Friday, 5 August 2016

Missed Classic 26: Mewilo (1987) - Introduction

By Ilmari

The name “Muriel Tramis” might not ring any bells with you, but when you hear that she is the creator of the dreaded Emmanuelle, you might get a certain impression of the quality of her games. Thus, it might come as a surprise that one of her earlier games, Mewilo, won some sort of award (la médaille d’Argent de la ville de Paris or the Silver medallion of the city of Paris. Since I will play Fascination, another game by Muriel Tramis, in the future, I wanted to have a more balanced view of her earlier games, beginning with Mewilo, which was also her first game according to Mobygames.

First, a few words of the designer herself. She is definitely not the first female game designer we’ve met, but it certainly wasn’t that common in 1980s to have women making computer games. What is even more remarkable is her ancestry. Muriel Tramis was born in Martinique, an insular region of French, located in the Caribbean. Furthermore, her ancestors were part of the African slave population, which was forcefully transported to the island starting from the end of the 17th century.

Reading the manual reveals that the game is situated in Martinique, which makes the whole thing that much more personal. I should probably point out that I am reading the manual in French, since I couldn’t find an English version. For the exactly same reason, I will be playing a French version of the game. I do have passing knowledge of the language, but we’ll have to see how it goes. Well, at least I can’t blame a bad translation if I don’t understand anything.

The manual begins with a kind of eulogy to Man Kalinsia, written by Patrick Chamoiseau, a Martinique novelist, who is also responsible for the dialogue in the game. I tried at first to understand every word, but the whole thing has too much of an artistic feel, the author using all kinds of allegorical phrases. I did manage to understand some basics of Man Kalinsia’s life. She was originally named Octavianus Citronelle and was a daughter or Artagnan and Elmire. Because she is called a mulatto, she must have had both European and African ancestry. Her husband, a noted communist, died quite early, which made her quite melancholic. Her final day was full of cries and cinder - a volcano, Mount Pelée, erupted in 1902 and destroyed the largest city of Martinique, Saint-Pierre. Her body was found couple of decades later, intact and preserved by the ashes.

Now, I really have no idea whether Man Kalinsia is a real person or work of fiction, but the volcanic eruption is definitely a true historical event. Interestingly, the game appears to be set just around the time of the eruption, and I am curious to see whether it will play any part in the game.

The manual also contains a recipe for calalou, a traditional Caribbean dish. Specifically, it recounts a version from Guadeloupe, which is missing one important ingredient in comparison with the Martinique version. The manual helpfully tells me that I should find someone called Man Cécé and tell her this special ingredient to gain her trust. To make the matter clear, the missing ingredient is not mentioned in the manual, so it’s not a form of copy protection. Instead, I am meant to do real life research on my own and find out what they use for calalou in Martinique. Does this sound like a really bad design choice? I’ll make a more detailed comment on this later.

The original game box also contained music from Malavoi, 
Martinique band. Just to get in the mood, I listened to their songs. Not bad

A commenter on Trickster’s playthrough of Emmanuelle criticised his ratings, because he didn’t take into account that French game designers had not had so much time to get used to the technology of computers. I am guessing that the commenter was especially concerned about the low graphics and sounds score Trickster gave to the game. I think that the problem was not so much lack of experience by French game developers (Emmanuelle wasn’t the first game by Muriel Tramis or Tomahawk), but simply that they had experience on different computers than PC - the screenshots of Amiga and Atari ST versions of Emmanuelle look far better than what Trickster had to endure. Since we are more relaxed with Missed Classics, I’ve decided to avoid the PC versions of these old Muriel Tramis games, and after some tinkering with emulators, I’ve chosen to play the ST versions.

It doesn’t look that special…

... but boy does it sound pretty good for a game from 1987. There’s real music playing, a decent violin riff that might well have been played by the local Martinique orchestra in 1902, and what makes it eve more authentic, it sounds like it’s coming from a real gramophone, with all the scratches. Far cry from what PC games offered at the time.

But let’s recount the plot before going further into the game! Apparently I am meant to be a well-known parapsychologist, asked to investigate the appearance of a zombie. No, we are not dealing with those moving, rotting brain-desiring half-corpses here, because zombie meant originally just any living dead and was quite close to a regular phantom (perhaps a tad more corporeal, though).

