I love adventure
games. More specifically, I love the very old school adventure games
made by Lucasarts and Sierra On-Line. The trouble with Lucasarts is
that there aren’t very many games that are adventures that I can
talk about in a year. Oh. There’s probably a way I could do that,
but it would mean stretching twelve titles [or so] across the whole
year with some kind of filler for the other weeks where I need to
write something. And while I think I could make a case for writing
about the movies Lucasarts made, too, I’m not sure I have the
stomach for talking about the Star Wars Holiday Special.
So. That leaves us
with quantity and Sierra made a TON of games in the late eighties and
I was intensely worried about replaying this game, twenty years along.
I was worried about it because I'd played a bit [and got stuck] a couple of years ago. And I remembered the conversation with the Billy Goats Gruff.
Essentially, it turns the fable into a commentary on worker's rights - and that - really - says all you need to know about the first game. It's in a somewhat surreal and slightly twisted High Fantasy world. Read more
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Now that four-in-February is behind us, I thought I'd take some time to look into games that I'm at least a little curious about for the calendar year of 2016. I have divided my choices into three broad sections:
Things that will almost definitely be with us in the near-future or before the end of 2016.
Things that might make it into 2016, but you never know.
And, finally, things that I'm totally worried about. Sometimes with good reason.
So, let's take a look and see, shall we? Read more
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Where do you go after you've made three games in a universe and have - rather neatly - tied the series up? When confronted with this problem, Al Lowe chose to go in a completely bizarre direction, "skipping" Larry 4 and giving us a somewhat cartoon-y, rather crass and not very pleasant New Larry. I wasn't really a fan, as you can tell from this review.
The Space Quest saga had a similar quandary to ponder.
I sat on Banjo Tooie, because I wanted to experience it, but I didn't want to experience it quite so close to Banjo Kazooie. I was genuinely looking forward to what Plague Knight had in store for me at the end of Shovel Knight. I wanted to delve into Simon the Sorcerer and find out if time - and my memory of that game - had treated it well. I also wanted to see if - a year on - Jazzpunk was still that spellbinding, silly experience I found it to be while watching Lucahjin play it.
You can read my gung-ho and ready post about all that here.
This tragic tale is a tale of how that all fell flat and how I ended up playing three games that weren't even on my list. Well. Kind of.
[Please Note: Some of the links in this article will take you away from Twinstiq. They have been formatted such that they will open new browser tabs.]
I don't play as many games as I used to. Part of the reason for this has to do with the fact that I'm just more picky now: often, games only appeal to one of my senses and not all of them. As in, I can be swayed a little by the graphics. Or maybe I hear the soundtrack and I get pulled in by that. Or I watch gameplay and my mind starts considering those ideas.
Another part of the problem - especially when it comes to AAA gaming, has to do with the fact that all AAA studios and publishers know how to do is pump out sequels. It's even written into their language, in how they discuss their games - like they're brands and they're perennial and they have to "re-invigorate" those over and over again.
And it isn't doing the industry any favours. Let me tell you why. Read more
AAA gaming seems to be in a rut of making perfect protagonists. That is: body perfect men in their prime who can shoot guns and wield swords and do all kinds of crazy stuff. Most of these men don't have an inkling of self-doubt. Once they set themselves on a course, they follow through with nary a second thought.
There are no Mario's or Guybrush Threepwood's. In other words, there are very few actual human beings with flaws who aren't Adonis-type men. And that, I believe is a problem. Read more
Long, long ago. Back when computers were new and gaming was just a twinkle in Nintendo's eye, the music that computers actually made was...well, atrocious. It sort of depended on which computer you had, of course, but the IBM PC - my gaming platform of choice - largely went silent in those years, because it was a pretty binary choice. You either enjoyed the sounds of silence or you had to contend with the PC speaker. And oh God. You did not want to contend with the PC speaker.
Capable of only outputting one tone - a high pitched bleep - composers would try to wrangle the PC speaker into making music that would make you grit your teeth. Some folks managed semi-interesting sounds: The opening of Xenon 2, Megablast, wasn't terrible on the PC speaker. The same is arguably true of Maniac Mansion, but by and large, most people's reaction to PC speaker music was "TURN IT OFF."
