King’s Quest

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King’s Quest

Any blog about classic retro gaming simply MUST include a homage to Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest series, originally published by Ken and Roberta Williams’ Sierra On-Line company in the 1980s.

King's Quest
King’s Quest IBM PC Jr Version Front Cover

The story was a simple one: the Kingdom of Daventry is in trouble as three of its greatest treasures – a mirror that tells the future, a shield that protects its user from danger, and a chest that is always filled with gold – have been stolen.  The King sends Sir Graham, an honest and unpretentious young knight, on a quest to recover the treasures.  Should he succeed, he will become King.  Should he fail, he’ll become worm food.  Of course, how Graham accomplishes the task before him is up to the player!

King's Quest
King’s Quest Tandy 1000 Release

This was the original “big-game” release.  The industry was still very new, and it was not unusual for games to be coded by a single person over a couple of weeks for a low budget.  King’s Quest was coded by six people with Roberta Williams as the project leader, with a cost of $700,000, for an 18-month period.  This was completely unheard of, and was a very risky gamble that ultimately paid off, fueling an entire line of games from Sierra On-Line.

King's Quest

King’s Quest was a huge leap forward for gaming.  In a time when games either were completely text-based or with the occasional static graphic, King’s Quest provided character interaction with the game environment.  By pressing the arrow keys, Sir Graham could walk across the screen and could cross in front of or behind objects, making the game the first 3-D adventure.  And even though the interface was still text-based (you typed in what action you wanted to do), seeing the result of what you typed made for classic gaming.

King's Quest
King’s Quest classic “gold box” edition

Like any good adventure game, the puzzles in King’s Quest were varied and fun.  The Sierra team programmed puzzles to have more than one solution, and points were awarded to the player depending on what actions they took.  And unlike many of the action, destroy-everything-you-see games of the time, King’s Quest rewarded players with a higher score if they found non-violent solutions.

King's Quest
King’s Quest EGA 1990 Release

There have been several releases of King’s Quest over the years, starting with the original version in 1983, which was packaged up in the IBM PC Jr series of computers.  Fortunately, poor sales of the computer did not result in the termination of the King’s Quest franchise, as it was released in Apple II, PC (boot disk) and Tandy format in 1984 to general fanfare, and around 500,000 copies sold.  The game sold well enough that it was re-released in 1987 in the Amiga, Atari ST, Macintosh and MS-DOS formats, which sent it back up the sales charts.  (It was at that time that the second part of the title, “Quest For The Crown,” was added.)  It even crossed over into the console video game charts with a version for the Sega Master System in 1989.

King's Quest
King’s Quest EGA Screenshot

King’s Quest was remade in 1990 with much better graphics and music card support.  The quest points were changed slightly, which meant that the game itself played somewhat differently from the original.  A fan-made King’s Quest was released in 2001 by AGD Interactive, which has seen many updates right up to 2009.  You can find it here: http://www.agdinteractive.com/games/kq1/

King's Quest
King’s Quest 2001 Fan Re-Release

King’s Quest was such a solid game that it spawned an entire genre, the 3-D animated adventure.  Sierra shot to the top of the gaming industry with hit after hit, including an entire King’s Quest series, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, Police Quest, and so forth.  If you haven’t played any of the original games, give them a try.  Yes, they’re incredibly simple and crude versus the immersive gaming environments we play in today, but they’re an important part of gaming history.  Be a retro gamer and Quest for the Crown today!

King's Quest
King’s Quest for the Sega Master System (SMS)

 

 

Elven Legacy

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Elven Legacy

Recently I reviewed the game Fantasy Wars. Despite the somewhat generic title, I found it to be a pretty effective turn-based strategy game. A couple of years later, they released a follow-up game called Elven Legacy, which in turn has spawned a trio of expansions: Magic, Ranger and Siege. I picked them all up as a combo pack from Steam and finally had a chance to play them. Since they use the same basic engine, I figure I will review them as a whole here.

Graphics – 7:

Elven Legacy - PC

They’re okay – the environments are bland, and the characters themselves do little to stand out at a distance, though they tend to fare a bit better on their close up. The maps themselves are easy enough to navigate visually. The cut scenes are pretty basic-looking, and in places, ugly if I’m to be perfectly honest. The engine looks very, very familiar to Fantasy Wars, which is a bit disappointing given a couple of years development time between titles. Thankfully, there does seem to be more color and the flying units look better, and the environmental textures are a bit more detailed.

Sounds & Music – 6:

Elven Legacy - PC

The music’s what you expect, but it can be a bit repetitious too. There are not a ton of sound effects, but what is there gets the job done. The voice acting is in fact, terrible at times. What’s worse is the tutorial, which is broken in terms of audio. Overlapping sentences, phrases that get cut off early, these things make the tutorial almost completely useless. The expansions don’t seem to have any voice acting at all.

Gameplay – 8:

The menus and overall interface were very similar to Fantasy Wars, which is to say they are easy to get around once you’re familiar with them, but there is a bit of a learning curve. There’s quite a few units though, and the turn-based tactics are solid. The way units progress is entertaining, and gives you a reason to feel invested in them – but be prepared. Like Fantasy Wars, this game is tough. The Fog of War feature keeps you from seeing what you’re getting into at times, and the enemy is very adept at ganging up on and beating a single unit to a pulp.

Elven Legacy - PC

One returning feature I am not particularly a fan of is the time-based gold/silver/bronze system, where you have a certain number of turns to meet your objective, and it seems like gold in several of these is virtually impossible. When you try to rush to complete objectives, you tend to lose more units and overlook things you might have found if you took the time to scour the map a bit, which is a shame. Still, the rewards for gold completion are usually quite nice – solid gold earning, usually a free troop and it unlocks a parallel mission that does not really affect the outcome, but is interesting all the same.

Intangibles – 8:

Elven Legacy - PC

The games are a bit short – I got through my first run of Elven Legacy in about fifteen hours or so, but there’s plenty of replay value with things like the side missions you can unlock and also a separate mission feature on top of the campaign mode. I also found the story more interesting than what was presented in Fantasy Wars, though I felt it was better in Elven Legacy than the additional packs.

Overall – 7:

Elven Legacy - PC

Technically the games are not great. The graphics and sound/music are average, but the gameplay is challenging and there is a fair amount to do within the game. Like Fantasy Wars, this series of games can be found relatively cheaply (though not quite as cheaply). It’s a bit disappointing that the series did not come a bit further over the two year span, but for strategy enthusiasts there is enough here to keep you busy. The AI presents a good challenge and there’s a fair amount to do.

Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion PC

Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion is one of those games that it’s repetitive “music” is still following me in everything that I am doing. A game developed by Lucas Arts and the creator of the Monkey Island games, Ron Gilbert in 1997, an adventure game that let you control many different characters and gave you a sense of actually sneaking around in a mansion you were not supposed to be at.
Maniac Mansion PC
The story of the game was very simple, Dave’s girlfriend Sandy has been kidnapped by a mad scientist who is pretty obviously leaving in a scary mansion.What is cool about this game is that you dont control only Dave but in addition you can select to play us any 2 other of his 6 friends that want to help him rescue his girlfriend. Any one of his friends has his own set of skills that influenced the flow of the game (similar with what Ron Gilbert tried to do with “The Cave” which in my opinion did not come out as good as many Maniac Mansion fans where hoping).
Maniac Mansion PC
 Fun Facts

  • The legendary SCUMM engine was created for Maniac Mansion and  was later used on many of the company’s signature “Adventure Games”
  • A version of Maniac Mansion was ported to NES but with some changes as Nintendo considered some of the content of the game to not be suitable for children
  • There was a Canadian Series inspired by the Maniac Mansion called… “Maniac Mansion”
  • You can play “Maniac Mansion” inside “The Day of the tentacle” on an in-game computer

The Dig

the dig

The Dig

The Dig was released -after many a delay- in 1995 by Lucasarts and, despite failing to be a spectacular critical and commercial hit, should be considered one of the company’s most impressive offerings. Actually, I’d easily classify it as one of my all time favorite adventures and one of the few truly successful attempts at proper video game science fiction. What’s more, it still looks stunning and even has a whole museum (which, among other things, details The Dig‘s incredible development history) dedicated to its glorious, digital self.

