solid casting,Robinson plays a huge number of the supporting cast. It’s recognizably him, and whilst this approach grates for in games like Skyrim it’s oddly appropriate that Discworld has a panto like swapping of (vocal) disguises.

LOVELY VIEW UP HERE
LOVELY VIEW UP HERE

The game sees you take on the role of Rincewind protagonist of many of the early Discworld books, and is voiced by Jones. There are some lively touches like the inclusion of Luggage his literal walking luggage and the use of Two-Flower the tourist he helps in the books as a kind of guide introducing new areas of the game as you visit them. Rincewind is tasked with finding a variety of items to allow the Wizard’s to locate the lair of a dragon who is menacing the city. The game then chucks the player into the game with little help and little further introduction. The game is really really funny, it’s also incredibly difficult and frustrating. There’s plenty of confusing locations, hidden hotspots and events that only trigger when you’ve passed through an area multiple times. This is a game that makes you walk.

The term walking sim gets thrown about a lot, initially a term of mockery that many creators have taken back. I see a lot of the appeal of walking sims in this game. The puzzles get in the way, they bog things down. The real joy is walking the streets of Ankh-morpork and running into familiar faces from the books. A bewilderingly large amount of the city is available from the moment that Rincewind gets out of the University. It’s disorientating in the way that arriving in a new city for a holiday is. I once saw Terry Pratchett speak, and in mentioning working on the live action TV films said the extras were often fans who turned up for free, simply because as fans turning up and having a drink in the Broken Drum was enough to get them all to turn up. I feel a lot like this about this game, as an adventure it’s frustrating but I find myself booting it up just to experience however briefly living on the Discworld.

Gabriel Knight 2

This seems a little awkward.
This seems a little awkward.

This is a Gabriel Knight without Tim Curry. When I bought the game originally, I was utterly upset to find out that the game had switched from pixel art to FMV. I had pretty bad memories of it, however replaying as an adult lent me some much needed perspective. This Gabriel is much gentler than he was in the first game, the actor who plays Gabriel has said that since the first game was animated the performances necessitated a more emphatic performance where as he in a live action role could afford to be more subtle. This change in approach give the character a very different feel, that said after the end of Gabriel Knight 1 it’s not totally out of place; this is meant to be a reformed Gabriel of sorts.

It opens in Germany, Gabriel having returned to his ancestral home with a bunch of the money he stole from the voodoo cult in the first game and the proceeds from the book he wrote ( loosely based on the events of the first game). There’s a lot of cringe associated with Gabriel’s writing. Much of this is deliberate, but the fact he names the Japanese-American female lead of his book Fujitsu ( based on his real life crime solving partner Grace) caused me to emit a long and frustrated sigh. It’s meant to be awful, but honestly couldn’t see why Grace would still be talking to Gabriel at this point. A local mob turns up at the Schloss to ask for Gabriel’s help, a young child has been killed by a wolf which the townsfolk believe is supernatural. Gabriel whose been looking for a reason to procrastinate hops on the case. Meanwhile Grace whose been left in America starts to get jealous of Gabriel’s German assistant Gerde and heads to Germany determined to give Gabriel help whether he wants it or not.

Gabriel very quickly tracks down a gentleman’s club presided over by the sinister Baron Von Glower, who unknown to Gabriel is a werewolf. Gabriel suspects him of being involved, but unwittingly starts to like Von Glower quickly earning himself a close place in his circle of friends ( all werewolves). It’s here that the themes of the Gabriel Knight series are most evident. It’s all about relationships, in the first game Gabriel is drawn to voodoo priest Malia, in Gabriel Knight 2 it’s Von Glower, jumping ahead a bit the much maligned Gabriel Knight 3 focuses finally on the Gabriel/Grace relationship from Gabriel’s as well as Grace’s point of view. I think it’s this realization that’s allowed me to appreciate the game more as an adult. If you view the game as being about the doomed relationship between damaged people ( Gabriel/Von Glower and Grace/Gabriel) the end becomes increasingly tragic. In the end Gabriel has to terminally end his relationship with Von Glower, and Grace has to risk hers with Gabriel. In a short story published to promote the recent Gabriel Knight remake, series author Jane Jensen posted a short story where Gabriel was haunted by Von Glower, that story makes it clear that his actions at the end of the game mark the character significantly.

