Friday, 27 April 2012

Game 16: Captain Blood - Final Rating

It's time rate Captain Blood, the first game that I've abandoned prior to completion. From that statement alone, it's probably apparent already that it's not going to do very well. The question is: will it go one lower than Mortville Manor?

Puzzles and Solvability
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The “puzzles” in Captain Blood are incredibly challenging yet utterly boring! Most of the challenge comes from the communication system being overcomplicated to a ridiculous level, the aliens refusing to answer direct questions unless asked umpteen times, and badly chosen planet and alien names that make differentiating them from the mire of nonsense all but impossible. Add to this that the game often asks you to recall a piece of information that didn’t seem important three hours ago to be able to proceed, and you’ve got a game that will cause hair loss and anxiety attacks rather than entertainment and relaxation. If you take all of the above out of Captain Blood, what you’re left with is “Go to Planet X and speak to Alien Y” about twenty times in a row to complete the game. In fact, if the game had a LucasArts interface I reckon I would have found the five duplicates and got my vital fluids back in less than fifteen minutes. Instead, I spent nine hours trying to decipher complete garbage and having my perfectly logical (and in many cases correct) questions ignored.
Rating: 1


Getting new coordinates is the reward for solving pretty much every puzzle in the game

Interface and Inventory
Well there’s no inventory (which is one of the reasons why Captain Blood probably shouldn’t be considered an adventure game), so it’s only interface we’re discussing here. It’s a mixed bag really. Flying the OORXX’s is surprisingly easy and actually enjoyable until you’ve done it fifty times (no fault of the interface), so that should be commended I guess. But the rest of the interface is pretty clunky, with the buttons on the main console screens badly represented and not labelled. This isn’t a problem after you get used to it, but I found myself having to check the manual quite a bit in the early stages of the game just to see what the buttons did. As for the communication console, well I think I’ve made my feelings about that pretty clear. Having 150 buttons (with a scroll bar to view them all) makes for a stupendously difficult interface, particularly when it’s rarely very clear what it is you supposed to say next. The majority of these buttons seem to be used to form the large number of silly planet and alien names rather than for actual communication. It’s also worth mentioning that the save / restore feature, while being a novel way of stopping the player from continually saving their game before experimenting or restoring every time things don’t go their way, is painful indeed!
Rating: 2


Flying is fun for about five minutes. It's a shame you have to do over and over again!

Story and Setting
The back-story of Captain Blood is certainly one of the most intriguing, not to mention bizarre, I’ve ever come across. Read the Captain Blood novella (found at http://www.oldskool.org/shrines/captainblood/ark1.htm) to see what I mean, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so after taking acid or the like. You may not recover! Putting the player into the shoes of a game creator that’s been sucked into his own game is cool, but unfortunately, the unique starting point for the game is all but irrelevant once you actually start playing. As mentioned in the Puzzles and Solvability section, Captain Blood is just one fetch mission after another, and since finding anything out about the duplicates is in most cases close to impossible, the actual story progresses at a snail’s pace (in my case it never actually did). Maybe I’d feel a bit different about it if I’d found some of the duplicates on my own or come across the universal nudist known as Torka, but the walkthroughs I’ve since read don’t leave me with the impression that the quality of narrative improves at any stage. I’m giving it points for the back-story and setting, but that’s all.
Rating: 2


Storytelling at its best: "Like Like Good Good Laugh Laugh"

Sound and Graphics
The sound of Captain Blood is very minimal. At least it is in the DOS version of the game. I believe that the Atari ST version was fairly groundbreaking on this front, with actual audible languages created to accompany the many symbols for each alien race. But I can only rate what I played, which was limited to a dodgy intro theme and a few blips and blops here and there. Even the OORXX guiding and landing sections are completely silent (unless you hit something for which you experience a slight crunch)! The graphics are not too bad I guess and artist Didier Bouchon definitely managed to create a unique look and feel for the game. The aliens are fairly well represented too, but have only basic animations. The planets look pretty nice and both the hyperspace and OORXX guiding graphics are adequate. Still, the whole thing is extremely repetitive after a while, as you can probably tell by the repeition in my screenshots, so it's only worthy of a 4.
Rating: 4


