Achievement Devaluation – What happened?

I want to discuss something—well, rant would be the most appropriate term, but let’s go with discuss—that has been on my mind as a gamer for a while now: achievements and their apparent devolution in the past decade.

Achievements have always been around, we just only recently given them names, points and kept track of them. From defeating the super bosses in Final Fantasy to obtaining the Street Fighter moves in Mega Man X, there have always been extra challenges in video games for us to discover and pursue. These are achievements as much as those we see listed on our Steam Pages.

But at some point, the nature of the achievement begun to change, their value diminished. The above examples of older achievements all had a bit of “gamer cred” attached to them, with harder such accomplishments having different values. Continue reading Achievement Devaluation – What happened?

Extra Life 2015 Update – More Goodies!

Like every other member of the Extra Life Team Tomb Raider Community, I’ve been hard at work preparing everything I’ll need for the event, all four days of my participation. Some still find it strange that I would do it for so long, but I’m a realist and I know I’ll need at least 4 days to get even close to the $500. I hope what you’ll read below will incentivise you to donate some more. Continue reading Extra Life 2015 Update – More Goodies!

The Weekly Puzzle – Thou Art Chosen!

Puzzles are at the core of Adventure gameplay, they provide challenges for you to overcome with brains rather than brawn. For Action Adventures, they offer a break from the hacky-slashy-stabby-shooty element of title.

Every week I’ll bring you a new puzzle, drawn from some of the best and worst adventure or puzzle games I’ve ever played. Every once in a while I’ll even leave you one of my own for you to solve. If you do, I’ll find a way to reward you!

For this week’s puzzle, I’m digging something out of the Sierra bag of goodies again, a nice puzzle from Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, a game that’s already been in The Weekly Puzzle before. But that’s the thing about the classics, isn’t it? There’s always a reason to come back to them. Continue reading The Weekly Puzzle – Thou Art Chosen!

The Weekly Puzzle – Lord Forgive Him

Puzzles are at the core of Adventure gameplay, they provide challenges for you to overcome with brains rather than brawn. For Action Adventures, they offer a break from the hacky-slashy-stabby-shooty element of title.

Every week I’ll bring you a new puzzle, drawn from some of the best and worst adventure or puzzle games I’ve ever played. Every two weeks I’ll even leave you one of my own for you to solve. If you do, I’ll find a way to reward you!

It’s been two weeks and no one even tried to solve my little riddle. For the record, the answers are Grave or Coffin. Joel from Geekout South-West nailed it weeks ago and that’s why I didn’t let him participate this time. But don’t worry Joel, this is a fresh one!

For this week’s puzzle I’m going for my personal Kryptonite: Numerical Sequence/Pattern Puzzles. You can see them in many games, predominantly in Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes series. The thing you need to do is figure out the value of X.

7 10 6 12 15 11 X 25

It’s fairly simple but it might stump some of you out there!

Now for this week’s puzzle I have another classic, but this time from Sierra instead of the LucasArts.

In Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers you’ll spend most of your time talking to people, the puzzles mostly being about finding the right items you need to get them to spill. During the third day you need to meet a gentle old lady, but she won’t give the time of day to your lecherous investigator. So you need to fool her…by stealing clothes from a priest. As always, I won’t go into full details on how you go about this because I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Gotta hand it to him, he knows how to disguise!
Gotta hand it to him, he knows how to disguise!

The reason I love this puzzle is because not only does it move the story forward but it also supports the characterisation by showing you just what the protagonist is capable of to get what he wants. There are many other moments in the game were you commit questionable acts in your quest—and in fact, it’s a common element in the series…including the infamous cat hair puzzle, but we don’t talk about that one—but nothing beats tricking the old lady. Gabriel proves just how much of a sleazebag he can be. But his performer is Tim Curry so you can’t really hate him for that. Gabriel Knight is still at the top of my list because the puzzles not only move the story forwards but they support the characterisations. You learn more about the characters with every puzzle solved, as they are actions they committed, decisions they made.