As a parapsychologist, I can obviously change into other living things (what you say about that, James Randi!), and I have chosen the form of colibri, so that I can make my way more easily around Martinique. Yeah, it’s all just a pretext for the creators to use a colibri cursor…

Above you’ll see the main map of Mewilo. The game is apparently limited to the Northern Martinique - or at least when you try push the arrow at the lower left corner of the screen, you essentially quit the game.

Pressing my colibri on the mountain gave me just an info piece that a hell is about to begin 8th of May (tomorrow, in game’s time), killing 30 000 persons and destroying the whole Saint Pierre. Trying to press the box called Pitt did nothing. Pressing the box to the Cocoa farm just showed me a pretty picture… The game is beginning well.

Plantation Green Lily

Next, I tried to go to savanna. The results were not satisfying.

Trigonometry? I did pretty well with it in school…

I knew I should have studied more biology instead of mathematics…

The death screen. There’s a nice piece of animation,
with the bat flying around, and some decent “game over” music

The place called Parnasse had more to do. At the veranda, I met the persons who had invited me to Martinique, Geneviève and Michel Hubert-Destouches. I was instantly engaged in a conversation. That is, I clicked through a number of text boxes - I had no opportunity to direct the course of the dialogue myself. The manual told me that I should take good notes of all the dialogues, since I would be seeing them only once.

Listen to me carefully, I shall say this only once

Michel welcomed me in the house and told me that there had been weird things going on since “that fateful day” in 1831 (in case you are wondering, he was talking about a slave uprising). Some familial ghost had taken over one bedroom, items left alone changed their places, sobbing could be heard through walls. And the poor owners had lived here for only four months. Geneviève added that the latest series of events had began at the night of 6th, with a heart-rending cry. She also surmised that it was all doings of a zombie wanting to revenge something (I guess this zombie is a different person than the ghost).

I couldn’t get into the salon, but I could enter the bedroom with the mysterious ghostly occupant. The room seemed quite peaceful, but I could invoke a spirit of person in a picture hanging from the wall, if I just knew his name. I had no idea and a failed attempt was deadly.

George? No? Perhaps Peter?

Next, I tried to go to Rue Case Nègres, which is also apparently a name of a movie situated in Martinique. A pig-like animal greeted me, but the occupant of the only shack nearby was less helpful.

I got the impression he didn’t like me

Next place to visit was kitchen. Clarisse, the cook, told me that the zombie had come from the mountain, and its arrival was probably the fault of Geneviève, who had turned around too many graves in her attempt to remodel the farm. Clarisse also advised me that the local seer, Papa Echevin, who lived in the shack I just tried to visit, would like something to quench his thirst.

What is it with French games encouraging abuse of alcoholics?

Having gone through all I could at the Parnasse farm, I returned to the main map and tried a box with some sort of bottle. This took me to the local distillery. The man operating the place wanted to ask me nine questions about the Martinique. At first, I thought this was a terrible puzzle, although simple googling gave me all the answers I needed. Sure, the purpose was quite understandable - the designers wanted to force the players to get acquainted with the history, nature and culture of the island. Yet, the puzzle seemed also quite unfair in the days before WWW - what if your local library didn’t contain any information about Martinique?

I confused this with décollétte

Reading the manual revealed that the puzzle wasn’t that unfair. Back in the days, French people had something called Minitel - a kind of precursor to World Wide Web. It appears that Coktel Vision had set up its own Minitel site for the game, containing among other things information about Martinique. In a sense, the Minitel site worked as an expansion of the game and its manual, providing the player with all the facts he needed for completing the game. This seems quite ingenious mechanism, and I wonder whether more modern games could use their own Wiki pages for similar purposes.

My first inventory item!

The prize for the quiz was a bottle of rum, which I immediately took to Papa Echevain.

“Rhum is a key to my throat” sounds kind of icky

In addition to telling me how good the rum of the local Caucasians is, Echevain had only some mysterious warnings for me. Apparently, something is brewing in the volcano and the zombie is crying over his white hands and over his proper family. Not very enlightening.

