Tuesday, May 26, 2015

More Telltale Games on GOG.com

Telltale Games has struck a deal with GOG.com to bring their newer games DRM-free to GOG.com, joining the adventure games that are already on the service (all three Sam & Max seasons, Back to the Future: The Game, and Tales of Monkey Island).  Telltale's newest games will have optional achievement support through GOG Galaxy. The first game that is available is Game of Thrones, which coincides with today's release of episode 4.

The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands, and all of Telltale's The Walking Dead games will soon be on GOG.com as well.

Game of Thrones Episode 4 Is Out

Telltale's Game of Thrones Episode 4 is out now for Windows and Mac on their store. It will be out on Steam, PS3, and PS4 later today, on Xbox 360 and Xbox One tomorrow, and on iOS and Android on Thursday.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Point and Click Adventure/Direct-Controlled Adventure Mega Review: Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango was the first adventure game created by LucasArts that was presented with three dimensional graphics. Over fifteen years later, it became the first LucasArts adventure game to be remastered by Tim Schafer's studio, Double Fine.  The game is considered a classic of the genre, and rightfully so.  Like the other mega reviews on this site, this review will look at both versions of the game and then recommend a version to play.  However, no matter which version you choose to play, Grim Fandango is a must play for adventure game fans.

The story is based on the Mexican Day of the Dead and Aztec mythology.  Souls come to the afterlife, and must travel through eight underworlds to get to the ninth and final underworld, the land of eternal rest.  Most souls traverse the land of the dead on a perilous four year journey, however those who were particularly virtuous while they were alive can board the number nine train to go straight to the ninth underworld, skipping the perilous journey altogether.  Furthermore, some souls have to pay for their misdeeds while they were alive, and are sentenced to an afterlife of public service, until the time that they have paid off their debt and can begin their own journey toward eternal rest.  This form of public service takes the form of reapers, travel agents for the recently deceased, and Grim Fandango follows one of them, Manny Calavera.

When he finds a client who should have a ticket on the number nine train, but he is unable to secure one for her, he soon finds himself on his own four year journey, and in the middle of a conspiracy that runs right through the very foundation of the land of the dead itself.  The game takes place over four chapters, each representing one year of Manny's four year journey, with each chapter taking place on the Day of the Dead.  The art style is modeled after the papier mache skeletons that are made to commemorate the day, and went a long way to make the game look good with the technical limitations of the 3D technology of 1998.  Because of the unique art style, the graphics have managed to withstand the test of time quite well, and the remastered version needed only to smooth out the pixellated edges of the textures to make the game look fantastic.  The 3D models are displayed against pre-rendered backgrounds, which worked quite well in the original release, but have showed their age a bit in the remastered version, as the backgrounds haven't been touched.  It's not too bad, though, as the prerendered material was always higher quality than the models that ran in the engine. The cutscenes were also prerendered, which are among the most noticable update in the remastered version, as they are much less compressed than the original.  There are a few instances of pixellated models in the cutscenes, but they certainly don't detract from the experience too much.

The original game mostly had puzzles that had logic that fit the game world well, however there were a few puzzles that were a bit obtuse.  The remastered version keeps all of the puzzles in tact, and doesn't include any modern features such as a hint system.  Grim Fandango was very much designed in the 1990's style of adventure game design, and it has remained that way.  The old style of design also shows in the engine itself, as there is no autosave feature in the remastered version.  It's still mandatory to manually save your progress.

The music and the voice acting has always been a high point of the game, as all of the characters of Grim Fandango are multifaceted, with multiple levels of grey to their character, befitting a land where everyone is struggling to fight their way through perils to try to find eternal rest.  Each of the actors brought life to these characters wonderfully, and the remastered version has kept these performances in tact.  In fact, each of the original localized languages have their original voice recordings in the remastered version, which are each selectable via an option in the menu.  The music in the original version had music that really brought the atmosphere of the game to life through a mix of music played by live instruments mixed with midi instruments. The remastered version has replaced the midi instuments with live recordings, and they have managed to stick quite close to the original soundtrack.

