Friday, 1 August 2014

Quest For Glory II: Trial By Fire

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Quest For Glory series is one of my personal favourite game series of all time. It blends elements of adventure gaming with solid RPG mechanics, and remains entertaining even through repeated playthroughs.

Gate Plaza, home to Ali Chica and later the Fire Elemental.

I've completed the game numerous times previously, so for this playthrough (Playing alongside both The Adventure Gamer and The CRPG Addict) I'm continuing the challenge from the first game: Finish with maximum character attributes. I managed this quite easily in the first game, but this one was a greater challenge. The first game has a maximum of 100 points for any attribute, this one has 200, but it's not the increased numbers that pose the challenge, but rather the reduced opportunity to train in certain skills.
Having 100 for everything makes the game quite easy.

152 Gold sounds like a lot, but adventurers have a lot of expenses!

I began by working on the easy stuff, and since I know my way around the game like the back of my hand, it progressed very well at first. The early parts of the game are quite slow in regards to plot development, allowing the player to become accustomed to the different location and local intrigue. There are a number of time limits in the game, which can be an issue but generally it wasn't an issue to finish the main quest items and leave time for training.

Dinarzad, the money changer (and fellow thief)

Keapon Laffin, funny guy.

Your initial trouble in Shapeir concerns four elementals that will destroy the city without your intervention. There's generally only one way to defeat them, and they show up in a specific order with limited but plentiful time to vanquish them. Generally, there is little difference in how you defeat them depending on character class.
Ali Fakir, Saurus seller.

The Dervish in the desert, by the oasis. A whirl of his beard fetches a good amount of coin from Keapon Laffin (an infinite amount thanks to a bug, later fixed in a patch but still present in the version)

One of the things which makes the first game in the series really stand out is the way each class finds different ways to solve puzzles. Often this was brute force for the Fighter, spells for the Magic User and something a little more crafty for the thief. This second game has far fewer moments like this, and whilst it has class-specific content (well, it relies on certain attributes so someone with a multi-class can do them all), that content is rather brief. The biggest exception to this is the endgame, which is very well done.
From left to right: Houdini, Aziza, Ad Avis, The Dark Master, Zara, Erasmus, Erana, Merlin.

Elementary, dear wizard!

For the Magic User, you get a (somewhat meaningless) upgrade to Wizard (all the cool wizard stuff comes next game) at the Wizards Institute of Technocery, or WIT. You select your sponsor (only the whimsical Erasmus from the first game is available, but it's worth trying to pick the others that have pictures in the main hall), and after an initial very easy test, it's on to the test proper. To continue the elemental theme, you have four challenges each relating to Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. If you've remembered to buy all the spells from Keapon Laffin, this shouldn't be too hard.

Shema's dance, a somewhat odd inclusion to the game!

The poet Omar, definitely not the Sultan.

The thief has to find a fellow practitioner of pilfering peoples prized possessions for profit. A few thief signs later, and you find that the money changer has another side to her. She'll let you know where to break in, and fence your goods too (on a strictly platonic basis, despite the flirting). The easy one is Issur the weapon maker's shop, who has a big stash under an anvil. Harder is the second and only other place you can break into in Shapeir, but it's very much worth it and a challenge to get every last item.
Abdulla has a fondness for exaggeration.

The fighter gets a raw deal, and only has the Eternal Order of Fighers initiation, which occurs at the tail end of the Shapeir section of the game. It's not a great bit, and if you do it incorrectly you can foul up your chances of making Paladin. (See also, attacking the Griffin. A tough fight, but counts as a dishonourable action).
Once you've proved yourself in Shapeir, you might get to practice your skills with Rakeesh the Liontaur.

As for the Paladin, well, you aren't officially a Paladin until the very end of the game, so the class specific content is really more a case of trying to be a good and honest person. Not too difficult really!
Julanar, trapped in a tree in the desert. Help from a hero required!

Once the Elementals are out of the way, there's a little quest to solve to get the ingredients for a dispel potion. It wouldn't be a Quest for Glory without a dispel potion recipe, and as usual some parts are easy and others harder. One potion cures Ad Avis' apprentice Al Scurva, One is for the Emir Arus Al-Din, and I can't remember if the third one is required at all. Just a spare I guess!

I guess this part is optional, but helping Al Scurva here does give you a warning about Ad Avis (not that it does you much good)

After you've managed to free the man from in the beast (familiar eh?), it's time for the caravan to Raseir! You can actually walk to Rasier earlier in the game (takes a hell of a long time though), but you're not allowed entry so it's amusing but pointless. The caravan is beset by bandits and such, but thankfully you're a mighty hero and so you arrive in Raseir without much delay.

