Saturday, 18 March 2017

Game 83: KGB - Introduction

Written by Torch

Fancy pants 3D logo

KGB is a french game, made by Cryo Interactive. But… we hear you say, didn’t you just introduce a Cryo game? What’s going on? Is it Deja vu? Haha, no, silly. Deja Vu was featured way back in December 2011. ( And no, it’s not Deja Vu 2 either )

No, Cryo did actually release 2 games during 1992. And - as if that wasn’t enough - 92 was also the year the company was founded. How’s that for ambition? Well, to be precise, they only formally founded the company. They’d been working together as a development team since 1989. But still. As you are undoubtedly aware, the other game released was Dune, the game based on the movie based on the book by Frank Herbert.



Not sure where the name Cryo comes from, but the logo is allegedly depicting a woman in a cryofreeze tank.

The original version of KGB was released for PC and Amiga, with a PC CD-ROM version due a bit later. The CD-ROM release was for some reason renamed to “Conspiracy”. It’s essentially the same game, but they added some video sequences starring Donald Sutherland. These provide more background and some hints if the player is stuck. Other than that, everything should be the similar. I’ll be playing the original version.

I did play the Amiga version a long time ago, probably around the time of initial release, and I have quite fond memories of it. Well, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it. Or maybe it was horrible, and I’ve just repressed it…. Or maybe maybe the memories were planted by a foreign, three-letter organization. Nevertheless, I’m very excited about giving it another go and finding out all over again.

I’ll mostly be playing on Dosbox, but I still have the Amiga version and a working Amiga, so maybe I’ll fire up that one as well, for comparison. Dosbox is probably easier for blogging purposes, though.

SETTING
The game is set in the summer of 1991, just before the fall of the Soviet Union. Our protagonist is Maksim Rukov, a 25 year old agent who used to be a part of Spetznaz, an elite military special force under GRU, an intelligence agency, like KGB. - I tried to find out how the two agencies differed, and apparently GRU was military in nature and dealt with external threats to the USSR, whereas KGB was more secretive and dealt with threats from within ( at least that’s what I came away with after some extensive Googling).

Rukov has just been transferred to Department P, a new division under the KGB. Department P was established to uncover corruption and foul play within the KGB itself. It’s unclear who arranged the transfer, but they probably had a good ( and/or sinister ) reason for doing it, which should hopefully become clear to me as I play. Rukov’s parents were allegedly killed by Afghan terrorists. Rukov’s father was a colonel, so there’s a good chance that someone who knew him will play a part in the story.

THE MANUAL
The manual is a strange mix between a being technical guide for the player and a primer for Rukov. It does its best to confuse you, by wavering in and out of context. I haven’t decided yet whether I think it’s clever or just weird. Take this example:

The “Olga” never became a huge success. It was powerful enough to run four floppy drives at once, but the exhaust made it impractical to use inside.

There are some ( quite detailed ) historical facts about Soviet intelligence agencies and their internal power struggles over the years, along with a lesson on Mikhail Gorbachev, the last soviet president, and a summary of his actions and achievements. In this section there are comments to Rukov about perhaps being tested on this material later, so I’d better keep the manual handy, just in case. In fact these sequences all seem to be directed at Rukov, along with a recommendation to trust no one. I’m guessing someone has an agenda, and placing Rukov at Department P is part of it. Intriguing...The game hasn’t even started yet, and the plot is already thick as week-old borscht. ( This pun was brought to you by the Slavic Beet Soup Preservation Society. )

Fun fact: In the manual for the CD-ROM version ( Conspiracy ), they’ve replaced all the occurrences of “KGB” with “CONSPIRACY”, even where it doesn’t really make a lot of sense:
“….and the MGB became the CONSPIRACY : the `Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti’, or Committee for State Security…”
“...The CONSPIRACY headquarters, as you know, are based in…”
“...because of its political importance the CONSPIRACY is still an unwaveringly secretive
organisation…”
What, did they lose their official KGB endorsement or something?

Enough dilly-dallying. Let’s fire up the game itself.

LOOK AND FEEL

So what does it look like?

May or may not be the address of Department P

We start off with an intro that to me looks a bit…. what’s the word…. homemade..?

We couldn’t afford a professional film crew, but we had this roll of red cellophane lying around, so we thought…

There are 5 meters to this guy, I’ve got a full revolver, a half-arsed trenchcoat, everything’s red and I’m wearing sunglasses. Hit it!

Somehow this guy reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld trying to act serious on his show.

After the intro, we’re presented with the first in-game screen.

Rukov obviously didn’t request the transfer to Department P. Someone else must be pulling the strings here.

When compared to the actual game visuals, the intro looks oddly out of place to me. This seems like a strange design choice, but I’m imagining it went something like this:
Developer A: We should have an intro to the game 
Developer B: Yes! But… we spent all of our money on the 3D logo... 
Developer C: Hey! My dad has a video camera! 
Everyone: Ooooh! 
Anyway, moving on:

The in-game graphics style is quite cartoonish, but with a brown overall feeling ( can brown be a feeling? ), at least in the beginning.. The interface itself is also metallic brown. Conversations are often ( but not always ) accompanied by a close-up of the person you’re talking to, superimposed on a sort of zoomed-in/pixelated section of the screen they were in. This effect was also used to some degree in Dune.