Grim Fandango is a fantastic adventure that every adventure game fan should play at least once.  It has a fantastic story, mostly well designed puzzles, well written characters with dialog delivered fantastically by the voice actors, and fantastic music.  The remastered version adds the ability to play the game completely with a mouse (and retains the keyboard and joystick control options), adds improved lighting, removes most of the pixelation from character and inventory item models, and has much of the midi music of the original played with live instruments.  It also has the original voice acting from multiple localizations included, and has optional commentary and a concept art viewer. The remastered version is highly recommended, but either version is well worth playing. The few obtuse puzzles in the game don't detract from its status as one of the best adventure games of all time.

Final Verdict:

5 out of 5

Point and Click Adventure Review: Broken Age Act 2

The final act of Broken Age is finally upon us, giving us the last two thirds of the adventure. There is a much more challenging adventure in this part of the game, and it continues on the best things that the first act delivered, telling an interesting story, punctuated with great music, voice acting, and a charming art style. There are a few bumps in the road, but, for the most part, Broken Age Act 2 has managed to live up to expectations.

Act 2 begins where the last act left off, with Shay and Vella trapped on opposite sides of their worlds. As expected, roles flip as Vella explores Shay's ship and Shay explores the towns that Vella had visited earlier.  There are a few new areas, but mostly this act revisits previously seen areas. However, the change in protagonists, and the changes made by the actions performed in the previous act, mostly keep the locations from feeling stale.

As was hinted prior to release, the difficulty level of the puzzles has increased in the second act, which makes sense design-wise, as the first half only made up one third of the total game.  There are a number of puzzles which require the player to write down the solution, or, as I did, consult screen captures.  This is a throwback to old adventure game design, but as has been done in some modern adventures prior to Broken Age, the puzzles fit into the game, so the older style of gameplay works. There are also puzzles which require Shay to use knowledge that can only be learned on Vella's side of the game world, and vice versa.  These changes in puzzle mechanics helps a lot towards making the second act feel fresh, while still working well with the first act to make up a complete gaming experience.

Since most of the locations take place in areas already visited, the cast of characters in the second act have already been seen, although some are revealed to be quite different to how they presented themselves previously.  This actually works well, as most of the characters are given the time to get some character development.  The characters are all once again voiced excellently, and the music once again works well to set the mood of the game.  The story in the second act is written well, managing to tie up most of the plot threads.  The game ends with a definite possibility of a sequel, but it is self contained enough to feel like a satisfying conclusion to the journey of Shay and Vella.

The conclusion of one of the most followed adventure games in the history of the genre has turned out to be quite satisfying.  That said, some of the puzzle design might be considered frustrating to some, as it is anchored in an older puzzle design philosophy.  The rest of the presentation makes up for any shortcomings, however.  The story is excellently written, with the right amount of comedy and drama.  Most of the locations of the second act were visited previously, but this worked in the game's favor, as it gave time for most of the characters to get some character development.  The art style, music, and voice work have all remained top notch, and have all combined quite well to bring the world of Broken Age to life.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Act 1 Review

Friday, May 22, 2015

Point and Click Adventure Review: Technobabylon

Technobabylon is an adventure that tells a tale of murder and corruption, set in a dystopian futuristic world, where linking the human brain with computers has become the norm. Technocrat Games has managed to make a game that manages to live up to it's lofty premise, with a few minor hiccups.

The game follows three different protaganists who live in a futuristic city that is run by a computer program, which alerts the local police force whenever it perceives a threat.  Two of the main characters are police officers, one who is supportive of the computer controlled government, and another, older officer, who is not.  The third protaganist is an addict to her world's version of the internet, in which the human brain is directly connected, and projects an avatar of her conciousness to those online.  The trio soon find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation linked to a mindjacker, who feeds off of minds of those who have the computer connections in their brains.

The game is published by Wadjet Eye games, and employs a low resolution art style that is similar to most of their games.  The characters are pixellated, as expected with the low resolution, but they are presented in greater detail through still character portraits when the characters are speaking.  Despite the higher detail, the character portraits manage to blend in well with the art style of the rest of the game.  The backgrounds are also in low resolution, but are quite detailed.  This dystopia is rather bleak in most areas of the city, except for the more wealthy areas, and the artwork showcases this discrepency quite well.