This depth is hidden below the murky pix-elated depths of FMV, the acting is largely what you’d expect from this kind of game. It’s hardly the worse, but has a very drama kind of feel. The music is pretty solid, though it must be said on of the game’s biggest expenses the commission of a classical piece intended to represent one of Wagner’s lost works ( a vital lot point) was utterly wasted on me. If you’ve played the first game and enjoyed it, but were scared off by this game; give it a chance with an open mind.

Phantasmagoria

I’ve watched other people play this game three times. I’ve tried to play it, and it’s weird even booting that thing up causes reality to crash in on itself so I never get past the intro! Phantasmagoria is one of those games ( like Night Trap) that felt like to me the limp efforts of the time to capitalize on the gaming zeitgeists du jour.

1- Video Games are for adults so this means violence and or boobs and nothing else more subtle or nuanced

2- CD-Roms are going to allow for games to become more cinematic so this literally means filming people

Of course somewhere along the way this also creates some compelling jank as well, but I hope you’ll all forgive me on skipping this one. Other better people suffered through it in my place.

Full Throttle

No Caption Provided

In the midst of all the literal interpretation of the cinematic/CD-rom trend comes the more considered Full Throttle. Full Throttle is a futuristic biker fantasy in the same way Mad-Max is with cars. Stylistically it pulls not just from films of the day but the cartoons as well, with full screen animation and detailed character animations that do much more to convey the story than the compressed live action of the day. The voice acting is top notch as you’d expect from LucasArts, marking the second game I’ve talked about in this blog to feature Mark Hamill. The game has been criticized for being a little short, and if you’re able to play it from end to end it can feel that way The music is great, with many tracks coming off the Gone Jackals album bone to pick. This also means the game is one of the few on this least with an easy way to legally listen to the music, as the band have released the album digitally.

The UI in Full Throttle stands out as it marks a switch to “Verb-coin” style interfaces in Lucas-arts games. Its fairly simple featuring a hand, a skull and a foot. Whilst you might be forgiven for thinking this foot means walk, it’s probably best to think of it as “boot” as at least one puzzle uses the icon this way. It’s funny and very apt for the grizzled lead Ben, but when I originally played this game I remember getting stuck for weeks on a puzzle that involved kicking. One of the secret worst things about adventure games is either knowing how to do something and not being able to find out how to implement it in game, or it’s not knowing something is possible. The other major issue in full throttle are the bike combat sequences,whilst they are there to add dynamism and movie style action to the game the controls make them incredibly frustrating. It’ll probably be worth waiting for Double Fine to re-master this one, to see if they manage to clean these sections up a little.

Full Throttle is still a great game, the quality with which it was made it still evident. The setting and characters are memorable, and still feel fresh and different today. If I’m not going into detail about this one it’s because I want any of you who haven’t played to to consider it, and I’m honestly jealous of anyone who gets to play Full Throttle for the first time.

So all in all 1995 was still a busy time for adventure games, there are still some hits and misses but the variety of adventures out this year is actually pretty impressive. If some of the games missed the mark, some of the time we can put this down to experimentation. My highly unscientific sampling here includes fantasy, comedy, mystery and horror; a really diverse sample of themes and genres.

3 Comments

Adventure Afterlife 20 years of Adventure games - Part 3 1994

No Caption Provided

1994 sits right in the middle of the graphic adventure peak. After the staggeringly prolific 1993, the momentum carried well into the following year with a mix of new games and sequels to established franchises. Thematically there’s a heavy shift towards science fiction, however in both the science fiction games I played through for this year there’s a heavy dose of humor.