Have you ever played a Gabriel Knight title? If so what’s your favourite moment? If it’s the unmentionable cat hair, we need to talk about your tastes my friend. If it’s the strangely homoerotic conversations with Von Glower in Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within that clearly made Gabriel’s actor uncomfortable, then you’ve got a fantastic sense of humour and I like you!

Make sure you solve this week’s puzzle and don’t forget to come back next week for another puzzle!

Review: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition is the 2014 remake by Phoenix Online Studios and Pinkerton Road Studio of the 1993 Sierra hit. It follows the eponymous Gabriel Knight as he investigates a series of gruesome voodoo murders that tie in to his personal life in ways he really doesn’t see coming.

The Good

  • The world of Gabriel Knight in full glorious HD
  • The Star Journal
  • Remastered soundtrack
  • Altered puzzles
  • Schloss Ritter

The Bad

  • Visual glitches
  • Command wheel takes away some of the difficulty
  • Too many achievements

Gabriel Knight is a struggling novelist and owns a rundown antique bookstore. He’s seen better days and he’s desperate for a good story to turn into a novel. Thankfully, for him, his best friend is New Orleans Police Detective and he’s brought Gabriel into the voodoo murders case because of Knight’s promises to include a character based on him in the novel he’s working on. Gabriel also suffers from regular nightmares relating to these murders, which he discusses with his very unpaid assistant Grace Nakimura.

As the days go by (ten of them in total) and Gabriel gets deeper into the underground voodoo world, his life and that of the people closest to him, including distant relatives he never knew of, are put in jeopardy. The investigation also brings him closer to fulfilling his destiny, one that runs inextricably close to the people he’s investigating.

If only you could go scroll through them all!
If only you could go scroll through them all!

This is not a new game; it’s a 20-year-old one that received a major spruce-up, to help bring it to a whole new generation. Someone once asked me “Do we need this remake?” and beyond a fan saying yes because it’s one of their favourite series, I do feel that with Dosbox classics getting more and more unstable with new operating systems, a remake like this one does this series a lot of good, bringing it to a completely new generation. That being said, it’s difficult to review a game when it’s a remake of another, because if you take away the things that it has in common with the original, there isn’t much for the game to stand on by itself. But that is the nature of remakes, I suppose. So as much as I want to judge the game by itself, I can’t but draw parallels to its predecessor during my review.

Gameplay in the remake has changed in meaningful ways, some good and some mixed. The good are the journal, written in Gabe’s dad’s sketchbook, keeping track of the current events. It helps players know where they’re going in the story and provide subtle hints on what they should do next. The journal also gives you access to what I call the “Star Journal,” containing interesting facts about the original game and the work done for the remake. There are even some interviews with the original staff, conducted by Jane Jensen herself, and plenty of concept art and storyboards. The only downside is the “Star” content is location-specific, so you can’t just scroll through the entire thing. Once you cleared the game, it should’ve unlocked in the main menu at least, because many times I was focusing on solving puzzles and didn’t pay attention to it.

Close-up looks are now these fantastic pop-ups
Close-up looks are now these fantastic pop-ups

This version also allows you to skip ahead to the map instead of having to navigate through the environment to the exit, which you can still do of course and which I did plenty of times before I got used to the map button. It’s one of the game’s best new features, especially for veteran Gabriel Knight players.

Finally, interaction is through a Command Wheel. When you click a hotspot, the wheel displays all actions possible for that hotspot. In the original, you had a series of action icons you had to scroll through to find the appropriate one for a given spot, and I feel the Command Wheel lowers the difficulty of the game by immediately discarding all invalid actions for you. You no longer have to think, “Hmmm, what might be the correct action?” because that part is done for you. It’s a staple of modern adventure game design that I hoped wouldn’t make it to this game.

Player Score is back, tallying every important action or puzzle solved. You know your score’s increased every time you hear the now very familiar jingle. I missed two or three things while rushing to clear the game for this review and got 359/362 points, earning me a “Novice Schattenjäger” achievement. I might return for my full score achievement later on.

