Monday 28 October 2013

Game 37: Loom - The Chromax Conundrum

Bobbin Threadbare Journal Entry 2: "For the first time in my life I have left the island of Loom behind me! The gravestone of Lady Cygna hinted that I should revisit the cliff where this strange day began, and there I cast a draft that gave me the means to travel to lands across the sea. I have already met a glassmaker named Master Goodmold in the beautiful city of Crystalgard, and learnt about things I never would have heard about in my guarded homeland. I plan to explore this city of glass thoroughly before I move on to destinations unknown. I am both nervous and excited at what the future may hold for me!"

It's time to leave this village behind and go exploring

My first Loom gameplay post didn’t make it far beyond the game’s introduction, so I’m going to cut to the chase and get on with it for this second one. I’d finished exploring the village, so it was time to go see what else I could find on the island of Loom. The overhead shot had hinted that I might be able to visit a pier next to the ocean shore, so I headed in that direction. It turned out to be only one screen west of the village edge, and on arrival I found four seagulls sitting atop wooden poles and what looked to be another egg amongst the rocks near the water. I walked up to one of the gulls and clicked on it. Oddly, the four threads of a draft were heard, and the notes E,C,E,D flashed above my distaff. I was about to go hunting through the Book of Patterns to see what draft it might be when I realised those notes matched the ones I’d previously used to open the egg. It was the Opening draft, but why was I hearing it when I clicked on a bird? Selecting the other gulls caused the same draft to play, so I turned my attention to the egg-like item on the rock. It wasn’t a rock at all! It was a clam, and clearly the birds were somehow urging me to open it so they could eat whatever was inside!

Let's hope these birds are not of the Hitchcock variety!

I obliged, and using the Opening draft did indeed open the clam. One of the gulls flew down and began eating the horrible looking morsel inside, but I couldn’t find any reason why doing this might be helpful to me. In the end I decided that this scene would help players learn the Opening draft if they either didn’t have the Book of Patterns or had failed to take notice of it, despite that going against the copy protection theory I’d had previously. Regardless, I headed for the trees in the top left corner of the island and soon found myself on an eerie moonlit path. Some of the trees had large holes in them, so I decided to take a closer look. When I clicked on the first one, the note D was heard and lit up on the staff, and I was told that “There’s an owl in there!”. That was interesting, but what did it mean? I then noticed that there were a total of four holes in trees on the screen, and deducted that clicking on each would likely produce the four threads I needed to make up a draft! I was convinced of this theory when the second hole had another owl in it, and the note C lit up. I found yet another owl and another C lit up for the third hole (oh my...that sentence appears very dirty in hindsight), so I confidently clicked on the fourth and final one. “This hole is empty.” What?! Not only was there no owl, but no note was heard either!

Awesomely spooky!

The game designers really got me with that one, and all I could do was continue along the path and hope that I’d come across the final thread. The next screen contained a cemetery, with an owl perched on top of one of the tombstones. I’ve not specifically discussed the graphics at this stage, but I will right now. Loom is just beautiful, and this screen is a perfect example of the wonder, the attention to detail, and the symmetry of it all! It’s simply astounding what the designers managed to do within the confines of EGA. I checked out the gravestone, but was informed that I couldn’t read anything on it because the “owl’s tail feathers are blocking my view.” I clicked on the owl, but it was sound asleep and seemingly non-responsive. I looked through the drafts I’d learnt so far, but none of them seemed useful in waking the owl up. I moved my cursor around the screen and found I could also investigate the sky and the brambles to the left. I clicked on the sky and was informed that “The view from the cliff is better”, so I turned my attention to the brambles. Clicking on them caused Bobbin to cut his finger, and the yell of “Ouch!” scared a bunny rabbit out of its hiding place! It ran across the front of the cemetery, scaring the owl away in the process!

Well this saved me hitting the owl over the head with my distaff

I was now able to read the gravestone, which had the following etched into it. “In Memory Of Lady Cygna Threadbare 7983-8004. Destiny shall draw the Lightning Down from the Heaven; roll its Thunder Far across the Sea, to where I Wait upon the Shore of Wonder, On the day the Sky is Opened And the Tree is split asunder.” After I’d finished reading the inscription, Bobbin made a point of saying “The day the sky is opened. Hmmm.” I figured there must be something important in that message, but I was keen to find out whether the owl had entered the fourth tree on the next screen. The message could wait! Just as I’d hoped, the owl had indeed flown into the fourth hole, and clicking on it produced a D. That meant the full draft must be D,C,C,D, but what would it do? I looked through the Book of Patterns, eventually coming across an obvious candidate. “Night Vision: The threads of this distinctive and beautiful draft are extrapolated from the song of nocturnal birds. At one time, Night Vision was prized by the Guild of Miners, whose legendary underground realm was chiefly illuminated by luminous tapestries bearing our Seal. Tragically, demand fell off after the Great Earthquake of 7331.” Night Vision would surely allow me to see better in the dark, and I knew exactly where that would be useful! I headed for the village, and entered the tent where I’d been unable to see beyond a pile of gold earlier on.

