Adventure Afterlife 20 years of adventure games part 4 – 1995

Adventure Afterlife Part 4 1995

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.

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

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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 who’s been looking for a reason to procrastinate hops on the case. Meanwhile Grace who has  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 worst, but has a very TV drama kind of feel. The music is pretty solid, though it must be said one of the game’s biggest expenses the commission of a classical piece intended to represent one of Wagner’s lost works ( a vital plot 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


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 list 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.

Image Credit, since I also cross post this on my Giantbomb community blog the screenshots are all drawn this month from the Giantbomb database.

Adventure Afterlife: 20 years of Adventure games Part 3 1994

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 thematic 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.

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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 take 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)m they mostly make sense and work together to tell the story.

Rob don't jump!
Robert Foster from Beneath a Steel Sky
Look at that backdrop.

Once of my all time favorite games,if cyberpunk or science fiction interest you I encourage you to play the game is available legally for free from SCUMVM or GoG as 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 is 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.

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Rosella standing by a salty pool.

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 Dagonronpa 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. 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 shadow 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.

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It’s detective Tex Murphy, holding a toy ring.
Meet the Jenks of the future

1994 was still a pretty great year for adventure games. Whilst 1993 saw a ridiculous amount of releases 1993 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:

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Image credit: Some of these screenshots are from Giant Bomb’s database as I’m also blogging this from my account over there.