Her Story…

Starting this game, I was hugely optimistic. After all it was up for eight (eight!) Golden Joystick awards, and has been hailed as something special all over the place. And beginning the game it was indeed hugely intriguing. Tasked with identifying the details behind a murder, you begin your investigations via the LOGIC database, which allows you to view short video clips of police interviews. The catch is that you can’t watch the whole video all at once: you must input the text of the unknown dialogue to discover clips. One keyword leads to another keyword and pretty soon you’re unravelling a mystifying fairy tale of a murder.

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This game is all about the marvellous acting of Viva Seifert. Truly, great actors can play a range of characters, and placed simply and brutally in a Truro council room, she really delivers the job. Creator Sam Barlow really did his research digging into police interviews and the set up is believable. It’s an innovative vision, but eventually it won only one Golden Joystick award, the panel nominated ‘Breakthrough Award’. I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s great for a text adventure game writer to gain fame for a title, hopefully leading to more gamers playing his 1999-title Aisle, and thereby introducing them to the world of ‘interactive fiction’.. but at the same time the game is a little minimal.

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It seemed a similar story with 80 Days. The style and execution were great but it lacked the complexity of a fully-fledged adventure. “I was becoming aware of how jealous I was of games like Simogo make and the stuff Inkle do now,” Barlow writes, but that is to think of 80 Days as a product which is a fully involved and detailed adventure world, which it isn’t. The concept of Her Story is electrifyingly brilliant, but I’m left feeling like it was rushed to a close instead of us being taken somewhere wonderful. It must have taken an unearthly time to hone and test the dialogue and story to ensure they work at a pace that reveals the story only in dribs and drabs, and yet the game could have left its own confines somewhat to give us more movement, at least in storyline.

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Also I was hoping the game would build up to a great conclusion, but it just petered away like water dripping down the sink. A huge criticism of this game is in relation to “double quotes”. The instructions tell you to use double quotes. In fact you need to use ‘single quotes’. You can use double quotes but only in the case where an entire clip consists of that word. For example, if I said “Hmmm”, and that was all I said. I can well understand that you need to use quotes for phrases, e.g. “her story”, but to unearth all of the clips there is a prerequisite to search for some one-word clips using double quotation marks… Why not just connect those one-word clips to other clips??? Really he should have stuck to  Google-style “double quotation marks”, methinks. But it does operate nicely like Google at the basic level, which is part of its attraction. Little niggles like the occasional lag and muted video are not really issues, as you just re-watch and the video sorts itself out.

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What is great about this game is how imaginative it is, and that Barlow has not allowed the publishers who killed his Legacy of Kain revival game to stop him pushing the envelope by going indie. I hope that other games writers run with this idea and push it to further frontiers. Barlow himself showed how it could have went further, for example, by incorporating codes, but ultimately there is no payoff for cracking codes in this game. It’s a decent experience but it leaves you wanting a bit more. Apparently Barlow is working on a sequel; I don’t know whether it involves the same named characters, but if it did continue the story in a powerful way, it would certainly increase the impact of this game.

Aveyond 3 – The Gates of Night

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As you might realise, I’m getting a little bit long in the tooth so I thought I’d try one of those new fangled Japanese RPGs (jRPGs). I say new-fangled, but they’ve been around forever it seems. Aparently the first was in 1982, The Dragon and the Princess. That old title had a great Wizard of Oz moment where the game transformed from text adventure to top-down tactical RPG. Must have been quite a sight. The quintessential game though as far as UK knowledge of the Japanese market goes was Legend of Zelda. Released for the Nintendo Entertainment System aka Famicom in 1986, it directly influenced more adventurey RPGs like Times of Lore. The NES always seemed a bit of a step-down though for me from the 8-bit computers, as it tended – like its successor the Super Nintendo – to lean on action, rather than adventure and strategy. As a result I always looked at Zelda and the like with a sense of some disdain. Given the fact that Zelda never really reached the UK and US officially until the back end of 1987 – meaning the game was nearly two years old – its influence was probably within UK games as an undetectable undercurrent by then… But then the cynic in me says that its influence was more hype than anything else.