I think Adam West may Have written this Message

Selecting the darkness and then clicking the notes for Night Vision on my distaff caused the previously unseen part of the room to be illuminated! I could now see a wheel and some straw on the ground next to it. Selecting the wheel brought forth yet another draft, with this one containing the threads C,C,C and E. It didn’t take long to find which one it was in the Book of Patterns: “Straw Into Gold: When times are lean, the Elders may invoke this draft to generate extra revenue. Its use is strictly regulated by the Treasurer of the Guild to prevent inflation. Other Guilds, ignorant in the ways of spell-weaving, have concocted a variety of outlandish fairy tales involving this rather elementary weave.” It seemed pretty obvious what I should do with this draft, so I selected the straw and then the required threads. The straw turned into gold alright, but I still wasn’t able to take any of it. However, as I completed the draft, the blue sparks that lit the straw as it transformed continued up and over me. The note for F below the image of my distaff lit up! By now I’d realised that I could only cast “spells” that included only the lit up notes in my interface, so now I was going to be able perform more complicated drafts. I didn’t yet have any drafts that included the F note, but  the Emptying draft I’d learnt in one of the tents included a G. I was going to have to practice more before I’d be able to empty anything.

The wheel weaves as the wheel wills

Oh it's just another pile of useless gold pieces! At least now I have an f!

Since turning the straw into gold hadn’t given me any leads, I spent some time thinking about the message I’d found in the cemetery. Bobbin had made a point of repeating the line “the day the sky is opened”, and I’d been able to look at the sky on that screen. When I had though, I’d been informed that “the view from the cliff is better”. Should I head back to the cliff? How would I open the sky anyw...eureka! I could use my Opening draft to “open the sky” up on the mountain! I made my way back up there, selected the sky and then cast the Opening draft, admiring the large colourful portal that opened in the distance. Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck, hitting the tree right next to me and causing it to break off and crash into the ocean at the base of the cliff face. It didn’t merely sink though, instead drifting along the beachfront until it sat stationary in front of the pier. I wasn’t certain what I was going to do with it, but I raced down from the mountain and straight to the pier. When I clicked on the log, I unexpectedly fell into the water! I clicked on it again, and felt relieved when Bobbin climbed onto it as it began to drift out to sea. I really hadn’t expected to leave the island so soon! My immediate reaction was to be concerned that I might have missed something and created a dead end for myself. It didn’t seem likely that I was going to be able to return if I had! Then I remembered that Loom was the first game to follow the no dead end or dying LucasArts policy, and just went with the flow (literally).

Ooohhhh....pretty!!! It reminds me of....

...holy $%^$!!!! What the hell?!

I'd better find a Drying draft soon

I hadn’t travelled all that far when a very dangerous looking “waterspout” appeared in my path! I couldn’t get too close to it, nor could I bypass it, so I was going to have to do something with my distaff. Clicking on the waterspout got me the following message: “Whew! Listen to that twisty wind!” At the same time I heard the four notes of a draft, and recorded them as D,E,F,C. There just so happened to be a draft named Twisting in the Book of Patterns! “The origins of this ancient draft are lost in history. The earliest references to it are woven into the foremost hem of the Long Tapestry, beside threads depicting the manipulation of flax and yarn by hand. Tradition has it that the four notes were derived from the rhythmic squeak of First Elder Swellflax’s own spindle.” I couldn’t see how casting “Twisting” on something that was already twisting violently could help, but I gave it a shot anyway. “It’s twisting hard enough already! Must be SOME way to untwist it...” Hey, perhaps if I reversed the threads of the Twisting draft, it would untwist the waterspout? I tried it, and it worked, giving me free passage beyond, where a new land awaited! As soon as I set foot upon the sand of this new land, I “levelled up” and the note G lit up beneath my distaff. I was now ready to take on more complicated drafts!

Can't go round it, can't go over it, we'll have to untwist it!

Did I mention I hate green!?

After much dedication, Bobbin finally understood the mysteries of the G.

It was time to start exploring, and I decided to head off to the right of screen since there was something glistening in that direction. It was a city made of what appeared to be green crystal!!! There were two entrances that I could see on the side I arrived on, with one being on a dome and the other at the base of a tower. I could see quite a bit of movement at the top of the tower, and noticed I could select a couple of workers that were up there doing something or other. I looked through my drafts, but couldn’t see anything that could logically be applied to the workers (although I tried a couple for good measure), so left it alone for now. I entered the dome, reappearing inside where everything was made of transparent green crystal. The only things in the room I could select were a couple of plaques at the foot of sculptures, so I clicked on one. As I approached that part of the room, a man dressed in blue entered and greeted me. “Welcome to Crystalgard. I am Master Goodmold, thirty-first in the Noble Guild of Glassmakers. Who have I the honor of meeting?” He seemed surprised when I responded with my name and guild, and complimented me on my cloak. “Crystalgard’s wisdom includes many legends concerning your Guild. One is particularly strange and amusing. They say it is death to peer beneath the hood of a Weaver. Can this be true?”

The Glassmakers are not big on privacy

It probably lost its impact after about the third or fourth to be perfectly blunt

You may not find it so amusing when you see...THIS!!!!! Mwahaha!!!

