Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

10 February, 2013

One More Step

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 14:03

I think I was quite spoiled, when it comes to adventure games. My love for the genre was kindled by playing some very good games at an early, formative age. Though the exact order is somewhat muddled now by the mists of time, I recall playing Pyramid: Challenge of the Pharaoh’s Dream in primary school, and while I suppose you might quibble a bit on the genre of that game, I certainly class it as adventure. It was marvellous fun. Then, picking through the PC games shelf in the library, I went on to play such excellent games as Pink Panther’s Passport to Peril and Riven. Although I didn’t understand a single thing on that first play, you all know how I’ve landed when it comes to that game. Eventually, I played Myst itself, of course. All great games, with fun and intriguing stories, and that’s where I’ve been spoiled – eating the best fruit first.

And then, when I was 13 or 14, I played The Longest Journey.

On the list of my favourite games, Riven holds the number one spot. The Longest Journey is on number two. Man, that game told an excellent story. It was one of the first games I actually bought, rather than borrow at the library. I don’t know how long it took me to get through it all, but it was a gloriously good time.

The sequel, Dreamfall, was also a good game, but it did not measure up to its predecessor. Funcom decided to experiment with action-adventure, adding half-hearted combat and stealth sections to the game, and choosing controls better suited for the X-box than the PC, though PC was the main platform. The story was excellent still, and masterfully told, but the actual gameplay left quite a bit to be desired. And it ended on a god damn cliffhanger. Six years ago. And then Funcom began digging itself its MMO grave, and we hear nothing more.

Until just recently! Ragnar Tørnquist, the mastermind behind these games, founded his own little studio and licensed the rights to finally make a new game in the series. And it’s up on Kickstarter right now, trying to fund the project. And they’ve said they’re removing the combat and stealth and going back to pure adventure! I am giddy with excitement! I have seriously been reloading that Kickstarter page over and over for the past two days, watching the number climb, ever slower, towards the goal. I pledged $50 myself, though I am debating going for the physical box, just to have it in my shelves. Will have to do some maths on whether the budget can take it.

If you haven’t played The Longest Journey, I heartily recommend it. It’s on GOG for a pittance, and I believe it is available on Steam as well, for those of that persuasion. Dreamfall‘s on there as well, if you want to check it out. But the Kickstarter is the real thing here. An actual proper adventure game made by people who damn well know how. I only wish I had more spending money at hand.

12 November, 2012

Dream(fall) Come True

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I apologise for that title.

You will recall that my favourite game is Riven. The Myst games in general dominate my toplist, but in the second spot, breathing Riven in the neck, is The Longest Journey.

I love The Longest Journey. It has its flaws, but I am willing to completely ignore them, because the good bits are so very, very good. It has some excellent puzzles (and some weird ones), some beautiful graphics (and some dodgy ones), and an excellent story (which is great all the way through). I love, love, love it.

I also liked its sequel, Dreamfall, but to a lesser extent. The story was still excellent in that game, but with some dodgy bits in it this time. The puzzles were not as engaging, and several of them were basically just fetch quests. I didn’t care for the interface. And, oh yes, there was combat.

I only finished that game by downloading a cheat thingy that let me instantly win any combat. And then I got stuck after I beat an enemy that was intended to be unbeatable.

Anyway, I did like it, and that’s enough about that. The reason I’m writing about this now, is the recent announcement that another sequel, Dreamfall Chapters, is on its way. I think I can sum up my immediate feelings on the matter by quoting my own tweet-slash-retweet:

Pictured above: elation.

To make it even better, they’re going back to pure adventure game, removing the clunky and dumb combat of Dreamfall! More puzzles! Closure to the Dreamfall cliffhanger ending! There’s apparently going to be a kickstarter campaign to fund development. I say, show me where it is, so I can throw my money at it. Elation.

Man, I hope it will be as awesome as it looks. Nobody’s asked me, but here’s what I think anyway: By dropping the combat, they’ll already be leaps better than Dreamfall. Hopefully, they’ll make better puzzles. In Dreamfall, so many of the puzzled were basically find this person, who asks you to find something else, and to find it you need to talk to X and help them find Y etc. Better puzzles, please! From the interview, it really looks like that’s where they’re doing anyway, so I’m optimistic. And maybe, just maybe we could have all the characters actually do something. In Dreamfall, Kian was pretty much just introduced, then off screen for ages, and then turned his coat out of nowhere when he popped up again. Develop this stuff!

Aaah, I’m just so excited! It looks like Tørnquist is fully and completely in charge on this one, so I’m hoping for awesomeness. The story continues! I’m almost running in circles, here.

 

I’m not afraid to give my heart away yet. Now I just have to count the days and look out for the kickstarter.

