Sunday 26 February 2023

What's Your Story: El Despertando

 Intro and captions by Ilmari

Stop the press, a new commenter is on town! Judging by the name, El Despertando is probably an Andalusian or perhaps Mexican, so bring out your piñatas for celebration.

We don't have a photo of El Despertando, but this might be what he looked like as a child

My home country is...

Germany. Yes, I'm posting under a Spanish name, but I'm actually not from a Spanish-speaking country at all.... El despertando was a nickname I received when I spent some time in Argentina after I graduated from university. It's a long story and frankly not all that interesting (for those you know Spanish: yeah, I basically was "the guy who woke other people up". A stupid joke amongst students who generally liked to sleep in...). I had a travel blog back then (now long defunct) that I hosted on blogspot, and when the site wanted me to choose a nickname this was the most concurrent one, so it got stuck with my Google account. Never bothered to change it.

We better return that Piñata 

My age is...

42. Yes, I know the answer to life, the universe and everything. No, I haven't figured out the question. 

The first adventure game I played was...

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, on the Commodore C64. When I was in elementary school, my cousin introduced me to this game and it's weird humour one day. I was immediately intrigued - up to this point I had never played a game that had much of an actual story or plot (it helped that this game was actually fully translated into German). I played it with a friend, and we were completely amazed that we could do things like fry a goldfish with a lamp or kill a two-handed squirrel with a golf club ... As kids we definitely weren't used to seeing these things in the other games we had. We were fascinated and also quite amused by that, but couldn't quite figure out the puzzles (and, as those who've finished the game might have noticed, that whole "karma" thing...) Needless to say we never really got anywhere with this game (we got stuck around the time we could go to Tibet - go figure). But I enjoyed the idea of stories in a game from then on out and started looking for other games like that. I completed many other games before I would return to my original experience; I think I was about 20 when I finally went back and eventually finished Zak McKracken.

It is a lot to chew on

My favourite adventure game is...

That's a tough one. Indiana Jones & the Fate of Atlantis will always hold a special place in my heart for being the first point & click adventure I managed to solve completely on my own without hints or help from someone else. I love the Gabriel Knight games for their stories (even the third), though the first was definitely the best. If I look at more recent adventure games, I would definitely recommend Unavowed to everyone, easily the best one to come out in the last ten years or so. But the game I've played the most, the one I keep returning to and complete it every once in a while, is Monkey Island 2. I guess that makes it my favorite as well.

Who could not love this?

When I'm not playing games I like to...

I love tabletop RPGs, especially with a horror touch - my favorite settings are Deadlands and Call of Cthulhu. When I was in my early 20s I even managed to get a Pen & Paper RPG published that a few friends of mine and I had created - a very minor affair, I think it sold about 1000 copies, but we were quite proud of that achievement. 

My wife and I are also avid LARPers, with a penchant for 19th century and early-20th-century settings (basically everything between 1800 and 1920, more or less) - I like the fashion of the era and the massive, drastic social and geopolitical shifts that went on in that period, beginning with the Napoleonic era and ending with WW1 and the tumultuous decade after (the 1930s and WW 2 on the other hand... That era's too uncomfortable for me).

Befitting that, I'm also a bit of a Western fan, even to the point where I'm running a modest podcast focussing on tall tales, myths and legends from the Old and Wild West (in German, naturally).

I like my games in (a box, digital format)...

I used to be all about boxed games. However, I had to get rid of most of my original boxed Amiga and PC games over the years. Some received unfortunate water damage in storage while I was abroad in Argentina, others got lost or damaged when I moved to another city. I still have a pretty large Sega Mega Drive collection, but since I've become a father three years ago I've toyed more and more with the idea of getting rid of (most of) that as well, since I'll soon need more space for other things. I've lost many games due to improper storage or handling (and a few even through theft, unfortunately) over time. I used to love the feel of having a box, especially one with nice extras like maps and stuff, decorating my game room... But, in the end, digital formats are just so much more convenient and save me the pain of my aforementioned losses.

The thing I miss about old games is...

The intensity and closeness you had playing them. When I was a kid or teenager, I didn't have access to that many games. I couldn't afford that many - we played what we got for birthdays and holidays, or swapped games with friends at school. Mostly that meant that when you had a game, you stuck with it, and even if it was hard - or in a completely foreign language - you kept on playing it until you had it figured out and managed to complete it, and the success was all the more satisfying. I like to believe that I vastly improved my English skills playing Sierra adventures during my high school days.