I hadn’t been aware of this belief amongst other guilds, and apparently Bobbin hadn’t been either. “Don’t know. Nobody ever tried it on me.” Bobbin then asked Master Goodmold if he’d seen a flock of swans passing by, but he hadn’t. He did recommend I check out their fine selection of binoculars, telescopes and other precision optics though, before leaving me to look around. I now had a chance to read the two plaques, with both of them turning out to be gravestones. One read “Softshard, Wife of Luscent Bottleblower here attained Final Clarity.”, while the other read “Near this spot, Luscent Bottlesblower, Founder of the Noble Guild of Glassmakers, attained his Final Clarity.” I couldn’t make anything important out of the messages, so I went in the same direction Goodmold had gone (to the right of screen). I reappeared in a rather complicated looking room, with various exits and stairways found in the background. Right next to me was a large cup resting on a pedestal, and there was a bell hanging from the wall at the end of the pathway I was standing on. I focussed on the cup, with Bobbin commenting that he’d “never seen glass sparkle like this”. Master Goodmold entered the room at this point, explaining that the cup was in fact not glass at all. “The chalice was carved from a single crystal of diamond.” When Bobbin questioned why it was made with crystal instead of glass, given that this was the Guild of Glassmakers, Goodmold explained the “Chromax Conundrum”.

It is our most valuable asset. Which is why we leave it unguarded here in this otherwise empty room.

The crystal chalice was made by the Glassmaker’s founding member, Luscent Bottleblow. “Three centuries ago, our fair city was plundered by a dragon. The greedy beast emptied our museum and treasury. Even Bottleblow’s great masterpiece, the First Scrying Sphere, was lost. Fortunately, the Conundrum was on loan to the Guild of Vintners at the time. It is our only remaining example of Bottleblow’s transcendent genius.” The reason it’s called the Conundrum is because the glassmakers don’t know why the chalice was made with crystal instead of glass. Well that was all very interesting, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it. After Goodmold left the room, I tried the reverse draft of Emptying. To my surprise, this worked! The chalice filled with what I assumed was red wine, although when I clicked on it afterwards, Bobbin merely remarked “Wish I was old enough to drink.” I soon found that I could empty and fill the glass repeatedly, by casting the standard and reverse Emptying draft, but couldn’t figure out whether or not this achieved anything. Perhaps I need to come back later for this puzzle. This is where I stopped my first session of Loom about a week ago, and I’ve been dying to get back to it (blogging sometimes demands inhuman patience). I’m off to do exactly that, and as usual, will be back with a rundown in two or three days.

Dude, you're seventeen! GET ON IT!

Session Time: 0 hours 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours 15 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

Thursday 24 October 2013

Game 37: Loom - Turn Loose the Swans

Bobbin Threadbare Journal Entry 1: "I must say, this hasn't been the best birthday I've ever had! It began the way every other birthday does, with me climbing the mountain to watch the swan, but everything has gone completely crazy since! A messenger nymph told me to go see the Elders, but when I got there I witnessed something truly awful. They turned Hetchel into a swan, apparently for nothing more than teaching me how to do some basic drafts with a distaff. They seemed to think that I'm a danger to the pattern, at least they did before the swan I'd planned to see from the mountain came crashing through and turned all of them into swans too! One minute everyone in the village is going about their own business, the next they're all swans and flying off into the distance! Hetchel told me before she left that I should learn the ways of weaving, and that my destiny is waiting for me across the water. I can't think of any reason to stay on Loom now, so I guess I'll follow her advice and see where I end up."

It all begins here, on Loom

My journey has begun, and I already know that I am really going to enjoy it! I've played just over an hour of the game, but I will likely only get through half of that in this first gameplay post. The first section is very dialogue heavy (it's basically one long introduction), so I'll try to summarise conversations without diminishing the power of what is one of the game’s most cherished aspects. After much deliberation, I decided to play the game in Standard mode. This had more to do with me wanting to play the way the majority of first time players would, rather than any performance anxiety on my part. Now that I’ve played part of the game, I’d like to think I could give Expert mode a pretty good shot, and perhaps I will another time. The game begins as the audio prologue finished, with Bobbin (that’s me) sleeping atop a small mountain on the island Loom, which he’d climbed with the purpose of seeing the lonely swan that passes by on his birthday every year. His rest was interrupted by a “messenger nymph” (a shining light that moves around and talks), which Bobbin believes must have been woven by one of the Elders down in the village.

The manhunter awoke, happy to find a messenger nymph rather than a giant eyeball staring back at him for once

The messenger nymph had the following message for Bobbin: “Rise, son of Cygna. It is the dawn of your seventeenth year. I am sent by the Elders to summon you. The High Council awaits your presence in the Sanctuary.” With that I had control of Bobbin, and immediately tried to come to grips with the interface. I moved the cursor over the screen and noticed that an image of the single red leaf attached to the tree appeared in the bottom right corner whenever I crossed over it. Clicking on it caused it to drop from the tree and float away, with Bobbin claiming it to be the “Last leaf of the year.” I clicked on the path I could see leading down from the mountain and watched as Bobbin disappeared behind the peak and then reappeared in much smaller form down on the path in the distance. Following it along took me to the village, but it was clear that I was not restricted to that location alone. I could also see a small pier in the bottom left corner of the screen and also appeared to be able to walk towards the trees in the top left. I decided to follow the messenger nymph’s instructions and try to find the Elders in the village. On entering the village proper, I had the option of entering any of a number of tents. I chose the one on the left of screen and was stunned to appear in an interior far larger than the exterior suggested!

I wonder if we'll ever see what a Weaver really looks like!

Clicking on things once shows a close-up of it. Clicking on it again interacts with it.