Yes yes, so we recycled the effect. Did you know recycling was invented in the USSR?

Here the graphics seem a tad more stylized than in Dune, though.

Dune. For reference. Also brown

SOUND
One of the things I remember from playing this on Amiga years ago is the music. Or at least some of it. It was a sort of clever, mysterious electronica soundtrack that looped through the whole game. But for some reason I never got bored of it. I think. I guess I’m about to find out.

When starting the game on Dosbox, I don’t recognize the music at once, so I wonder if it might not actually be the same. After some digging I’ve found out that the music is in fact slightly different between the two versions. According to Mobygames the PC music was made by Stéphane Picq, and the Amiga music was made by Alexandre Ekian. Essentially, there are some songs that cycle throughout the game. On PC I found 6 titles on Youtube and 4 on Amiga. But 3 of them overlap. So I don’t know who made what, but the PC then has 3 unique songs and the Amiga 1. The overlapping ones also sound different, though, due to the different sound chips being used. I believe PC’s at this time were mostly using SoundBlaster soundcards, where before they would need MIDI devices if they wanted something other than that bleeping infernal… I mean internal speaker. Based on the samples I’ve heard, I still prefer the sound of the Amiga to whatever the SB-cards could produce at that time, though it could be the nostalgia speaking.

For those interested, here’s a link to all the songs, both Amiga and PC on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFB61FF275319821B

INTERFACE
The game is point and click-based, but using the keyboard is possible. By using the arrow keys, the pointer cycles through hotspots in the area. I’m probably going to stick to the mouse, but it’s nice to know you have options if a pixel hunt should ensue. The pointer is of the smart variety, in that a verb is displayed based on what you’re hovering over. Every interactable object has a default action, like “talk” for a person, but “look” for a closet, but you can override this by right-clicking and choosing from a list of 9 verbs ( or back to smart pointer mode ). Sometimes the default action will change after you interact with it. ( Say the default action for a phone is “look”, but after you’ve looked at it, it changes to “use”. It seems like not all of the verbs can be used with all objects. By this I mean that sometimes, if you have the “wrong” verb active, the cursor acknowledge that you’re mousing over an object.

Knocking on the guard produces little result. Also, the corridor ignores my attempts at starting a fight with it.

INVENTORY
The inventory is a separate page, accessed by clicking on the mini version of it at the bottom of the screen. It shows Rukov along with all of his stuff. The pointer allows only 4 actions here, one of which is “Destroy”. Yikes! Use with caution…. “Take” lets us pick up an object, so it can be used with something else. Pretty self-explanatory, really.

Rukov, Maks Rukov.

TIME
If memory serves me ( it does, I checked ), time will be a factor in this game. The clock in the lower right corner keeps on ticking, and there’s an hourglass on the menu that makes Rukov “wait” 30 minutes. There’s also a replay sub-menu that I can access to review previous actions and events. It doesn’t let me do anything over, though. It’s just a log.

Since time is of the essence, chances are there will be ways to possibly dead-end myself, or at least miss stuff that’s happening somewhere I’m not. To mitigate this, the game is divided into chapters, and it’s always possible to restart the current chapter. There’s also a backtrack option, which I think is a checkpoint to when we entered the current screen. I’m not a 100% that’s how it works, but there are only 4 save slots (!), so I suspect I’ll have to find out at some point.

MAP
Finally, I’m provided with a map of the locations I’ve been to. It can’t be used for quick travel or anything, but it’s nice to have.

Only four rooms, but I can still never find my car keys when I need them

And with that, I think we’re ready to get started. Whip out your favorite spy references and hop aboard the Soviet express!

21 comments:

  1. I've been waiting for this post for a while.

    KGB, or rather the Conspiracy rerelease, was one of the first adventure games I ever played (the fourth I believe, after Fate of Atlantis and the NES ports of Shadowgate and Deja Vu), back in 1994-5 or so, as an 8-9 year old that had never heard of words like "prerestroika". I'm sure you can imagine some of the game's plot going a bit over my head - I specifically remember being really confused about what this "The Party" people kept referring to was.

    It's a game I'm really fond of, and I think it genuinely has one of the most intuitive and brilliantly designed interfaces I've seen, even beating out the SCUMM one. You didn't show off the dialogue tree system in this intro post, but it's very well done as well, with options for both saying specific lines, introducing conversation subjects, making requests, etc.

    The atmosphere is also amazing - I honestly don't think I've ever played a game that makes you actually feel like an undercover agent as this one.

    A lot of it is probably nostalgia speaking, but I'm going to gamble on a 63 for this one. I definitely think it's better than Maniac Mansion.

