Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Game 16: Captain Blood - Introduction

It’s time for something a little bit different. It’s not conclusive whether or not Captain Blood (known as L’Arche du capitaine Blood in French) should be considered an adventure game, but when I put it to a poll, the community made it clear that it’s a game you want me to play regardless. Made in 1988 by ERE Informatique and released by Infogrames, it sure looks like a strange piece of work. One gets the feeling that Didier Bouchon and Philippe Ulrich, the game’s joint developers, might have been partaking in a bit of the old happy stick during its creation. Bouchon had originally been hired to design covers for Ere Informatique’s releases, but he quickly learnt to program in the Atari ST’s assembler after Ulrich provided one for him. The assembler allowed him to create a fractal generated real-time graphic system, impressing Bouchon enough to join forces and develop a science fiction game.

Philippe Ulrich and Didier Bouchon

The resulting game seems to avoid genre classification, being some sort of adventure, space simulator, strategy hybrid. It was first released on the Atari ST, but eventually was ported to C64, Macintosh, Amiga, Apple IIGS, PC and various 8-bit platforms such as the ZX Spectrum. Due to all the differences in these technologies, each of the ports had variances in graphics and sound, and not surprisingly it’s the Atari ST version that looks and feels the best. As usual, it’s the PC one that I’ll be playing, and if you’ve read my Request for Assistance post earlier this week, you’ll know that it’s taken a fair bit of effort just to get to the point where I can play the game with the desired graphical quality. The short of it is that there are at least two different versions of Captain Blood out there for download, and the EGA one only works in DOSBox if you run it from an actual floppy image.

The US Captain Blood box. I wonder whether the woman plays any role in the game

I’ve found a PDF version of the manual (thankfully given how complicated it all looks) and also come across the Captain Blood novella, that I think came with the original release of the game. The story is just bizarre and goes something like this: Bob Morlock, a game designer who goes by the name Captain Blood, develops a new video game based around space travel and communications with various alien races. On completion of the game, Morlock starts it up for the first time, only to find himself sucked into his own gameworld. Appearing in a spaceship of his own design, Morlock (now solely going by the name Captain Blood) is forced to go into hyperspace to avoid imminent danger. Unfortunately, something goes wrong, with the end result being that Captain Blood is cloned thirty times, with each of the clones holding onto part of his vital fluids. He spends the next 800 years tracking down the clones and regaining his vital fluids a piece at a time, but while he manages to hunt down twenty-five of them, the remaining five have evading him.

The UK Captain Blood box. More sophisticated but less appealing.

This is where the player comes in. Tasked with tracking down the remaining five clones and disintegrating them, the player must communicate with aliens on numerous planets to try to get the coordinates of the final five. To reach the aliens, the player must send out crafts, which are actually living beings called OORXX’s, guiding them through canyons to the landing spots, where communication takes place. This communication appears to be handled through the use of 150 icons, with each race of alien speaking in different ways. I’ve had a quick go at it, and while I get the idea, it seems that it’s going to be extremely difficult to figure out what to say to each alien when there are so many icons to choose from. Given the rather cult following the game has (it even spawned a sequel called Commander Blood a few years later), I can only imagine I’ll eventually come to grips with it given enough practice, and I look forward to the challenge of what is clearly a very unique game on the list.

24 of the 150 possible communication icons. Happy days!


  1. So basically you can communicate with Aliens via something like an interactive Arecibo Message?

    I think I will leave this one for you to play at the moment. While it seems an interesting mechanic, I can't figure out if the story is both unique or clique and will wait for your more patience judgement.

  2. Hehe, I´ll sit this one out too Trickster, and watch the show from the sidelines. :-)
    At first I thought the reference to the 150 icons was hyperbole... oh my.

  3. Ever wanted to ask Jane Jensen (creator of the Gabriel Knight series) a question? GOG are giving you the chance...


    1. Speaking of outside news, in addition to the Doublefine Kickstarter, Al Lowe is doing a remake of Leisure Suit Larry, and the two creators of Space Quest have put their differences aside to do something new in that series.

      Kickstarter is basically bringing all the old bands back together.

    2. Yup,

      and the two guys from andromeda are reappearing too! I guess we'll see a kickstarter project from them in a few days... as far as I'm concerned, they can have my kidney if they make a new SQ game...

  4. @Tk and Charles: Looks like I'm taking one for the team here. ;)

    I'm unlikely to have a chance to play it for a day or two, so won't have an update until close to the weekend.

  5. This game looks so familiar but I do not remember anything called Captain Blood... was there a similar game that used alien lips to speak and stuff like that. The graphics just look so familiar.

  6. I have to confess I'm not sure it will be the game that will make you love french software. It was really cryptic in my memory and, even if it did gain a cult following, I never could get in this one even if I tried a few times...

    But be patient with french developers! Delphine Software games are just around the corner, and they produced a few gems!

    By the way, do you think you'll consider playing games like Another World and Flashback? I just thought about them because they are definitely two of french developers' finest, and even if they are action games at their core, they both have a few elements of adventure games that I think might be interesting to read about in this blog...

    1. I beg to differ, Captain Blood is a fine example of how unleashed creativity can result in a gaming experience that is definitively weird but also very entertaining.
      "Gaming experience" is actually why I suggested one should at least try to play the ST version as the experience is also one for the senses (at some point it becomes even possible to understand the aliens just by listening to them).
      Thumbs up for Another World, but this is really not an adventure game.

    2. Oh I'm sure there is plenty of fun to be had in this game and that it's a really interesting gaming experience. The game seems fascinating but it's just that I never could get "into" it. Maybe it was too weird for me, I don't know.

      Then again, maybe I'll give it another shot one of those days...

  7. I seem to remember this game got fairly good reviews back in the day. Too weird for my tastes though.

  8. Looks very interesting! I am buried in the sequel to Ultima Underworld - it's big, but somehow less stylish than the first. I look forward to vicariously discovering the secrets of Captain Blood - good luck!

  9. I'm having a very busy week this week so it's possible I won't get to post until the weekend. I have played the game for a couple of hours and all I have to say is:


  10. It was a fun game in the day, it took me a while but finding the first duplicate was such a seeming impossibility! of course #5 is .. sneaky.

    it was amazing at the time, 32768 planets in the galaxy, but landing got tedious on the 16bit machines, the 8bit crowd had a simpler canyon experience...

    The saddest thing you'll miss on the PC is the opening score by Jean Jarre.. Ethnicolor.

    Anyways its all about what the aliens & their races motives are and of course how you can help them, either by blowing people up, teleporting them around, voting etc...