The colours used are very reminiscent of Monkey Island. Loom came first though I should add!

I'll just see what's inside this tiny little tent. Can't be much...right?

In fact, there was clearly some magic involved here, as the “tent” turned out to be a huge hallway with tapestries and stained glass windows decorating the walls. I wandered along, investigating the tapestries, which I discovered were all sections of “the Long Tapestry”. I was told that the first green section described “the creation of the world and the passage of the Two Shadows.” The second blue section showed “the rise of the Guilds, and the story of the Weaver’s founding.” The last pink section illustrated “the decline of the Guilds, and the gathering of a Third Shadow.” Interestingly, there was a portion of this last tapestry that had been forcibly torn off, so I assumed I would come across it at some point later in the game. The end of the hallway opened up into a large room, where the Elders were congregated (Elder Clothos in green, Elder Atropos in blue, and Elder Lachesis in yellow). The all important Loom was next to them, lit up by impressive waves of colourful light! Rather than waltzing in and interrupting, Bobbin waited at the end of the hallway, and listened to the remainder of their conversation. It quickly became apparent that the three Elders were not at all happy with Dame Hetchel, whom I knew from the prologue as the servant woman that had raised me since Cygna had been turned into a swan. She was given the opportunity to defend her actions, yet she refused. “I have no defense or excuses, Elder Atropos. My actions speak for themselves.”

Holy crap! This tent is like the TARDIS!

Sorry guys! I just got here. Would you mind running through those findings again?

The Elders were stunned with Hetchel’s defiance, and demanded to know why she now broke the Rules of Membership when she had always followed them to the letter. Her response was clear: “The boy must be told the truth about his birth, Elder Clothos. His talent awakens! Soon he will wield the power of Weaving, whether we choose to guide him or not. We dare not desert Bobbin now.” As I’d expected, the Elders were enraged that Dame Hetchel had disobeyed their order that I never be shown the ways of weaving, and I now wondered what would become of her. Elder Atropos answered that question immediately. “It grieves me to see your many years of faithful service end in this disgrace. But the wisdom of the Elders may not be questioned. That is the final Rule of Membership. Another one of your students, Lady Cygna, learned the terrible price of defiance in this very chamber seventeen years ago. Better that you had heeded that lesson. Gaze once more upon the Great Loom if you would know your destiny. For behold! That destiny is upon you.” Just as they had done to Cygna all those years ago, the Elders weaved a draft to turn Dame Hetchel into a swan, and that would banish her from the pattern. Only this time, it didn’t work precisely as they’d planned. The older servant was now inside an egg, sitting on the floor in front of the loom.

Don't take it personally. I have problems with authority in general.

Utinni! (Yes, I stole your thunder Canageek)

Oh! I thought the final rule of Membership was "There is no Membership"! My bad!

I think you're losing your mojo Elder Atropos!

Before the Elders could ponder on this strange turn of events, a cry was heard from outside the Guild. A swan, clearly Cygna, swooped down and crashed through the stained glass window, immediately weaving threads. The threads were represented by four lights on the loom coinciding with four differing audible notes. To the Elders’ great horror, Cygna was weaving the same draft they had, subsequently turning all three of them into swans the way they had her all those years ago. Just prior to the last of the three elders being transformed, Elder Atropos cried out: “Cursed forever be the name of Cygna’s son, the Loom-Child ... Bobbin Threadbare!” I was then witness to all the swans departing the island and flying through some sort of portal, presumably leaving the pattern as they went. I was left alone in the Guild Hall. “Oh, wonderful. Everyone’s flown away! No explanations. No goodbyes. Why do they always leave me behind?” Loom’s extended introduction was nearing it's completion, and I now temporarily had control of Bobbin. The first thing I did was take a look at the egg that likely contained Dame Hetchel in swan form. I was told that the egg was “trying to open!”, which reminded me that there were two prefilled drafts in the Book of Patterns. The first one, which was called Opening, and the last one, which was called Transcendence.

Now that's what I call an entrance!

There were more than four swans leaving the island, which suggested the whole village was transformed

It's tough being the chosen one!

I knew from reading the manual that the exact threads of the drafts changed from game to game (a kind copy protection), but it appeared Opening and Transcendence never changed. “Opening: This fundamental draft is traditionally the first one taught to novice spellweavers. Once mastered, it may be spun into tarpaulins, theatre curtains, or any covering that must be whisked aside on command.” Dame Hetchel had taught Bobbin the Opening draft towards the end of the prologue, so it made sense that it was prefilled in the book, but what about Transcendence? “Transcendence: Few indeed are the Weavers who successfully spun this, the most subtle and mysterious expression of our art. Transcendence dissolves the ties that bind our threads into the Pattern, elevating mind and body to an undefined state of existence. Transcended beings are said to assume the form of birds, constellations, or even sunspots. Because corporal punishment is forbidden in our Guild, Transendence is occasionally used as a means of humane banishment, but only for the most unforgivable infractions of the Rules.” Aha! So the Elders had weaved the Transcendence draft on both Cygna and now Dame Hetchel! I’d seen them do it, so that’s why it was also prefilled in the Book of Patterns! I was very keen to try out the Opening draft on the egg, but there was something I was going to need to make that happen. I walked over to the distaff that Elder Atropos had left behind, and picked it up.