    I'd never actually seen the original intro before, and yeah, it looks pretty shoddy. That's another difference the CD-ROM release added - check out the all new replacement intro here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPKg9G2IblY
    Much better.

    And finally, you say "Since time is of the essence, chances are there will be ways to possibly dead-end myself"...
    You have no idea. Believe me, you'll end up in dead man walking situations so often you'll go nuts. This is not an easy game, and practically everything you need to do can be permanently missed by not being where you're supposed to be at that time (though it's usually not THAT difficult to get what you're meant to be doing).

    I'll be on hand with some ROT13 hints when you need them. And I'm pretty sure that's indeed a "when" and not an "if".

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    1. I guess I would have been 16-17 when I played this first time around, so I probably had a slight better chance at getting the plot, but I'm not a native English speaker, and yes, there's a bunch of political terms that may be hard to grasp for non-adults, so I don't think I fully understood everything going on.

      I agree that I could've gone into more detail regarding the dialogue system. I'll try to elaborate in one of the game posts.

      I hadn't seen the intro to Conspiracy, but they definitely put more effort into that one than the original, though it looks like it's mostly some videos from the news, combined with some of the info you get from the manual, only from Rukov's perspective. Oh yes, and Donald Sutherland. That's probably where all the money went :P

      At this point, I've completed Chapter one, and even though I've played this before, I got into some trouble, requiring pretty heavy use of the backtrack function, as you'll see in a future post. Hopefully I can keep my sanity until the end :)

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    2. Interesting, between the intro post and Adamant's comment here, I'm going to guess 57!

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  3. Chapter 2 has a really really nasty and unfair bit. Heavy spoilers, don't read this: Ng gur raq bs gur puncgre, lbh xabj lbh'er fhccbfrq gb tb gb gur qbpxf gb vairfgvtngr gur obng, naq vs lbh gnyxrq gb Terraoret ng gur ubgry unysjnl vagb gur puncgre naq frg hc n zrrgvat va gur cnex, lbh xabj lbh'er fhccbfrq gb tb gurer naq zrrg uvz nf jryy. Gur tnzr arire npghnyyl bssref lbh na bcgvba gb tb gb gur qbpxf, ohg nsgre lbh'ir zrg Terraoret, lbh'yy tb gurer nhgbzngvpnyyl naq gur puncgre jvyy raq, jvgu puncgre 3 fgnegvat gurer. Ubjrire, vs lbh QVQA'G gnyx gb Terraoret ng gur ubgry naq neenatr gung zrrgvat, lbh'yy whfg trg fghpx va n qrnq zna jnyxvat fvghngvba jvgu ab pyhr jul gur tnzr jba'g yrg lbh tb gb gur bar cynpr lbh xabj lbh'er fhccbfrq gb vairfgvtngr, abe nal erny vqrn jung lbh znl unir qbar jebat.

    I got stuck there for I think years.

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  4. One thing that I think neither you nor Reiko mentioned is that Cryo was a kind of continuation of Exxos, company responsible for Captain Blood and Chamber of Scifi Mutant Priestess (or something like it), two of the weirdest scifi adventures ever seen on this blog.

    I am also a big fan of KGB, because the plot is just so good. It is a bit too hard at places, which should probably lower the score, though. I'll guess 59.

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    1. And in case someone is wondering, we are delaying both Dark Seed and Kyrandia, because Alfred, designated reviewer of both games, had some pressing professional duties to handle. We'll come back to these games eventually.

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    2. I was going to chime in with the observation that Cryo descended from Exxos which was itself an imprint of Ere Informatique from way back in 1981, so while Cryo was new, most of the crew were old hands with years of working together.

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  5. I just noticed something - though that Dune screenshot is very similar to the one from the Dune intro, it's actually slightly different - I prefer this one, as I have the option to say "What ?" when my mother greets me with, "I'm your mother"

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    1. I believe I just got the Dune screenshot from Google, since I wasn't playing that game anyway. But yeah, out of the options available I would also be more inclined to respond with "what?" if my mother introduced herself to me like that.

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    2. Maybe they were just trying to imitate the most famous scifi movie series of all times. After all, I've heard no one make fun of "Luke, I am your father".

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    3. Well, to get technical, plenty of people make fun of "Luke, I am your father" but that's because that isn't what Vader actually says :)

      There are two occasions where I'd find it an appropriate introduction: when you're introducing yourself to a child who was reared by other people and never knew who their father was, or replying to someone who's just come out of a coma and asked "Who are you?"

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    4. I guess the hero of Dune could be just suffering from a similar short term memory loss like Avatar, who always has to learn all the same stuff from one Ultima to another.

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  6. I assume the GRU/KGB split is similar to FBI/CIA in the USA, or MI5/MI6 in the UK.

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  7. Oh, a spy thriller. If it wasn't stated I would assume the reason they changed KGB to Conspiracy would have been due the fall of the Soviet Union, but I almost forget that due to games being smaller you actually could start producing a game after an event and get it finished within a year.

    And the dice says... 76. How come I never roll high enough while playing DnD, but guessing the score it's either the high or the low?

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