So, when sound cards came along, I bought one immediately. And it changed my entire perspective on gaming.
And Sierra Said "Let There Be Music" And Lo, For There Was
The first few companies to seriously embrace music on the PC did so at great cost: the only sort of electronic machinery capable of playing the sounds that the original developers wanted to hear were expensive, costing easily into the $500 realm. This, of course, simply wouldn't do. So Sierra helped usher in the era of the cheap FM-Synthesis card in the form of the Adlib. And from there, things took off at a swift pace.
Cryo, masters of beautiful, somewhat confusing games, threw their hat in the ring. The Dune soundtrack is - to this day - a marvel of FM Synthesis. However did their composer get that card to make those noises? No one but he [and some professionals who know that hardware very well] knew what he did, but it was magic.
It was the first game sound track I fell in love with and it opened my ears to a world I'd - quite frankly - formerly ignored.
But There Were Many Machines And They All Sounded Different
While I'm talking - most specifically - about the IBM PC, because that's what I got to know the best, there were a bunch of other machines out there - and they all sounded a little different, because they all used very different music chips. The Amiga, for example, used the Paula sound chip to great effect, allowing composers to use samples as part of their songs. A game that perfectly showcased this ability and that made a lasting impression on anyone into gaming music was Shadow Of The Beast 2.
But then, too, there were the consoles. And each console was created differently - because nobody could settle on standards at that particular time and place - and we were grateful of it, because it allowed us to hear so many different soundscapes.
On the NES, for example, there was the awesome, proto-rock of Contra. You couldn't help but bob your head along to the music of the first stage. And while it wasn't quite the same as the sounds coming out of an arcade, it was of a vintage all it's own. Something you soaked up and listened to long after the game was over.
As time marched onward and music chips got better and better, so too did the sounds. The 8 bit frontier gave way to the 16 bit land of Utopia and with it came a new plethora of sounds and songs that could get pretty dense if listened to in the right atmosphere. I remember the very first time I heard the slow, pulsating electronica of Stickerbrush Symphony and being absolutely blown away by how complex that piece of music was - how many different layers of sound were bubbling just underneath the surface of such a simple song.
The Most Important Thing: Every Machine's Sound Was Unique
One thing that - I think, anyway - is missing from modern computing and modern gaming is how different each of these sound chips were - what they could do, how they would sound, which musical genuis would learn the ins and outs of this specific hardware. A lot of that mystery has fallen by the wayside as we reached the pinnacle of sound in the form of CD-Quality music.
Sure, you can get a symphony to record your soundtrack now, but the problem with that - for me - is that anyone can do that. There's no real mystery in what I'm hearing anymore. No interesting finessing of the hardware to produce something radical and interesting.
On the other hand, this has given me some of my favourite more modern soundtracks. While there are only a handful of real "songs" in To The Moon, each song [with vocals - something that was difficult to achieve in that long-ago time of near-silence] is special in it's own particular and beautiful way.
And - to be fair - modern composers might find the soundscapes of the NES somewhat stifling - having to only work within very particular constraints to produce very particular tones means that there are limits to what you can do. While - for example - the soundtrack of Shovel Knight was amazing, I imagine that the composers for that game might have been genuinely taken aback at first with what they could and couldn't do, given their desire to slavishly emulate the NES.
So, you win some and you lose some. But I am just grateful - in the very long run - that we moved away from the sound of silence. The mystery of music is far better.
I know, I know. I’m meant to be opining on Youtube about how games have made their way to the platform and how that’s a problem because, really, we shouldn’t be watching people play video games.
But then, over the weekend, I got tagged in a Twitter game and ever since that fateful Friday, I’ve been thinking about my choices. Not that I regret them, more that I think that my “favourites” might change, given the day of the week, the way the wind is blowing and the tea I’m drinking.
But humour me! I’ll walk you through what I was thinking when I picked these four games and then you can feel free to play along in the comments section below. Read more