Friday, April 18, 2008

Casual Friday: Dream Chronicles



Dream Chronicles 2: the Eternal Maze came out recently, and I’ve been wanting to play it. But I decided to replay the first Dream Chronicles and I feel it deserves it’s own entry.
Published last year by Play First Games, Dream Chronicles is an interesting casual game that has an adventure feel.


You play as the human character Faye who has awoken to find the entire town is under a sleeping spell cast by the evil Fairy, Lillith. Faye’s husband has also been abducted by Lillith because she wants to make him her own husband. Faye has to solve puzzles in a series of beautiful settings.
You never actually see Faye, because the game is in First-Person Perspective. The game is linear. Basically, you find yourself in a room, and you must solve a logic puzzle to move to the next room/area. Often the game requires you to find the pieces first in a hidden object style puzzle. Then you move on with the new inventory to complete the logic puzzle. After you move on your inventory is cleared and you start fresh for the new area. The combinations of the puzzles, first-person perspective, and the eye-candy settings reminded me a lot of the Myst series, however none of the puzzles are very difficult and most can be solved in 5-10 minutes.

There is also a collection minish-game going on. Through out all of the scenes are hidden gems forged by different fairies. When you find a piece, the game gives you a little blurb about the fairy that made it and their personality. I have to admit it was almost the most fun part of the game for me. It feels like a mini-game, but it does matter in terms of your overall score at the end of the game.

Overall, this Dream Chronicles was very fun. I’m happy I played it. It’s cool how you can submit your score to a global server to see how you rank. I’m not really sure I could play it as many times as it would be required to beat the top ranked players, but I do think I will replay it when I’m in the mood for something short and pretty.

Dream Chronicles is available as a download almost anywhere that distributes casual games.

Happy Adventuring.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Classic Replay: The Last Express

The Last Express

Ahh. One of my favorite gaming memories involves The Last Express. Published in 1997, it was such an innovative game, despite being a bombastic commercial failure at the time. It’s too bad that people really didn’t seem to know what they were missing. So I was very excited to take a trip down memory lane to replay this title.

The Mini-Review:

The Superlative:

I think biggest strength of this game is the story. The setting is wonderfully historical. The year is 1914. The plot is completely fictional, but sort of a history lesson of the events and tensions that led up to World War I. I’m quite a sucker for historical fiction. It’s like under-the-radar learning, and I always feel like I can benefit from knowing more.

The main character is the very handsome Robert Cath. Sort of a Byronic Hero, he has a dark past that is alluded to in telegrams he gets from a friend asking to join him on The Orient Express as it journeys from Paris to Constantinople. However, when he arrives on the train (through somewhat shady means), he sees that his friend, Mr. Tyler Whitney, is as dead as it gets. Robert Cath has to think fast to avoid detection. From here he decided to assume Mr. Whitney’s identity and get to the bottom of the murder.

Robert Cath, Late Belle Époque Captain Hotpants...er HotTrousers

Many details back up the plot. There are lots of little optional articles that you can read in the newspapers, and some of the telegrams and other items belonging to the passengers help elucidate some of the events going on in the world outside of the train. But the main glue holding the tightly-rendered plot together is the characters. They are brilliantly written, well-acted, and consistent right down to the way they sit, stand, and look at each other. The high quality voice-acting does not disappoint.

The visual style also helps set the perfect atmosphere for this kind of story. The graphics are in the style of the Art Nouveau movement that was contemporary in this 1914. Through rotoscoping and post-production processing, the characters have been rendered in the style of paintings made by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alfons Mucha . I felt as if I stepped inside one of those immortal images. It is an off-beat style of graphics that has yet to be used so stylishly. It gives this game a timeless appeal.

In addition to the great voice-acting, the rest of the audio is exceptionally well done. The ambient sounds are high quality and the music is stunning. There is a place in the game where a concert is given, and the music really is beautiful all the way through.