Dawn, the caravan rides today!

The caravan is beset by a horde of brigands, but that's off-screen.

The aftermath.

Raseir itself is a shadow compared to Shapeir, empty streets and broken tiles. Darkness hangs thick in the air, and evil men rule with an iron fist. The only place of interest initially is The Blue Parrot, a bar owned by the rather despicable Signor Ferrari and filled with film and TV references. Ferrari has a job for a thief, but otherwise has little interest in a hero.

The Blue Parrot. Lovely plumage.

The room isn't quite to Shapeir standards.

Your main job here is to come to the aid of the Emir's daughter, Zayishah, meet the resistance leader (who happens to be Shema's cousin), and fall into Ad Avis' trap. The first merely requires your change of clothes and visa (don't worry, you won't need them!). The second occurs by the accident of you getting arrested and thrown in jail, and the third is a consequence of your escape from jail.

My reversal spell does nothing!

Ad Avis is working with a prophecy, the same as you. He seeks the Iblis, a powerful creature that he wants to use to defeat his master (who we will meet in the future!). Of course, such prophecies are often misinterpreted, and whilst you initially are forced to do his bidding (damn his spells getting past my Reversal spell!), once he has the statue of Iblis, you find yourself a ring.

Dither too long, and Iblis is released with terrible consequences!

In the ring? It's only a Djinni! Much like Aladdin's Genie of the Lamp, he will grant you three wishes. One has to be used to teleport to the Iblis and foil Ad Avis' plans, but that leaves you two to wish for great fortune or a boost to your skills. At this point I must reveal that I had failed in my task to maximise my attributes. I had foolishly not maxed out Communication before leaving Shapeir, and Raseir left scarce ways to improve it. The other problem was Climbing, which was 100 from my imported character but alas, there is not a single place I could find to improve that skill. I had thought I would be able to use two wishes to max out Climbing, but it turns out that isn't possible. So instead I spent it on Communication and Climbing, leaving them at 239 and 150 respectively.

The Djinn bids me farewell. Not in picture: Ad Avis falling to his death.

Disheartened, I headed for the endgame anyway. Initially, I attempted the thief endgame, which is quite different to the others. I enjoyed sneaking through the harem, one of the more amusing parts of a generally very funny game (especially if you like puns). But the battle with Ad Avis was tricky. I decided to try a mixture of the Fighter and Magic User methods, storming the main doors to defeat the guards, then using my magic to defeat Ad Avis once and for all! (Until next time!).

Let the celebrations begin!

Three more games, in fact. Plus a new game: Hero-U!

My reward for my troubles was the eternal gratitude of the peoples of Shapeir and Raseir, a bunch of money, being adopted by the Sultan as his son, and getting a flaming sword from the Liontaur Rakeesh! Not bad for a few weeks work.

Those final stats, negative experience (another bug), shameful 150 in climbing!

I seem to have lost all my money somewhere, but I have plenty of pills so I'll be fine.

I have unfortunately failed in my challenge though, and I'm really not sure what to do about that, other than perhaps playing the VGA remake, where they kindly added in ways to boost your climbing skill.
Pictured: Not actually the next game! QFG3 would be named Wages of War, and it wouldn't be until QFG4 before we see the Shadows of Darkness.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Indie Gaming: Gunpoint

Gunpoint is a stealth-hacking game where you play a freelance spy. Honestly, if that's not enough for you to want to buy it already I don't know what's wrong with you.

It begins, as many things do, with a murder. Your task is to solve that murder and make some money while you do it! Armed with a variety of interesting technological gizmos and a lot of snark, you do jobs for whoever asks and pays.

It's a noir-like detective story at it's heart, with the gameplay essentially puzzle-like, as you figure out the best way to achieve your goals, which is generally to hack a computer and steal some files. The puzzles generally involve a sequence of hackable circuits that are connected to doors, alarms, lights and so forth. To add a bit of danger to the mix, there are various types of armed security guards to get in your way.

The game allows you to find your own path: choosing to avoid the guards or take them down, racing through the levels in a blaze of glory or taking the more thoughtful route. I generally favoured the quiet, slow and non-violent approach, but sometimes to make an omelette you have to shoot some guys...

I really loved the game, and my only criticism is that it's rather short. I had a great time on this particular storyline, and any future cases for Richard Conway, Freelance Spy would be well received. Thankfully, there is an easy-to-use level editor, and Steam Workshop support so that you can continue playing other peoples creations or perhaps build something yourself.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Indie Gaming: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

It's difficult to know where to begin describing this game. On the one hand it's a fairly simple adventure game (of sorts), with beautiful pixel-art scenery and understated but fitting music. On the other hand, it's all contained in a rather bizarre packaging.