26 March, 2012

Musings on the Fifth Age

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

The best game ever made is Riven.

Okay, even as I type that, a bunch of qualifiers spring to mind. I am using “games” in a rather narrow sense, excluding board games and, you know, tag. What I’m talking about is what the kids aren’t calling video games, the kind you play on a computer or a console. That’s where Riven is the best.

Yeah, okay, some more qualifiers. Riven is 15 years old now, and it’s showing its age in comparison with more recent releases. The graphics, which were absolutely stunning top-shelf stuff in 1997, now pale in the face of what more computer power can do. The pre-rendered environments are a chapter we’ve left behind, and the point-and-click interface is on the old-fashioned end of what is now an unpopular choice to begin with. In terms of game-play and technology there’s been innovation, is what I’m saying, and Riven‘s been surpassed in that area. Where I don’t think it has been surpassed is in terms of interactive storytelling.

You can have games without any sort of story, like Tetris, where you’re essentially just solving a puzzle, like a Rubik’s Cube, but I can’t get very invested in that. It’s in interactive storytelling games as a medium shine, and Riven tells its story so well it’s mind-boggling. The Myst series in general has an excellent story, and a fantastic way of telling it, but it is Riven which is the pinnacle of achievement. As Riven is the second game in the series, that might sound a bit damning of the following games, but they are still very good games; they just don’t reach as high as the champion. Bronze in the Olympics is still a great achievement.

A Journey Cloth

The hand print glows in the dark! Of course, Uru isn't really a Myst game, but it's set in the same universe, so I think it counts even so. It also has a pretty good story, which makes sense as its intertwined with the main Myst story, though I still prefer that to the more nebulous and back-story focused Uru. Don't even get me started on the so-called "Myst 5", which can hardly be considered part of that original storyline, and you know what, I'll stop typing now.

I should stop at this point and explain where I’m coming from. I am a huge Myst geek. It ranks very high amongst my favourite stories. I’ve played all the games, read all the books, I’ve dabbled in learning the D’ni language, I have a journey cloth hanging on the wall above my desk, I have given deep and serious thought as to the possible identity of the Stranger, and I still number my lecture notes using D’ni numerals. … Hey, I like having glyphs going to 25! Now, is this excessive fanboyism a bias in declaring Riven the best game ever, or does the fanboyism follow from the fact that the Myst games are indeed the most awesome? I lean to the latter, but crazy people others might disagree.

But back to Riven. What makes Riven such an immersive experience? Why do I think it’s a triumph of interactive storytelling? Well, for one thing it’s extremely tight-lipped when it comes to telling you the story. Like all the Myst games, it just sort of drops you into the world with a few cryptic comments for context, and then leaves it up to the player to figure out what is going on, how the world works and the characters fit into it, and what exactly you’re supposed to achieve. You have to snoop around, look at the environment and the clues you find in it, sneak peeks at letters and private journals and recordings, and piece the bigger picture together yourself. This is where Riven in particular excels – nothing in the game is there for no reason. The attention to detail is amazing, even the bolts keeping pipes together are given a particular shape which makes sense in the context. The puzzles continue that theme, there are no rubber ducks to combine with clothes lines, the puzzles all have a function in the world of the game beyond being a puzzle for the player.

This attention to detail contributes to the overall atmosphere of the game, which might be its main strength. I don’t think I’ve ever seen atmosphere conveyed as effectively as in Riven. Where Myst was a very solitary and lonely experience of exploring abandoned worlds, Riven constantly reminds you that you are not alone. Your every move is being watched. You glimpse people in the distance, who sound alarms at your approach. Villagers are hiding in their huts as you pass through. There are periscopes and cameras, and if you turn around quick enough you can catch a glimpse of Gehn observing you in his temple. The whole thing makes what is actually a very leisurely experience feel very tense. I think I actually shouted in terror the first time I unexpectedly came across a little girl in the forest, I was so startled.

There aren’t a great many characters in the game, but there’s one very important one who is excellent. Exploring Riven is very much a dive into the mind of its master, an exploration of Gehn’s madness and megalomania and obsessions, like his fixation on the number 5. The more you see of the world he considers his greatest creation, the more disturbed he appears – and yet without falling into cartoonish villainy, he is too believable an example of a man corrupted by power. When you finally meet him in the flesh, and he greets you by politely apologising for the cage, I get goosebumps.

I started quite bombastically – I obviously haven’t played every game, or any more than the tiniest fraction of the available market, so my opinion is of somewhat limited value when it comes to handing out Lifetime Achievement Awards to game designers. Riven remains my favourite game, though, and I’ve yet to see a game that seems to come close to its level of storytelling.

Okay, so I guess I ended up writing a review of a game that came out in 1997. Way to be topical, me!

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