Drawing Inspiration

Part one. Turning books into games.

So you want to create a game with a gripping and compelling plot, but you don’t really have any ingenious ideas?

The most logical thing to do in such cases, albeit not often done, would be to turn to something previously written and transform it into a game. An option which is in most cases neglected is to turn a book into a game. To me, it is a mystery why – books, especially renowned ones, already have developed plots(unlike movies, acting and special effects can not save a book from failure), detailed descriptions and realistic characters, something you’d have to spend months on if you’re doing it by yourself. Of course, turning a book into a game is not as simple as that – you’d still have to think of how it should progress, what gameplay style you’ll use, etc, etc, etc. And if you are up for an ambitious project, you could try to create a game not based on a pulp fiction novel (“The Da Vinci Code”, “Day of the Jackal”…), but on a book with an acclaimed artistic value.

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As a matter of fact, I can only think of two games that tried that – The Dark Eye (Based on some of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories) and Return of the Phantom (Based on Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera”). “The Dark Eye” did everything remarkably well which resulted in a wonderful game, whereas “Return of the Phantom” failed in some aspects and did quite well in others, which resulted in a mediocre game.

And because it is always more enlightening to analyse the worse game, we’ll take “Return of the Phantom”.

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For those of you who haven’t read it, Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera” is a fundamental gothic mystery that has been adapted so many times (most notably in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical), that is often mistaken for some of its adaptations and its artistic value is very underrated. The plot revolves around the mysterious “Opera ghost” who threatens to do horrendous things if his demands are not met. He is also in love with a chorus girl and his demands are linked to his love interest’s opera career advance. He hides in the cellars of the Paris Opera house because he is physically disfigured and wears a mask to conceal his hideous face.

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“Return of the Phantom” does not follow the book closely. You are in the shoes of Christine’s (the phantom’s love interest) lover, Raoul. The beginning of the game is quite well constructed and draws you to its atmosphere admirably well. This is done by doing inquiries about the phantom, reading documents etc, which is basically what Leroux does in the beginning of the novel.

Where the merits of “Return of the Phantom” begin to lack is approximately in the middle of the game. From there, the pace of the game increases – this leaves the player with a feel of dissatisfaction, not to mention the impossible to pass without a walkthrough maze.

The biggest disappointment, though, comes from the severely flattened personality of the phantom. In Gaston Leroux’s most famous work where  he fundamentally is a complex grotesque character who would do anything for love, but forgets himself at a certain point. In the game we are analyzing, he is nothing more than a villain that could have been taken from Ninja turtles, since that’s what the unmasked character looked like in the game.

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Preserving the characters’ personality is vital when you are turning a book into a game – chances are that the author is better at creating characters than you are. Anyhow, the most important thing which leads partly from the characters is the message which the book delivers. This is what separates pulp fiction from true novels, and this is what should be the borderline in the games industry, although few people have realized that.

In “The Phantom of the Opera”, as in most fundamental gothic stories, for example R.L. Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Leroux subtly makes us think whether we are not in some aspects like the phantom, whether we do not forget ourselves and whether we do not wear a mask not to conceal an outer hideousness, but inner. At least, that was the message for me. In “Return of the Phantom”, it has been totally lost.

If you have the artistic and musical skills, it is nice to create the graphics and music in the style of the period which the book belongs. In the case of “The Phantom of the Opera” most appropriate would have been a haunting soundtrack and a lush and somewhat creepy graphics. What we have is a soundtrack undeserving of any attention and cartoony graphics with real actors as the characters. Decide for yourself what is better.

Creating games based on books is an underrated and underused concept. Of course, not every book can be turned into an adventure game. But when you find the one that can and will be a great one, don’t miss the chance.

 

 

 

Part Two. Film Noir.

 

Another source of inspiration that, as opposed to the previous part, has been overused is film noir. However, when I say overused I don’t mean used properly. It’s basically the same with the movies that fall into that category also.

Films noir are essentially, black and white mystery movies from the middle of the last century. The most clichéd ones involve a private detective, a murder, and a femme fatale. The true films noir involve moral battles, charismatic villains, compelling background and amazing ingenious cinematographic effects.

Needless to say, we’re going to stress on the second type.

Now, if you haven’t watched “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Third Man”, you should go and watch them and then return to this article, since it might spoil some of the best movies ever made.

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Both movies start as a rather ordinary story, albeit a gripping one. In “The Third Man” no sooner has the protagonist arrived in post-WW2 Vienna, where he was invited to stay at a friend of his, than he finds out he’s been killed in an accident. In Sunset Boulevard, a struggling screenplay writer is trying to save his car from his debts and ends up at a strange yet glamourous house on Sunset Boulevard.

The absorbing background in “The third man” is post WW2 Vienna. There are remains of what has once been(and today is) an aristocratic and beautiful city. It is divided into four parts between the countries that have won the war – Britain, USA, Russia and France. However, the true authority is the black market, since that is where most people get the vital things.

In “Sunset Boulevard”, the gripping background is the past fame of the silent movie star Norma Desmond – the house which resembles Miss Havisham’s (from Dickens’s “Great Expectations”), and Norma Desmond herself, living in her own world.

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Compelling background is an achievable thing in games, and even though few creators realize it, it has been done – some examples include “The Last Express” and “Fate of Atlantis”. It should be the foundation on which you build your plot.

The charismatic villains make a difference in such movies, as in games. For example, although Harry Lime (“The Third Man”) causes innocent people to die and is a misanthrope, he is strangely appealing to the viewers, even more than the good guy. This is because he is more than a flat villain – not only is he intelligent but he also has insight on the human nature itself and human society (the now notorious cuckoo clock speech, for example). In other movies, it is hard to say who the villain is. Often the villain hides inside the protagonist, who is supposed to be the good one. Take “Sunset Boulevard”, for instance. Joe slowly but surely steps into the swamp of Norma Desmond’s luxurious life and he cannot get out at the end – he dies. Even though Norma kills him, she cannot be called a villain – she lives in her own world and does not mean to do evil. Perhaps the closest to a villain is Max, who keeps Norma out of the real world by sending her fake fan mail daily etc. It is clear that the true villain is the vice that lies inside Joe, which leads us to the next point.

The moral battle is what Joe loses, and Holly Martins wins, even twice. Once when he accepts to help to arrest Lime, though he’s known him for years and is love with his ex-lover, who wouldn’t like him to be caught, and the second time when he saves him from perhaps torture and doubtless a death sentence by shooting him (A motive also seen in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”). Joe, nonetheless, is not as strong. He lets Norma’s money get the best of him, and even sacrifices his love for the luxurious life he has been unable to win himself.

A characteristic feature for films noir is that the protagonist is a realistic character, rarely an angel, and still, on the good side, at least before the aforementioned moral battle. If you want to say something with your games, an inner conflict is one of the best ways.

Last but not least, the cinematographic effects used to create suggestions in films noir are easily achievable in games today. Some examples include semi-open blinds, smoke, increased contrast/decreased brightness (which works especially well when in black and white). The most renowned name in that scope is doubtless Orson Welles. He invented many such effects and used them whenever he was allowed to by producers. The only movie where he was allowed to do whatever he wants, and it shows, is “Citizen Kane”. If you’d like to add similar effects to your game, you should watch the movie carefully and analyze them. Even though easily achievable nowadays, the matter where and what to put shouldn’t be underestimated too.

To be continued…

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Da New Guys Review

 Rarely are AGS Games which try to be funny indeed such. “Da New Guys” is one of the few which do not fall short of their goal to entertain and make people laugh.

It tells the story of three wrestlers, namely Simon, Defender and the ironically named “Brain” who are trying to get their home back. As the hilarious plot thickens, they are separated from each other on the ring, and some long forgotten past is revealed. Overall, it’s an amusing and enjoyable story which will keep you playing till the end.

A definite strong point of “Da New Guys” is the tongue-in-cheek humour. Almost every interaction leads to a witty joke, and it is interesting to hear the different comments of the different characters.

The graphics are pretty mixed – there are some great and detailed backgrounds, as well as some with plain walls only. However, even the weakest background is above the average AGS standards and it does the job. Most of them are quite detailed, too.

The character art follows this example. While the main characters are nicely drawn, detailed and animated, there are some NPCs ( a wrestler called “Stone cold”, in particular) which seem like patches. Of course, it’s a good thing that the mediocre graphics seem like patches, not the good ones. The game features more than 30 rooms and about 15 characters so it is understandable that the creator didn’t have time to  polish them all.

The game is one of the few voiced AGS games, and one of the fewer that actually do it right – each of the characters speaks in his own accent, perfectly suiting his appearance. It is also admirable that the creator voiced all characters by himself, and still, I wouldn’t have known that had it not been for the closing credits. There are also some nicely thrown in sound effects, although they don’t quite reach the standards set by the voice acting. The music tracks which the game includes are sadly not written especially for the game, but they do the job and suit the atmosphere well.

Another area where “Da New Guys” excels is the gameplay. I must say that the puzzles, even though a bit on the easy side, are perhaps the best I have seen in an AGS game – they are logical, ingenious, and most importantly, various. I take my hat off to the creator for not just throwing in some inventory based puzzles to stop the player from progressing further into the game but actually interweaving them with the story perfectly well. Another thing worth mentioning is that at after a certain point of the game, you are given control of the three main characters at once, in a style similar to, say, Day of the Tentacle or Goblins. It’s a thing not often seen in AGS games and also the way of solving the puzzles involving the three characters is unconventional – they help each other and everything you do falls in place as in a jigsaw puzzle. The game is also quite lengthy, with four chapters and an approximate playing time of 5-6 hours.

“Da New Guys” is doubtless one of the most inspired AGS games ever released and will be one of the main favourites for an AGS Award. It’s a must play for anyone who likes entertaining puzzles, awesome tongue-in-cheek plot and endless funny jokes.

Da New Guys

Creator: Ice Man

Website plus download

AGS Ezine Score:

90%

Nataly Buchannon and the Amulet of Kings Preview

The AGS Team Challenge works. Whatever people say, that many games are not finished, that many teams fall apart, that the ratio released games/teams is far too low, I think that it can team up talented individuals, who eventually produce a great game. Yes, the keyword is eventually.

Such is this case – Sam Gray (Zooty – scripting), Davy Malay(Creed Malay – story), Jeremy Page(Darth – Art), Jarek(Music) and Ashen(scripting) teamed up for the ATC deluxe under the hilarious name of “Team Haselhoff” and they laid the foundations of one of the most promising-looking AGS games today.

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The story of AOK would remind anyone of Indiana Jones games – it involves researching an ancient artifact and a good deal of globetrotting. Only this time the lead role is female. Of course, one should not look on the plot as a rewritten “Fate of Atlantis” or “Raiders of the lost Ark”, and I am sure than once we are given more on that subject, we’ll see that Davy Malay has done a fine job in avoiding the cliché and making a compelling and gripping storyline.

Another thing that vaguely reminds me of Indiana Jones games is the background art. Although the style is not exactly the same, and the width/height ratio creates the impression that it is somewhat untraditional, some of the backgrounds team Haselhoff have released would feel at home in, say, “Fate of Atlantis” or “The Last Crusade”. Of course, my comparison to those games should not underestimate the unquestionable talent and creativity that mark the backgrounds we have seen – doubtless one of the best seen in an AGS game.   Worth mentioning here are also chicky and Neil Dnuma who have made the concepts for some backgrounds.

The character art is almost equally as good, and the animations seen in the tech demo are quite fluent.

The game will feature a fully digital soundtrack and perhaps a voiced deluxe edition once the game is released. Another possible thing is a cd version of the game, with cover art etc, for which you’ll pay only the cost of the covers and shipping.

The tech demo shows a wonderfully scripted and fully operational interface, the pinnacle of which is the wonderful conversation system – it is similar to the Discworld Noir one – basically, you can ask anyone about anything you know and anything you carry. The gameplay also promises to be entertaining, with various puzzles, despite a mild stress being put on inventory-based ones.

“Nataly Buchannon and the amulet of kings” will be a great game, I am sure of it. However, the team do not predict a release date – all they say is “When it’s done”. But once it is, it will be something big.

 

Interview with the project leader, Sam Gray

 

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Ezine: First of all, thank you for accepting our invitation to be interviewed by the AGS Ezine. Would you like to tell us something more about yourself – where you live, what you like about living there, what you do in your free time?

Sam Gray: well, I live in England, Specifically Manchester, i don’t really get a lot of free time these days, juggling college work and paid work, but during what time i get, i use the AGS IRC channel, or I work on AOK, i do also enjoy the odd bike ride or walk, but nothing too strenuous.

Ez: Do you read a lot? Would you happen to have a favourite book, and, if yes, why is it your favourite book? 

S.G: Yeesh, I do read a lot, but I don’t really have a favourite book. I am working from a series of books, called “A series of unfortunate events” by lemony snicket to write a new game, although that’s taking quite a bit of a sideline while I work on AOK, The books basically chronicle the lives of three orphans and their constant hounding by an actor intent on stealing their dead parents fortune. The atmosphere is brilliant, with each character given a decent back story whilst remaining mysterious.

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Ez: Do you have a favourite movie? Do you take inspiration for your games from movies?

S.G: Uh sure I guess, although a favourite movie is hard to pin down. I mean, every movie is different and has so much to offer in terms of inspiration. It’s the same with TV. I can watch and episode of SG1 and have a thousand idea for a game, but then Ill watch Shaun of the Dead and Have a thousand more but they’d never work together. I basically try to collect all of my ideas in a notebook and collate them all when I feel a story is ready. I have many plots on the go right now, some with art I’ve done, some that just sit in my head. 

Ez: What kind of music do you like? Do you listen to game music often?

S.G: I’m into all sorts of music, I don’t have a specific style that I listen to, although Yellowcard and My Chemical romance have been high up on my playlist lately. I do listen to game Music sometimes. The music from, the DIG is especially good arting music

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Ez: What kind of games do you play? Is adventure your favourite genre? Which are your favourite adventure games?

S.G: Adventure is by far my favourite genre, there’s so much more to and adventure game Universe that you can’t capture in any other genre. I have my lucasarts classics right on top of my PC in case i get an urge. My favourite AG has to be Grim Fandango, the story and the setting were just so fantastic its impossible not to fall in love the characters, although they were so bizarre, seemed so real to me, I just had to know more about them all the way through. That’s the way a game should be.

Ez: Now let’s talk a bit about AGS-related things. 2005 has just flown over, and this means awards are to be given soon. Which are your favourites?

S.G: That’s a tough one, there have been so many great games this year. The Great Stroke off was a work of genius, It was amazing how many cock jokes they squeezed into one game.  Plus Ben Jordan 4, I have to admit that Id never played any of them until this one. And I was just blown away.

Ez: There have been a few commercial AGS games released. Do you think that working on a game on your own, or with a small team, and then releasing it commercially can actually work?

S.G: not if you want to make a living, I mean the games I’ve seen that have expected people to pay for them have left me severely disappointed. Even Fatman, although good, was not worthy of my dollar. The best games produced with AGS have all been free; “two of a kind” is a prime example. TO my mind, the finest AGS game ever, and it didn’t cost me a penny.

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Ez: Tell us about your solo projects. Have you finished any, and what are you working on apart from AOK?

S.G: Well, i did finish one RoN game, which sucked, so ill not drag you into that. But right now? I’ve got two solo projects on the go, Miniron and SOUE. Miniron is basically a new RoN story, but due to my limited artistic talents, i decided to use a resolution of 160* 100. Which gives the game a cute look as well as making my life easier, the plot is pretty basic, But ill not go into it now… My other game, as I mentioned, is based on a series of unfortunate events. I’m working on it With Jake Hoggans (Hotspot). It’s basically and exercise to see if I can produce a decent looking game without any real skill.

Ez: What is your motivation for working on free adventure games?

S.G: I guess it started off as boredom; Id just finished playing one of my LA games and thought it’d be cool to make one of my own. So I googled it and AGS came up, I guess it sprouted from there. I just got sucked into the community and made some friends, like Chicky and Darth Mandarb, we got talking and thinking of plots and stuff. Darth and I were thrown together in the ATC challenge, and the amount of plots we threw out before choosing on our current one is incredible. Team hasselhoff has such a great creative atmosphere. It’s impossible not to want to make games.

Ez: You’ve participated in the ATC, what do you think was wrong with it, considering there were so many teams and only several games? Do you think it can be improved someway and held again in the future?

S.G: I don’t think there was anything wrong with it at all. People expect games to just get made, but this won’t happen. Some great teams came out of the ATC, as well as some great games. I think people need to review their ideas of what the ATC is for. For me, it gave me an opportunity to work with some of the most talented people in the community and start a great game.

Ez: What would you like to wish to the AGS Ezine and its readers for the new year?

S.G: Well, I hope that the readers of the Ezine will get to play AOK and some more awesome games this year, although I’m not promising anything, also, I hope that their lives are enriched and stuff.

Ez: Thanks for your time