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And so we come to my first jRPG, Aveyond. Aveyond is a huge series, and I dived in at the deep end with Chapter 2 of Aveyond Part 3 – Orbs of Magic. We join the story with Stella experiencing a ghastly nightmare, pursued by uncompromising vampires. Awakening, we find ourselves part of an unlikely fellowship – including a bloodthirsty vampire called Te’ijal – which seeks audience with the King. Somewhere along the line, the king’s sword Excalibur is mentioned (where did I hear that name before?), but it turns out that Te’ijal’s lover and fellow companion is Galahad, so whatever. The central character is announced as Mel the Thief, although Stella also seems to be a protagonist here. After meeting Daddy, the King, Prince Edward leaves with this motley accompaniment with his own additional personal quest of seeking a wife; he is heir apparent after all. And with two single women in the party, there must be a viable option there. We cannot tarry as  Vampire Lord Gyendal is after us, so we must leave Thais and locate Naylith Summit. Perhaps we can find the Orb of Light, and halt Gyendal and his nefarious plans for the Orb of Darkness.

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Fan Art by Esme Amelia                                   Stella at Mount Drake

It really is quite a quest: even locating places like Naylith Summit can be difficult. There is no clear detailed world map, and I like it! I guess that the world maps are similar across games though; if so series fans will astutely recall directions to go… Character development continues from chapter 1 to 2, but as I was starting at Chapter 2, I had far less skills or equipment, which made it a lot more difficult, especially in the end game, although the end game is not as impossible as it might first seem. The following part, Chapter 3 – The Lost Orb resets all character progress, so I felt less bad about the attributes loss. One thing which did feel like a grievous loss was that there was an upgrade made by the soundtrack composer’s team which added voiceovers for characters (chapters 1 and 2 only), but it seems to have disappeared from the Internet. So come on, Walz Music, tell us what is the deal there?

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The music is gorgeous, by the way: Gheledon, Darkthrop Keep, Harburg, Stormbend, the list goes on and on. There’s also a great piece with some Indian sounds when you reach Mount Drake, I wasn’t sure if was a stock piece from RPG Maker XP or one of Aaron’s, but I contacted Aaron, and sure enough, it’s one of his. The story meanwhile is convoluted, but in a good way. You’ll need some processing time though for the epilogue, especially if you didn’t play the series all the way through. If the dialogue seems a little childish at times, I encourage you to read it aloud or just say it aloud in your head with emotion, and any naffness quickly evaporates. The story writer and many of the staff are female, and this shows, again, in a good way. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen so many women involved in a game project since the heady day of St. Bride’s Software.

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Amanda Fitch                        Tiffany Lim                        Rebecca Long
The writer and game designer, Amanda Fitch, cut her mustard with Adventure Game Studio before moving on to RPG Maker, as well as working with programming languages. I love the 8-bit style graphics: those jungle trees kinda remind me of Sabre Wulf for some reason. Okay, so some people might complain of it being too generic, but RPG Maker or not, great writing is great writing. The atmosphere is so good that there is even a decent bulk of Aveyond fan fiction out there. I wish though that they’d stuck to orginal characters, like Lydia and Stella, rather than mythic ones like Galahad and Hercules. Maybe it’s just my preference, but there’s no need for those characters, as the characterisation which Fitch has achieved with her own characters is great.

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The company Amaranth Games was named after a Greek symbol of  immortality, though Aveyond is so popular that they now call themselves Aveyond Kingdom. I think the former title was perhaps the most apt. +1 to the Amaranth team for warning you to save your game before you descend into the deeper darkness of the catacombs. There are the odd little niggles, like how if you turn off the music you have to leave the current map to re-enable it, but then I can’t see many people turning off Walz’s lovely score. Battle looks a little simplistic, but Prince Edward’s propensity to fly shudderingly close to death tempered the casual look of the game with some emotional moments (there are save games but I like to play as much as possible avoiding them). Whilst the combat does start to become monotonous, it is more edgy towards the end of the game, and I can’t understate the importance of the tactic of changing equipment. For example, you may have a high-powered weapon, but that low-powered dagger which curses your victim might be more useful in the present situation. As the journal doesn’t always keep vital information, you have to have a good memory, and getting that elusive treasure chest key which is so important in the endgame really pulled my ‘harp strings’.

