AGS Team Challenge Deluxe Special Feature by Ian Welch

“The Great Stroke-Off” review

Packed with a wad of sleazy innuendo comes this quirky little golfing adventure, from Old School Point ‘n’ Click, the winning team from this year’s AGS Team Challenge.  You play as Ned, who’s working at his Uncle’s Mini-Golf course during the summer holiday.  It’s the day of the big competetion, The Big Stroke-Off.

Let’s start by taking a look at the Graphics.  The Backgrounds are pretty, and considering it has a cartoon style, they have a very nice style to them.  There’s a problem, however, and that’s the fact that they’re so stylised and cutesy, that they’re almost devoid of detail.

As for the character art, there’s only technical issues.  They’re well drawn, with a style of they’re own and they compliment the backgrounds well, but they do sometimes have problems with their outlines act a little funky.

Musically, I can’t help but be impressed.  It’s simple yet comic melodies fit perfectly, and add a lot to the atmosphere of the game.  A novel idea is the inclusion in to game of a main stereo, pumping the music into speakers located around the golf course, allowing you to interact with it and thereby turning the music off if you so wish.

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Interfaces. These have the potential to make or break a game.  All the other parts are important, sure, but if a game’s got a lousy interface, then that’ll have a major effect on the quality of play.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t very impressed with how this game fares.  It’s a cross between the LucasArts “Words/Inventory at the Bottom” style and the Sierra “Icons Along the Top” style.  Okay, fine.  I made those titles up, but that doesn’t matter right now.  What matters is the fact that the GUI in this game seems like an undecided mish-mash of two styles, and doesn’t seem to be as well thought out as it should be.

More important than the interface, is gameplay.  Plot.  Puzzles.  How enjoyable it is to actually sit in front of the thing.  The Great Stroke-Off has a well thought out plot, some clever puzzles and lots of in-jokes and comic references.  It’s only downfall, is the humour.  Sure, everyone likes Nob Gags, but this game takes it a step too far.  It’s starts witty, but quickly ends up being feeling rather immature and forced.
All in all, I would have to recommend this game, even with it’s faults.  Keep in mind the history of it, though.  As part of the ATC, it means that it’s gone from conception to completion in just two months.

Overall Score: 65%

 

ATC Exposé.

The AGS Team Challenge.  Elite squads of five rough and tumble AGSer’s team up.  One background artist.  One spriter.  One musician.  One coder.  One writer.  Together, they’re issued the challenge of creating a full length game, in a month or two, that will beat the rest of the teams’ efforts.
In theory, this sounds like immense fun.  Reality rarely matches up to hypothetical situations, though.
Sure, it’s provided some good games.  Two of a Kind won an AGS Award at this years ceremony.  But for the most part, it’s a not as good an idea as it seems.
I, myself, competed in the last two competitions.  As did my slave driving Editor, Vel.  I’ll explain the situations i faced.

In the first ATC I entered, I was the musician.  We were all given teams by random.  Most of my team, I’d never even heard of, let alone spoke to before.  Our team started well, but soon after people were off doing other things, and we had no time to finish.  We vowed to continue making the game, even after the competition was over, but still nothing got done.
So, next time around, things got changed.  You could now form the teams yourselves, and the time frame was changed from one month to two.  I was undecided for a while, but I finally entered as a musician, again.  This time, things were off to a terrible start.  Our spriter lost his internet connection shortly before the beginning.  We thought we could carry on.  Two weeks later, with nothing really concrete, our background artist goes AWOL, too.  Needless to say, we didn’t carry on.
In my opinion, the ATC is a bad idea.  I’m grateful to Andail for organising everything, but I’d recommend we call it a day.  For one thing, making a full length game is tough.  Making a full length game that you’ve got no real passion for is tougher.  Making a full length game that you’ve got no real passion for in a short space of time and having to rely on four other people is just ridiculous.
Our Editor-in-Chief, Vel, told me I should use this piece to suggest what I think should be done to improve the ATC for next time.  In all honesty, I’d have to suggest putting it out of it’s misery.  Take it out into the field, pat it one last time and say goodbye.  Then put both barrels from a sawn-off through the back of it’s head.

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Buccaneer II Preview

“What? Didn’t you already preview that one?”, you might think. Why yes, we did, but this project has been revived and has undergone quite some changes, which we thought might interest our readers.

For anyone not familiar with the plotline of “Buccaneer II”, that is a game about a retired buccaneer, now an intrepid merchant, trying to build his own life. We join him once again when there is a new rival to face in business, and this one is determined to put Richard, the protagonist, out on the street. The plot is set in Renaissance Holland, and the historical mood will be recreated appropriately.