The Dream Machine

the dream machine
Plato, Jung, Freud, a young ordinary couple and some exquisite visuals are the true stars of The Dream Machine; an episodic, indie point-and-click adventure game I have already enthusiastically previewed and now finally get to properly review. Well, properly review its first two chapters to be precise, as apparently the third and far from final one is just around the corner and not quite available yet. Besides, reviewing unreleased stuff can be quite tricky. Impossible some might say.
Now, following my urge to simply instruct you dear reader/minion-thing to immediately hop over to the Dream Machine site and grab it -for it is a great game indeed- would be way easier, but something tells me this wouldn’t be much of a review then.
the dream machine

Anyway, let us now focus on the picture posted above. How could we describe it? Well, beautiful I suppose. Unique might come in handy too. And stylish. Yes, yes, deeply atmospheric also. Slightly ominous is another one. Definitely nice. Then again the word we are indeed looking for here ishandcrafted. Yes, as in properly, physically, manually crafted using traditional non-digital components. Everything you’ll see in the game -every backdrop, every character, every animation- was actually created by hand and photographed. This dear friend is 3D, but not of the 3D Studiokind:

the dream machine

Stunning visuals aside, the Dream Machine is an impressively good and rather traditional indie game of the point-and-click sort, that is less traditionally played via a browser and somehow manages to save your process in a cloud; or was that clouds? I frankly wouldn’t know. Steam also sports some sort of a cloud they tell me, but I’m pretty sure I was once taught clouds are made of steam and, well, did I mention it’s a great game? It is. And it’s got a great and appropriate soundtrack to go with it too.

The puzzles, though relatively easy, are varied, excellently integrated in the plot and -importantly- never feel out of place or immersion-breaking. In the surreal and perfectly paced story of the game, after all, oddness feels integral. Besides, and without wanting to spoil anything from the plot which slowly progress from helping a likeable young couple find its way around a new apartment to discovering some rather disturbing truths, I really wouldn’t care much for another vaguely disguised take on Tolkien and/or Stoker, let alone another half-baked adventure pathetically apeing genre classics. This actually is a truly original game that manages its characters, storytelling and twists way better than your average Hollywood movie.

Oh, and The Dream Machine is also one of those rare few game that constantly evoke the sense of wonder and excitement the games of yore used to. One simply can’t expect the wonderfully wonderful wonders awaiting around the next corner and I can’t help but feel this is what games were supposed to be all about.
Verdict: A wonderful, smart, visually stunning, polished and downright brilliant adventure game.Buy it. Now.

The Syberia Collection

Syberia-Collection

The Syberia Collection

With the advent and admitted affordability of downloadable games one can easily forget just how lovely a properly packaged offering can actually feel. Yes, even by today’s meager standards, the physicality of a box, a modest manual, a sleeve and an actual DVD can be rather satisfying. Especially when sporting a most affordable price tag, which, oh so conveniently, happens to be the case of the Syberia Collection.
Syberia-Collection
Said collection of the almost classic and definitely well known SyberiaSyberia II and Amerzone adventures, you see, is much cheaper to grab in a DVD-case than its online/download only equivalents, which does indeed confuse my vaguely economological mind, but definitely sounds great. Being thus confused and all, I do also believe the thing should have been called The Benoit Sokal Collection, as Amerzone most emphatically is not a Syberia game.
Syberia-Collection
Now, as most adventurers know, all three games are fine point-and-click specimens that managed to make an impression during the darkest period of the genre and are still absolutely worth playing and owning. Especially if one is into this sort of thing (i.e. considers oneself an adventure gamer), as all three have been designed with the traditonal point-and-click gamer in mind. The re-mastered versions included in the collection seem pretty much identical to the original ones, though I must admit I haven’t played those since their respective releases and can’t be absolutely sure whether minor enhancements have been included or not. What does matter though is that everything runs lovely and glitch-free under both Windows 7 and Vista, meaning that these are indeed the versions to own.
Syberia-Collection
As for the misguided souls that haven’t tried any of the games on offer yet, let me just say they all feature excellent art -Mr. Sokal is after all a most talented comic artist- classic gameplay mechanics, great soundtracks, mostly easy but well-integrated puzzles, traditional interfaces, brilliant settings and pretty decent plots. The two Syberias in particular are played from a third person perspective and take place in a whimsical clockwork-operated world, whereas the first-person Amerzone is set in a fantastical version of a thinly disguised Amazon rainforest.
Syberia-Collection
What’s more and judging by the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed replaying all three of the games on offer, I must admit they have all aged gracefully. Might even have to accept the fact they are, despite their flaws, great adventures I would probably had appreciated more weren’t I comparing them to Grim Fandango and Gabriel Knight III.

Verdict: A collection of three classic and traditional adventures at an excellent price. Genre lovers shouldn’t miss it.

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

From all the games I have ever played, there is only one I have firmly associated with Christmas and the whole wintery festive period (I sadly don’t seem to particularly care for this one much anymore, what with me being an apparently empty/logical shell of a gnome and all). Said game is none other than The Adventures of Willy Beamish; a game designed by Jeff Tunnell, developed by Dynamix and published by Sierra back in the too distant sounding 1991. A game I was reading about in every gaming mag of the era, an expensive VGA offering in a big box, and a most excellent Xmas present by my parents.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I distinctly remember being incredibly excited about it, yet somehow carefully opening its box to discover a ton of 5.25″ disks, one of the best manuals ever designed, a Sierra catalog, some feelies of sorts and those amazing, colourful Willy Beamish stickers that ended up on my room’s door. I also remember waiting impatiently for what felt like ages for the game to install itself on my 40MB hard-drive and playing it for hours to the sounds of an old Platters LP. Hmm, this must be why I also associate this kind of music with the holiday season and, apparently, why I was listening to 50s music while photographing my dearest of all game boxes:
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
Interestingly though, I have never played the game since finally beating it later in 1992, admittedly with the help of a learned, yet younger, friend who I am sure must have gotten his hands on some sort of rare at the times walkthrough. But, why haven’t I played it again after all those years, then? Why have I abstained from its many charms? Well, truth is, I somehow feel I might just spoil its memory and have decided to only periodically re-read the manual. Besides, I do actually remember Willy Beamish pretty vividly.
 The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I remember its fantastic Dragon’s Lair-esque graphics; they were the first of their sort in a point-and-click adventure. I remember the stunning animations and (low-res, I’m afraid) cartoon quality cut-scenes. I remember the way it showcased the capabilities of my very first PC soundcard. I remember how the story of a nine year old boy trying to competitively play video games while avoiding parental troubles and getting the girl, somehow turned into a ghost infested attempt at foiling an evil corporation. I remember getting sent off to military school and dying a dozen lushly animated deaths. I remember cajoling my in-game parents and entering my frog into competitions. I remember exploring the sanitised darkness of 90s American suburbia and being both shocked and delighted. I remember enjoying the subtle humour. I remember getting hopelessly stuck, but, above all, I warmly remember loving it.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I also remember things I didn’t quite notice back then. I remember that Willy Beamish sported an incredibly simple (or elegant if you prefer) interface, one of the first ones to feature a smart cursor, yet remaining incredibly difficult. I remember the dead ends and pointlessly punishing arcade sequences too. And the fact that the trouble-meter was a very smart way of letting players know whether they were on the right track.