Conversations now feature 3D models. At the top you'll see the score counter!
Conversations now feature 3D models. At the top you’ll see the score counter!

Speaking of achievements, at least on the Steam version, they went overboard and now you get one achievement for every single little puzzle you solve. At first it seemed like a novelty but it started to feel almost patronizing, “There you go, you’re such a smart boy!” Some achievements, like overly complimenting Grandma Knight, are fine as they require you to go through entire conversation trees for funny effect, but Puzzle-specific achievements are too much.

On the upside, the remake changes a few puzzles and item locations, mixing things up for players of the original, and while there aren’t enough of these changes to make the experience a completely fresh one, they are quite capable of stumping you, even if only for a few seconds/minutes. I still remember how the relocation of the magnifying glass and tweezers threw me off my game, and that’s just at the start. Later on I assumed a “nothing is as it was” mentality and fared much better, finding instead that a lot is as it was. The puzzles themselves are still pretty damn good, especially when put against today’s standards. They are all logic-based, and there are plenty of hints in conversations and the environment to give your brain the jumpstart it needs to finish them. Sound logic, picking everything up like a kleptomaniac and talking to everyone you can will often yield all the results you need.

One of the first locations to have altered puzzle and item pickups!
One of the first locations to have altered puzzle and item pickups!

The plot is one of the best in adventure games, drawing from real cultural and historical sources, mixing reality and fantasy seamlessly to create a believable story. Even the supernatural elements are so well grounded in religious history that you could almost believe them. In fact, for newcomers this will be your first glimpse of Jensen’s trademark, mixing history and fantasy together brilliantly. Characterization is top notch and you care deeply for the characters, though it would’ve been nice if the game gave you more time to care about Wolfgang, especially considering his role in Gabriel’s character growth. Malia and Gabe’s romance could’ve used a bit more screen time as well, to at least disguise how obviously plot-related it is. Having said so, the romantic tension between Gabe and Grace is still fantastic.

Speaking of plot, the remake includes the Gabriel Knight graphic novel, which I urge new players not to read until they’ve cleared the game, as it reveals a bit too much about the game’s plot. As for veterans, go ahead, you’ll love it.

Now the cutscene includes the cops taking the body away!
Now the cutscene includes the cops taking the body away!

The true stars of this remake, however, are the visuals and sound. Robert Holmes has recomposed the entire soundtrack, adding more instruments and a lot more strength to an already powerful score and this is the game that will etch the melody for “When The Saints Go Marching In” into your brain for the rest of your days, much like its original did so many years ago. Voice acting is generally strong, though I still lament the loss of Mosely’s thick accent. The new GK actor certainly isn’t Tim Curry but he does a good job with the role and sounds appropriately sleazy, though on latter parts of the game his performance loses a bit of strength, especially when Gabriel is screaming in grief or rage. Same thing happens to Malia’s performance near the end, when she’s pleading with a certain ancestor spirit, there isn’t enough strength in the performance to be truly convincing. Having said so, her and Grace’s performances are the best in the game.

Schloss Ritter, I love it!
Schloss Ritter, I love it!

The updated visuals say goodbye to any of the pixel-hunting present in the original graphics, not that there was much of it to begin with. Locations have all received major overhauls and look absolutely fantastic, though my favourite, hands down, has to be Schloss Ritter, in which the developers married the castle’s looks from the original game and its sequel The Beast Within. It was a pleasure seeing the castle portrayed so beautifully.

However, there are a variety of visual glitches in the game that made me groan, such as clothing collision issues with shirts poking through coats, Gabriel being able to walk through people in the square, the game telling you the panel in front of the Gedde Tomb is closed when you can clearly see it uses the “open” model. I often experienced Gabriel walking to a hotspot and then take small steps back and forth, over and over again, as if adjusting his positions, but getting stuck until I pressed the ESC key to cancel the animation, which didn’t work every time. None of the glitches are major or game-breaking though, just annoyances.