The best thing about modern gaming is...

Worlds have gotten bigger and more imaginative, and games have in general become much more accessible in my experience. Some of the old games could be frustratingly obtuse to figure out, even if you had a manual. 

The one TV show I never miss is...

Doctor Who. I actually had already watched quite a bit of the old series (thanks to "archives" available through the internet), but once I started watching "New Who" during the Tenth Doctor era, I was legitimately hooked.

Together with my wife I also like to watch the odd period drama, mostly for the costumes. Downton Abbey was a particular guilty pleasure of mine... Too bad that one has concluded (though who knows, maybe there'll be a third movie at some point).

Other than that, since the birth of my son I've fallen a bit behind on things, but I'll definitely need to catch up on Yellowstone and finally get started with 1883.

If I could see any band live it would be...

It used to be Faith No More. I had thought I would never get to see them, seeing as they had split up for almost twenty years, but then a few years back (shortly before the pandemic) I went to a festival, and there they were, back together - they hadn't even been announced, but where added in short notice as "special guests". That was quite the pleasant surprise.

In the realm of fantasy, I'm a bit sad that I'll never get to see The Ramones in concert, what with almost all key members having passed away now. I discovered them for myself during their last year before disbanding, and couldn't attend their farewell tour. I wouldn't exactly call them a "good" band, but their music touched a nerve and meant a lot to me during my teenage years. 

My favourite movie is...

This is a tough one. I don't really have a favorite movie above all, and what genres and styles I prefer tend to vary wildly depending on my mood. I used to believe "The Blues Brothers" was a timeless classic that I'd love forever, but I've re-watched it recently and found a few things to be... a bit problematic from a modern perspective. 

Also, I have quite varied tastes. Movies that definitely rank amongst "personal favorites" that I could watch repeatedly are Grave of the Fireflies, Das Boot, Life of Brian, The Thing, Army of Darkness, The Lion King (original animated version), Back to the Future, Leon - The Professional or the Godfather, part II. If I absolutely HAD to narrow it down to a single movie though - then it's probably The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I love everything about this movie, from the setting, the characters, the plot, the cinematography to the soundtrack.

One interesting thing about me is...

 I used to have my own Amateur Theatre group during my time at university. That is, I founded the group,  and directed and produced plays. Amongst our productions were stage versions of Trey Parkers "Cannibal! The Musical" and Terry Pratchett's "Guards! Guards!". At one point we even tried to somehow get a production of "The Secret of Monkey Island" together - a YouTube video of a Highschool production had recently made the rounds, and we desperately wanted to take a shot at that ourselves. We even went so far and got in touch with the guy who had created that stage version, but we never managed to get through to someone at LucasArts to grant us the rights to perform the play. We didn't dare doing it without their approval, so we eventually abandoned that plan. One of our troupe stuck with that idea and managed to get a production together many years later, in another city and with a different team entirely (and without my involvement save for a cover letter I wrote for him so he could supply credentials for having experience in stageplay productions - still, I'm a bit proud he managed to pull this off eventually). 

Also worth mentioning is that I was a professional video game reviewer for a published magazine for about a year. The publisher I was working at at the time launched a short-lived revival of an old magazine that was popular when I was growing up, and I got to work with some of the same editors whose articles I was reading back in the day. It was a  wild ride (basically I had to do all the work for the video game magazine on top of all my already existing duties, which was quite stressful) - still, I enjoyed the heck out of it. Sadly it wasn't meant to last.


  1. Welcome aboard!

    While I would love to see a performance of any Sir Terry book, including Guards, Guards, I feel that seeing Night Watch now with the time travel would be relevant to this blog as we exit the current mainline game :) .

    1. Might be apt! Night Watch is actually my favorite Discworld novel! :) While it had already been released back then, Back when we decided to do a play on one of Sir Terry's works I had access to three Discworld screenplay scripts at the time - Mort, Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards! - and the latter was the one we decided to go with.

    2. *stageplay scripts, of course, not screenplay

    3. I think I had the most unusual introduction to the series. I first played the third game, after reading some really good reviews. Then, before I finished, I got my hands on the first book I read, Hogfather. From there, I think I went to either Wyrd Sisters or Men At Arms. I never liked the first two books, an opinion shared by more than a couple people, so I never really wanted to play the first two games. So, when they come around on this blog, I'll look at them with fresh eyes.