By the way, if you are wondering why I am not using Steam’s own screenshot function, it’s simply because I can’t seem to make it work - or at least the results are really bad. Instead, I just take a regular screenshot of my Steam window, paste the picture in Paint and return back to Steam. It’s a slow process, but it has actually helped me to get forward. You see, when I return to Steam and activate my colibri, the game supposes I have just pressed a button. Thus, I usually try to place the cursor to some place where pressing the button won’t do anything, while I am busy transferring my screenshots. Now, when I had just saved my screenshots of Echevain and returned to Steam, I pressed the image of a flower on the lower left map I thought was just decoration. To my surprise, I found myself in a garden.

How did I get here?

Geneviève was also there, and she started telling me that Parnasse had originally belonged to her great-grandfather. On wake of the slave revolts, he had sent her wife and her daughter, Octavie (Geneviève’s grandmother), to safety at a plantation of their neighbour, du Banville. He followed them later, body full of burn marks, and died of an unexplained state of melancholy a while later. But at least something good came out of this - Octavie had now met her future husband, Raoul bu Banville.

I also found out that I couldn’t anymore access the veranda, but I could now get into salon. At first, I thought this was just due to some annoying pixel hunting, but testing with different save states showed that it really wasn’t so - when plot had progressed, new places had become accessible and others were not anymore. This meant that after every turn of events I might be forced to go through every potential hotspot and try to click it - not quite what I expect from an adventure game, but reminiscent of another French detective game.

In the salon, I met again Michel, the master of the house. He was not very thrilled to hear I had seen Papa Echevain and was quite annoyed of the supposition that there’s something fishy in the family lines of his wife. Still, he told me that his wife wasn’t the only living descendant of Octavie, but there was still a banker Valentin de Ronan, who lived in St. Pierre.

I also found a magnifying glass, which I will most likely use in the future

That seems to be enough for my first post. I still haven’t explored the city of St. Pierre and since my only clue is pointing to it, I’ll probably head there in my next post. Don’t forget to guess the score before that!


  1. To get a better feel of what we saw on a ST back then, I'd recommend using the Saint emulator and its awesome SC1425 emulation :)

    1. Mark it either for my incompetence or for the shoddiness of my computer, but I couldn't get Saint to work. Steem was the second best choice.

  2. Emmanuelle is one of our all-time worst, but this doesn't seem as bad so far. 25 points.

    Also nice to see a non-English game for once!

    1. I guess after designing a game that wins an important award there's only one direction to go.

  3. Do I spot an 'Allo 'Allo reference? Höw Amösing. Well, the dice says 26. And why does it always have to been the French? Why can't the Germans have created some games so I could put my 6 years studying the languish to use?

    1. Well spotted! I guess Germans were too busy doing those really complex and long CRPGs and forgot all the adventure games. Too bad, I could have made few references to Grüber's little tank.

  4. I'll guess 28 while I'm at it, but I wanted to say that this reminds me a lot of Lost in Time, a later Coktel Vision game coming up in the regular list for 1993. I didn't know why at first because the post doesn't mention Coktel Vision until halfway through. A downside of not having an intro post, perhaps. Anyway, Lost in Time involves a mulatto descendant traveling through time and exploring an island to recover a dangerous treasure from the future and thwart the plans of a time bandit. Never did get very far in it, though.

    1. Oh yes, I just kind of automatically connected Muriel Tramis with Coktel Vision, so I didn't get that the connection wasn't so obvious to everyone. Lost in Time was actually also designed by Muriel Tramis, so the similarity of the themes is not that surprising.

    2. That makes sense. I'd never heard of Muriel Tramis before, so this was very interesting.

  5. A French game in French? I'm now convinced Ilmari has a babel fish in his ear.

    I'm guessing high this time...

    Well, high compared to the other guesses so far...


    And everything I know about Martinique I learned from another 80s computer game. Martinique is French, has average wealth and the Governor's daughter would make a good choice for a wife!

  6. Wrong, everyone. It's a French adventure game. An old French adventure game. 20, and I'm being generous.

  7. 29 perhaps? We shall see. Perhaps it will surprise us all!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. This seems nice, playable even. I quite really like Fascination and Lost in Time so... was Emmanuelle just a bump in the road? In any case, let's say 27

  9. Today I learned that "oink" in French is "GROIN". Groin groin!!