Beneath a Steel Sky

Many North American gamers will probably immediately name LucasArts and Sierra as the two major adventure power houses. In the UK we were also lucky to have studios like Adventure Soft and Revolution. Revolution is still going having mostly recently released the Kickstarter backed Broken Sword 5. Interestingly enough Revolution somewhat controversially listed Beneath a Steel Sky 2 as a stretch goal on that project. The goal wasn’t reached and since then the Revolution team have been pretty quiet on their next project. This means to this day BASS hasn’t had a sequel, so stands alone as a very differently themed adventure game.

No Caption Provided

Bass follows Robert, who as a child is involved in a helicopter crash. His Mother is killed and he is left stranded in a wasteland. A local Mad Max style tribe finds the boy and gives him the last name Foster after Foster’s lager. Foster also being a rather apt name for a foundling. As an adult, Rob is found and kidnapped by security forces and taken to the domed Union City. Union City is governed by the mysterious all powerful AI LINC, and Robert soon finds himself having to navigate the city whilst evading the security forces. Union City itself is an interesting location, it’s heavily hierarchal with people lower in the social hierarchy limited to only certain floors on the vertical sprawling city. These people have limited rights, whilst the wealthy live in luxury. In keeping with the cyberpunk theme there’s a strong emphasis on virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

Comic’s art legend Dave Gibbons provided the art design, giving the game a very unusual feel even for the time. The audio is also very strong with a distinctive soundtrack, and unusually for the time quality voice over. If I was a little hard on Revolution for last entries Lure of the Temptress, it’s probably partly because as a personal favorite , BASS released only a year later is a staggering achievement. The virtual theater system is back and used to great effect, allowing the player to follow characters from screen to screen.

The writing is also superb mixing dark cyberpunk with humor and a tiny bit of body horror. It’s hard being totally objective but beside a few whimsical puzzles ( you can launch a dog into the air) they mostly make sense and work together to tell the story.

Look at that backdrop.
Look at that backdrop.

One of my all time favorite games,if cyberpunk or science fiction interest you I encourage you to play the game.It is available legally for free from SCUMVM or GoG as is James Woodcock’s ( Fan made) enhanced soundtrack, which I recommend you use. Mobile versions are also available if you want to support the dev.

King’s Quest VII - The Princeless Bride

“I’m going to play King’s Quest VII” I tweeted. I got a few responses fairly quickly along the lines of “ Oh dear” and “Why?”. Interestingly enough VII sees the series take a female focus with the player switching between Princess Rosella and Queen Valance. Series protagonist King Graham is barely seen at all. The art takes a Disneyesque direction and it’s not hard to see Disney films of the era as having a direct influence. There’s even singing about getting married…

You can now never unhear that.Soon after this Rosella is kidnapped, her Mother finds herself lost in the desert and vows to save her.In King’s Quest games you can die, you can die in stupid ways, wandering in the Desert too long, getting stung by a scorpion etc. Luckily by this point Sierra had grown a little kinder and they let you resume.

The puzzles can be a little obtuse, and follow the traditional mold of weird clue luckily scrawled onto walls and trial and error. In the first section I played with Queen Valance I noticed at least one puzzle with multiple routes all the way through.

No Caption Provided

I got as far as Rosella’s section before I caved ( which I hate to do) and looked up a walkthrough as I got stuck. But the trouble was the solution I kept finding does not work. Various fan pages list numerous bugs but not this one. So sadly despite my resolution to play everything, I gave up.