Enchantment: Remove any three creature cards under your control and put three 6/6 Death Swans of Loom tokens in their place

When it comes to music, the heavier the better!

An image of the distaff appeared at the bottom of the screen, along with a representation of sheet music (please excuse my musical ignorance during these posts). While there were a total of eight separate notes shown, only three of them were “lit up” with colour. I wasn’t completely sure why at this point, but I quickly realised that the notes required for the Opening draft were all amongst them. I positioned myself in front of the egg and selected it so it appeared down the bottom right. I then clicked on E, C, E, and then D. As I did this, the section on the distaff directly above those notes lit up, and the note could be audibly heard. Lights appeared on the loom behind me too, suggesting whatever I was doing was gaining power from the loom itself. Once the draft was complete, blue sparkles enveloped the egg, and then it opened! A small black swan stepped out and began speaking to me! “Thank goodness you’re still here.” It was Dame Hetchel! I asked her what was going on, and why the whole village had flown away, to which she replied: “I’d hoped the swan might come to save you. But I never expected her to weave as much mischief as this!” She then told me that the Elders planned to turn me into a swan too, as they believed my unnatural birth was the cause of chaos spreading “across the Pattern in the Loom”. Now that the Elders themselves had been banished, Hetchel believed that the pattern was failing on its own accord, and that “a third Shadow is nigh”!

Could you string any more weaving related words into your material?

I asked the black swan how we could stop the chaos, but she didn’t think it was possible. “We can embrace it. Or... escape! We must find out where our flock has flown, and join them if we can! As long as the distaff remains in your hands, I’ll know you are safe. If you ever lose it, take heart! I’ll come to help you if I can.” This last comment seemed important, hinting that this wouldn’t be the last time I would see Dame Hetchel in the game. Our conversation concluded with her telling me to “Leave this island, Loom-Child. It’s too small for you now. Your destiny lies beyond the sea!” With that, she took her leave and followed the swans out of the pattern through a portal of sorts. I really was alone now, but excited to set out and explore the rest of the island. Before I left, I took a closer look at the loom, finding that the four threads of the Transcendence draft were “still echoing” there. I already knew them from the Book of Patterns, but it was nice to have my understanding of events so far confirmed (the notes matched those found in the book). I left the tent, and made my way east until I arrived at another one. I entered, and found a pile of gold glistening at the edge of a darkened room. As promising as this find was, clicking on it only resulted in the following message: “People ought to clean up after themselves.”

Mulligrub me, Mulligrub you...

So it didn’t look like money was going to play a role in Loom. I walked into the darkness, and noticed that an image of my eyes appeared in the bottom right corner. I wasn’t able to see anything in the room, but thought I might be able to with the right draft. With nothing else to do, I left the tent and continued east, finding one last tent that I could enter. Now this room seemed to have a lot on offer! There were bits of material around the place, a boiling pot over a fire, and a table containing various bits and pieces. I began to systematically check out each item, starting with the green wool hanging above the stove. “Grassy green. Hate that color.” Well that seemed unfortunate, given most things in the room had the same emerald green tone. I clicked on the boiling pot, and found that it contained dye. Not only that, the notes of a draft (C,D,C,D) were played as the words “It’s bubbling” appeared on the screen. I skimmed through the Book of Patterns, eventually coming across a draft called Dyeing. "This draft was perfected by the dye of the Woonsocket Chapter, who slaved for hours over steaming pits to satisfy the Cleric’s appetite for colourful vestures. Originally woven into all types of fabric, the applicability of the Dyeing draft has diminished over the course of centuries. Now it works only on wool.”

With this much power, nothing can stop me! Why I can even change this useless heap of wool into something beautiful and precious!

Just next to the stove were two piles of wool that still needed dyeing, so I tried out my new draft. It worked, turning the wool bright green. It still didn’t seem useful, so I moved onto the large bottle sitting on the table. Clicking it caused it to fall over and start dripping green liquid onto the floor. At the same time as this happened though, the notes of another draft appeared (G,E,E,D.). I once again looked through the Book of Patterns, quickly finding a likely one called Emptying. “The contents of almost any filled container may be instantly unravelled with this handy draft. Before its development c. 4200, the streams of Woonsocket ran green with discarded dyes of the chemists. Avoid the temptation to spin Emptying upon lakes or clouds; its range is deliberately limited to prevent catastrophes such as the Double Deluge of 4202 (for which the Guild admits no responsibility).” I looked around the room, but couldn’t find anything that I might want to empty. I therefore checked out the last remaining item in the room, which was a large red book on the table. “This is the Book of Patterns that Hetchel lets me read sometimes. Better take it with me.” I wasn’t sure whether it played a role in the game itself, or whether it was simply there to compliment the one that came in the box (in the real world), but I now had it in both fiction and reality. Well, this post has gone on long enough now, despite not having covered all that much ground. That’s usually the case for these first up gameplay posts though, so no doubt we’ll move at a more rapid pace from here on in. Join me in a couple of days...


Session Time: 0 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 0 hours 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Challenge - Olav and the Lute

Look familiar?