There's the spinning record motif, the mysterious character called "the Archetype" the intrusive mentions of twitter, the episodic nature of it, the horrific interface. One particular moment actually ties in with the actual current date (moon phases), although thankfully there are two ways of getting around this.

The game begins with you controlling a mysterious Scythian warrior, on a quest involving a book of immense power, a dark evil, saving the world, sacrifice, and the rest. It's played out in a basic but interesting fashion, moving back-and-forth through the sparse areas of the game to visit areas and complete tasks.

The first task is to get the Megatome, then to get the three Trigons (Triforce reference?), before defeating the (evil?) Gogolithic Mass at the top of the mountain, Mingi Taw. The scenery, music and general pace of the game creates a wonderful mysterious quality which is unfortunately undercut by the more goofy elements and interface woes.

The simplistic character models leave a little to be desired, although it does work well for the Trigons and Gogolithic Mass. The main character and the few NPCs are in dire need of a few more pixels to give them a bit more definition though. The artwork is generally good, and thematically sound though.

What I found truly frustrating was the interface and non-core game elements. The interface was obviously designed with touch-screen devices in mind, but I feel like I would have been less than impressed with it even on an ipad or similar. Various points will ask you to share your experience on twitter, something I will never understand, and the Archetype character and vinyl record motif do nothing but distract from the far better parts of the game.

I can understand the Archetype being some sort of attempt at a meta-narrative, especially as he appears in-between each segment of gameplay. But I think the game would have been far better served concentrating on it's core concept, and fleshing that out somewhat. More challenges, more varied combat encounters, a greater build-up towards the conclusion, etc..

The biggest shame was the emptiness of the world, and the simplistic nature of much of the gameplay. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh on indie developers, but there were large areas of the game which you visit multiple times and yet on many occasions they would contain at most one item of interest. This meant there was rather a lot of slow walking around completing objectives.

There's a great core to the game, and it provided a couple of hours of good entertainment despite the frustrations I had with the interface and various other elements. I'd have loved to see more from the world they created, and a bit more variety too. It's a regular in various indie bundles though, and surely worth whatever low price I paid for it.

Alone In The Dark (1992) - An adventure game?

A 3D logo! Impressive for 1992.
 Alone In The Dark is the classic example of early "survival horror" gaming. It's a genre popularised by Resident Evil, and generally involves a lone protagonist in a B-movie horror setting. More modern examples tend to concentrate on gunning your way out of trouble, but Alone In The Dark was no third-person-shooter. Bullets and guns are hard to come by, and some of the malevolent creatures you meet are indifferent to your attempts to kill them by conventional means. (here's a retrospective over at IGN)
The game has some wonderful visual moments, and I love the book-based credits.

Perhaps we have this all wrong, and Alone In The Dark is in fact the first 3D adventure game?

Decerto - setting for this Lovecraft-inspired horror adventure

I began this line of thought after spending time over at The Adventure Gamer blog, considering what actually defines an adventure game. Certainly there is a lot of variation, from the text adventures of the early years to the lavish 3D series that are produced today. For many fans of the genre Lucasarts and Sierra are the classic examples, as they produced their finest works during a golden age for the genre in the 90s.

Someone, or some-thing, watches you arrive

At their heart, adventure games are about puzzles. But they are reliant upon a narrative structure to provide context for these puzzles. The puzzles are there to lead you through the narrative, to bridge the gap between an interactive novel and a simple puzzle game.
As a quirk of the engine, moving/interactable objects were all 3D. So this suit of armour stands out as something to remember.

If Alone in the Dark were a 2D, Sierra-style, point-and-click game, it would easily fit in to the adventure game genre. I would argue that it is merely it's appearance and control scheme which separate it from traditional adventure games. However, Grim Fandango shares a similarity in general appearance (albeit much more modern) and nobody would have any qualms about describing it as an adventure game. (see also: Quest for Glory V, Kings Quest 8, Simon The Sorcerer 3D, etc.)
The attic, where you begin. It requires you to think on your feet from the start though.

The other possible method of differentiation would be the game's use of combat. Adventure games have generally avoided action-based conflict, but there are plenty of examples that use action sequences or have combat throughout. Most notably of these is the Quest for Glory series (generally considered an RPG hybrid however), but combat is also seen in Mask Of The Betrayer, and the Space Quest series has had it's fair share of action or arcade-style sequences.