The music is understated, but fits the tone of the game excellently.  The writing in this game is top notch, and for the most part, the voice cast manages to bring out all of the nuances of the script quite well.  There are, however, a few exceptions.  The cheerful voice of the autochef, the synthetic droid salesman, and the Chinese businessman can be a bit grating at times, but as their parts aren't particularly large, it's not too distracting.  The main cast, including the three playable characters, are all voiced excellently.

The interface is a standard point and click control scheme, which is introduced in detail at the start of the game.  There are some deviations from the usual method of play, in the few sections of stealth in some parts of the game.  This doesn't work quite well, due to the limitations of the interface.  The guards seem quite blind, as the player character will often be hiding, but seem to be right in front of their view.  Beyond that, there is also one stealth section that is frustrating, as you need to hide behind a moving container, which isn't easy to do when you need to point the crosshair pointer at the area you wish to walk.  This is the only area where the control method was a real issue however, as the rest of the problems with the stealth sections were merely cosmetic.  In any case, stealth sections happen rarely, so it's not a major problem.

Overall, Technobabylon is a fun adventure game.  It has an interesting setting, multi-faceted playable and secondary characters, and a fantastic mystery story.  The music fits the game well, and most of the voice work is well done as well.  There are a few grating voices, and the stealth sections leave a bit to be desired.  However, the few short comings of the game are well outweighed by its many positive attributes.  It's an adventure that's well worth playing.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Technobabylon Is Out Now

Technobabylon is an adventure game set in a dystopian future where linking human brains with machines through the internet has become the norm, and a series of brainjacking murders leads two cops and an internet junkie to try to figure out who is behind it.

The game, developed by Technocrat Games, and published by Wadjet Eye Games, is available to purchase now through Humble Bundle, Steam, and GOG.com.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Mystery of Oak Island On Kickstarter

The Mystery of Oak Island has headed back to Kickstarter, hot on the heels of the English special edition release of the team's Zak McKracken fan sequel.

The Mystery of Oak Island is an adventure game that is based on the real treasure hunt on Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada.  In the game, the main character and his girlfriend, a student of literature at Oxford University, seek to uncover the secrets of Oak Island, and in the process, place themselves in grave danger.

There is 18 days left in the campaign, with only around $1,000 left to go to meet the goal. So, if this sounds interesting to you, head over to The Mystery of Oak Island Kickstarter and pick a pledge tier.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Costume Quest Is Getting a Cartoon Adaptation

Frederator is making a short cartoon based on Costume Quest. The company is known for Adventure Time (it's creator, Pendleton Ward, designed a prototype as part of Double Fine's last Amnesia Fortnight) and Bee and Puppycat (who appeared in cardboard cutout form in Costume Quest 2).

The writer and storyboarder for the project is Zac Gorman, who also wrote the excellent Costume Quest comic book adaptation, Invasion of the Candy Snatchers.  It's set to be a single 11 minute short, but, some Frederator cartoons have been picked up as full series from the initial short, so there's always the possibility of more.

In other Double Fine news, Massive Chalice will get full release and leave early access on June 1st.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hero-U Heads To Kickstarter Again For Additional Funding

Hero-U, the adventure RPG hybrid by the Quest for Glory creators, is nearing completion, but it still needs some funding in order to cross the finish line. Corey and Lori Ann Cole have begun a second kickstarter for the game.  The reason why they are going to Kickstarter a second time is because the game has become larger than they originally planned, and after putting as much of their own money as they possibly can into the project on top of the Kickstarter money, they are seeking funding for the final year of development for the game.

They are currently just under half way to their goal with a month left in the campaign.  They have several new tiers in this new campaign, as well as some familiar ones as well.  If you backed the previous Kickstarter but want to back this one as well, they have also posted an update that explains how to up your pledge from their last campaign in case you wish to upgrade to a higher tier this time.

Alum Is Out Now

The atmospheric adventure game by Crashable Studios, Alum, has been released today for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  You can head over to Steam and pick it up now for $15.