    4. >>I never liked the first two books, an opinion shared by more than a couple people, so I never really wanted to play the first two games

      That's an... Interesting stance. Not the bit about not liking the first two books (I agree that they are significantly weaker than Pratchett's works from the third book onwards - he definitely needed a bit to find the right formula), but abstaining from the first two games because of them. While the two games are based on novels (unlike the third), they take most of their inspiration from later works: Discworld 1 is mostly based on Guards! Guards! (While also borrowing freely from Equal Rites and other early works), the the second game is more of a mashup between "Reaper Man" and "Moving Pictures". While the first one might still have the odd connection to the earliest novels (it's been too long since I had checked that one out), the second game certainly hasn't.

      Interestingly, the third game is not based primarily on any novel but was allowed to do its own thing, just borrowing characters and Ankh-Morpork as a setting - and it turned out to be the strongest of all three games by a large margin IMO.

    5. I think it is, more simply, that I don't like the Rincewind character all that much. I also didn't care much for the book Interesting Times.
      I agree wholeheartedly about the third game.

  2. Hey, it's the guy from Spain who writes most of the Anonymous comments. I just wanted to clarify that the word "despertando" means "waking up" (it's a gerund), but you can't actually say "el despertando" in Spanish (you need to use infinitive as a noun, so to express "the waking up" you would need to say "el despertar"). The nickname a Spanish-speaking person would create for "the guy who wakes others" would probably be "el despertador" (which actually means "the alarm clock", but it's very similar to "el despertando" nonetheless).

    I also have a few questions about Zak McKracken, a game that I have never completed and may try soon: Does it have too many "impossible to guess puzzles? Will it help me to know the list of dead ends in advance? ( ) Is the maze as bad as they say?

    1. Yeah, "El despertando" is not correct Spanish, I know. :) Like I said it's a stupid nickname amongst students, specifically German and American students in the process of just learning Spanish while staying in Argentina.

      Regarding Zak McKracken... It's not too bad in my opinion, but I would say it's the most obtuse out of all off Ron Gilbert's adventures. Generally it's manageable, but you can run into a few dead ends - running out of money being the biggest issue. Knowing the list of dead ends doesn't hurt, back then I got stuck due to one issue listed there, but for a more seasoned adventure gamer it shouldn't be too hard. The maze isn't that bad as far as adventure game mazes go IMO, it's just bad for a LucasArts/Lucasfilm Games adventure (which usually don't have much in terms of mazes anyway).

    2. it's just bad for a LucasArts/Lucasfilm Games adventure (which usually don't have much in terms of mazes anyway).

      I'd argue it's one of the worst set of mazes in the Lucas catalog. Fate of Atantis was easy, since it was all visible on the screen, and Monkey Island had a solution given to you if you bought the proper item from a disreputable character. Zak had multiple mazes, which in theory could be easy, but only if you figured out obscure patterns.

      That said, I really enjoy the game, and love the art and sound effects of the jungle, even if I hate travelling the screens.

    3. I agree with The Scientific Gamer's negative opinion of Zak:

      The early, pre-Loom LucasArts games I overall find overrated by Trickster.

  3. Welcome El Despertando! What I love is that people like you and I, of very different backgrounds, with wildly different personal interests, education and careers can come together over a shared love of classic Adventure Games. Look forward to joining forces and lathering commentary praise when the Gabriel Knight review comes around ;)

  4. Really looking forward to when Gabriel Knight will show up, what the consensus will be, and ubj nttertngrq jubrire jvyy cynl vg jvyy trg bapr gur gvzr sbe gur qehz pbqr chmmyr pbzrf. 🤣

    1. Hah, to be honest, I got my first shot at those puzzles wrong but guessed what the game was expecting on my second try and didn't look back. On the whole, I found the puzzle elements of GK incredibly satisfying... it was the interface that frustrated me. Specifically, having separate USE and MOVE icons caught me out a few times and just seemed like unnecessary complexity (and was inconsistent to boot - there were times both icons achieved the intended outcome, other times it specifically required one or the other). Anyway... it's my number one, but keeping an open mind to something else taking that mantle given it only assumed that position a year or so ago (spoiler: DOTT didn't :P)

    2. While I deeply enjoy GK I for it's setting, it's atmosphere and it's maturity, there are a couple of things that keep it from the top spot, most of which can be attributed to the "Sierra factor" (not to go into any specifics, but I ended up in a dead-man-walking situation on two separate occasions during my first playthrough, which frustrated me to no end).