It does have adventure game content, though unlike a genuine adventure, if you are carrying the right item at the time, it simply invokes the conversational thread to progress the sequence. But the sprawling nature of the world, and quantity of things to complete, makes it feel very much real. Overall, even though this is an RPG, it still felt very much an adventure game, and a good one at that. Aveyond 4 was just released before the end of the year, which will immortalise the game even further, but I’d better get cracking with the rest of Aveyond 3 first. As it took me 42 hours to get through Chapter 2 alone, I don’t think I’m going to achieve that any time soon…

 

Wonderland Dizzy

Back in yonder day all you needed was an egg with boxing gloves and you had your main character. I am refer of course to Dizzy, stalwart staple of the 8-bit era.

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There wDizzy4ere nine official titles in the Dizzy series, but whaddyaknow, the Oliver Twins were hosting a talk in Blackpool, and poking within a box they discovered a curious map… The curious map led in turn to the Dizzy creators’ memories suddenly being rekindled (after no doubt a life of debauchery spending the profits of the Dizzy back-collection). The rekindled memories led in turn to a curious disk shining seductively from within the clutter of an attic. It bore the curious inscription, “Wonderland Dizzy”, alongside the legend “Nintendo Source Complete”, dated 1993.

After passing the buck on to Polish dizzy fan Lukasz Kur, the disk was riddled together into an emulator rom for Nintendo emulators (I suggest Nestopia) . And so was born the 10th official game in the series of Dizzy, Wonderland Dizzy (kinda like discovering a 10th planet, really).

So how does the game actually play? This time Dizzy and his girl Daisy take on the quest to rescue the Yolkfolk, which basically means you switch between Dizzy and Daisy in a 2-player game. Maybe the idea was to add a bit of 2-player competition in the quest to collect stars, but overall it felt like a wasted idea, as when you die, the Cheshire Cat offloads inventory onto the other player. Some sort of cooperation between players à la Lure of the Temptress might have been nice instead. Yes you heard right, by the way, the Cheshire Cat. Basically, the Dizzy family have been deposited in Alice in Wonderland territory. Strangely enough this is barely mentioned, though all the principal characters, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, and so on, are there. Except Alice, alas.

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It does play in the main like a Dizzy game, though fans of the series will notice straight away that lots of the ideas were pilfered from earlier games such as the Stonehenge of Magicland Dizzy, a troll, a well, a trampoline and so on. A main gripe is that it is far too finicky jumping the moats and whizzing around on your newly won broomstick, as it is fairly easy to bump into a bad guy. This aspect reminds me of a predecessor of Dizzy called Cauldron. I can’t imagine anyone playing this in 1993 and being anything other than utterly frustrated. Armed with an emulator today, you can save your progress every few jumps or flights, but on a cartridge-based device it would have been agony.

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This difficulty masks simple puzzles, with none of the sophistiction of Spellbound Dizzy. This makes it unsurprising to hear that Codemasters decided to shelve it, and the Twins may have fallen out a bit with the Darling Brothers about that. I could wax lyrical about how releasing this game would have rang the death knells of the Dizzy series, but by ’93 the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga had firmly taken over and arcade adventures were old news. Dizzy‘s real homebase was with the 8-bit machines, and its origin, the 48k Spectrum. But the last game to be published by a large publisher for the ZX Spectrum was the Dr Who game Dalek Attack in July 1993 – two months before the date on the Wonderland Dizzy disk. The extension of Dizzy into the console world seemed a tad over-ambitious, and a bit of a last-gasp effort, even at the time. Dizzy’s fate had already been sealed on the 8-bit machines, and Crystal Kingdom Dizzy, the final game to be released, didn’t even have so much involvement by the Oliver Twins. By 1993 the ZX Spectrum had been crushed into oblivion by the Amiga and ST, and IBM’s PC was soon to take the UK market from them.