The Innovative:

Along with the unusual graphics the pace of the gameplay is also an innovation. All of the action takes place in real time. So it adds greatly to the realism of the game. It’s great how this makes the game replayable. It does, however, make the game all about being in the right place at the right time, and certain conditions must be met or you will have to rewind the game to a pre-determined point to try to solve the problem. Which leads me into…

The Annoying:

With the plot being so linear, and the requirement of having many “do-overs” to get things right sometimes, it can get frustrating. Also there are a couple of timed puzzles...which I think are the devil. I think most adventure aficionados would agree there. However, it’s not that big a deal. While mildly annoying, these do not affect the overall wonderfulness of this game. And here’s a good walkthrough over on Gameboomers that can help you be almost everywhere at the right time to do everything, and overhear all of the conversations.

Score:

Story: 9.5/10

Graphics and Sound: 9/10 (really has held up well!)

Gameplay: 8/10

My (second) Take:

This was even better than playing it the first time. It’s been about 11 years and this game is just as stunning as the first day it came out. What really saves it is the art style. It’s kind of a shame that there will not be a sequel, as it was clearly set up for it. That, and Robert Cath is totally yummy, and I would have loved to see him again in another game. :(

I’m happy I replayed this game.

I played this game on Gametap, but you can also find it on GameTZ or used copies on Ebay and Half.com.

Friday, April 4, 2008

SiteSeeing: FMV World

Okay Okay, I know that I am in a minority here, but I love FMV games. Yes, I know it goes against my usual genre snobbery. Yes, Yes, I know that most of them suck balls. For me, therein lies the charm. It could be that the majority of my infatuation with the adventure genre began to peak with games like Tex Murphy: Overseer, or Gabriel Knight 2. My first experience with FMV was Night Trap on the Sega CD add-on contraption for the Genesis console. Yes...maybe that was the indicator that I would love the FMV cheese. Night Trap was deliciously bad.

Reasons I love it aside, I know that I am not the only one. And here's the site to prove it. FMV World. It's a great site. They have a short synopsis of the known FMV games and a wonderful video section where you can watch intros, cut-scenes, and sometimes full movies made out of the more movie-like games. Back in my day, we had to work for them cutscenes. Now you can get it all at the click of a mouse!

And while I am at it here is a great, more recent Destructoid article on the allure of FMV. There are more articles on FMV World's article page.

Happy Adventuring.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Let's get this party started...

While I was away, some really important games were released in the adventure genre. Some in very unique ways. In particular, I am talking about the new Sam and Max series by Telltale Games. Hooray for episodic adventure! When I found out about this in 2006, I was very excited to see what it would be like. This weekend I took my very first spin around the series through Gametap. I love Gametap. Get more adventure titles Gametap! They have a pretty good selection of classic games, as it is...and I will be making a lot of use of my membership for this blog.
Anyway, I decided to compile my thoughts about Episodes 1 and 2 of the first season into one sort of mini-review article. Here are my impressions:

Sam and Max Season 1 Episode 1: Culture Shock

In Culture Shock, Sam and Max get a call from Bosco that there are former child TV stars putting up a video display case in his store. When Sam and Max investigate, they discover that a brainwashing ex TV star named Brady Culture is behind it all. Interesting premise.

Playing through this first episode is what made me remember how much I love adventure games. I was so excited to play a good third-person adventure. I was really impressed that Telltale chose to stick with mouse-only driving. There’s something about keyboard controlling that damps the impact of a deep storyline for me. I did think that the fixed camera angle led to a claustrophobic feeling, but I can understand why they would want to do it that way as it did help me remain focused.

The characters were really well acted, and at times the writing was hilarious. However, the sound on the dialogue was sometimes a little..eh..blurry(for lack of a better word). The quality of the dialogue audio really stood out against the crisp clear music in the background. So that definitely made it more noticable. But, for me, it was a minor gripe. It didn’t make me want to quit playing.

The puzzles consisted of mildly challenging inventory puzzles, and a couple of good dialogue puzzles. It wasn’t at all difficult, but I found that not to be a deterrent. In fact, I think I enjoyed the game so much more because I always had a clear idea of what to do, and the solutions to the puzzles were very intuitive. Not to say I run from a hard puzzle. They were integrated very well into the plot, so I always felt like I was participating in the main plot. They were organized into three themed puzzles that led to a “boss-puzzle”.