I realise that I posted an interview just a few posts back, and that I also have an incomplete poll on whether or not interviews are a welcome addition to the blog in the first place. But, to not post this now would be to miss an opportunity. I was thinking to myself the other day that I hadn't introduced anything knew to the blog for a while. The What's Your Story well seems to have run dry, so I tried to come up with something a bit different. I decided I would set a challenge for you all, with a reward of CAPs for anyone that has a go, but I hadn't got much further than that. The very next day I received an email from Shelly Alon, a guy that claimed to have made a short adventure game with a couple of his mates. One particular line in the email really caught my attention! “Olav & the Lute is a short mystical point & click adventure, using a unique mechanic once introduced by the classic Loom.” Well that was a neat piece of timing! I was just about to embark on the journey of Loom for the very first time! I made my way to to see if Shelly’s first attempt at making a game was worth a passing look, and well, I’ll let you guys be the judge! Here’s the deal. I challenge any of you to play Olav & the Lute, and to blog your way through it the same way I do on a near-daily basis.

Shelly Alon

To be clear, this is not a way for me to show you how much work is involved in making this blog happen, or how incredibly awesome I am at it (I don’t think that at all by the way). I just think it would be an interesting exercise, and would no doubt offer a budding game developer some amazing feedback on his first real shot at making a game. It’s also a celebration of Loom, since I’m unaware of any other games that have applied anything remotely similar to the distaff mechanic found in LucasArts’ classic. Anyone that meets this challenge will receive 50 CAPs, and the one I’m most impressed with will get 100. That’s right, 100 CAPs!!!! Only the infamous Laukku has received more for a single effort! I’m not going to demand that people do Introduction and Final Rating posts, but if you want to try your hand at them then be my guest. Any attempts can be emailed to me in whatever format you like, or they can be posted online if you have the resources available. I will send all of them to Shelly, and likely post the winning effort it it's not already online. The competition will run until I reach the end of Conquests of Camelot, (which will likely be over a month away) so plenty of time to blog through a thirty minute game. As a final note, please remember that this is about giving Shelly some constructive feedback, whether it be positive or negative.

No, you don't have to know foreign languages to play the game

In the meantime, here’s a short interview I conducted with Shelly.

Can you tell us about yourself and your background in gaming?

I'm Shelly, a 22 year old design student living in Hamburg. By design I don't mean game design at all. The fields I'm studying reach from analog photography to typography and animation. Though I have always planned on getting into game development, I never made a step towards my goal. I've been playing games my whole life and they always were a welcome creative input.

What made you decide to try your hand at developing your own game?

When I decided to finally get my hands dirty and make a game, I didn’t know where to start. I couldn’t program. But a friend of mine (Daniel) had the experience needed and so we started. Suddenly all the creative fields of my design studies became useful.  That’s also how I got the motivation in the first place. I made animations, books, type designs, and I drew a lot. And suddenly I remembered my original goal and realised that all those creative and graphical themes are a part of games. Game development inherits all of the things that interest me.

An in-game Book of Patterns!

What is Olav & the Lute and why should we play it?

Olav & the Lute is a short Point & Click adventure. In a mystical post-apocalyptic world Olav has the divine and fateful mission to awaken the mighty Loom. Instead of the classical Inventory, you collect melodies, like in the old classic Adventure LOOM. You help Olav, encounter strange characters and interact with the world with your magical Lute. It's by far not a perfect game, but for a first game it's impressive. A vivid world and with the soundtrack a friend of mine contributed to the game, it's really atmospheric. Since a play-through is only half an hour long, it is definitely worth a try.

Who was involved in the development of the game, and what techniques were used?

Daniel & I were the lead developers and Johann helped us a bit with ideas. Daniel got his hands dirty on the hard programing stuff and I did all the rest, from the art to the game design. Throughout the development I learned to program myself and as of now I think I could program the whole game alone. Thanks to Daniel’s code of course, from which I've learned. Quirin Nebas helped us with the sound and music. For the development we used Unity. In it we built sort of our own little engine. Other programs are Photoshop, Aftereffects and some sound programs. I also made the trailer and the website.

It tells us that someone has played Loom before. A lot!

Clearly LOOM was a big influence in both the design and the mechanics of the game. Was that always the plan or did it just happen?

LOOM was an inspiration from the start. We wanted to make a game with the same mechanics and continued from there. There wasn't really a complete concept at the beginning, we just started to work and built the world one screen at a time.

Where to from here? Are you planning to experiment more and hone your skills, or jump into making a commercially released game?

We will definitely try other things out in the future. Since Olav & the Lute was quite a large project, maybe too large for us, we will try smaller things out maybe. But first I will be developing a game on my own. The idea for it is brewing for a couple of months. A puzzle game about sums, systems and the inability to sleep at night because of too many thoughts.....

Now that's good advice!

The challenge is set. Who is brave enough to accept it!?

Sunday 20 October 2013

Game 37: Loom - Introduction

 We're finally there!

It has been almost two years since I started The Adventure Gamer. I had no idea at the time that it would attract a small community (I hoped it would of course), but figured it would be an enjoyable journey regardless of its “success”. One of the things that got me particularly excited at the time was that playing through the list would result in me experiencing classic adventure games that I simply missed when they first came out. For whatever reason, I’d never played any of the Gabriel Knight, Broken Sword, Tex Murphy or Myst games, which was something I was very keen to remedy (still am). There was another game I was just as excited about though. It was one that I’d first read about at the impressionable age of 13, and had been fascinated by ever since. That game of course was Loom! The reason I didn’t get to play it in the early nineties had more to do with distribution than choice. As much as I feel ashamed of it today, the vast majority of games I played at that time of my life came from a small pirating community at my school, and Loom managed to avoid the otherwise comprehensive library of floppies that resulted. Now that I’m finally going to play it, I do wonder whether the built up expectations can possibly be met. I guess we’ll know soon enough.