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What was truly wonderful about the Dizzy series was how from game to game it became more innovative, with increasingly interesting gameplay. It was difficult to complete, but it was well-loved for its ease of play in contrast to previous 8-bit arcade adventures such as Pyjamarama. In this respect, it tended to fit more within the adventure game category for me, than in the platforming genre. Wonderland Dizzy was enjoyable to complete for nostalgia, but they seemed to have regressed a bit in gameplay with this one. They were, of course, producing the game for a different market, but it wasn’t surprising that Dizzy didn’t last long in the console world. Considering how many Kickstarted games have managed success, it was more of a surprise that Codemasters failed in their bid to revive Dizzy in 2012. Had the project been successful it would have been the first official sequel for 20 years, but they only managed a paltry amount of the needed budget.

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And yet, Dizzy lives! Perhaps not so many people know about Dizzy Age, where Dizzy has long lived on since 2006. Colin Page’s excellent A Pirate’s Age has progressed the series to the realms of point & click adventure. It’s the old familiar gameplay, but it’s difficult to even get started as you have to pull gnarled roots from an abandoned beach and the like. This is the niche where Dizzy coud have continued being published as an indie title. Here you find Dizzy able to merge with copyighted material such as Dr Who and even Knightmare, that old TV series where kids’ hopes were dashed by near-impossible cgi quests.

 

Despite Wonderland Dizzy being a bit of an old carthorse, it was great to see something written by the original team again, and I feel inspired to  download some DizzyAge titles and re-don those boxing gloves a bit more…

Gray Matter

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Released late 2010 or early 2011, depending on your location, Gray Matter is Jane Jensens story about an amateur magician who bluffs her way into Dread Hill manor house. Jensen is infamous as the creator of the well-loved series Gabriel Knight, a writer on Police Quest III, the co-designer and co-writer of King s Quest VI, and more recently story consultant on Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, as well as all-round creator of Moebius: Empire Rising. Her legacy and ability shines throughout in the excellent story. When the game was launched, Carla LeGall of GameBoomers was invited to the press presentation of Gray Matter at Weston Manor in the Oxfordshire village, Weston-on-the-Green. Funnily enough, a previous owner of the manor, Sir Henry Norris, is a key character in the prize-winning novel, Wolf Hall, which I began reading last week  (Wolf Hall was televised early this year). It must have escaped Carla LeGall’s attention that Weston Manor may well have been the archetype for Dread Hill.

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The game commences with Samantha Everett being flung off her motorbike. To avoid bedding in the undergrowth in the teeming rain she makes for Dread Hill, then watches as someone else arrives at the manor house for the first time. After knocking at the door, the girl then flees for no clearly discernible reason. Having nowhere else to sleep, Samantha decides to impersonate her. Cementing her identity as the new employee the house requested, and with nothing else better to do, Sam slowly but surely recruits a few guinea pigs for the owner, Dr. Style’s experiment, gaining a sort-of social circle into the bargain. Sam’s lying and bluffing can verge on the immoral, though it is all for a better cause… Although of course, at this stage of the game, she does not know what the better cause is, and just appears adamant on discovering more about the mysterious Dr. Styles.

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After leaving the house, you soon experience sites from real Oxford, such as Carfax Tower. In fact the telephone box adjacent to the tower exists in real life, and is a grade II-listed building! The famous Bodleian Library, St.Edmund’s Hall, and even the Horspath athletics track all really exist. One highlight for Harry Potter fans is the Christ Church dining hall, which was the Hogwarts dining hall, though this wasn’t actually filmed, but only recreated in the film studios. Double-clicking to run about seems a staple of gaming nowadays, and you’ll find yourself making more and more use of this feature as the game goes on, as you assist Dr. Styles in his experiments, while making handy use of the in-game map (shortcut ´M´ key).