Then again, that’s enough with my memories. Anyone else care to reminiscent on the festive joys of gaming? Well, that’s what comments are for I suppose.

Deathkeep

Deathkeep

As I prepared for the excruciating experience of preparing my entry into the Review a Bad Game Day worldwide self-flagellation exercise, I realized two key historical gaming themes: first, the rise of the 3D adventure was not without its failures along the way, and second, the history of putrid games released on the PC is an unfortunately long and varied one. My choice, the promisingly-titled first-person AD&D game, Deathkeep, is an evidential exhibit in both.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

To understand Deathkeep we need to journey back in time to 1987, when Strategic Simulations, Incorporated (SSI), was granted the AD&D license from TSR, Inc. The next seven years were wondrous for the PC Dungeons & Dragons player, as the company released many quality RPGs, beginning with the Gold Box series (of whichSecret of the Silver Blades remains my all-time favorite), the Eye of the Beholderseries, and the later SVGA games such as Menzoberranzan and the Ravenloftgames. I can recall many hours of gaming in the AD&D universe thanks to the talented development teams at SSI. Unfortunately, this review is not about one of those games.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

The AD&D license expired in 1994, which meant that no new development of games using the AD&D ruleset could be initiated, but games already under production could finish their development cycle. This is how Deathkeep could stay alive and be released on April 30, 1996, a full two years after the license had expired. So between the extra time given to the game and the need to make it the crowning achievement – the legacy, as it were – of the SSI experience with the AD&D universe, you would expect this game to well-nigh pulse with energy while still in the box. You would certainly not expect what appeared to be a very late April Fool’s Day prank from the lads and lasses at SSI.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

The game begins with a brief semi-animated (mostly a slideshow that occasionally animates, similar to the early days of graphic adventures) which sets up the quest: Stop a generic AD&D villain from reacquiring his long-lost power by recovering three special Orbs from his ancient lair – his “Deathkeep” – which he raised amidst a Dwarven fortress, and deliver them to an ancient three-armed skeleton creature’s temple hidden within that same fortress. Well, not every game can have an interesting and creative storyline, and the hope of those starting the game was that perhaps the game itself would rise above the “every DM in the world has run this story” plot. Unfortunately, the opening sequence may have been the highlight of the game.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

 

The first real worry that this game might be broken comes immediately after the opening sequence, when you choose your character. Typically in a RPG, a player selects their gender, race, class, abilities, equipment, and so forth, customizing their character and giving it their own unique stamp. In Deathkeep, the game presents a total of THREE characters to choose from: a male Dwarven Fighter, a female Elven Mage, and a male Half-Elf Fighter/Mage. Astonishingly, that’s it. Not even a choice in gender for each character, so if you’re not into cross-dressing but you do like playing Mages, you’re out of luck. At least you could name your character.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

As for the gameplay itself, the control mechanism was efficient enough: you could opt to use your keyboard or your mouse for a full range of motions. Combat was handled by facing the creature you wanted to disappear and clicking on your mouse until it was gone. No real problem, aside from the incredibly chunky graphics, that is. Maps and inventory screens displayed in 640×480, but the game ran in 320×200, resulting in walls with very poor textures, and creatures that looked like they would be right at home in today’s Minecraft but with lower resolution. The whole game was just hard on the eyes, and considering the some of the amazing games that were released that same year, SSI really had no excuse.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

So why was Deathkeep such an embarrassment? The answer lies in the timing of the loss of the AD&D license and what system the game was originally designed to play on: the Panasonic 3DO. Deathkeep was first released for the 3DO in 1995, a full year before the Windows release. The 3DO was a 32-bit video game system whose core processor ran at 12.5 MHz, and whose video output was either 640×480 or 320×240 (on 60 MHz North America systems…50 MHz PAL versions ran much better graphics at 768×576 or 384×288). The game was simply ported over to Windows, with less than stellar results.  Of course, the game wasn’t all that good on the 3DO, either.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

Here’s a little humorous tidbit of knowledge found in the game’s documentation for anyone wondering why I don’t have any screenshots of gameplay: Deathkeep does not permit Windows multi-tasking. Attempts at doing so exits the game. Not a single screenshot utility works, not the standard PrtScn/Paint combo, not Gadwin, not MWSnap, not Screen Rip32, nothing. Perhaps the developers wanted no visual evidence that might implicate them in this sorry mess of a PC-RPG, perhaps not. Truly this is a bad, bad game.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2ZKhaexa4E[/youtube]

Deathkeep was promoted as a 1st person 3D game set in the AD&D universe, with “…dungeon delving the way you like it – fast, furious and fun!”  I was one of the unfortunates who purchased the game upon its release (and still have it in my collection of AD&D PC games), and after revisiting it for this review, I am reminded of what I thought back in 1996: This game is neither fast, nor furious, nor fun. It’s games like this one that helped spawn the world-wide “Review a Bad Game Day” phenomena which hopefully will help gamers tell other gamers of some of the pitfalls that await them, while simultaneously presenting an opportunity for us to share our pain with sympathetic readers. So my fellow retrogaming enthusiasts, consider this a solemn warning: should you encounter the excrement that is Deathkeep in your travels, run, don’t walk, away from this game before you suffer as I have suffered!

The Book of Unwritten Tales

The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot
It’s been quite some time since I last played an adventure game that took me over 15 hours to finish, and, admittedly, that was an (apparently undisclosed) offering released over 10 years ago. Seems that expansive point and clickers are so passé these days… Shockingly and quite unexpectedly then, The Book of Unwritten Tales entertained me for quite a bit more than that, while remaining a brand new game. A rare kind of brand new adventure game actually: the epic kind!
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot -
Then again, everything epic isn’t by definition a great idea. Epic can easily turn into dull, though that definitely is not the case with The Book of Unwritten Tales. I already mentioned it entertained me, didn’t I? It is after all such a varied, engaging, wisely paced and well-crafted game that it never feels padded, tedious or boring and will, as soon as you finish it, leave a big gaping, err, gap in your psyche in a way only, well, epic, fantasy novels and a rare few games manage. Thankfully, said gap is easy to heal, but you get the point.
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot
 We are not talking Tolkien, Martin and Moorcock here, we are talking Terry Pratchett. We are talking light-hearted fantasy with more than a few humorous touches, that is neither satire nor farce. The Book of Unwritten Tales, you see, is set in a more or less proper fantasy world. There are mages, there are trolls, there are gnomes (yay!), there are knights and castles, there are undead, there are hidden artifacts, there are heroes, there are elves, there are dragons and there’s a battle between good and evil going on. On the other hand, everything feels like it’s taking place in some sort of tongue-in-cheek version of a standard MMORPG setting. The gnomes’ machines never seem to properly work, the orcs are organizing battles in order to support their weapons industry, mystical rings are trusted to little creatures, dragons get fearsome with the help of manuals and Death himself is despairing over the genre’s lack of dead bodies.
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot - 1
Intrigued? Well, you really should be, as King Art (the game’s developers) have nailed both the setting and the writing. Even better, they have nailed the humour and have created an atmosphere not wholly dissimilar to the one prevalent in Monkey Island 2The Book of Unwritten Tales (hence BoUT; sorry, can’t be bothered otherwise) can be both (moderately) dark and hilariously funny. And that scene with the forgotten mummy has easily squeezed itself into my funniest gaming moments ever; it’s that good, it is, but not as funny as a certain later segment in the game where a gibberish-talking yet oddly playable character tries to provide with descriptions using only noises and gestures.
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot
BoUT, as you may have already guessed, does provide with more than one playable characters; it provides with four. There’s a young gnome that craves for magic, a slightly under-dressed elf, a Han Solo inspired rogue and his blobby sidekick. Each one has different abilities and is utilized for solving different kinds of puzzles.
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot
Speaking of puzzles, they are generally easy, brilliantly integrated in the plot and quite varied, as they do let gamers mix potions, talk their way out of situations, combine items, solve mechanical problems and even navigate maps based on vague and ancient writings. Admittedly a few of them (only a couple I believe) are not particularly well designed, but I do suppose that coming up with dozens of puzzles and expecting each and every one to be brilliant is simply impossible. Even Gabriel Knight 3 and Grim Fandango had their moments of pointless frustration…
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot - 1
Then again, for every minor flaw one might discover, there’s at least one beautiful (and very dynamic) background, one brilliantly voiced character, one original puzzle or, at least, one smart joke to set things right. BoUT is, tiny problems aside, destined to become classic.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpv9L64PsdU[/youtube]
Verdict: A fantastic, stunning, humorous, fantasy adventure for people that can appreciate humour. Grab it now (here) or -at the very least- try its demo.

Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass

Adventure gaming has covered a staggering variety of themes, plots and characters, has toyed with a multitude of ideas and has come up with some truly wild stories, but has never dabbled with professional wrestling. Well, not until Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass (and admittedly it’s less known prequel) it hadn’t, for the latest Wadjet Eye Game and Icebox Studios release does indeed enter the ring of b-grade professional wrestling (with its eyebrow emphatically raised) and points and clicks its way to gaming victory.
Da New Guys - Day of the Jackass - gameplay screenshot
Now, truth be said, ever since I reached the mature and enlightened age of 10 I’ve discovered that wrestling is simply not for me and moved on. It was far too silly and not funny enough to keep me interested, a fact that makes the achievements of Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass all the more important, as it effortlessly and despite an overburdened schedule kept me glued to the monitor for hours. Also, I laughed.
Being a sequel of sorts to 2004 indie darling Da New GuysDay of the Jackass is a traditional point-and-click adventure sporting some decidedly non-traditional protagonists and a delightfully dry sense of humour. It plays with its plot, distorts its setting and actually comes up with an enjoyable story that serves its gameplay well.  Brain, you see, the worst and most irritating brawler in wrestling has won the title belt and gotten himself promptly kidnapped. It is thus up to his mates, tough-guy Simon and soft-spoken Defender, to rescue him.
This of course is easier said than done, as this game not only looks old fashioned, but actually plays the old fashioned way, meaning that, yes, it is indeed tough. Da New Guys took me hours to beat and, unlike most recent adventures, actually demanded I consulted a walkthrough and even used a pen to note and sketch stuff. It can actually be difficult to the point of frustration and at times overtaxes ones ability for lateral thinking.
Da New Guys - Day of the Jackass - gameplay screenshot
Still, after the first relatively subdued yet difficult act of the game is over, Da New Guys reveals what it’s really made of and that’s a huge variety of taxing, innovative, fresh and fun puzzles. Yes, they are tough, but not all games need to cater to all tastes. What is after all the point of being indie if you are afraid to take a few risks?
As for the game’s graphics, well, they too are a matter of personal taste. They are far too idiosyncratic to please everyone, but they definitely have a certain charm, are very well animated indeed, and do grow on you. Besides, we adventurers do appreciate consistency, depth and production values and Da New Guys is bound to please the hardcore gamer hiding inside you and me reader.
Oh, and it’s got a lovely soundtrack and sports some excellent voices too. The included achievements and unlockable art should also be considered signs of care and affection for a truly unique project.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkWir830bGk[/youtube]

Verdict: A great adventure game that successfully and hilariously challenges the hardcore point-and-clicker.

Independent Adventure Games for the masses

paris
Independent video game developers are like the artisans of yore. They aren’t wage slaves, they don’t exploit anyone else’s work, they are neither masters nor slaves, but creative people who strive for the quality of their product and don’t have to succumb to whatever ridiculous market realities managers can come up with. In short, they are to be supported, fiercely guarded even, as they’re (more or less) involuntary combating dominant modes of consumption and production. Oh, and let’s not forget the fine games the indy/bedroom developers have historically come up with. Games like Another World, Skool Daze, Darwinia, Simon the Sorcerer and countless others that are all the proof you should ever need…

Then again, I simply refuse (i.e. can’t be bothered) to let this post deteriorate into a quasi-political rant with artistic tendencies. We’ll hopefully have time for this at a later date. For now, I think I’ll stick to the news. The indy adventure gaming related news to be precise.

XiiGames

Well, for starters (not that there’s much more on the menu, mind you), xii games of What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed, Anna and Spooks fame are working on a brand new adventure game set in a not-so-distant future when a particle physicist’s mysterious and spectacular death sparks a race to find his hidden vault and claim his terrifying new discovery. An indy dream team has already been assemble, but despair not. xii games is still hiring.

Fatman

On to some SOCKO! Entertainment news. Remember them? How about the first commercial AGS adventure ever released, the cunningly named Adventures of Fatman? Ah, lovely, I knew you would (pssst, if not, the game has been released as a freeware memory stimulant; get it here). Well, seems that the seemingly defunct SOCKO! team was just that: seemingly defunct. Behind the scenes they’ve been working on Fatman S.O.S. (Save Our Superheroes) their second game, which they hope to fund by selling a brilliant and particularly deluxe re-release of the original Fatman game. Give ’em a hand.


The Blackwell Convergence

 

blackwell convergence-screenshot

It has come to my deeply shocked attention that despite the recent Gnome’s Lair reviews of both Blackwell Legacy and Blackwell Unbound, there are still gamers, adventure gamers even, that have yet to try a Blackwell game. How very odd. I mean, it’s not everyday a fully indie, retro-styled, well written and impeccably produced adventure gets made, is it? Of course not. And The Blackwell Convergence is the latest in the Blackwell series, which, as you should have already guessed or known, is an indie, retro-styled, well written and impeccably produced series of adventure games, with Convergence being the third installment.

Convergence, just like the Blackwell games before it and -hopefully- the Blackwell games that will follow, is all about getting the restless dead (in their ghostly form) to actually rest. In New York. Interestingly, New York is as much a character as any of the protagonist duo: Rosa the psychic and Joey the 30s ghost.

the blackwell convergence gameplay screenshot

Now, point-and-clickers that have already enjoyed the previous games in the series, will definitely have to also play this installment, as it feels bigger and more lush than ever, while sporting the best graphics in the series yet and a truly fascinating plot. As for the characters animated portraits, well, they make a welcome return, as does the excellent voice-acting and writing. Oh, and it’s got horror bits in it too.

Newcomers to the series -the genre, even- on the other hand will appreciate the built-in tutorial and the fact that no previous Blackwell experience is required to fully enjoy the delights of Convergence. Besides, its puzzles are very simple and generally enjoyable, and the game is relatively short, clocking in at roughly 5 hours.

Verdict: Oh, come on. You must have guessed that. Blackwell Convergence really is a great adventure game.