 The Dig is another game I can't believe I never played

Loom was the fourth game created by Lucasfilm Games that made use of the SCUMM engine (the previous three were Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken and Indiana Jones). It was released in January 1990, and was the first game to follow Lucasfilm’s “Game Design Philosophy”. The philosophy stated that the player should never be killed or forced to restart a game, and was applied to all future adventure games that the company created. The lead designer on Loom was Brian Moriarty, who was already well known in the industry for having authored three of the original Infocom interactive fiction games (Wishbringer, Trinity and Beyond Zork). There were various influences that led to Loom’s creation, not least of all the word itself. To Moriarty, the word “loom suggested weaving, but also looming in the sense of towering over something, evoking mountains, power and menace”. It also shared the sound of other words “that bring to mind feelings of darkness and secrecy, such as gloom, womb and tomb”. From this starting point Moriarty created the Weavers, an ancient craft guild that secretly manage the fabric of reality, and the story unfolded from there. Many sites reference author Orson Scott Card (the Ender’s Game series) as having helped Moriarty write the story, but this is not true. Card’s involvement would only really have an impact a couple of years later, when he helped Sara Reeder revise the dialogue for the CD-ROM release (space limitations meant it wasn’t possible to keep all the original dialogue now that voice actors were involved).

Brian Moriarty: A very intelligent man

As a general rule I try not to read anything regarding the plot of a game prior to playing the game, but I have no hesitation in checking out everything that was originally included in box. In the case of Loom, the packaging contained a treasure trove of valuable bits and pieces. There was a manual of course, and a typical quick reference card, but there was also a document called the Book of Patterns (more on this later) and an audio cassette containing a thirty minute prologue to the game. This prologue gave the player some background to the events they would soon take part in, including the history of the weavers and the circumstances surrounding Bobbin’s birth (Bobbin is the protagonist). This recording was directed by John Reiger and included original music composed by Jerry Gerber (you can find out more on him here). Each of the characters involved were portrayed by voice actors, with many of them doing the voices for the same characters in the CD version a couple of years later. I listened to the prologue today on YouTube, and was really impressed. Not only is the acting for the most part adequate, the whole production is strong and the story itself really enthralling. I highly recommend giving it a listen if you intend to play the game (or have played it previously without knowing the full backstory). There’s a purely audio version here and one that includes images straight from the game here.

I may be sold on digital, but only because they don't make them like this anymore

I’ll summarise the prologue for those of you that don’t have a spare thirty minutes. It’s not clear whether the story of Loom is based on Earth, but the year 8021 may suggest it is set in the distant future. The world has become completely industrialised, with humans dominating nature and valuing skilled labour above all else. The common trades formed professional societies to protect their knowledge and to increase their power. Thus began the Age of the Great Guilds. The Guild of Weavers cared nothing for the politics and wars created by the greed of the larger guilds, and instead wished only to peacefully weave their fabrics in solitude. Weavers were not allowed to marry outsiders, so their numbers were controlled, and they soon became so skilled at creating fabrics that the rest of the world could no longer ignore them. Certain weaves could heal the wearer of the fabric, or even protect them from harm. They learnt to weave subtle patterns of influence into the very fabric of reality, eventually discarding flax and dies to instead weave with light and with music. The weavers were persecuted for what others considered to be witchcraft, and were forced to relocate to an island which they called Loom. Unfortunately, while they remained safe in their new homeland, they began to have trouble reproducing. A female weaver named Lady Cygna Threadbare decided something must be done.

Does anyone here actually own one of these?

Cygna had lost yet another child (either prior to or just post-birth), and approached the Guild Elders (who are named Atropos, Clothos and Lachesis after Greek mythology’s three Fates) to request they use the power of the Loom to change their fate. The Elders refused, stating that their purpose is the fulfillment of the pattern, and not to play God. They sent her away, threatening that if she were to make such demands in future or attempt to take things into her own hands, she would suffer the ultimate penalty. Cygna defied them, and returned to the Loom when the Elders were absent. She placed one gray thread in the Loom and began to weave, creating a child in the process. The Elders returned and caught her, and she was forced to surrender the child to a serving woman named Dame Hetchel. The Elders cast the “Transcendence” draft on Cygna, turning her into a swan and banished her from the pattern altogether. Hetchel named the child Bobbin and raised him as her own. Bobbin is now seventeen years old, and the Elders fear him as his existence throws the pattern into chaos. He is forbidden to learn the ways of the Guild, yet unbeknownst to them, Hetchel has taught Bobbin how to weave basic drafts. The prologue ends with Bobbin climbing the mountain he ascends every year on his birthday to watch the beautiful swan that passes by annually. He is unaware that the swan is the very woman that created him.

A really beautiful cover that conveys magic, mystery and wonder while putting the player in control before they've even purchased the game.