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Story and dialogue is beautiful, and as Hardcore Gaming 101 wisely point out in their review of the game, it trumps the one-liner gags of comedic adventures such as Monkey Island, and feels much more like real humour. The character and voice acting is nicely done. Phillipa Alexander as Samantha Everett has just a tinge of sarcasm and humour, in contrast to games like Broken Sword where it sometimes goes too far. You might have also encountered Phillipa in Mirror’s Edge; she is rumoured to be replaying the role of Kate Connors in the sequel, to be released in 2016. Steven Pacey, as the unpleasant but misunderstood Dr. Styles, is also a neat foil for Sam, with his cutting ripostes to Sam’s perky optimism. For those sci-fi buffs who can remember that far back, Pacey was one of the crew members of the TV seriesBlakes 7, Del Tarrant.

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Styles is engaging in parapsychological experiments, and at first, it is not clear what his motives are. Then, more and more strange events begin to happen. Is it Styles who is behind these occurences? Sam and Dr. Styles have different opinions as to the source of the strange events following the experiments, and though it is jarring at first to switch characters after playing for quite a while as Sam Everett, this actually adds to the mystery of it all, as there is no clear authorial viewpoint as to what is going on. Sam’s original intention was to find the Daedalus Club, however. Here I found my first real bugbear, as I thought finding the Daedalus Club logo seemed an unnecessary arbitrary puzzle, and could be a game-killer early in the game. At least to those like me, who like to avoid walkthroughs at all costs. It also irked me a little that it was pronounced Dee-dalus throughout, though it is a legitimate pronunciation.

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Actress Lorelei King was voice director, and her feedback must have tightened the dialogue even further. Adrienne Posta as Mrs. Dalton has a great rustic accent, and even she has a film history – she was one of the schoolgirls in the ’60s film To Sir, With Love. The voice actor who plays Malik (Sacha Dhawan) is also Gryff Whitehill in Telltale’s Game of Thrones adventure game. You can visually see him as Naveed Shabazz in the most recent series of 24 (2014). Incidentally, Naveed’s mother in the series is actress Michelle Fairley, who played the role of Catelyn Stark (more Game of Thrones trivia).

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Being a magician, as well as having a conventional inventory Sam devises magic tricks via use of a specialised screen where you organise your magic. At first I had breathtaking admiration for this invention, but unfortunately the feature was underused, as it is is largely the case of copying instructions directly from your magic instruction book (also in your inventory). It’s a shame that the magic tricks were isolated in this way from the main action, as I would have preferred it if you had to manually work out the puzzle in the environment, though of course this would have made the game much more difficult. The cursor also turns into a top hat when you can perform a magic trick, so the time to perform magic tricks is obvious, rather than allowing more user forethought. Like Hardcore Gaming, I wished that they had allowed the player to indulge in more adaptive thinking. You do have to find the correct items as well though, which means it is no pushover. Right-mouse clicking places items in your hand, which you can then use on other items, although this process is not completely intuitive. You can also check your progress from the menu, which lets you know what percentage of tasks you have fulfilled. At times it feels like almost bordering on cheating, but this often becomes necessary, as sometimes all you need to do is accomplish some triviality to complete a chapter, and trigger a cut-scene. Pressing space bar to locate screen hot spots is also possible, though I would avoid it unless absolutely necessary. A notebook documents all dialogue lines, which I kinda liked in preference to a diary.

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Some minor irritations are completing puzzles such as rebus puzzles (where pictures represent words). The puzzles themselves are great, but until you manually do other tasks you cannot cash in on your solution. At one point you have to work out which type of wine Laura was drinking, but as a puzzle it makes little sense, as it is just trial and error – there should have been some clue around the mansion as to which particular wine to choose.I was also thankful that the tutorial with Sam’s pet rabbit was not too artificial, as tutorials usually grate on me. Some people though have wondered how she manged to transport that rabbit around on just a motorbike?