Tex Murphy - Under a Killing Moon

Despite this being a sequel I hadn’t played a Tex Murphy game before. However in keeping with my chronological plan for this series I installed Under a Killing moon in a bit of a strop after the Kings Quest VII incident. I was prepared to hate. All I knew about this game was that it was FMV and had large enough following to warrant numerous sequels and a recent Kickstarter. I didn’t know that the game doesn’t just use FMV but also has gameplay sections in first person 3D ( like Daganronpa or Hotel Dusk).The controls are bizarre you move via mouse with the speed increasing as you go like a car. You can also duck, look up and down. All the characters in the game are FMV, with video cut scenes often popping up when Tex leaves a location or when a plot vital incident occurs. The game has a noir feel, but it’s set in the future giving it a weird but cool retro future feel. Tex’s office is in a bad part of town where all the mutants ( played by actors in various masks) live. Mutant life is cheap, and so is the rent; so this is where Tex is based.

Here is a FMV mutant in a bin, this is his in game idle. It loops like this. He is addicted to chocolate, this is why you should play.
Here is a FMV mutant in a bin, this is his in game idle. It loops like this. He is addicted to chocolate, this is why you should play.

Near the start of the game, you find Tex’s gun. Tex picks it up, accidentally throws it out the window where a kid picks it up and runs away with it. The whole scene is goofy and silly, and it’s at this point you release they know it’s silly. This is like a holodeck episode of TNG, where Tex Murphy ( also played by the game’s designer Chris Jones) is having the time of his life, goofing off with a large cast of actors who vary from being in on the joke, to lost, confused and scared.

The story starts you off with a few local cases, and introduces the mechanics before the main plot involving, a missing statue and a mysterious Countess kicks off.

The puzzles mostly make sense, though the game can be a little particular about how you do things. It’s also possible to mess up royally. Thankfully there’s also a decent built in hints system which gives clues in return for deducting points. The only place where this doesn’t help is locating objects, the game makes full use of the 3d environments and hides objects in weird places. This can get a bit frustrating as those objects are often sprites which rotate or disappear at odd angles. It’s also possible; I learned when once again breaking my rule and resorting to a walkthrough, to miss an item and get to the end of the game without it, where Tex will then fail.

You can die in Under a Killing Moon, and it’s weeeiiirdd. A man in shadow with a deep voice appears in to tell Murphy off and offer him another chance. I like to think this means the whole thing is in Tex’s head and he’s utterly deluded, but the game hints otherwise.

I’d never played a Tex Murphy game before and I thoroughly enjoyed it’s bizarre mix of humor and future noir. Recommended especially for Contradiction fans. Just save often.

Meet the Jenks of the future
Meet the Jenks of the future

1994 was still a pretty great year for adventure games. Whilst 1993 saw a ridiculous amount of releases, 1994 was still strong. The fact that King’s Quest had gotten to VII at this point is no mean achievement. Sierra games were the big sellers of their time, so it’s frustrating to see from the little I played that they were still buggy, and hadn’t really improved their puzzle design. The art was at least an interesting direction, and very different from the other two games I played. Tex deserves a shout out too, it was utterly silly but a joy to play, I’m not sure that I’d have finished it without help but the comprehensive in game hint system really helps . BASS is still a classic, and certainly the most polished of the three games I played, and still and all time favorite.

Also Under consideration

Also in the cyber punk mystery category was Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher. I’d like to include more Japanese games on this list, so another one to possibly go back to. Sorry Mr Kojima I had to draw a line somewhere so these blog posts could keep coming....

I will now leave you with another gif from Tex Murphy ( this game is very giffable). I shall not give you any context for it:

No Caption Provided
6 Comments

Adventure Afterlife - A journey through 20 years of Adventure Games [ Part 2 ] 1993

No Caption Provided

I’m starting my Adventure game play-through in 1993, the year after Monkey Island 2 came out. I’d played all the games in my selection before, though not for quite a while. This became evident after purchasing Gabriel Knight off GoG, and I realized I had no music at all. After about 90 gagillion hours I finally figured out that Windows 8 & 10 don’t actually have midi support, and then after messing about further I finally got it to work.Let it not be said I am not committed to this project. (I am also aware there is a remake on mobile, however it changes puzzle flow and has re-recorded VO). 1993 was blessed with a lot of adventure games, and it was quite hard to pick what ones to play.