Babe Ruth's home run continued on its merry way

Environment and Atmosphere
I won’t deny it! Captain Blood initially drew me in and made me want to play it. I can only assume that this evil allure is what has given the game its underground status over the years (there are numerous shrines out there on the interwebz). It really does promise a lot in the opening phases and I felt like if I could only come to grips with the interface and the language, I was in for a treat. It seemed like it was my own inability to play the game rather than its inadequacies that were to blame for my slow progress! As the other categories here will attest, this promise turned out to be false, but it’s interesting to try to figure out what the game did right to give that impression. I think the answer is that there’s something really grand and exciting about travelling through an alien galaxy, landing on planets and communicating with strange beings. The fact that you’re tracking down duplicates of yourself so you can terminate them certainly adds to the appeal. If anything, Captain Blood shows what the possibilities are for truly creative game development, but unfortunately the actual gameplay itself couldn’t live up to the rather fascinating environment. In short, Captain Blood feels like a great game, it just isn’t one!
Rating: 6


You mean I can visit any planet in the entire galaxy? That's actually quite cool!

Dialogue and Acting
Dialogue? Laugh Laugh Curse Insult! It’s true that communicating with various alien races would be extremely difficult. But surely no-one out there thinks the idea of an Alien Conversation Simulation game would actually be fun do they? Hmmm, now that I think about it, that might be interesting if done well, but it’s not here! “Missile Sex Croolis-Ulv Curse. Me Search Danger. Danger = Sex Spirit Laugh Laugh Curse. Me Know Danger Missile. Danger Not Fear Me Kill Danger. Female Not Danger Me Like Danger.” This is the sort of thing that Howdy Prison said to me over and over when I was asking him for information that I only knew he had because Lars-Erik (he’s a reader, not an alien, at least I don’t think he is) told me. Is it creative? Yes! Is it unique? Yes! Is it useful or fun? Hell no! It’s infuriating! One of the other big problems is the names of characters and planets. It would be really obvious that someone called “Roger” is an alien or even “Pooky the Swift”, but with messages like “Scientist Know Me Small Scientist”, “Crazy Know Great Nonsense” and “Me Say Information Migrax Missile Brave”, it’s difficult to know when you’re being told a name or if you’re supposed to form an intelligible sentence out of it.
Rating: 1


"Planet Kill You" - Sounds like a wonderful holiday destination



I actually doubted whether I was going to find a game that could match the 27 I gave Mortville Manor, but only four games later, I’ve found one! It’s interesting that both games get really similar scores in all categories, yet would appear to be totally different games on the back of the box. They both suffer from terrible dialogue, confusing storylines and dodgy interfaces, yet both were initially appealing due to gripping atmosphere and nice graphics. I’m really very thankful for Sierra right now as once again I get to move on from this tough slog of a week with one of their comfortable and more than likely enjoyable escapes. This time it’s Gold Rush!

21 comments:

  1. I didn't see that coming, I would have thought this one would score lower than MM, which you actually finished (through heroic effort I might add).

    Hang on, in the PISSED system, do you have the possibility of rounding "errors"? CB and MM both scored exactly the same in all categories except Dialogue and Acting, where MM actually scored a 2 vs Captain Bloods 1. So the raw scores say that this is the worst adventure game so far, but PISSED say they're equally horrendous.

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    1. My bad! I actually gave Environment and Atmosphere a 6 but wrote a 5 in the post. I've corrected it now.

      To be honest, I probably should have given up on Mortville Manor but I was stubborn. I'm ok with them equalling. Captain Blood does have a lot going for it which is why the flaws are so disappointing. There are some really good ideas but they're let down by poor execution.

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    2. That explains it. :)

      Yes, on paper it sounds like a fresh take on things, but the bad parts are so horribly kick-you-in-the-face-bad it just overshadows the good bits and ends up a train wreck.

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  2. I find your review pretty harsh, and I don't think it has anything to do with nostalgia.
    But it might have to do with expectations: Captain Blood is more about enjoying a ride across the galaxy and discover strange creatures than about achieving anything (never finished it without cheating, but I still found it enjoyable).
    So the comparison with the French new wave might actually be relevant (appart from the influence part, captain Blood didn't have much while the new wave influenced basically every "thinking" director that came after them).
    It's better to forget about plots and narrative structures and wonder about the "realism" of the whole thing (after all, you sometimes have to insist in real life to get information...).
    But as you said, it seems that the PC version doesn't really do justice to the game universe, so maybe it's all deserved :).