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Where the game descends into its lowest point is where you are looking for the identity of a person, and you have to manually cross the other names out to progress, rather than just crossing the names out mentally. There are other points in the game where this mechanic occurs. You have basically solved the problem, but don’t realise it, and are wandering aimlessly until you realise it was just a game mechanics issue. Apparently controls are awkward on consoles as well, though I only played the PC version. One peculiarity is that the US box art was amended to show less of Sam’s cleavage, which seems like over-the-top censorship, though actually my preference is the more subtle image.

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Visually the game is stunningly beautiful. Development teams switched during production, from Tonuzaba to Wizarbox, and Wizarbox’s visuals advance on Tonuzaba’s without the unnecessariness of 3D. Jensen’s husband Robert Holmes also provides a decent melancholic soundtrack, with three major themes produced by his band, The Scarlet Furies.

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One review website, the A.V. Club, called it the best adventure in a decade. To date, it’ s my girlfriend’ s favourite adventure game, and that includes such classics as The Secret of Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer, so that’ s saying something. For me, it certainly ranks amongst the best games ever.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones has quickly shot to near the top of many TV viewers’ must watch lists, and if you don’t know that, you know nothing, John Snow. So when Telltale announced they were making an adventure game, I was understandably excited. “Not an action adventure – an adventure game!” I was shocked to learn. The gritty, grimey, and perfectly political fantasy story would be sublime material for an adventure game. It was also nice to see that Carl Muckenhoupt was involved in content programming. His is a name well-known to the interactive fiction community, also under the pseudonym ‘Baf’. He was responsible for Baf’s Guide, a sort-of precursor to the Interactive Fiction database and his game The Gostak was well-respected: you progressed in the game by learning a new language! He also has credits on The Jurassic Park, two CSI games and two big Telltale offerings The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. With plenty of experience in the background, this should prove a great title. But how does the actual game of the Game of Thrones stand up? Like the last two mentioned Telltale games, the action is very story-driven.

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Things get off to a great start by kicking off at camp outside one of the most infamous events from George R.R. Martin’s canon. You are Gared, in the midst of the Forrester encampment, enjoying -or suffering- the bawdy banter of the soldiers. The voice acting is terrific and really captures the TV show’s irreverent humour, and I would say that the swearing is more apt and realistic than you even see in the show. You have some tough decisions to make, and the gore that many have been waiting for doesn’t fail to appear. Next up you play the Tyrell handmaiden Mira, one of apparently a total of five characters you can play, though only three appear in episode one. It looks like they used the original actors, such as Natalie Dormer for the shrewd and sexy Margaery Tyrell, as their voices are spot on. Margaery did seem strangely straight-laced, though, in the game. Hopefully her psychological mind games are set to reveal themselves in later episodes.

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As to the gameplay this mainly revolves around responding to dialogue within the allocated time. This proved unnecessarily difficult. It was difficult enough already to decide which option to go for given the constraints of conversation time, but worse still, my mouse would be hovering over the response I wanted to make, and clicking would often completely fail to work. Annoyingly I spent a lot of time rewinding to reverse a decision which I had never really made. Yes, it gave the game a psychological edge, but it was the game’s awkward controls which were primarily responsible for the feeling.

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It has been advertised as an adventure but sadly there is little interaction within the game except the selection of dialogue. And with the slow reponse time of mouse selection that interaction can be frustrating. The action parts give a bit of gruesomeness and social fun to the proceedings, but they were merely a matter of following directions. It made me recall the infamous Dragon’s Lair, as it is just a case of following the right sequence of buttons. It seems as though the action sections were created with the Wii in mind, but the game isn’t even available for that platform. Refreshingly the game opened up at times into areas with point-and-click mechanics, but this was a big let down, as it seems there is little you can do but pick up pointless objects or examine everything in sight to work through additional story details. It could be that the objects are useful in a later episode, but they certainly don’t appear integral.