If you backed it during its Kickstarter campaign, you should be receiving a Steam code shortly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Telltale Teasing The Walking Dead DLC

Telltale has revealed that The Walking Dead Season Three will not be coming this year. However, Telltale's director of public relations, Job Stauffer, posted on Telltale's forums that Telltale is working on something for The Walking Dead that will be bigger than 400 Days.

He goes on further to state that it will be released in 2015, and that it will be formerly announced at this year's E3 conference.

Monday, May 11, 2015

King's Quest Voice Cast Announced

The voice cast has been announced for King's Quest, and they've got a great lineup. The voice actors signed on include Christopher Lloyd, Tom Kenny, Wallace Shawn, Josh Keaton, Maggie Elizabeth Jones and Zelda Williams.

The first episode of The Odd Gentlemen's King's Quest is scheduled to be released in Fall 2015.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Zak McKracken Fan Game Sequel Director's Cut Coming May 12

Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space, the fan game sequel to the adventure game by Lucasfilm Games, was originally released in German on April 30, 2008.  On May 12, 2005, a director's cut version will be released, which will be in high definition with an improved interface and other addtions, as well as an including an English, fully voiced, and a French translation, with subtitles only, for the first time.

Star Trek Games Are Now On GOG.com

The two adventure games that featured the original cast of Star Trek, 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rights, and were designed to act like the fourth and fifth years of the original five year mission of the Enterprise, are now available on GOG.com, after being out of print for over a decade.

You can head over to GOG.com now to purchase Star Trek: 25th Anniversary and Star Trek: Judgment Rights, as well as the space simulation game Star Trek: Starfleet Academy.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

LGBT Murder Game Removed From Steam Greenlight

Update (May 8):
Upon finding out that it was Skaldic Games behind this, I realized that last year I added some of their other products to ScummVM and updated the ScummVM wiki with a page about their company.  I really wish I could take back those few lines of code I wrote to support their products, and I'm sure this goes without saying, but because of this game and because of their attitude toward the situation, I definitely don't support the company, I don't intend to support any of their products from here on out. I've experienced the brutality of simply being LGBT myself. I was burned, beaten, urinated on, drugged, held down, had my clothes forcibly removed, and sexually assaulted. The horror LGBT people face is real. Trolling like this is awful.

I don't normally post about stuff like this, but since I just posted about my game that tries to paint transgender people in a positive light, I think it's important that I speak out against games that do the opposite. Planet Transgender reported that a game that had gameplay centered around the murder of LGBT people was available on Steam Greenlight for a few hours before it was pulled for violating Steam's Terms of Service. The objective of the game was to murder gay people, which would give you points, and transgender people which would give you more points while avoiding straight people, which would subtract points from your score.

Considering that The Transgender Day of Remembrance, which was created to honor those killed as a result of violence towards transgender people, still exists, and being openly gay, bisexual, or transsexual is still punishable by death in many countries, murder of LGBT people still happens depressingly often in today's world (and, even in the United States, convictions of people who murdered LGBT people still are sometimes dismissed on technicalities), so making light of this is more than just being in poor taste. Products such as these really shouldn't be allowed to exist on mainstream outlets, so I'm glad Steam removed it. Although, it's maddening that they allow products to go through unfiltered through Steam Greenlight in the first place.

A lot of people who were going to be working on the full game, in which this minigame was to be, have severed ties with the developer. The Irish metal band, Cruachan released a statement saying they were shocked to be associated with the anti-LGBT game, the full game of which was slated to feature music by Cruachan, and the lead singer of the band and his girlfriend were going to be voicing characters in the game. After the greenlight debacle, they told Skaldic Games that they want to be removed from the game, as well as all music by and references to Cruachan.

Lori Beth Denberg, who was also going to voice a character, also severed ties with them after finding out about the game, and so did Kerem Erdinc. And, Rachel Lally, who was also going to be voicing a character, also severed ties with them and posted her entire email to them in which she asks to be removed from their game.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My entry to the first Femicom Game Jam is Joy

Joy is a game that I created as part of the first Femicom Game Jam: "Here's To Theresa Duncan". It is a story book game that follows a transsexual girl named Jamie.

Due to an unexpected death in the family, I had to cancel my first Kickstarter for a children's show and game in memory of my father, called Mr. Mac's Rainbow Greenhouse.  This game brings the ideas of the game portion of that project into reality.