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    1. If it were about enjoying the exploration of an expansive universe, then why put a time limit on that? Realism in games often leads to scenarios that aren't fun. If done right, they can be very enjoyable, but many times the game is left behind for a truer example of reality (imagined or not).

      I imagine the focus was on having something expansive and wholly alien than on making a good exploration game. It seems to me that this was probably too big a project to fit on early computers, and the game suffered for it. If someone were to attempt something like this now it could really take off.

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    2. I think you make some good points daubeur and maybe I am being a little harsh on the game overall. It's worth remembering though that my scoring system is designed for adventure games and I really think that if you treat Captain Blood purely as an adventure game, it fails to deliver.

      As I mentioned in my post, the game does succeed in building an interesting game world and good atmosphere, which if taken for that alone, is enjoyable. However, if you try to finish the game without a walkthrough (which is what this blog is all about), those good aspects are eventually overtaken by unforgivable flaws.

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  3. @Trickster -- on the subject of French games and their discouraging performance so far, I was going through your master list trying to identify the good apples -I played quite a few back in the day- and noticed that *Eternam* (1992) is missing. I seem to recall it was a fairly straight adventure, even if the general tone was a bit, erm... quirky. I know some got burnt with the recommendations, but I'll take the bullet for this one :-)

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    1. Yeah, Eternam should surely be included. It's not like it's classic, but it's still a decent adventure and even pretty fun at times (except the outside 3D environment, which is really boring).

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    2. I'm not intentionally dissing French games! I think the two I've played so far have suffered due to bad ports and translation.

      There are three Delphine games coming up on the list, being Future Wars, The Stealth Affair and Cruise For a Corpse. Plus there's always the Alone in the Dark series which I've always wanted to play.

      We'll discuss Eternam when we get there. I was thinking about allowing readers to trade in points (maybe 50?) to force me to play an adventure game of their choice. That might be your chance. ;)

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    3. Can we pool our points? Not being an adventure game player I don't see myself getting many more points, but I might chip in to someone elses score if they find a really cool looking game.

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  4. I was eight years old when this came out. If I had played it, I guarantee I would have loved it for about one hour, and then hated it. That's about as far as "atmosphere" can take an eight year old.

    For comparison, the pinnacle of games about "enjoying a ride across the galaxy and discovering strange creatures" (to quote Daubeur) is Star Control 2. Which I played at age twelve and still consider one of the ten best computer games of any genre. You still had to deal with communicating with aliens of different stripes and personalities (some hilarious, some hostile, others just strange), a great combat system that never got old, a lot of interesting lore, and a definite plot that pushes the game forward... and you with it.

    Still, I massively look forward to Gold Rush!, as a game I ALWAYS wanted to play and never could obtain.

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  5. Onward to Gold Rush! It's been a while since I played it, but I think I still remember most of it. It did remind me of Police Quest in that its realism sometimes surpassed its enjoyability. Especially the time issues were frustrating - at times the clock was ticking fast, at times you had to watch grass grow. On the other hand, alternative routes was a nice touch.

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    1. Related to Ilmari's comment, a word of warning before you start playing Gold Rush. I replayed the game quite recently, and it seems that there was an issue with the internal game timer. (I believe it is related to DosBox or just modern computers, as I don't recall having it originally). With some game speed settings time does not run at all, which causes that some timed events in the game never happen.

      Might be just an issue that I had, but thought to share it in order to possibly save some frustration..

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    2. Thanks Fenrus (and Chumzik who mentioned this on the previous post)! I'm giving you both 10 points for potentially saving me quite a bit of confusion and frustration down the track. :)

      It's a shame though as I normally play Sierra games at "Fast" speed. Looks like I need to play Gold Rush at "Normal".

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    3. Just turn up the number of cpu cycles in the DOSbox settings so that Normal runs at the speed Fast normally does.

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  6. I see Myst V is now on GOG, which leaves only III and IV to go. Here's hoping they get those up before I get to them. There's a fair chance they will. ;)

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  7. I must say, despite the lesser number of posts I felt you gave us a very good feeling for the game. Bravo.

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  8. This game, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another reason why drugs are bad....

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  9. Huh... and to think Richard Garriot would emulate this same communication system in Tabula Rasa...

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  10. Huh... And to think that Richard Garriot would be crazy enough to employ the same kind of communication system on Tabula Rasa.

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  11. It amuses me that the lowest-scoring games so far are this and Mortville Manor, and that they both got their low scores from communication difficulties.

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