The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

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Another limitation that the use of FMV incorporated into gameplay was the need to limit the choices available to the player, thereby making the game more linear.  Unlike some games that provided many paths based upon how a player reacted to each situation, The Beast Within kept players hemmed within a much more linear storyline.  The costs in both production dollars and CD space were simply too high to choose any other avenue. ~Dan Epp

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

In 1995, the phrase “full motion video” (FMV) conjured up the image of such classic games as Night Trap and Burn: Cycle – eye candy at best, and generally poor gaming experiences.  CD-ROM technology had been out a for a couple of years, and The 7th Guest was really still the only “must-have” CD-only game on the market.  So, imagine the concerns of adventure gamers when they discovered that the sequel to Jane Jensen’s awesome Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was going to be released in FMV format.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

However, these concerns were unfounded.  Sierra had been working on the Script Code Interpreter (SCI) game engine, which used full motion technology, for a Roberta Williams game, Phantasmagoria.  The development team for the second Gabriel Knight game, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, was able to appropriate the engine for their own use, which had the benefit of cutting down the game’s development time.  However, even with the game engine built, FMV was an expensive process, involving a production crew and professional actors, all of whom were paid well for their time.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

Another limitation that the use of FMV incorporated into gameplay was the need to limit the choices available to the player, thereby making the game more linear.  Unlike some games that provided many paths based upon how a player reacted to each situation, The Beast Within kept players hemmed within a much more linear storyline.  The costs in both production dollars and CD space were simply too high to choose any other avenue.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The answer is multifaceted, but the first step was retaining Jane Jensen as the author of the entire storyline.  The first Gabriel Knight game was lauded for not only being fun to play, but having a deeper story than most adventure games.  Ms. Jensen had majored in computer science, but also had a deep fascination with creative writing, evidenced by her work on the Gabriel Knight series.  Interestingly, she did not become a published novelist until well after The Beast Within, with her novelization of the first Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers book in 1997, and then Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within’s novelization in 1998.  Her first non-computer game related novel, Millennium Rising, was published in 1999, the same year her last Gabriel Knight game was released.  She has continued to write books, earning a Phillip K. Dick Award nomination for Best Novel in 2003 for her book, Dante`s Equation.  But I digress!

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The Beast Within was not only written well, it was acted well.  The game featured Dean Erickson as Gabriel, who would go on to leave acting altogether and become a real estate agent; Joanne Takahashi as Grace, who continues to take a variety of minor roles tailored for Asian women; Peter J. Lucas as Baron Friedrich von Glower, who continues to take roles for an ethnic European; Andrea Martin as Gerde, who was a Tony-award winning actress before working on The Beast Within and continues to work on both the stage and in voice-over work today.  None of these four ever worked on a computer game again! However, Nicolas Worth, who played Kriminal-Kommisar Leber, has not only had a successful career in film and television both before and after The Beast Within, but has also continue to work in the gaming industry, acting in Emperor: Battle For DuneCommand & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, and Red Alert 2, as well as lending his voice to Freedom Fighters!

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The puzzles of The Beast Within were not particularly difficult, but were, on the whole, imaginative.  The game used “hotspots” on the photographic quality images to show that there was something of interest on the screen, so it was a simple matter to gain all the inventory items required to solve most of the puzzles the game threw at its players.  Like many adventure games, forward progress could come to a complete halt until you discovered the correct hotspot, but this generally was not a complete inconvenience.

Reviews of The Beast Within were very favorable upon its release.  Two of the biggest gaming magazines of the day gave it high marks: PC Gamer gave it a score of 96% and it’s coveted Editor’s Choice award, while Computer Gaming World (CGW) gave it 5 out of 5 stars, a Critics Choice tag as well as naming it the 1996 CGW Game of the Year.  It also managed to make #17 on CGW’s 150 Best Games of All Time , which is the definitive “must-play” list for retrogaming enthusiasts!  If you haven’t played this classic of the adventure game genre, you’re missing a rare treat.  Highly recommended!

Hector: Badge of Carnage: Episode 1

Hector Badge of Carnage
I’m not a particularly cynical gnome. No, not really. I’m just a realist who -admittedly- spends the odd day firmly believing that cynicism and the subsequent nihilism are nasty things, while trying to figure out ways to make this poor planet a better place. Then again, I just can’t help but enjoy the more cynical side of satire, and definitely can’t help but enjoy those rare cynical games. They seem so refreshing in the dire landscape of tired fantasy cliches, gun-ho militarism and vacuous cuteness that mainstream gaming seems to have created, and the first episode of Hector: Badge of Carnage is (probably) as cynically satirical as it gets.
Hector Badge of Carnage
It also is a rather traditional point-and-click adventure, which is always nice and despite coming from Telltale it’s both cynical and -shockingly- actually challenging. Now, don’t get me wrong,Telltale have done some wonderful things for adventure gaming. I can’t deny that, but it seems that after the excellent Tales of Monkey Island and the refreshingly odd Puzzle Agent they have become more, well, formulaic. And pop-centered. And, really, who cares for Jurassic Park games? I for one don’t. I definitely care about Hector though (to cunningly and subtly change the subject).
Hector Badge of Carnage

Hector, you see, the eponymous Badge of Carnage protagonist is a (shockingly and spontaneously anti-authoritarian) cop in what can only be described as Britain’s most run-down town. His moral compass is all over the place, his remarks biting, his humour dark and his pants struggling. He’s also more than willing to negotiate with terrorists, as this game’s full title is none other than Hector: Badge of Carnage – Episode 1: We Negotiate With Terrorist, in which Hector seems hell-bent on fulfilling the ultra-conservative, yet at times rather sensible, demands of a deeply frustrated and particularly murderous terrorist.

Hector Badge of Carnage

What’s more, Hector does this in the most unconventional way imaginable, while inhabiting a beautifully illustrated 2D world and remaining true to the best of point-and-click traditions. He’ll have to combine inventory items, engage in brilliantly penned discussions, use everything on everything, explore the seedier parts of the urban fabric and even use a heroin-addict as a sex doll (oops, spoiler, sorry about that), while sounding both brilliant and very British. The voice-overs are after all excellent, as are the games graphics, music and most of the puzzles.
Hector Badge of Carnage

The only thing that’s not quite so excellent is the control method (click to look, double-click to interact), that simply doesn’t feel that intuitive, especially if you are a seasoned adventurer. Then again, this episode’s hefty size, challenging puzzles and overall quality more than make up for this minor hick-up. Oh, and yes, the humour does actually work.

Verdict: A humorous and gritty breath of fresh, episodic, adventure gaming air. Adventurers should apply here and Hector will definitely amuse them.

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 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.