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Thankfully this is made up for a bit with the story, which maintains the essence of the originals nicely. They were careful not to interfere with the main characters in any way, whilst still allowing you to interact with key characters – with the same accompanying dread with which you watch their appearances on the HBO show. This is helped by Jared Emerson-Johnson’s eerie soundtrack, who previously also did a sterling job with Telltale’s Back to the Future. It’s a shame that this game doesn’t have the adventuring content of that particular game though. If you don’t mind playing narrative choose-your-own adventure games or visual novels, then this would be right up your street. It shows that George R.R. Martin’s personal assistant, Ty Corey Franck, worked on the game, and I was glad to play it, especially at this point, when Game of Thrones Season 5 seems a while off, but the game lacks real playability. One can only hope that Telltale listen to comments and substantially improves the direction the game is going in, but I somewhat doubt that. If you are a fan of the show like I am, or fancy something a bit different, you may like it, but overall it’s a little disappointing compared to what I was expecting.

Retro Adventurer

Welcome to the very first Retro Adventurer. Just what is a retro adventure, you may ask? Well, retro adventuring generally doesn’t involve blasting everything in sight with as large a projectile weapon as possible. “Violence isn’t the answer to this one” is a stock answer in many adventure games. The thing about many modern games is that you don’t learn much at all from playing other than how to get better at the game. Adventure games have always been different. Of course, the oft-repeated trope is that adventure games are dead or extinct, or at least slumbering. Where did adventures go to?

Well, it’s not really that adventure games ever went away, they just didn’t bring in the megabucks or more significantly support the model that the industry wanted. As every year goes by the back catalogue of games grows ever larger, providing an ever more extensive treasure hoard for players new and old to get lost in. If someone is playing Monkey Island for free using ScummVM in 2015, can we then conclude that there is no market for adventure games? The first two games in the Monkey Island series now have special editions, and buying them both on Steam would set you back just under 20 euros, which shows the market is still well-respected. Adventures in the classic, retro, style are very much alive.

When I say retro adventure, what I really mean is just adventure, and those who are adventure games players know what I mean. When Mike Gerrard wrote his first adventure column for Your Sinclair way back in 1986, he wrote, “If I come across that Wally Week in these pages I’ll throw him out at once.” He was referring to arcade adventures, which are now even more off-the-radar than text adventures. They were considered by purists as too watered-down. Now the watering down is done by the ubiquitous action-adventure. So, no, Zelda is not an adventure game, and nor are Metroid, Half Life, Hitman or any other bastardisations. They are forthwith consigned to the dustbin. Of course, some games have a certain crossover, and Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto do admittedly have something more going for them. GTA has a lush sandbox environment that it is such a pity that most of the game revolves around being anti-social. Think what could be done with Grand Theft Auto if it were transformed into a pure adventure game. A purist adventure game may mean different things to different people, from text-only adventure, to adventures with no combat, but the one thing adventures have in common is that they are about using your noggin to solve puzzles and problems, and combat nearly always take a back seat. The creativity involved in solving adventure game puzzles is a one which translates easily into solving problems in the real world. In fact, real-life room escape is now quite popular, even being used for team-building exercises. Bratislava city in Eastern Europe is swamped with room escape companies. Escape-the-room, if you didn’t know, is a sub-genre of adventure game with the objective of escaping an individual room. Undoubtedly the patriarch of this genre was John Wilson, who created the text adventure series Behind Closed Doors, which had the unsavoury objective of escaping the toilet. Since the popularity of Flash for creating small games has catapulted, there is an overwhelming number of point-and-click room escape games, many of which are really quite impressive. Crimson Room is arguably the one that set things rolling.

 

Even though it will be endlessly repeated that adventure games are dead, there has never been a better time for adventures. Not only do we have the immense back catalogue, but new games are coming out all the time, from the likes of Telltale, Daedalic Entertainment, The Adventure Company, as well as Kickstarter remakes and sequels, and new crowdfunded projects. Now the back catalalogue includes their games and all the other recent adventures, the vast contents of the Interactive Fiction Database with new text adventures every year, the SCUMMVM and AGS games, and all the possibilities of emulation on phones and hand-held devices. What people are lacking is just a way to sift through all that endless material, and this column intends to do just that. Adventuring has never been so good.