The Interview: Agustin Cordes

Successful independently produced adventures are a truly rare breed, whereas successfully independently produced quality horror adventures are way rarer than a particularly rare thing. Meet then Agustin Cordes, creator of such a rarity, who was responsible (among other stuff) for the splendid Scratches and Scratches Director’s Cut adventure games, and currently runs the excellent and definitely eclectic Slightly Derangedblog. Oh, and as this is quite obviously an interview with the man, it will also let you find out some juicy bits about his forthcoming projects. Tasty, eh?
nucleosys

1.So, Agustin, care to intorduce yourself to the Obsolete Gamer crowd and let ’em know a bit about you and your creations; besides Scratches that is?

Hello little creature of the forest! Oh you know, I’m just a guy who’s hopelessly in love with the past, especially vintage games. I’m like one of those old people who always remind us of just how better things were back in their times, except for the old part that is. My creations can be counted with the tentacles of my left arm, but they’re still worthwhile: there’s Scratches indeed, and we’ll get to that soon, but there’s also Risk Profile, an educational and very fun adventure which is only available in Spanish, a quirky little interactive fiction I wrote many years ago called Valpurgius And I and of course Slightly Deranged, my recent blog about cult movies and games.
.2.Excellent. But, let’s get back to Scratches now, as it is one of the best horror adventures I’ve ever played. How did you first decide to start working on it? What was your inspiration and what were you trying to achieve?
I’m glad to hear you liked Scratches! I’ve always fancied developing an adventure game ever since I tried King’s Quest when I was a small brat. The real decision to start working on such a project came many years later after seeing the impressive achievement of Dark Fall, in my eyes the real beginning of the indie movement (yes, not only adventures but gaming in general). I thought, “Hey someone actually pulled this one off” and decided to give it a shot. It’s been one hell of a ride since then! The inspiration behind Scratches came from countless of vintage horror films, especially from the Hammer era, although two movies in particular stand out:
House Of The Long Shadows, an overlooked little gem with Lee, Cushing and Price, and House By The Cementery by the one and only Lucio Fulci. In fact, you can blame Fulci for my obsession with basements. Of course, H.P. Lovecraft is my ultimate inspiration -with Scratches I wanted to mimic that mood of 70’s horror films and particularly the notion of playing a Lovecraft story, who I think remains the master of literary atmosphere and subtlety. The ending of Scratches(which many found unsatisfying) was pure Lovecraftian in nature in a sense of facing that ultimate horror and coming to a sudden halt.

Scratches

3.Did you epxect its success? Did you believe a horror adventure game could be succesful or were you mostly indulging yourself?

Hell no! Scratches was always supposed to be a quaint adventure game for a very specific audience. It was designed to be challenging and please hardcore adventure gamers in the first place. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined so many people enjoying the game; even brand newcomers to the adventure genre.

4.Are there any interesting facts from the game’s development you’d like to share?

Well yes, sort of. As you may recall, the game was first announced with a small playable teaser that featured a “slideshow” style. Shortly after, Cellar Of Rats came onboard the project and was the first to suggest the possibility of updating the gameplay to the 360 panoramic panning. Given that the first teaser got such a great reception, I thought that upping the ante would be a wise move and went to develop the panoramic format. The game looked great with it! In the end it was a good decision, but back then we decided to launch a second teaser featuring this new improvement. We figured that, since the first teaser became a hit of sorts, this one would blow everyone’s minds. Funnily enough, the new teaser wasn’t that hot and some even questioned the change! It’s a really strange world out there…

Scratches directors cut

5.What about Scratches: The Director’s Cut? It was a pretty unique decision in our world of PC gaming.

Do you think so? I believe there have been similar “upgrades” in the past. The success of Scratches was huge and people wanted more, but there wasn’t any sequel planned, so it seemed like a good idea to give them some more of Scratches. Furthermore, the new release was bound to attract the attention of gamers who were on the fence about buying the first game or maybe missed it.

6.How did you decide what to improve for the Director’s Cut? Was it the feedback? Where there choices that were only made possible after the first version of Scratches brought in some cash?

Some was feedback by fans, yes, particularly regarding the controls. The new scheme with a fixed camera was so much better and granted more dynamism to the game. Other things were left unsaid the first time and came back as comments from Michael, especially the journal feature. And of course, The Last Visit was intended to show what happened after that enigmatic ending and provide a few more answers. Last, but not least, the entire graphics were revamped to support a higher resolution, one of the biggest complains about the first version. All in all the additions were worthwhile but I would have wanted to make the Director’s Cut even bigger with more features, most importantly a commentary track that would have given players plenty of behind the scenes details as they explored the house.

7.And, well, how have you been keeping yourself busy after Scratches?

After Scratches Nucleosys became involved in this huge project in Argentina called Risk Profile, an educational adventure commissioned by the government of Buenos Aires. It was quite surprising to say the least, I mean, an actual government supporting adventure games! And they even brought references such as Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion to the table. The project lasted about 18 months and was pretty hectic. The game was very large (over 50 characters to interact with and 80 lush background scenes) and ideally would have required 24 months for a much less stressful development.

Risk_Profile

8.Care to describe Risk Profile a bit?

Sure, the style of the game is reminiscent of Runaway, but it is far more lighthearted. Keep in mind it was intended for kids between 9 and 16 years. The idea behind the game was to teach youngsters what are taxes for, lessons in morality and what it’s like being a good citizen. It probably sounds utterly boring, but the actual game was great fun and even adults loved it! There are 12 lengthy missions ranging from auditing a dubious software company to investigating a mine apparently haunted by ghosts a la Scooby Doo. I was given nearly complete freedom with the script and included lots of jokes although many of them would probably get lost in translation.

For instance, there’s a sequence where the protagonist (Martina) has to mix a beer for a loser hanging out in the street to get some crucial information, so the player has to pick a dumped half-eaten box of cereals, put them inside a running car engine and get the resulting liquid from the exhaust pipe. Needless to say, the bum loves the revolutionary taste. There are also some great cutscenes between missions where two news reporters inform players about the outcome of Martina’s achievements. These segments get more and more bizarre as the game progresses though and at one point the anchorman warns people about a giant Lovecraftian creature invading the city while you can see behind him huge tentacles hugging a skyscraper. I still can’t believe they allowed me to get away with that!

9.Any chances of it reaching an English speaking audience in some form or another?

Unfortunately I’m not sure, though I would certainly love to bring the game to a bigger audience. I think it would be highly entertaining, even to hardcore adventure gamers looking for something different. There has been some interest about translating the game, but I can’t really say it will happen.

10.So, what have you been doing lately?

You already know about Slightly Deranged, a project I had been toying with for a few years. These hobbies can get extremely time-consuming so I’m always in awe when I find remarkable sites such as Gnome’s Lair and many others, managed by a small group of people or even one person. The dedication you show is enviable and the internet just wouldn’t be the same without you!

Besides working on Slightly Deranged, I’m preparing the imminent announcement and website of my new company, Senscape Interactive. Hey, that’s a scoop!

11.Any plans on new games? What does the future hold?

Yes, many plans as usual, but one thing at a time. I’m working with a new team on an exciting adventure game, definitely a dream come true for fans of Scratches. And what’s even better, this game has been secretly in development for a while so you won’t have to wait that long to play it. Believe me when I tell you this is going to be one scary and unforgettable experience! In fact, we’ll be referring to this game as “Unnamable Project” until it’s officially announced.

Now wait a minute… those have been TWO scoops! I guess you caught me in a good mood today. Thank you again for giving me this great opportunity to chat and I wish you the very best with Gnome’s Lair!

Thank you, and please stop making me blush! Can’t wait for more of your games, mind…

Ten Questions: Vince Twelve of xii games

x_games

Vince Twelve, the evil mastermind behind xii games, the creators of such innovative, excellent, very freeware and quite indy adventure games as Anna, What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed and Spooks, gets interviewed. Right here. By a gnome. Read on, read on…

1. So, is it Vince Twelve or Vince xii? Oh, and do please add a bit of further personal info to spice things up… The tabloids will love you.

I am not Vince the Twelfth. I do not come from a long line of Vinces. I am Vince Twelve. However, if you want to save a few keystrokes, roman numerals will do.

Quick personal run-down: I’m 24, married, have a one-year-old daughter, and I live in Japan where I teach English in a Junior High School. And for the benefit of the tabloids: I’m dating Jennifer Aniston, have an eating disorder, a drug problem, an illegitimate love-child, and I’m gay. How’s that for spicy?

2. Are you more of a game designer, a programmer or even (don’t deny it) an evolving visual artist?

I’d like to someday be able to say, “Hi, I’m Vince Twelve. I’m a game designer.” But I don’t know if I’m allowed to do that yet. I have a piece of paper in the form of a college degree that proves that I can program. There’s very little subjectivity there. But proving that you can design is a very different thing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to design games. The only way I can prove to myself that I’m capable in that regard, however, is to release games and get feedback from the players. That’s why I’m always starving for any kind of feedback I can get.

As far as being an artist… while I’m quite pleased with the final looks of both Anna and Linus, I don’t have the artistic skill that I need to realize some of the games that I’d like to make. Plus I take way too long to draw anything. I’m learning as I go, but it’s a slow process.

3. Xii games. Quite a few people have been credited in your three (brilliant) games. Is it indeed a group or are people just coming and going?

Well, Anna was completely a solo outing, but I made the game entirely in a week, so I wasn’t lonely for long.

Spooks was definitely an amazing team effort, but it was still Erin’s baby. She designed, wrote, and drew everything. I joined the project after her previous programmer vanished and took all the game’s code along with him. Erin and I were in constant communication for the next few months as she finished up art and animation and I put the whole thing together. Chris Moorson was also there the whole time working on music and sound.

For Linus, I was back in the designer’s chair. After I worked up a working prototype of the game, I got Nikolas Sideris on board to do the music. But he ended up being much more than just a musician. I sent him updates throughout the development for suggestions and motivation. He was really awesome. The third major member of the Linus team was my wife, who wrote all the Japanese translations as well as providing a lot of support (and if you finished the game and saw the super-secret ending: that was her playing the sexy nurse!). It was really great to be able to share my love for making games with my wife. I definitely plan on involving her in more of my projects.

linus1

 

4.From Anna to What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed… What’s next? A paragraph long name?

What’s in a name? As the bard wrote: “A game by any other name would still not emit any odor, because it’s really just a collection of ones and zeros and not a tangible object.” Or something like that…

Yeah, I was totally pleased with the long name. I thought it up really early in development and it just seemed appropriately strange… and it makes more sense if you see the super-secret ending!

5.Right. Names aside, what’s more impressive is your tendency to constantly innovate. Anna is quite possibly the only 3D, keyboard controlled AGS adventure, and Linus really did something never attempted before. So, how important is innovation? Do you believe gamers are actually interested in it?

I do think that innovation is important, but I don’t think it’s necessary in every game. A lot of people are making games with more consideration for nostalgia than innovation, and that’s perfectly fine. Afterall, refining and perfecting old ideas can be just as important as coming up with new ones. If you’re making a game, especially a freeware game, you only have to answer to yourself, so you can make the kind of game that you want to make.

That being said, freeware game makers are in a unique position to innovate. Since they don’t have significant money invested in the game, it isn’t such a big deal if their clever, innovative idea doesn’t work so well in a game as it did in their head. Compared to a big developer with millions of dollars invested in a title’s success, or even a small developer who scraped together every last penny they could find to fund their game, this is a big opportunity to take some risks and try something new.

As for the gamers’ interest in innovation, I suppose that depends on how successful the innovation turns out to be. Afterall, “innovation” implies “new” not necessarily “fun”. I do think that most gamers are always on the lookout for something unique and exciting, and when that new idea turns out to be genuinely fun, you have a real gem of a game. I think Linus was moderately successful in this regard.

anna

6.Linus, well WLBSWHEAC, lets the player simultaneously play two games and experience two stories and two totally different visual styles with only one mouse. You’ve already mentioned the DS (and your shower) was an inspiration. Care to elaborate?

I remember reading a book about game design several years ago that had a lot of advice from big names in the industry. One of the designers, I can’t remember who, said that a good game designer is always thinking about games and should be able to come up with ten game ideas before breakfast. That quote just stuck with me, and since then, I’ve always been challenging myself to come up with different types of game design ideas.

When the Nintendo DS was first announced, I began thinking of the new types of games that could be made for the system. I figured that if I thought of myself as a game designer, I should easily be able to think up some unique new types of gameplay for such an innovative system. One of the ideas that I really liked was having two completely different worlds, one in each screen, and playing them simultaneously. I carried that idea around in the back of my head for a while until I decided to start fleshing it out for a PC game. The idea eventually grew into Linus.

One very rewarding thing is seeing professional designers coming up with ideas very similar to yours and turning them into real commercial games. I was almost finished with Linus when I heard about a DS game called Contact which displays two different worlds on the two screens using two completely different art styles for each. Even though the gameplay is very different – it’s an RPG in which you control only one of the characters – I had to immediately buy the game because of the similarities. Also, Square Enix just announced a new DS game in which you control two characters simultaneously, one on the top screen, one on the bottom. But rather than your commands being mirrored in both screens like in Linus, you control the characters separately – one with the d-pad and one with the stylus.

It’s very interesting to me to see how professional designers play with these similar ideas. It’s also quite gratifying. It makes me feel like I was on the right track with my design.

spooks2

7.Why is it such a hard and complex game?

Here’s another tidbit for my bio: I also have a degree in mathematics and love brain-bending logic puzzles. Linus, from the start, was going to be a fairly complex puzzle game with a shiny adventure exterior. I know that everyone doesn’t adore a good brain-twister like I do, so I thought I was toning down the difficulty here, I really did!

At the time of me writing this, out of the thousands of downloads from my site and from the other places that it’s been picked up and hosted, only fourteen are listed in the online Hall of Completion. (Though I’m guessing it’s just that most people don’t care enough to go online and type in their completion code…)

That being said, I knew from the get go that this kind of game wouldn’t appeal to everyone. I’m sure that a lot of people download the game because of the promise of something unique and then start to play it only to find out that the gameplay and logic puzzles don’t really appeal to them. But that’s the benefit of making a freeware game. My only real customer is myself! Sorry if anyone found it too hard.

8.What should we expect next of xii games? More innovative thinking? A sequel to the almost traditional but excellent Spooks? An action game? Erotic interactive fiction?

Right now, I’m programming a small game for someone else that I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about. It’s just a small project that should only take a couple of weeks. After it’s done, I’ll start preliminary work on my next game.

I’ve got several ideas which I’ve trimmed down to two to decide between. I want to do something longer than Anna or Linus and tell a full story. One of the two ideas relies on me finding an artist or two who are willing to help me realize the game, so we’ll see about that. (Any artists out there want to help me out?) But you can be sure that there will be some innovative thinking included in the design. I wouldn’t make a game that didn’t have something unique to offer.

As for the sequel to Spooks, Erin is still working on the story, design, and art. It’s coming but it’s a ways off. And whether or not I’ll be coding it or xii games releasing it is still up in the air.

And I think I’ll leave the erotic fiction up to the fans. I don’t know if you’ve read the recently released “Linus Bruckman Tosses Mortia a Bone,” but it’s quite tittilating.

skyward

9.Any thoughts of releasing a commercial game?

Definitely. I would love to release something commercially. Again, however, I would need to find some artists to work with because I don’t feel that my art is of commercial quality. If I could assemble an adequate team right now, my next release would be commercial.

10.Now for the final/double-feature question. Enjoyed any of the recently released adventure games? How’s your Wii doing?

Commercially, I really enjoyed the Blackwell Legacy. Other than that, I haven’t really played many commercial adventure games lately. In 2006, my favorite game was easily Phoenix Wright for the DS. I picked up the sequel here in Japan recently. I don’t think it’s out in the West yet. I haven’t had a chance to start it yet, but I’m really looking forward to cracking it open.

Totally loving my Wii. WarioWare: Smooth Moves has to be the most fun I’ve had (and the dumbest I’ve looked) in quite a while. The one downside of the Wii is that my wife consistently beats me in tennis, and so of course that’s the only game she ever wants to play!

Cheers!

Thanks for taking the time to interview me!

Thanks for taking the time to answer, thanks for the games and good luck!


Knightsquire

Knightsquire

Aaaah, yes, summer-time. Beaches, Tequila with a slice of orange, fruit with a slice of Tequila, overheated PCs and the chronic lack of money. Enter Independent Gaming and its brand new freeware find: Knightsquire (and not Knight’s Quest). A brilliant short adventure game that might just help you save enough money to treat yourself to your favorite alcoholic poison.

Knightsquire, lovingly crafted by none other than buloght (?), is apparently a game about a knight and his squire. Make that better a game about a knight, his squire and a door stuck shut. Not very epic in scope, but funny, quirky and touching on the delicate subject of squire-maltreatment (quite the class issue in medieval Europe), Knightsquire is a rather traditional point and click adventure, that’s slightly reminiscent of Gobliins 2 (see Gobliins 2 @ mobygames). Following a long adventuring tradition it lets you pick up , examine, interact with and use a variety of inventory objects, sporting mostly inventory driven puzzles. Oh, and it will entertain you for at least a couple of hours, provided of course you aren’t the ultimate adventure gaming genius.

Knightsquire

Anyway. On to the visual arts front, oh most perceptive and observant of readers, where as you should have already noticed Knightsquire sports brilliant low-res 2d graphics, with a distinct comic-book feel and buckets of color (well 32bits of it actually). Stylish eye-candy I would characterize it, were I not so majorly irritated by Firefox, thus getting all cranky and nasty, thus avoiding any good-hearted exaggerations.

Still, you get the point. It’s beautiful. It’s a precious little gem after all. And it lets you control both the knight and the squire. I swear I even heard of a resident princess!

That’s a (nine) out of (ten).

Spooks

Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 1
Well, in a nutshell: Spooks is the first creation of a person named “The Ivy”” along with a very small team, it’’s a freeware adventure, it looks good, sounds ok, is size-wise a very modest download and anyone who is smart enough to have reached this review, shouldn’’t have any trouble downloading it from the xii games website. And to wet your appetite, here is a nice screenshot:Nice, isn’’t it?
Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 2
Of course it is, and it should be enough to convince you to have a look and to stop me from writing this review. Problem is, Spooks is a very good game, and one worth having a (slightly) more detailed look at. First of all the graphics are unique, mostly in grayscale and with a rather innovative use of color. Then, the three very important pillars of a comedy adventure game are there: the story is good (albeit a bit short), the dark humor is sarcastic and actually funny, the puzzles are varied, interesting and decently implemented.
Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 3

Naturally, as Spooks is the Ivy’’s first foray in adventure game design, not all is rosy (what a weird and subtle pun -–eh?). Puzzles are a tad on the too easy side, which isn’’t necessarily a bad thing, as is for example the lack of obvious hotspots, which eventually leads to some annoying pixel-hunting. Other minor problems include a few quite obvious time-triggers, lack of a full soundtrack, the inclusion of one (easy yet uninspired) Myst-style puzzle and a lack of polish here-and-there.

On the plus side, the dialogs, handled with a typical multiple-choice interface, are very well written, the finale is unexpectedly unexpected, the Sierra styled interface works in an okay way, and as I’’ve already said everything is fine and dandy. Even the lead character is like Diamanda Galas in joke-mode. I guess that in order to find out more you should rather download and play the game. Here are more screenshots, and a hint on the plot: It’’s about ghouls. The female kind. That should do it. I’’m sure I’’ve convinced you to have a look.

Spooks can be downloaded from the AGS website.

That’’s an (eight) out of (ten).

Apprentice Deluxe

Apprentice Deluxe - logo

Do you know what the difference between a “review” and a “critique” is? No? Yes? Good for you. You can skip the rest of this paragraph. If your answer was no though, all I can do is provide you with my (very personal and quite copyrighted) view: A review is a critique from a consumer’s point of view. It is there to tell you if something is worth the money it will cost you. A critique on the contrary, judges something on its own and usually on its artistic merits alone, without taking price into consideration. On the other hand, computer games tend to be reviewed, as is customary and as they are considered inferior to -say- movies or apparently novels. So what shall I do with ‘Apprentice deluxe’? It is a PC game (an adventure to be more precise) and it is freeware. Should I review it? Critique(sp.) it? Take it out for a beer? What?

Apprentice Deluxe - PC Gameplay Screenshot

Well, let me tell you. I am in neither a theoretical nor an analytical mood, so I’ll just review the bloody thing, taking into consideration that it costs nothing.

Apprentice Deluxe is evidently the Deluxe version of the famous and award winning AGS adventure Apprentice [If you want to know more about the free AGS authoring system visit the official site. It will also help you find out what AGS is.] The deluxe part consists of a full voice-over with almost professional voice quality, of some bug and graphic glitches fixes, of a brand new soundtrack and of multilingual support. You even get to toggle the voice-over or subtitles on and off. And since Apprentice and its deluxe sibling are literally the same game, I’ll be referring to both of them simply as Apprentice.

Apprentice has a simple, but enjoyable story, set in a traditional fantasy setting with ironic and satirical splashes. It is about a young wizard’s apprentice called Pib, whose not so epic quest is to collect the ingredients needed for his first spell and … that about sums it. Consequently the game is extremely short, albeit with allusions to a much grander story. The average gamer will not need more than one to two hours to beat it, and only if every item is looked at and everything explored.

Apprentice Deluxe - PC Gameplay Screenshot 3

Pib is controlled in typical point-and-click fashion, which does feel like the correct method, despite the minor control and navigation problems. There is for example no right clicking to alternate between actions. Then again the inventory system is well implemented, attractively designed and fully compatible with a fantasy setting. Dialogs are handled the Lucasarts’ way using dialog trees, and almost every puzzle (except one –no wait; except two) is inventory based and rather on the easy side. The only puzzle that truly requires lateral and bizarrely inventive thinking is the one in which you’ll have to produce cheese, but after you solve it (in typical try everything on everything else adventurers’ fashion) the game does explain the reasoning behind it, and it does actually make sense. In a weird and almost funny way, but sense nonetheless.

Apprentice Deluxe - PC Gameplay Screenshot 1

The most impressive aspect of Apprentice, being an amateur freeware adventure and all, are the incredibly high production values. The music is very good, the low-res cartoony graphics are excellent and carefully animated, the game is full with detail and everything is clickable and verbally described. The humor and the minor in-jokes are good too. Not Monkey Island or Monty Python level, but Pib’s comments will put a smile on your face.

Apprentice offers an overall very pleasing (and brief) gaming experience, which continues with the already released and much improved Apprentice 2. You can download both games for free at the website of Herculean Effort Productions.

That’s a (seven and a half) out of (ten).

Ugur Sener: Adventure Lantern

Adventure Lantern logo

The ten gnomish questions are, as most of you must have already gathered, the interviewing format I am now and will forever (and ever) be using. The format is perfect. It’s the questions I am worried about. I do hope that I will eventually manage to ask the most intriguing ones around this corner of the Net, but for the time being, I guess you’ll just have to put up with my (rather puny) journalistic skills.

Anyway. Ugur Sener, the founder and all-around chief/good-guy of my favorite video (+adventure) gaming e-zine Adventure Lantern, was unlucky enough to be the first person interviewed on my home site. Without further ado, let me present you with his answers (and unfortunately with my questions too):

Please state your name, age and favorite alcoholic drink

Ugur Sener. 23 (turning 24 on March 2nd). I am not much of a drinker, but let’s go with margaritas.

What are your gaming interests?

Video games are definitely my main interest. I have been playing them since I was 7 years old. I currently play games on my PC, PS2, and GameCube. Adventure is definitely my favorite genre, there’’s really no contest. I’’ve been hooked since a friend of mine showed me the first Monkey Island game many years ago. I also greatly enjoy RPG, strategy, and action-adventure games, but I’’ll give just about any video game a try.

I am also a big fan of pen and paper RPGs. I have been playing them for about 6 or 7 years. I ran my fair share of campaigns, participated in many others as a player, and have more character sheets than I care to count. Back in college I even started a club for role-playing games. My friends took over its administration after I graduated.

Finally, I am always partial to a good board game. My wife has a nice collection and we both love to play board games every time we find enough people to participate.

How would you describe Adventure Lantern?

Adventure Lantern is an electronic gaming magazine focused on adventure games. It is also a Web site that features the contents of the magazine and additional articles in HTML format.

AL is still a brand new site and our archives are humble at best. However, thanks to the efforts of the staff members, I believe we have a lot of potential for growth.

From a more personal point of view, AL has given me the opportunity to do something I truly enjoy and get more out of the games I play.

What is Adventure Lantern’’s history (so far)?

Despite the fact that the site has only been open for about two months, we have somewhat of an ‘“interesting’ history. AL actually started up as a partnership. Along with my occasional contributions to Just Adventure, I had started writing for a second small adventure gaming site. The owner and I eventually decided to start a partnership and opened Adventure Lantern.
Unfortunately, various differences of opinion eventually led to our separation. The co-owner and the staff that came from the older site decided to go in a different direction than AL. I believe this happened about a week before we were planning to release our first issue. However, the remaining staff members (Wendy, Neetie, Suz, and Berent) really came through to my aid. We were able to pull together the first issue at the very last minute and successfully publish it on January 1st.

During our second month, things ran much more smoothly. Our active staff doubled in size and we were able to post a number of articles throughout the month. I believe we were able to recover from our initial setback, and I am looking forward to our March issue.

What kind of games will Adventure Lantern cover?

Adventure Lantern will be focused on adventure games. Our main goal is to provide information about current adventure games while building up our archives with coverage on older titles. However, we are not fully dedicated to a single genre. We do occasionally extend our coverage to other types of games. This is mainly to broaden the site’’s scope.

How has the gaming community reacted towards the e-zine?

I can only answer this based on the feedback I received or saw on other sites and forums across the Web. Overall, I have seen a good deal of positive feedback. Some readers were excited to see another site talking about adventure games. It’’s been especially great to see random posts on forums talking about the launch of Adventure Lantern.

However, some readers did complain about the inclusion of non-adventure games in the magazine. A couple of members of the Just Adventure forum also informed me that some of our reviews gave them the impression that we picked our favorite games for the first issue.

Of course I am always open to any kind of comments about the site. There is no way we can create a magazine that will please every single gamer, but we can certainly try to make improvements in many areas.

Why did you choose to run an Adventure Lantern site parallel to the e-zine?

The idea is to make the site more accessible. Our February issue ended up being around 120 pages. Even after compressing the images and zipping up the magazine, it is still a 5 MB download. I want to make sure the readers who do not have fast Internet connections have a way of getting to our articles.

I also hope that making the articles accessible in HTML format will help locate them when we have a number of issues of the magazine. I wouldn’t want anybody to have to download a number of issues trying to find a specific article.

What are the future plans for Adventure Lantern?

There are a lot of things I would like to do with Adventure Lantern. The first objective is to start offering more current content to our readers. I would like Adventure Lantern to be providing coverage on new games as soon as they are released.

Another objective is to strengthen our archives throughout 2006. I would like to see us host at least a hundred reviews before the site is six months old. I would also like to improve the site UI and include more dynamic functionality. Unfortunately, a lot of that has to wait until I can purchase personal copies of Web site development tools I use at my day job.

In the long run, I do have plans to offer Adventure Lantern in multiple languages. I think it would also be interesting to feature at least small sections on other types of gaming such as pen and paper RPGs or board games. I also have pipe dreams like offering Adventure Lantern as an actual printed magazine someday, but we’Â’ll see how that one goes.

Tell us a bit about your journalistic and reviewing work for Just Adventure+

I have been an avid reader of Just Adventure since 2001. I originally joined the staff in 2003 to write about some older adventure games. I wanted to be involved in making the Just Adventure archives more complete. Then I stayed on as an occasional contributor.

I am not exactly the most active member of the Just Adventure staff, but the experience has been really wonderful. The site owner and editor Randy Sluganski has always been kind and supportive towards me. I think Just Adventure is a truly great source of information for any adventure gamer.

How would you describe the current state of the adventure gaming scene?

I am very enthusiastic about adventure games in 2006. There are a number of titles nearing completion, not to mention a host of others that have been recently announced. This could be a truly great year for adventure gamers with a multitude of titles to keep us busy. I am personally excited to see the evolution of our genre and all the games coming our way.

Thanks a lot mate. And good luck.

 

GOG sale: Complete Tex Murphy Collection

Tex Murphy: Mean Streets
Tex Murphy: Mean Streets

GOG sale: Complete Tex Murphy Collection

Are you a fan of detective science fiction adventure games? You’ll be happy to know that the Tex Murphy series of games are on sale 50% off this weekend from Good Old Games!

Get the collection here from our friends at Good Old Games.

The games feel a lot like Blade Runner.

The collection includes Mean Streets, Martians Memorandum, Under A Killing Moon, The Pandora Directive, and Tex Murphy: Overseer.

I played the living hell out of Mean Streets on c64…

The later games included a lot more video:

Check them out, fans of adventure and detective gaming!

GOG sale: Gabriel Knight games

Gabriel Knight cover
Gabriel Knight cover

GOG sale: Gabriel Knight games

Good Old Games this weekend is offering the first three Gabriel Knight adventure games on sale at a massive discount.

You basically get Gabriel Knight: Sins of Our Father, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, and Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned.

You will enjoy the games if you like puzzles, mysteries, and the occult.

Click here to go to the sale.

gog.com sale: The Longest Journey & Sanitarium 50% off

Sanitarium cover
Sanitarium cover

gog.com sale: The Longest Journey & Sanitarium 50% off

Two of the most amazing adventure games from the late 90s on sale by our friends at Good Old Games! You can get either one for about $5 each or slightly under $10 total.

Sanitarium is probably my favorite creepy adventure game. You play as a man with a bandaged head that keep slipping further into insanity and hallucinating being in weird places and being weird beings. The voice acting is phenomenal for the game and it’s an unforgettable experience.

The Longest Journey deals with being a Shifter, someone who can travel to different dimensions. In the game the protagonist has to deal with a growing problem in between a world that’s all about magic and another one that’s all about science and technology.

Click here for the gog.com sale, if these games sound interesting to you.