I’m also going to admit the flaw in my weird project is that I didn’t set rules about what I should and should not play. I am therefore going to pretend this is a deliberate recreation of how I picked what games I played in the early 90s.Mainly by going into poky old game shops, then wandering around asking what adventure games they had.*

* Most of the time they tried to sell me lemmings or else lemmings came free with a lot of other games. I am not going to play lemmings.

Lure of the Temptress. (Revolution)

I should mention there's some moments of great dialogue. Like when Ratpouch controlled by AI will wander in and try to buy beer ( he's underage)/
I should mention there's some moments of great dialogue. Like when Ratpouch controlled by AI will wander in and try to buy beer ( he's underage)/

Lure of the temptress has several interesting features right from the start. It uses the ‘virtual theater’ system which allows NPCs to move from screen to screen. You can if you want follow them or at some points in the game an NPC will follow you. If you bump into them , they’ll say something and NPCs can also be given fairly complex strings of commands. This means that you can instruct the other character to go into another room and pull a series of levers, or press a button at theoretically the same time as the player.I say theoretically because the pathfinding can be extremely awkward, if your character takes too long to path to the target NPC or gets stuck then command will time out and end up with both characters standing around with a question mark over their head. It’s also fairly easy to loose Ratpouch your companion from the start of the game. I ended up needing him for a puzzle and having to traipse back the way I came to find where he’d gotten stuck. It’s a shame because Ratpouch’s semi autonomy leads to several funny points in the game. If you enter the rougher pub in town, he’ll try and buy beer from the barkeep. There are a few brief cut scenes that manage to do a lot with very little animation, and it’s a shame there aren’t a few more. The story is a little bare bones, but is enhanced by pockets of very funny dialog.

No Caption Provided

Lure of the Temptress hasn’t aged well control wise, there’s a lot of wandering about trying to get things to happen, and the jankyness of the pathfinding makes it fiddly to play. However the use of NPCs is really interesting, they act more like characters from an open world RPG wandering around and interacting with each other. It’s a system that very few other straight up adventures ever used and adds a bit of life to the town. Similarly it’s the snatches of very funny dialogue that shine in a fairly average story. Since one of my aims in this blog series is to cover interesting things about adventure games, I urge you stick with me for 1994 for Revolution’s next game which took these two elements and ran with them.

Simon the Sorcerer

No Caption Provided

In 1993 if an adventure game had voices it was a talkie, and despite a spate of awfully voiced games in this period Simon the Sorcerer cast Red Dwarf’s Chris Barrie as the title character. Simon is meant to be a young teen in this, and despite what I think is a slight pitch shift Barrie is probably a little old. However he and the rest of the voice cast are excellent. The gameplay is fairly standard in adventure games, the puzzles largely make sense although there are a few utterly frustrating points which let the game down somewhat:

1.Tiny Bespoke Rocks

At at least four points in the game you need to find some kind of small rock. Several of which use the same sprite in the inventory. These rocks are usually hidden somewhere on the floor….or these wonderful incredibly densely packed pixel backgrounds. But only certain rocks on certain screens can be picked up and used. This happens four times in the game with rocks alone.

2. It wasn’t finished

The final part of the game features a lot of weird dead ends. A small wooden wedge appears then disappears from your inventory. Simon picks up and can polish a shield, only to leave it hanging on the wall as he enters the final area where it’s never used. Whilst the game is still completable these numerous dead ends toward the end of the game are frustrating.

3. Tiny Bespoke exits

Whilst the fast travel map is a great way to backtrack, it only features select locations. It also doesn’t hint if you’ve missed something, especially annoying when several screens have exits you can only leave when you click on the right object ( usually something Simon has to climb).

Despite these flaws, Simon is still a funny game. The talking wood worm stuck with me for years after I originally played it ( on an Amiga CD 32 no less, puzzle hunting is not fun with a gamepad). Interestingly it also moves save/load and fast travel to inventory items. This means with the verbs and inventory permanently taking up the bottom half screen the top half is almost never obscured.