Overall, this was a very fun game. It restored my belief that this genre is on an upswing. Subsequently, it made me want to begin this blog. On to # 2.

Sam and Max Season 1 Episode 2: Situation Comedy

In this episode a TV talk show host names Myra has trapped the audience in her studio and refuses to let them out. She’s forcing lame gifts on them. I found this very funny.

Many of the features I loved about the first episode made an encore appearance in Situation Comedy. There were also some improvements. The sound issue with the dialogue from the first episode was totally improved, so that was one less distraction.



The situations and puzzles in this episode were more fun, I thought. The TV studio parodies of popular TV shows were hilarious. So the puzzles are arranged in this episode, much like the first episode. There are three tv themed puzzles that lead up to the boss-confrontation puzzle with Myra.


Overall this episode felt shorter to me, but that might just be because I recognized a pattern and I did less exploring of the environment.

I want to play more of these. I intend to play them all, but my next blog will be about revisiting one of my favorite older games The Last Express...

Happy Adventuring.

Friday, March 21, 2008

From the tiniest acorns....

Adventure Games, how do I love thee, let me count the ways....


In general, I love pc and console games. I can't recall a time in my life where I wasn't fixated on one game or another. My earliest recollections are Centipede and Donkey Kong on the big arcade machines that were at my corner store while I was growing up. My experiences with those inspired me to beg my parents for an NES until their ears bled. I won, as I expected. Never underestimate the combination of obsession and patience in children.


I was not the owner of a computer then, I didn't even really have access to one outside of school (however, I did have some brief but fabulous experiences with Infocom games on the Apple II at school). So my first real graphical adventure experience was on the NES. It was a game called Deja Vu. In Deja Vu, you awaken from being drugged in a bathroom stall, and must solve a mystery set in a hard-boiled, noir-style environment. I couldn't believe they put this in a game. It affected me in ways I couldn't really describe to the people around me. It was like a book, but I could affect the outcome of the plot! And despite my lack of being able to entirely solve the mystery (that game had to be broken), Deja Vu lit my fire for adventure games. I didn't know that they were part of an established genre at the time. Perhaps that was for the best.

Then came Maniac Mansion. It had been released for quite some time before I got to play it, which was in the very early 90's. I was playing on an old Tandy 1000 at my then-boyfriend's house. I was so excited to find another story based game to immerse myself in. I skipped a few days of school, just to go over there and play it. This event opened my eyes to the amount of these games available to the realm of computer gaming. This is when my desire really took root.

So began the many years of lusting after the King's Quest boxes (Especially KQ 5, which had the most heavenly blue packaging). After a significant time pining away, I finally saved up enough money to get my first computer. My life changed forever. I went out and bought as many of these games as they had on the shelves. This was the mid-90's so what I was able to buy was mostly FMV cheesiness and the games from the studios of Lucas-Arts and Sierra On-Line. I was in love. I called in sick to work. I refused to leave my apartment. All I wanted to do was lose myself in these delightful stories. Sometimes they were so cheesy I felt a little guilty. I loved them all the more. Someone had to. I know I wasn't alone there, too.

I started haunting websites catering to the adventure gaming audience. For a little while, I contributed articles to Adventure Gamers. AG was and still is one of the most authoritative sources for adventure game news and related writing. I loved that. But then life got busy, and I had not quite the same time to indulge in my (relatively introverted) hobby. I hung up my writer hat and put my collection of games in storage. But now, I find myself with a special opportunity. I have more time for my hobby, and there are a lot of fantastic-looking games coming out, or released in recent years. I am also feeling the burning urge to play through a lot of the classics in my collection.

So it is time for me to begin this blog. I'm going to indulge in one of my most delicious obsessions, and I'm taking my trusty blog with me as I delve deep into the current trove of adventure games. How good (or bad) are the new games? Do the old games hold up? Was FMV really the stinker everyone thought it was? I intend to find out.

Happy Adventuring.