      I also enjoy GK II, but for entirely different reasons. Being German (Bavarian, no less) I can't help but be deeply amused not just by the cheesiness of the acting, but also the butchered delivery of "German" lines (the police officer being my personal highlight - "Nain, ick sprechen Kain English! 🤣 ) and the crazy spin they took on a beloved Bavarian sovereign... I know it's meant to be a mature, horrir-adjacent mystery, but for me that's all just a comedy Goldmine! 😁

    3. One of the really happy accidents of GK2 is that the cheesiness of the acting unintentionally but perfectly neutralizes the ugliness of the clumsy genre conventions. On paper, Gabe should be a pretty detestable character, being written as the arrogant, aloof, roguish cad common in this kind of story (but done without enough finesse to make the character likeable-despite-his-flaws), but the actor is goofy and clearly out of his depth in a way that makes what was written as arrogance come off instead as a defensive mechanism against his own insecurity. As a mature horror-adjacent-mystery, it's kind of clumsy. It knows the genre conventions and applies them at every turn, but doesn't have a deep understanding of what they are for or why they are there. The acting isn't bad enough to push it into farce, but the absence of the clearly-intended gravitas makes the whole thing lighter and more fun.

    4. GK2 has arguably more interesting story ideas but I agree in that it's otherwise way more uneven. I'm replaying it right now and the event triggers are as bad as I remembered, worse even.

      I don't believe "unlikable" equals "badly written". Firstly, that's a uselessly subjective criterion. Secondly, the world is full of people you may not like, it's just realistic. Especially in his 1993 GK1 incarnation I regard Gabriel as the best realised character I've ever encountered in fiction (with Sinuhe from The Egyptian a close second; Sinuhe is more complex but Gabriel has more spark). He's made of memorable contradictions (which screenwriters argue create depth), such as his machismo vs. his tired sickly look (from his nightmares and poorness), how he teases Grace vs. how he's tender to his grandmother (in general treating different people differently lends itself well to multifaceted characterisation), his selfish impulsiveness vs. his bravery and sense of duty when the situation calls for it, his childishness vs. being a grown adult, being a writer vs. getting into adventurous situations... further fleshing out his personal background are tidbits in conversations with those who've known him long, like Mosely. Quirks like preferring his messy hairstyle also contribute.

      But as far as charisma is concerned, even if I'm not really a fan of Dean Erickson in GK2 compared to Tim Curry, Erickson is nonetheless way better than the GK1 remake's actor who overcorrects in the other direction.

    5. Still, Gabriel comes off shallower to me in GK2 (despite Jensen's efforts to have a thematic arc), I suspect mainly because the disc space hogging FMV format causes the writing to be more economical, focusing more on the core plot itself at the expense of rich side detail.

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    7. @Laukku: I agree on both points. Part of why I like GK1 so much is because Gabriel himself is such an inherently flawed character, who not only has to overcome adversity but also himself. Unlike many other point & click adventure heroes he actually has a character arc of his own and undergoes some degree of development. By comparison, in GK2 he comes off as shallower, but he also lacks charisma to counteract that - he comes off more bumbling and clueless somehow, which may be due to the FMV format (and probably an actor and/or director being out of their depth). In my opinion Sierra bit off more than they could chew when it came to GK2 - they really wanted to push a more cinematic scope with real actors and real sets, but that resulted in a more condensed, more chopped up game that actually felt less authentic (at least to me) than the setting of the first game. (I read somewhere that entire acts had to be sacrified on the chopping block, like a sequence where you took control of Ludwig II himself in a flashback sequence.) The result is a bit of a mess - but the cheese and naivité somehow counteracts it and makes it one of the better FMV experiences IMO.
      GK3 brings the character more back in line with the first game, but is uneven in other regards.

  5. Hello, and welcome! I've still not gotten around to playing Gabriel Knight 3, although I really enjoyed the first two - the second might have engaged me a little more, since I adore old FMV stuff now. But I've heard so much bad stuff about the third game that my expectations have probably been lowered.

    1. Yeah, GK3 has a bit of a bad rep, mostly due to that infamous "cat moustache" puzzle. But that's an outlier in my opinion, the rest of the game is pretty solid, and I really liked the story and the atmosphere. Most of the complaints I've read about the game point to this single puzzle and basically blame it for tanking the adventure game genre, which frankly I find ridiculous (personally I blame Must, or rather the deluge of uninspired Myst-clones in its wake that were labelled as "Adventure Games" 😜 )