Gabriel Knight

No Caption Provided

Gabriel Knight was the most serious of the games I played.There are a number of notable voices in the game; Tim Curry voices the lead character Gabriel, Mark Hammill voices his best friend Detective Mosely and Michael Dorn appears as Dr John the creepy head of the local voodoo museum. There’s a bit of pixel hunting in Gabriel Knight, and you can get frustratingly far into the game then grind to a massive halt without even realizing that items can be that hidden. In it’s defense in nowhere in the game does Gabriel have to pick up four tiny bespoke rocks.

The game has two main narrative threads Gabriel’s family history, and a series of ‘voodoo’ murders.These interweave as you go on and you can make quite a big discovery about Gabriel’s family on the first day via solving a really obtuse puzzle. You can also do what I did ( despite having played it before), and forget about it assuming that the puzzle can’t be solved only to grind to a halt later because you arbitrarily need to solve it before the day will end and new events trigger. Gabriel can also die, but the only way you’d know that is if it happens to you. If you do die you’d better hope you’ve saved recently. Lure of the Temptress at least alerts you to the fact you can die by making it fairly likely to happen at least once near the start of the game.

Bonus here's a making of Doc with Tim Curry!

Day of the Tentacle

No Caption Provided

I actually started this project back in December, but only just started posting it. The timing has meant that DOTT remastered came out so I was easily able to play the game again. I actually played most of this with the remastered graphics, however I hope this will still be a fair write up. Alongside Simon this made the second comedy game I played. Where as Simon has a very British pantomime feel, DOTT owes far more to classic American Warner brothers cartoons as well as the clear Lucas Arts style. You can’t die at all, in fact there are numerous funny lines hidden around the game that encourage you to experiment and try new things.

The original graphics are still striking to this day, whilst the other games I played used very detailed styles DOTT consciously uses clean cartoon style visuals. I remember it looking absolutely stunning at the time, and the character and background designs still stand out. The voice over is also strong using many recognizable voices from cartoons of the time. The original voices are a little compressed, and crackly which happily Double Fine painstakingly cleaned up from the original tapes. It’s also a funny game, the writing is absolutely fantastic it’s funny and full of character. From the little lines the character’s say when you look at an item, to the cut scenes and overall plot.

Lucas Arts games always made use of the stranger settings and tone to provide a more comfortable context for the puzzles. This is a game where you can put laundry on for 200 years to shrink a sweater, or happy paint a cat’s back white to make it look like a skunk. I was able to play through without looking at a hint guide once which I think is a testament to the game. There were a few points I get stuck though, and largely due to the classic adventure game problem of not realizing something would work either because the game doesn’t tell you or because the action is used so rarely. For example there’s a puzzle used near the end of the game where there’s a large object that’s rather useful but it’s in the wrong place. You’re able to use the item even though it’s not in your inventory on the place you want to move it. It’s only the second time in the game you can do that, and it’s a little frustrating.

However overall DOTT is still fantastic, it’s by far the most polished of the games I played and well worth your time.

1993 was an absolutely fantastic year for adventure games. My top recommendation if you’ve not played any of these before is Day of the Tentacle, however despite their flaws both Simon and Gabriel Knight both have a lot going for them. For me all these years later the character’s in those games have endured. There are very few genres I think with player characters with such distinct personalities. When you look at items or solve puzzles, all these games felt like you were doing so in a way that was consistent with the character. Gabriel Knight is a little sleazy so whilst I roll my eyes, it’s consistent that he’s try and flirt with someone for information. Bernard in Day of the Tentacle shows a massive disregard for the Edison family, and chaos happily spreads throughout the mansion in his wake.

Games I nearly played:

A lot of adventure games came out in 1993! In the interest of this not becoming a blog series about 1993 here are some games I nearly played ( but will probably play later).