Other games on the list so far have had back-stories (Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess for one), but nothing as complex or comprehensive as this one. It has me chomping at the bit to join Bobbin on Loom, and to learn to weave as he does. I haven’t even started to play, but I already feel saddened to learn that Loom was intended to be the first game of a trilogy that never eventuated. The other two games were to be titled Forge and The Fold, and while I’ve chosen not to read their intended plots for fear of spoilers, it does seem they were pretty well formed in Moriarty’s mind from the outset. They were abandoned for the simple reason that Moriarty decided to move onto other projects, and no-one else at LucasFilm felt strongly enough about them to take up the reigns. All of the above information might make it sound like Loom was a one man show, when nothing could be further from the truth. After Moriarty had come up with the basic idea, he approached Gary Winnick (Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken) and Mark Ferrari (Zak McKracken), and the three of them came up with the look and feel of the characters and the environment. Moriarty has stated that they were very influenced by Eyvand Earle’s work on Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty when designing Loom. Ferrari would go on to illustrate the majority of the game’s visuals while Winnick would be responsible for the animation alongside Steve Purcell (Indiana Jones) and Ken Macklin (first timer).

 I guess it's not terribly hard to see the influence.

As important as the unique visual element of Loom is, the music is just as vital. In fact, the game foregoes traditional inventory based puzzles, instead requiring the player to learn the sound based drafts that can influence the pattern around them. Moriarty was a huge fan of the music that accompanies Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, and thought its majestic and melancholic atmosphere would be perfect for his game. Tchaikovsky also composed The Nutcracker (the main theme of Tetris) and, probably not coincidentally, Sleeping Beauty. Moriarty asked George Allister Sanger and Gary Hammond to transcribe selected movements of Swan Lake note by note from Tchaikovsky’s score, and then had David Hayes and David Warhol (both of whom had created the music for all three previous SCUMM games), along with Eric Hammond and Sanger, produce the games arrangements. Additional programming was handled by Kalani Streicher who had also played a role in programming Indiana Jones. Once it was finished, Loom was published for DOS on floppy disk with EGA graphics. It was later ported to Amiga, Atari ST, Macintosh and TurboGrafx-16, and then eventually re-released on CD-ROM for the FM Towns computer in 1991 with VGA graphics and a new digital soundtrack. Finally, the aforementioned CD-ROM for DOS version was released in 1992, with 256 colour VGA graphics similar to the FM-Towns version the year prior. The main difference for this version was an entirely re-recorded musical soundtrack and full voice over, making Loom the first “talkie” SCUMM game.

The music wasn't the only thing Moriarty took from Tchaikovsky. Swans play a major role in the game too.

As discussed during the 1990 Year Ahead post, it wouldn’t be fair for me to play the 1992 version of the game, as tempting as that may be. I’ll be playing the original EGA version, and will be doing so using SCUMMVM unless someone gives me a good reason why I shouldn’t (Laukku?). Whether or not I play the VGA version when we reach 1992 is a discussion for another time. The only remaining decision is which difficulty level I should select when starting the game, as I will have the option of Standard, Practice and Expert. Each mode is described in the manual as such: “In Standard mode, a distinct segment of the distaff will glow whenever you hear or spin a musical thread. A musical staff beneath the distaff helps you to identify the threads you hear.” “In Practice mode, a small box appears beneath the musical staff whenever a thread is heard or spun. This box records up to four notes and displays their corresponding letters for your convenience. If you click on the box, the notes displayed will be spun sequentially, exactly as if you had spun them on the distaff yourself.” “In Expert mode, the distaff does not glow in response to the musical threads. Also there is no musical staff to help you identify the threads you hear. You literally have to play the game by ear!”

 Does anyone have any advice before I make my selection?

Expert mode scares me! I love music and spent years reviewing it before starting this blog, but I couldn’t differentiate an E from a B, and would certainly struggle to remember numerous different “drafts” over the course of the game. I think I'm going to start in Standard mode and see how I go, despite there being a graphic sequence that only appears for gamers that play in Expert mode. I’ve downloaded copies of the manual and the reference card, and also have the Book or Patterns. This is a notebook of sorts that describes the history and purpose of many known drafts, and has spaces for the player to note down the drafts that they learn during the game (they are different each time you play the game so need to be learnt afresh with each play through). So, I think I’m ready to go! I know a lot of readers would have already played the game before, but from what I know it’s not particularly lengthy, so perhaps they’ll choose to give it another run through? My next post will not be a gameplay post, as I will be trying out an idea I’ve had for a while. Let’s just say that something arrived in my inbox at precisely the right time, and while I don’t believe in fate, it’s an opportunity I can’t let pass me by. For now though, I’m off to Loom. Wish me luck! I should have paid attention in music class.

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance (see below for an example bet). If you get it right I will reward you with 20 CAPs in return (Laukku cleaned up the 150 CAP jackpot last game so we're starting again). It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.

Example Bet:
Gur rivy bar, fur ehyrf gur ynaq
Jvgu abg n pner sbe crbcyr'f urnygu
V jvyy svtug sbe serrqbz'f fnxr
Ohg svefg V arrq gb serr zlfrys

Jung vf zl anzr sbe 20 PNCf?

Extra Note: Once again, Lars-Erik will gift the next readily available game on the list to the reader that correctly predicts what score I will give this game. So, if you predict the right score (or are closest), you will get 10 CAPs and a copy of Roberta Williams' King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown (the King's Quest 1 remake) from Steam! Good luck!