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A thing that will help recreating the atmosphere is the digital soundtrack, to be composed by yours truly, which will take its influences from the Gabriel Knight games.

But most changes made have been gameplay-wise. First of all, the game will use the “Gabriel Knight: sins of the fathers” interface (don’t be fooled by the screenshots, be them new and exclusive), and it will feature a fair amount of action sequences, swordfights, in particular. Of course, you will be able to skip them if you do not like arcade elements, but I do consider that they’ll bring a fair amount of tension in the game.

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And now comes the ultimate question “When?” with its ultimate answer “When.” Seriously though, in spite of not being able to predict exactly when the game will be released, the game’s creator, Hobbes, expressed certainty that the game will be released by the end of this year, and judging by his inspiration and rate of work, I think he will keep his deadline.

A demo will not be released, but an in-game trailer will. This way it will build anxiety of the release with no spoilers of the actual game.

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Buccaneer II looks better than before, and all we can do now is keep our fingers crossed that we will be able to experience this game as soon as possible.

Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 4 Review

 

Recently, the fourth installment of the growingly popular “Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator” series has been released to the public. Case number 3 was the best one thus far, so my expectations on this one were quite high. Did it continue the tradition of each case being better than the last one?

Plot-wise, most definitely. The story takes place in Berkley Square 50, London. Ben Jordan is called to solve an old mystery, along with four other paranormal investigators. And here is where the game gains its charm. The character development is considerably better than the previous three games. The investigating crew, formed in step, has its rather distinctive characters, and the relations between them are quite well-represented too. In my opinion, the story with its great character development is the strongest part of the game – it keeps you playing till the very end.

The graphics of the game are at the level of the other Ben Jordan games, i.e. not particularly beautiful, but functional. The backgrounds are more or less detailed and since there are enough of them, they’ll keep your attention. Another good thing that must be said about the graphics is the character animations. There are plenty of them, and almost every action is drawn, not described by the narrator. As in the previous games, appropriate character portraits are drawn for each character, with the suitable mood changes. A nice touch indeed.

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The music of the game is a bit different from that in the previous games. In former cases Ghormak relied heavily on the catchiness of the tunes, but this time the music is not omnipresent, nor as memorable as in previous games. However, it does suit the situations in the game it is written for, and thus is more like a movie soundtrack than a game one. It’s personal which one you prefer, though I’d say ‘game’ anytime. Another nice addition to the ‘sound’ column are the superb sound effects by Dark Stalkey, suiting the dark theme of the game perfectly.

In terms of gameplay, I must say that case 4 by no means outdoes the previous ones. While in case 3 we had multi-linearity and clever puzzles, here such does not exist. It takes more trial and error than pure logic to beat the game. And at times you just have to talk with everybody in order to find out what you ought to be doing. On top of it all, there is a maze with identical screens. Let’s hope that in future, Grundislav will try harder in that aspect.

I encountered no bugs while playing this game, and I doubt you will, judging by its linear structure. The Paranormal Investigator’s handbook (the manual) is as good as ever, although that’s not really that important.

On the scales, “Ben Jordan case 4: horror at number 50”, while not better than the third one, is as good, and hence an enjoyable and recommendable experience.

 

 

Ben Jordan Case 4: Horror at number 50

Creator: Grundislav & co

Download from here

AGS Ezine score:

80%

AGS Awards Special Feature

It’s near 23 o’clock here; the ceremony will start any minute. I have to get up early tomorrow. But who cares, it’s the AGS awards night. If I have to get no sleep in order to watch it, so be it. Moreover, I get to give out an award this time. Grab a seat, monsieurs, and let the big night begin!

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Darty: Haha, well, Epileptic Fish is up against tough competition this year. All I can say is that I’m just happy that TOAK was nominated in the first place, and an award right now would just be a bonus. The makers of Apprentice 2, because their game was just plain awesome.

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Dave Gilbert: My expectations?  Apprentice probably will sweep the awards. All on the “Bestowers of Eternity” front is going fairly well.  Had some trouble finding background artists, but that seems to be sorted now.

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Grundislav: I expect an interesting ceremony. Most people think apprentice 2 will sweep the awards, but I think there will be some variety. Apprentice 2 will probably get best game and it may get the most awards, but not by a landslide

I think it’ll be a pretty even competition.

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Petteri: Ah, I’m actually rather excited about the awards. There were many good games last year and I’m sure the awards will go to right games!

I’d say Apprentice 2 will be the big winner. That, or Two of a Kind.

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Andail: I more or less appreciate the awards per see, but there are issues with how the election/voting is carried out as much as people like Geoffkhan & co deserve every award they can get, the system has become slightly diluted, lately. The categories have lost their individual meaning. I think a group of people with special insight in the specific fields should play through all the registered games, and then do the nominations. That way we can make sure the games are judged fairly. And for me personally? I will try to produce backgrounds. I’m discussing business with a few people right now. I won’t produce any games of my own, though, I don’t have the time. Maybe I will fund a commercial project in the future, who knows?

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About 3 hours later, the ceremony has ended, with really no surprises for me, and I have asked the winners about how they feel about their award, and some well-known people on their opinion on the awards, as neutral spectators. Time to go to bed, and leave the article for a better time…

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The balance-sheet of the night? 7 award for “Apprentice II: The Knight’s Move”. One of two for the other favourites – “Two of a kind”, “7 Days a Skeptic” and “Ben Jordan”. It’s really not a surprise, now, is it? Without a doubt, “Apprentice II” is the most professionally looking and sounding game of the year, and the real competition was for the plot awards. In my opinion, the people got a bit carried away there – sure, the plot of Apprentice II is funny, and the characters are such too, but they are no match for the mysterious stories of the Ben Jordan games, and the well-developed  characters of “Two of a kind”. Another issue of this year’s awards is that 6 or 7 games were nominated in every category, which is because people nominate their favourite(s) for everything, which is not really objective and fair. As some have proposed, there may be a jury next year deciding the nominations, and open voting then. In my opinion, that’d be a great modification of the awards, considering that the people in it have played most games released, and nominate each game for the exact category. Only time will tell, of course.

Now, for the other news that came up that night – Epileptic Fish is working on a sequel to “Two of a kind”. We do not know much about it just at the moment, except that you will play Tim and Tiffany again, that the original team will work on it, and that this time the twins will be investigating a murder. Thanks for the leak, guys! And Dart, too.

Other things that are worth mentioning are that “The Historical League of Bouncy Boxing” won the best non-adventure game award. Of course, many of us do not consider this a surprise, but last year there was quite a turn in this category. Maniac Mansion Deluxe won the best scripting award, which it fully deserves for making a 1:1 remake with the original.

Last but definitely not least, Francisco Gonzalez, known as “Grundislav”, won the lifetime achievement award, for his hard work throughout the last year. Lets not forget – he made four relatively long games in an year – something which takes most people far longer.

That, and the thoughts in the bubbles around this article is more or less everything worth mentioning from this year’s AGS Awards ceremony. All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope it will get better next year.

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Darty: It feels… awesome. I’m really glad that the AGS community liked our TOAK game. And to be honest, I did not expect the award at all, so this is a welcome surprise for me. As for the future… expect a TOAK 2, definitely. And perhaps my Hansel and Gretel game.

Dave Gilbert: I never know WHAT to expect.  “Two of a Kind” was very small time compared to behemoths like Apprentice and Ben Jordan. It was made for the ATC after all, so it was written and designed very quickly. The fact that people liked it enough to nominate it for the AGS awards was a great honor. As for the future… who knows? I’m trying to cobble together a “special edition” version of ToaK, with improved everything (music, backgrounds and sprites), as well as a semi-sequel.  There’s also “Bestowers of Eternity”, but that’s too much to get into here.

Scotch: I think we would have been surprised if ToaK won nothing at all, considering the number of nominations.  Best Gameplay was one of the best we could have been awarded.

BerserkerTails: Being a winner? Well, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good. Of course, it’s not about winning awards, but making great games, and I think everyone I worked with on Two of a Kind completed that task. I think I expected at least winning one award tonight, which we did, so I’m happy. I mean, it’s best not to go in with expectations, because they’ll just be crushed by a Herculean Effort. And what I’m working on right now? Well… I’m working with Dave Gilbert once again on “Bestowers of Eternity”, and you didn’t hear it from me, but we might also be working on a sequel to a certain award winning game… You play as Tim and Tiffany again… It’s a back-burner project right now, still deep in Pre-Production. I mean, it doesn’t even have a real name except ToaK2 right now! But I think you’ll probably see an official announcement about it sometime later this year. All I can say right now is that the mystery starts with a murder this time, not a theft.

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Grundislav: It feels good. I didn’t expect anything, I was a little disappointed ghormak didn’t get the best music, but I’m biased And you can expect more ben jordan cases, hopefully people will continue to play and enjoy them.