Star Trek 25th Anniversary

I think this is my favorite Star Trek game, a problem with a lot of Trek games is they focus on combat but Star Trek has always been about intelligent adults standing around consulting about problems then putting them into action. It stands to reason that they might map well onto an adventure game. The game also features the original cast doing voice over too.

Wayne’s World

There’s a Wayne’s World adventure game! I don’t think I ever finished it and I really should go back and do so. I remember this one being fun too, and considering how bad licensed titles were at the time it seems interesting to me that two of the one’s I remember from that period were adventure games.

RealMyst

In the interest of full disclosure didn’t want anyone saying I was chickening out so I did install Myst on my laptop, but it decided to crash every time I opened a menu. I have a very adversarial relationship with Myst, I’ve tried several times to play it and each time I’ve given up. This may be a new record even for me though ( 8 seconds). This IGN article says it was the best selling game of it’s time, and I certainly remember it being everywhere. I might not get back to this. I even asked an IRC bot if I should play it and it said no. I asked on Twitter when I was originally planning this project and the general sentiment was “ don’t it’s bad”. However I know people who love it, and my sneaking suspicion is it’s people who generally like the story of adventure games but hate the kinds of puzzles the 3rd person point and clicks had. I’ve since gotten it to run on my desktop so I’ll probably head back at some point and play with some friends.

4 Comments

Adventure Afterlife - A journey through 20 years of Adventure Games [ Part 1 ]

No Caption Provided

The schattenjager stalks through the night, his breath rising in the cool French air. He misses New Orleans fiercely, hell right now he’d give anything to be back in schloss Ritter. He pauses, his fake mustache is irritating him but it can not dampen the the thrill of the hunt. In his hand is a shovel, in the other? Adventure games, Gabriel Knight and his cat hair mustache killed adventure games and now…

Baron von Glower stands before Gabriel. Gabriel shudders, he should not be here.

“ You’re thinking I shouldn’t be here” he says “ but you’re carrying the whole of adventure games in your hand Gabriel. If you’re carrying an abstract concept I can be here.”

“ But I killed adventure games” Gabriel says, his Southern drawl growing more pronounced.

A third person arrives, a game developer.

“ I am going to revive adventure games” they say, they look like they mean it too. Von Glower turns and raises an eyebrow, but the game developer can’t seem to see him. Gabriel shifts nervously and hides the adventure games behind his back.

“ Oh and how are you gonna do that?” Gabriel asks.

“Well you see I played Monkey Island when I was growing up!”

“Oh” Gabriel replies.

“ Hey aren’t you Gabriel Knight? Didn’t you kill adventure games?”

Gabriel panics, how could they know so soon?

“ I read it on Old Man Murray.”

Gabriel gasps, and as he does so he realizes his hands are empty, they are gone.

"Or perhaps, you never killed them at all, but what do I know I’m just a figment of your imagination and you’re a fictitious character" Von Glower’s voice echoes through Gabriel’s head. Somewhere overhead an owl hoots, and Gandalf enters the room.

Gabriel Knight 3...where do I start?
Gabriel Knight 3...where do I start?

As an adventure game fan there are several things that make me start grinding my teeth when I see either journalists covering adventure games or developers talking about their work. These are:

1. Adventure games died, and xxx game is reviving them.

2. The developer or journalist played Monkey Island and xxx game is somehow like them.

3. This new game made in 2015 must be retro, because it’s an adventure game.

I’m going to talk about some of these points in this article and then I’m going to explain what my musings on this topic have led me to.

Adventure Games Died or were only made in the 90s

The 3D in Grim may have aged a bit, but there are few games as stylish.
The 3D in Grim may have aged a bit, but there are few games as stylish.

Frequently when we see people talk about adventure games we seem them talk about their death. If you press further you’ll get linked to Old Man Murray’s very well written ‘Death of adventure games’ which highlights a pretty awful puzzle chain in Gabriel Knight 3 where the player uses cat hair to make a fake mustache. I’m not debating the awfulness of the puzzle here,or the excellence of the article. What I am pointing out was that this article was written fifteen years ago in the year 2000.

To give you an example of more recent coverage, in 2014 Birth Movies Death wrote about Broken Age:

Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who played games in the nineties: exploration, inventory juggling, conversation and gentle puzzlework

Which is funny because I’m pretty sure that could describe Fallout 4,I’ll get to the 90’s comment later . They add:

But adventure games aren’t about gameplay innovation - the puzzles and thus player enjoyment are driven by the writing.

This is a little harder to unpack, they are correct that adventure games are more about story and writing. A dialog mechanic probably won’t make the pull quotes as a special feature but it implies that adventure games don’t innovate or that mechanics don’t matter or that graphics or audio don’t get better. The variables may be smaller but that doesn’t mean that a good designer hasn’t thought about every single element of their game or that adventure games can do nothing new.

What I want is for games of any genre innovate and get better, but at the core the most important thing is if a game is good, if a player can have fun. Adventure games have continued to get released since the year 2000. Which brings me onto:

The Curse of Monkey Island

Curse had a different team to M1 & M2 but used the graphics and sound tech of the time to further the gameplay.
Curse had a different team to M1 & M2 but used the graphics and sound tech of the time to further the gameplay.

Comments where devs talk about their love of Monkey Island cause me some frustration. Let me clarify I love Monkey Island, it’s one of my favorite games series but if you want to make adventure games then ignoring twenty years of great stories and innovation is harmful. How can you make the best decision for your game if you’re ignoring what has come before? There’s twenty odd years of great ideas ( and awful) ones. Anyone can be inspired by anything they like, so I’m not dismissing Monkey Island as an inspiration but it’s like making an FPS in the modern day having loved Doom as a kid, but never having played anything else.

Stop using the word retro

The final of my gripes is the automatic use of the word retro. Unless you’re using an authentic palette/ audio of your chosen time period,then just making a point and click does not make you retro. Again by ignoring 20 years of games, you’re ignoring 20 years of progress for no reason. You’re also associating your game with cat haired mustaches. If you want to make a ‘retro’ adventure does that mean your game requires a bizarre leap of logic or a series of dead ends?

Broken Age

No Caption Provided

When Double Fine started it’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, it did draw the spotlight of the mainstream game press back onto adventure games and led to coverage like the BMD article above. Broken Age ( the resulting game)didn’t revive adventure games, but it did draw press coverage from areas of the gaming press that wouldn’t have otherwise covered it.But despite being spearheaded by Tim Schafer it still described itself:

A graphic adventure game for the modern age

And whatever your opinion on the final game Broken age featured graphics, animation and sound that just wouldn’t have been possible in the 90s. It was released for a dizzying array of devices with inputs that did not exist. There are games that deliberately call back to old titles but I hope even they don’t blindly copy every decision without thinking about it.

So…

No Caption Provided

After coming across yet another forum post where a well meaning person wanted to discuss the future of retro adventures I decided that I wanted not only to write this rant but to actively highlight and discuss the innovations the genre has been through, and work my way through and blog my way through all the adventure games that released in between. I also want to discuss the ‘death’ or lack of adventure games, and talk about the post Old Man Murray world of adventures.

Since folks are so keen on highlighting the first two Monkey Island games I plan on starting a bit before the article was published in 1993 the year Monkey Island 2 came out so all those folks who haven’t played an adventure game can see what they missed out on. I’ll then run past the year 2000 when Gabriel Knight 3 come out right up to the present day.

I hope whether you agree or not that you’ll join me in this journey. Feel free to suggest games I should be playing and why.

Note: This is a project I started a few months ago, to relaunch my blog and hadn't gotten back to. After the excellent Adventure discussions in the GB podcasts I thought I'd post this here and see if any GB community members had any suggestions.

2 Comments