Adventure Afterlife – 20 years of Adventure games part 6 1997

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

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

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

The Last Express

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

I had a bomb in my pocket at the time, the game didn’t react to it…but the scene sure was tense.

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

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

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

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

The Curse of Monkey Island

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

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

What did they do to Elaine??

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

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

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

It’s Murray!
with at this screenshot…the evil..oh the eeeevil.

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

Another great musical moment.

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

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

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

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

Ashes – A short Bitsy game

I really adore the Bitsy Game Maker. It’s a web based game editor focused on dialogue and very simple tiles, and 2 frame sprites. It’s updated several times adding inventory items, and dialogue choices. People have already gotten really inventive with the limitations, creating everything from Twine like choice stories to light RPGs. It excels at little vignettes, and there are some great ones some autobiographical; others very surreal.

One thing Bitsy is very good at is forcing you to create small projects. I am sure at some point someone will create an epic but without a save and with it’s small compact nature it pushes you to short impactful projects. This project started as a doodle but evolved into a little story about those weird transient relationships you can have as a kid or a teen. This isn’t in any way autobiographical being set in a US Summer camp, but as a kid I vividly remember having some fun days hanging out with other kids where at the end of the day it doesn’t occur to us to exchange details. This isn’t by any means a perfect game but I enjoyed making it.

AdventureX 2017

I’m once again helping to organize AdventureX a convention dedicated to narrative & storytelling in games. It’s running November 11-12  2017 at Goldsmith’s University London. We just launched our Kickstarter and within 24 hours were funded. 

If you want to exhibit a game, give a talk or help us as a volunteer then you can apply on the site.

If you’re interested Ali made a mini documentary about the event:

 

The Power is still on….a little robot game

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

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

Rodent Wake – Audio Play

I originally wrote this  audio drama ( or radioplay if you will) for a writing contest but didn’t place, after letting it sit for a bit I polished it and decided to produce it myself. Set in the UK in the suburbs somewhere Wilkes is having his fence mended by a local handyman. Whilst there they stop and gossip about the family who live next door and the fate of their first family pet. It’s only about five minutes long, so a perfect listen whilst you brew yourself a cuppa.

Rodent Wake audio drama

 

Soundcloud

Youtube

 

 

Credits

Written by Rebecca McCarthy

www.voiceacting.space
www.gameswriting.coffee

Voice Cast
O’Dare – Tom Doughty twitter.com/taffy62
Wilkes – Zeke Alton

Music
Amazing Grace- Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

This video uses sound from freesound:
www.freesound.org/people/Puniho/sounds/165912/

www.freesound.org/people/Woodylein/sounds/213564/

Adventure After life 20 years of Adventure games Part 5 -1996

Adventure Afterlife 20 years of Adventure games – 1996

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

Broken Sword

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

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

Avoid if you hate clowns,
Screenshot broken Sword

 

Blazing Dragons

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

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

 

This is my favourite line in the game

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

NOooooo

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

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

Broken Sword images from Giantbomb.com where I also mirrored this blog.

AdventureX

AdventureX 2016 is over, and the feedback has been great. I summed up the coverage we’ve had on the blog here and here. The event was really fun to help work on and I think everyone involved was utterly exhausted by the end of the weekend. In a somewhat related note, the speakeasy edition of Late Last Nite was released. I play the lead character, Morgan. The game is free on Gamejolt so if you fancy a free and fully-voiced adventure you should check it out. I’ll be returning to Adventure Afterlife over Christmas and I’ll get back to working on it now AdventureX is over.

 

AdventureX 2016

I’m once again helping to run AdventureX, a convention dedicated to narrative and storytelling in gaming. We’ve been running a Kickstarter which has gone pretty well and is allowing my co-organisers Tom and Ali to go out and secure superb speakers and entertainment. The convention is free to attend and will run in London on the 19th-20th November.

 

title.

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.

Amecon 2016

If you’re attending Amecon in the UK this weekend, I’ll be running the Amateur voice acting 101 panel on the Sunday at 15:30 Wood Scawen. I’ve presented in there before for various Ayacon panels and it’s a great space. I’ll be talking through some basics of voice acting then when we’re tired and want to chill out we’ll descend into some Anime Dub Live.