Letters and books contain clues for puzzles, as well as plenty of interesting information about the setting and plot.
It's the puzzles and puzzle-solving which I think truly place it in the adventure game category. You have an inventory, you pick up items throughout the game and you use those items to solve puzzles. The game lacks dialogue, but does have plenty of books, notes and such which provide clues and context for the plot.

A fully functional inventory system, with 3D display for your items!
Overall, I think this makes for a rather compelling case. However, I wouldn't necessarily extend this to the entirety of the survival-horror genre, as each game will have a different focus. Certainly the amount of combat in the Alone in the Dark series was highly variable.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Secret of Monkey Island (1990, VGA version)

I apologise for the GIFs, I may have gone slightly overboard with them.

The Secret of Monkey Island is the first in an adventure game series beloved by almost all adventure game fans. I am no exception, and even though I have played through the game many times I was still more than happy to play it again.
Really? You look more like a flooring inspector.

Wouldn't we all like to know.

Speak for yourself.

Trickster, over at The Adventure Gamer, is currently playing his way through so I thought I'd join him. No doubt he will be quite detailed in his journey through the game so I would highly recommend you go and read his words!

Getting fired
I have no words

It's not hard to see the attraction of the game, a pirate-themed comedy adventure starring a hapless and yet affable man by the name of Guybrush Threepwood. His quest is simple, to become a mighty pirate! Of course it's not that simple, and his initial trials lead him on a journey of mystery, danger and rescue.
Don't we all
There's much I love about the game, but the main focus for me has always been Governor Elaine Marley. She's the love-interest, but much more of an interesting character than Guybrush. As the Governor of the pirate-haven that is Mêlée Island™, she comes across as confident and self-sufficient. After Elaine is captured by LeChuck, Guybrush rushes into action, and yet is always a step behind the Ghost Pirate. When he finally does catch up, all he does is disrupt the existing plans of Elaine, but of course manages to save the day despite his inept handling of the situation.

Training with... THE MACHINE
An example of recurrent fourth wall breaking

As much as a few hours work and thirty pieces-of-eight counts as training, anyway.
Taking on The Sword Master

She shows up in subsequent games too, but I do feel like the character never quite gets enough to do, or enough to say. It's one of the few flaws of an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining game.
Terrible winged devil!

Super-salesman Stan!

Second-hand ships, low prices for a reason.

Such flaws are of course minor issues, there's really very little about the game to dislike. I could mention things like the need to wander back-and-forth between locations and how it comes across as needless padding, but those sort of issues plague so many games that it would be unduly harsh to single out Monkey Island for it.
A little dig at Sierra here
Just an average day then.

Meeting the friendly Monkey Island™ Cannibals.
I must admit to not being the biggest fan of the insult sword-fighting, something which the game is famous for. The general mechanism is good, and the need to adapt your responses for the Sword Master is fantastic. Perhaps it is merely a result of replaying it multiple times, but the humour of the insults is a lot weaker than the rest of the game and so that particular section can feel a bit of a slog when you have to fight so many pirates to acquire the right phrases.
The only way to navigate the hellish maze: by getting a head.

Even the inventory colour changes when you enter Hell
LeChuck's ghost ship! (How is the ship a ghost? Voodoo something I bet)
The biggest flaw in my eyes (or should I say ears) is the periods of silence during the game. This is a problem with the time at which the game was produced, and yet it stands out when played today. The music that does exist is brilliant, but that makes the silence in-between even more apparent. There's a lack of of ambient sound too, and it's a real shame. The recent remake added in a bit more on the sound front, including full voice acting, which I seem to recall getting a mixed but generally positive reaction from fans of the series.
Is this a rescue? Or am I just in the way (I think it's the latter)
That's one heck of a punch...
It really sends you flying!
Finally, I must give massive credit for the creation of possibly the greatest adventure game antagonist, the fearsome Pirate Captain LeChuck. He terrorises the Caribbean throughout the series, in various forms both undead and demonic. His brash, arrogant nature and never-stay-dead attitude are a nice contrast from well-meaning, bumbling fool Guybrush. All of the "Meanwhile..." sequences he stars in throughout the games are a particular highlight of mine.

Who you gonna call?
I'm sure LeChuck will bother us no more!

So there passes the first chapter in the life of Guybrush Threepwood, but it shall be a little while before the second is undertaken by The Adventure Gamer (and also my replay). The second game remains my firm favourite in both the Monkey Island series and also the entire Lucasarts/LucasFilm Games catalogue. More on that another day!

Happily ever after, and a little advice for the player.
I think I will.