For some close-up examination hotspots, such as Gabriel’s bookcase, the visuals are so good they look like photographs instead of 3D animation, and for all I know they could be. They are also presented to you in pop-up windows instead of using the main screen (via your typical black-screen-fade loading), allowing you to examine them and leave the close-up view seamlessly, without interrupting the rest of the gameplay, something I found myself loving and wishing more games did it as well.

I can't get enough of how good the castle looks now!
I can’t get enough of how good the castle looks now!

Plenty of sequences that used to be in the game’s engine and made you have to wait while the animations completed are now (skippable) cutscenes. A perfect example is early in the game in Lake Pontchartrain, the sequence where the police took the body away. In the 20th Anniversary Edition they’ve rolled that sequence into the Malia meeting cutscene, making it all happen quicker. In fact, some of the creepier parts of the game look even better with the new cutscenes.

One thing that I did feel was a wasted opportunity was not adding the original game to this release. Monkey Island Special Editions did it (sort of) and last year’s re-release of Flashback added the original game as well, accessible from the menu. As an anniversary edition, it would’ve been great to have the original there with the updated, to see for ourselves the before and after.

That's not a happy face, it's the shadow of the metal bar INSIDE the hole.
That’s not a happy face, it’s the shadow of the metal bar INSIDE the hole.

Gabriel Knight Sins of the Fathers bring the classic adventure to a whole new generation with updated visuals and music. While it doesn’t change things enough to be a fresh experience for players of the original, they will still find a really fun game. The concept art is enough to give any fan of the series a nostalgia-induced heart attack!

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying! I can’t wait for GK4, make it happen!

Preview: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is one of my favourite adventure games, and my favourite of the Gabriel Knight series. So when the opportunity came along to test out a beta version of the 20th Anniversary Edition remake, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been trying out the two days included in the preview a couple of times, to playtest the game as much as possible. Continue reading Preview: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

Phoenix Online Studios – Gabriel Knight Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

Welcome to another issue of Attic Diving, where we interview interesting people to help us jump into their Mental Attics to see what we find!

Today’s guests are once again Phoenix Online Studios, this time about the Gabriel Knight remake, currently in development and due to release later this year.

I want to thank Phoenix Online Studios’ Katie Hallahan, PR Head, for once again taking time to reply to these questions of mine.


How excited were you when you knew you were going to be working on a remake for Gabriel Knight?

Extremely! It’s one of the favorite classic series for a lot of us on the team, we’re all psyched to be working on it. It’s definitely one of those things where we have to pinch ourselves sometimes.

How far along is Gabriel Knight 20thAnniversary Edition?

Still in alpha. The whole game is playable, technically, but there’s plenty more to be added. We’re still adding animations, updating some art, and so forth.

Is it a direct remake or will it have new features? (Story elements, puzzles, etc.)

It is mostly a direct remake, though a few small adjustments or additions have been made here and there. Nothing major, though, the plot and flow of the game are still the same.

New conversation window has a similar style to the original
New conversation window has a similar style to the original

Gabriel Knight had a classic interface, with multiple, and very specific cursors. Is that something you’re keeping in GK20?

Some streamlining has happened with the interface.

What about the “Total Score”, will it be in the game? Sins of the Fathers and its sequels had a Scoring system, and getting the high score meant finding everything worth finding and interacting.

Yes! There will still be a scoring system; as some of those puzzles have changed, the total will be different from the original, but you can still shoot for getting a perfect score!

Will you be re-casting all voices for the game or using the originals? If the former, I’d like to vote for Raleigh Holmes as Grace.

Using the same voice cast wasn’t really an option, for a number of reasons, so the roles have all been recast. Who’s playing who hasn’t been announced yet, but the recordings were done with Bay Area Sound, the same studio who did Moebius and does all the Telltale Games, including the Walking Dead. They’re great and have a very talented pool of actors!

