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

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.

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.

Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 3 Review

Another game I was quite looking forward to was “Ben Jordan: paranormal investigator – case 3”. And I must say, it excelled all my expectations.

The plot is quite strong – Ben is investigating a Scottish village in which rumours of witchcraft have spread. This time, it develops as the player progresses into the game, a great addition that was not present in previous installments of the series. Another outstanding idea by Francisco Gonzalez is to create two different ways to finish the game – each one worth playing, with different events, graphics and puzzles. This actually makes the game more or less non-linear, which I really fell for.

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The graphics are in the same style as in the previous games, quite solid. There are even more animated character portraits and places to visit.

Music was a great part of the previous two Ben Jordan games, and this one is no exception. The digital music pack, which is included in the game download, enhances the wonderful atmosphere even more and often you will find yourselves doing nothing but just listening to the background music.

As for puzzles, they are various and fun to solve. There is one for which you will need to swap to another application, though, which can be quite distracting – in my opinion the creator should have put the book with the code not in the package as a html, but in the game as an inventory item… or something.

On the whole, the third case Ben Jordan solves is the best so far, and we are most certainly looking forward to the next ones!

Overall Score:

85%

Abducted: 10 Minutes Review

This game is bade by Aussiesoft, who made the, frankly, much better game “Nick it and Run”. My expectations of this game were quite big, since the idea is quite cool – you play a police officer whose daughter is kidnapped and you only have 10 minutes(real time) to prevent the terrorists from killing her. The creator promised alternate solutions to the puzzles and so on, and I downloaded the game with great expectations.

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However, they were quickly disillusioned by the first 5 minutes I spent playing the game. To begin with, the graphics are pretty simplistic. Solid fill, straight lines. There were one or two more detailed backgrounds near the end, though. The character art and animation were also pretty stiff. However, that is not what actually disappointed me. I was let down by the gameplay. Firstly, the only ‘alternate’ solution to a puzzle I found out was to hide behind another column, but that was actually a dead end, so I had to restart. Moreover, during these 10 ‘real time’ minutes, other characters do literally nothing (I was expecting a The Last Express-like character movement, at least). So, it turns out that these 10 minutes are nothing more than a simple time limit. As if that were not enough, but towards the end there was quite a bit of time-limited pixel hunting, which really frustrated me. Lastly, the music that was present was far too little to create the tension and atmosphere which should have been present.

At the end of the day, you may like “Abducted: 10 minutes” only if you really like the plot, or if you are masochistic.

Overall Score:

45%

The Hamlet Review by Andrew McCormack

The Hamlet is a game that came out of the 2004 AGS Team Competition. The team hadn’t worked together before, except for team leader Vel and music composer Petteri (who worked together on Who Wants To Live Forever). The game originally had to be produced to a competition pre-set deadline, and although release to the general public came later, the deadline pressures show, unfortunately. The game uses an interface similar to Gabriel Knight 3, a verbcoin with only available actions shown. As the plot develops, more actions can become available. Sometimes, the actions are a giveaway as to what to do next, although at other times they are red herrings. A status line gives hotspot names and the cursor changes over an exit, although this seemed somewhat erratic and unreliable. But there are good points. The graphics are good: nice talking closeups and character animation, and solid functional backgrounds. By faraway the best part of the game is the atmospheric music. The story has potential at the start, but then ends too quickly and too predictably. It looks like a project that would be so much better if it had had more time to be made. The different parts involved always seemed to be slightly out of kilter with the rest of the game: sound effects occured at the wrong point, or a door is mentioned being broken with a shoulder, while the animation kicks the door down. Another niggle is the linear nature of the whole plot. Many times, when you try something, the player character says “I don’t need to do that yet” or even just “No”! A bit more time in development could have given the player time to explore the world, but as it was the game just seemed like you were forced into doing  things in a certain order and so atmosphere was lost.Maybe the most disappointing thing about this game is the way that you can see the potential there. All the team members had obviously made some good efforts in places and all it needed was more of the good bits. A longer plot, more exploration ability, more build-up of tension, more character development, more nice graphics and music. The team known as “Creative Minds” which made the game are returning to the New Year 2005 team competition, although only two members are the same. I hope that a bit more polish this time can result in an truly excellent game and some fulfilled potential.

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Overall Score:

57%

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