Grim Fandango Remastered Is Now On iOS and Android

Grim Fandango Remastered is now available for iOS and Android.  It is usually priced at $14.99, but it is temporarily available for the launch price of $9.99. Steam and PlayStation Store also currently have limited time 33% off discounts on the game.

In addition, the Grim Fandango soundtrack is available at digital retailers now (including Sumthing, which has an exclusive version with additional tracks).

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Evolution of Adventure Games Part V: Early Mouse Control

As adventures in the west continued to evolve beyond their text adventure roots, developers were looking towards new ways to let the player interact with their games.

In the mid 1980's, developers began making adventure games controlled entirely with a mouse. These early mouse controlled adventures still had the verb and noun structure of text adventures, but actions were done by using the mouse to choose the words or icons on the screen. The earliest mouse controlled adventure game was the 1984 black and white Macintosh adventure, Enchanted Scepters, by Silicon Beach Software. It was very much like the text adventures with static graphics. However, objects would be picked up by directly clicking on them on the screen. Like many keypad controlled graphic adventures of the time, actions were selected by a drop down list. However, the actions were selected from drop down lists from the Macintosh menu bar via mouse cursor rather than through drop down lists displayed on the game screen.

The first adventure game that displayed verbs on the game screen was the 1985 adventure, Déjà Vu, by ICOM Simulations.  It still had the black and white graphics of the early Macintosh systems, and it still used the verb and noun system, but commands were no longer selected through the Macintosh system menu. The game was controlled completely in the game itself. The mouse cursor was used to select a verb from a list, which would then be used with an object which would also be selected with the mouse.  The objects could be selected in the game display or inside of the inventory.  This system of control would be later refined, but Déjà Vu paved the way for mouse control in adventure games, which is still the control method of most adventures today.

Independently of ICOM, Lucasfilm Games was also developing a mouse controlled adventure. Released in 1987, Maniac Mansion introduced SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), which has been popularized by the fan created virtual machine, ScummVM. Most importantly, Maniac Mansion displayed its verb and inventory bars within the game screen itself. Maniac Mansion also stuck to its text adventure roots, by displaying the verb and noun selection in text above the verb bar. This would set the standard which was used by most adventure games until the late 1990's, and is still used in some adventure games to this day. All of the 2D adventures by LucasArts from this point would use a variant of this engine.

As the mouse was gaining popularity, Sierra began to include optional mouse support in their adventure games. Sierra began porting adventure games created with their AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) engine to the Amiga in 1986. The Amiga version of this engine allowed for optional mouse control of the player character. This functionality has been extended by some fan created AGI interpreters, such as NAGI and ScummVM. The fan interpreters allow mouse control of characters in most AGI games, as in Sierra's Amiga AGI interpreter, even those that did not originally include that function. When Sierra switched to the more capable SCI (Sierra's Creative Interpreter) engine in 1988, the optional ability to control the playable character with a mouse was present on all platforms. The text parser was originally hidden from view until the player began typing, but as time went on, the SCI engine was improved, the text parser was removed, and games were controlled completely by the mouse. All of the 2D adventures by Sierra from the time SCI was introduced used a variant of that engine.

Mouse-controlled adventure games would become the standard after the release of these games, and continue to be the standard to this day. The adventure games that followed these evolved the presentation, but the method of input has largely stayed the same. Even today's direct-controlled adventure games often have optional mouse controls as well, or a combination of mouse and keyboard controls.

Back to Part IVPart VI Coming Soon

King's Quest Developer Diary

The Odd Gentlemen has posted the first developer diary that takes a look behind the scenes of the creation of their new episodic King's Quest game, which will see the release of the first episode later this year.

While we're on the subject of the new Sierra, the puzzle platformer Shiftlings was released earlier this year, following the release of Geometry Wars 3 late last year.  The formerly Sony exclusive shooter, Velocity 2X, will be published by Sierra for Xbox One and PC this summer.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Alum Will Be Released on May 15th

Alum, the atmopsheric adventure game in the style of LucasArts and Sierra games, which was funded by a successful kickstarter campaign in 2013, will be released on May 15th, 2015.