The new environments look fantastic, but keep the spirit of the original
The new environments look fantastic, but keep the spirit of the original

Are there any plans to re-make the rest of the series?

Not at this time. As Jane’s said recently, the real hope is that this remake will do well and, fingers crossed, pave the way for her to be able to make a new GK game! She has two ideas for what GK4 would be about. I’ve heard and read about both of them, and it really would be fantastic. Here’s hoping!

Will you update Gabriel and New Orleans to the 21st century, or will it remain in the 1990s?

It will still be set in 1993, with all the old, familiar trappings thereof!

A part of me wanted to see Gracie with an iPad
A part of me wanted to see Gracie with an iPad

(This is for the whole team, if possible) If you could remake any game, which would it be?

We had a variety of responses! For myself, I’d love to remake The Black Cauldron, which was my first Sierra game and first adventure game, but rather than follow the Disney movie’s plot, I’d want to stick to the book series it was based on, The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. That game got me into both those books and adventure games, and I would love to see it done justice!

“Tough question! It is hard for me to pick just one game. I am thinking Shadowgate an old point and click adventure on the nes and early PC. Actraiser for the SNES or Ultima 6 The False Prophet.”

“It’s not the most adventure game-studio response I could think of, but my ideal remake project would be Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. Despite the game’s excellent world building and allowance of a great variety of play styles, it was obviously rushed to retail and suffered from a litany of bugs and half-formed design decisions. Would love to take this thing from the assets up and polish it to an HD, fully realized mirror shine.”

“My personal pick since it’s been floating in my mind is Battletoads. Slick power set, variety of stages, but it was 8-bit and super hard. I’d like the difficulty toned down or at least optionalized so that players can choose. Online multiplayer. Allow all 3 toads to play together. Also keep the sidescrolling aspect intact ala Double Dragon Neon. At least 2.5D, like the latest Street Fighters have done. Actually that way, we can have the giant hand attacks animated closeup with literally high-impact.

“Adventure-game-wise, I’d like to see Loom get remade. It had so much potential in its use of music as spellwork. I can imagine more crafting via composing, more notes and chords, but that may mean more of a sequel or expansion than a straight remake. The simplicity of playing forwards and backwards to achieve opposite effects may be hindered if spells are made too complicated. So any remake of the original should probably keep the spell system simply as-is but pretty up the graphics and sound for the current generation.”

“ It’s a tossup between Dreamweb and Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender. Dreamweb had a hypnotic  and  somber atmosphere, but could be lightly redesigned to allow for all the depth of story and character the the tone is so evocative of.

I also love Rex Nebular, but there’s an entire middle section where I really thought it was going to intelligently subvert gender roles, and do so in an interactive way. The game either sidesteps this issue, or didn’t realize its own potential. Either way, the game still has a wonderful conceit that could be better fleshed out and honed in a remake.”

“Final Fantasy 7.”


I want to once again thank Katie for taking the time to answer yet another set of questions for us. Be sure to keep an eye out on Phoenix Online Studios (twitter @postudios) and Pinkerton Road Studio (Jane Jensen’s twitter: @jensen_jane) for more information on this upcoming remake of a classic.

Phoenix Online Studios – Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

And I’m back! Holidays enjoyed, food devoured, post-bing-detox done! Now let’s start up a year with a nice little Attic Diving, where I take a plunge into other people’s Mental Attics to find out nice stuff about their past, current and future projects. To start the year we have an interview with Phoenix Online Studios, developers of the hit episodic game Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, which earned top marks on The Mental Attic’s Scoring System! You can read my review here.

I want to thank the amazing Katie Hallahan, Head of Phoenix Online PR and Game Designer, for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer this mammoth list of questions, which will hopefully not be the last list I send her, though I have promised and committed to keeping the interviews shorter from now on!

Warning – Spoiler Alert: The last two questions (19 & 20) contain spoilers, so if you haven’t played the game, please skip them!! Continue reading Phoenix Online Studios – Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller