The Power is still on….a little robot game

I have some longer stuff on the go, but it’s been slow going because of real life day to day commitments. I stumbled across the Bitsy Editor, a tiny compact game editor that lets you make little games with very simple sprites and the ability to add light interaction in the form of text boxes. I’ve had fun playing some of the games made with it, and I may come back and do a mini blog about them at some point because there are some really good ones.

Despite only being a few screens long I’ve been working on ” The Power is still on” for a few weeks in snatched moments of time. I wanted to try and recreate some of the feelings I used to get by rummaging through my Dad’s huge suitcase of Spectrum games.  I often had no idea what any of them were and they seemed fairly strange and mysterious, and I feel often had a weird very British sense of melancholy.  I did sort of go with a gameboy colour palette though.

Adventure Afterlife Part 2 – The adventure games of 1993

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)

2015-11-19 (1)

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 to 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 in enhanced by pockets of very funny dialog.

2015-12-29

There’s also combat near the end of the game, which I beat somehow.

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 duologue that shine in a fairly average story. Since 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 (Adventuresoft)

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 a 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 fin 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: Sins of the Fathers ( Sierra)

day1

Gabriel Knight was the most serious of the three games I played. There are a number of notable voices in the game; Tim Curry voices the lead character Gabriel, Mark Hamill 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.

fmv

When Gabriel gets on a bike FMV happens for the only time until Gabriel Knight 2.

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.

Whilst digging around I found this making of doc for Gabriel Knight.

Gabriel himself is an interesting character, a lot of his traits are very useful for an adventure game character to have. He’s selfish, likes to steal things (especially from police friend Mosely) and lies a lot. Gabriel also has a pretty horrible attitude to women, (you even have to use the ‘pick up’ command on a female character urch). However Gabriel does have an arc, he starts off investigating the murders and irritating his friend Mosely as a way to let of the the stress of his writer’s block; by the end he actively cares about the case and steps up.

All three of the games I played featured fantastical elements, and to some extend featured the same flaws hiding objects unfairly and failing to communicate what the player has to do to pass. Simon and Gabriel both feel like characters you wouldn’t find in other genres of games, even if in Gabriel’s case you don’t always like them completely.

 

Adventure Afterlife:Part 1

Apparently adventure games are still dead and someone wants to revive them, but what if…they never died and people kept making them. What if there were new ideas or really compelling characters in them ?

 

gabe

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. 

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

2015-02-02_00002

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 hilarious and insightful  ‘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

Not that Curse of Monkey Island

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 awesome 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 ( and awful) ideas. 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. In fact you just have to compare the original Doom with a screenshot from the trailer for the new Doom reboot and you’ll see some differences:

Stop using the word retro

The final of my gripes is the automatic use of the word 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? No it doesn’t.Do you have to use pixel graphics? ..No. I by the the way love pixel art, but it should be treated the same as any other creative choice because that’s the style you want ( and dare I say it afford). When you make or write about an adventure game that has been made in 2015 then you shouldn’t do so out of context.

Broken Age

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 Lucas Arts alumni Tim Schafer it still described itself:

“A graphic adventure game for the modern age”

broken

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 even exist. There are games that deliberately call back to old titles but I hope even they don’t blindly copy what has gone before.

So…

2015-03-28_00003

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’ of adventure games, and talk about the post Old Man Murray world of adventures. If ‘m going to angrily tell people to go away and and do something like play through 20 years of adventure games, then I am happy to do so myself.I hope along the way I’ll also learn something as I take a second look at games I played as well as playing a few titles I missed along the way.

I plan on starting a bit before the article was published in 1993 the year after Monkey Island 2 came out, 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.

Sun Dogs is out! on Steam & Itch

Sun Dogs, the game I contributed to as a writer is out now to buy on Steam and ITCH.io , there’s also an article on Kill Screen with quotes from myself and Nic Tringali the game’s lead designer. It’s really awesome to see the game out, Nic’s been working really hard to get it ready for release. I had a lot of fun working on it, so I hope you all take a chance to enjoy it.

2015-10-29_00001

Game jam game – Narcoleptic Weight Loss Expert

Exciting freeware game

 

Narcoleptic Weight Loss Expert is a strategic button clicking game in which you must help a man get fit, whilst struggling to stay conscious. Using calorific transubstantial technology you are able to trade the calories burned by your client to purchase new items to stay awake and keep motivated.

But really it’s all about the music.

This was originally a 4 hour random name generator game jam that we made a year ago and added some more crap to later and then promptly forgot about.

ddq: Coding and direction
Azure: Writing and item sprites
MattFrith: Background and animations
enkerro: Music
Grundislav: Voice acting

Download the game.

Download the soundtrack.

 

 

Adventures in interactive fiction

IF

It’s been a long standing ambition of mine to write an adventure game, and though I’ve been experimenting I’ve never made anything that you could sit down and play.  Since I have some free time at the moment I thought I’d go ahead and write a piece of Interactive Fiction, using Inform 7. I’ve tried Inform before but never really got anywhere, but this time I’ve gotten a lot further, and created a two room game. It’s very simple and deeply un-original but even the act of creating this simple game has taught me a lot.  I still have a way to go, whilst I think I’ve grasped writing puzzles that require one action e.g unlocking something but I’m a little stumped on how to arrange puzzles that require the user does more than one thing.  I’m reading through some IF forums and worked examples so hopefully something will click soon.

Despite it being very simple, I am enjoying the process of writing it a lot.  There’s a lot to remember though, forgetting to define a fireplace as fixed in place allowed me to pick it and and carry it around, whilst amusing  allowing it to remain would completely destroy any kind of atmosphere I create. I’m also trying to make it as non linear as possible to encourage exploration, and avoid frustrating users by forcing them through in a set order.

I’m also debating ‘set dressing’, whilst the aims of the piece are simple I do wonder if it’s worth putting items such as photographs about the world which when looked at give some background information. These items wouldn’t be needed for solving the game just to add atmosphere, but then again I don’t want to clutter it.

Still first I need to figure out this whole multi requirement puzzle thing, so it’s kind of like I at least am on my own adventure already.