I think if you check this site for five minutes, you’ll probably come across a couple dozen articles that at least mention Star Wars. It’s a big deal for me, one of my favourite franchises and one where I’ve lost hours on, both reading or in other ways consuming stories or making up my own, be it for RPGs or just simple daydream. Continue reading Star Wars: Igniters – Time for a Revamp
I’ve mentioned this in the past but I’m a big fan of Adventure games, particularly the point & click variety. I love solving puzzles, going to interesting locales and meeting strange new people—something I also enjoy in real life. I like the complex stories, the narrative and even more when these two and the gameplay mesh together.
But one thing I’ve noticed over the past few years as I’ve gone through dozens of these titles is that the protagonists of these games, those we control, whose inventories we use to frantically click everything on everything, aren’t really heroes most of the time. In fact, their actions seem borderline villainous. Cheating, stealing and lying are commonplace in adventure games and more often than not, the solution of a puzzle means the destruction of someone else’s livelihood if not their lives altogether. Continue reading Point & Click Villainy – Are Adventure Protagonists really Heroes?
Ana’s father, a brilliant scientist, vanished years ago. She’s lived without him for years but on her 16th birthday, a mysterious gift left behind for her puts her on the trail of her family’s mysterious past and a strange book called The Perils of Man.
Star Wars is one of the best-known properties out there. That original 1977 film spawned sequel and prequel films, Tv series, cartoons, novels, comics, board games and of course Video Games. There have been Star Wars titles in pretty much every console and platform known to man, from the Atari 2600, passing by the Amiga to current generations.
Star Wars Video Games have taken us to the universe of the films, expanding it in ways their original creator perhaps never expected. We’ve played the films, alternate events and even side-stories, and we’ve been Jedi, Bounty Hunters, Criminals or just people caught in someone else’s mess. We’ve used The Force, Blasters or just a ton of Thermal Detonators. We’ve traveled through the Republic and the Outer Rim, found exotic locales and met strange creatures, both good and evil. We’ve found ancient relics and superweapons, collecting or taking them down! Continue reading The Best Star Wars Games
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! This week has a new riddle, just for you!
“He’s old and patient, always moving but never wandering. He’s rough, has seen all branches of life and will share the fruits of it with you if you wait long enough.” Continue reading The Weekly Puzzle – Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey…Swamp!
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. In this series, I’ll bring you a new puzzle every week, 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!
Today’s puzzle also comes from the vaults of LucasArts, from its most popular adventure game series: Monkey Island, specifically the 2nd in the series, LeChuck’s Revenge.
After dealing with Largo LaGrande on Scabb Island, Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate, sets out to find the four pieces of the map to the legendary treasure of BIG WHOOP. One of these pieces is in Rum Rogers’s shack but to get to it you need to shut-off a particularly impressive looking waterfall. How do you do it? Well, there’s a fire hydrant at the top of it, so of course you need a monkey wrench. Good thing you have a catatonic monkey in your pocket, right? How do you get the monkey? We’ll leave that alone because I don’t want to ruin the puzzle if you haven’t played Monkey Island 2.
Yes, this puzzle is moon logic, and I usually hate these. But this is moon logic at its best, based off wordplay. You need a monkey wrench and you have a stiff monkey, quite easy to make the leap. It shows the strength and weakness of this style of puzzle design. If you’re familiar with the English language, then you’ll figure it out instantly, but if you’re not or you’re playing it in another language, then the puzzle makes little sense.
This puzzle also shows how creative the LucasArts team was when it came to designing silly puzzles. The entire sequence, from finding the monkey, shutting off the waterfall to getting your hands on the map is one ridiculous moment after another.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge has wonderful and challenging puzzles, but for me the best will always be this monkey business. When I played the game, I finally had enough of a handle with the language that I picked the word-play clue instantly. It didn’t just make me laugh but also made me feel proud of my linguistic ability.
Do you have a favourite Monkey Island puzzle you’d like to mention? Don’t forget to come back next week for two new puzzles, one from a game and one of mine!
I love puzzles, not the 1000 piece landscape ones everyone’s tried to assemble at least once in their lives. No, those drive me insane. The ones I mean are the gaming puzzles, riddles and brain-teasing challenges. Some need items and for others you just need to use whatever brain cells you have left after binging on Dragon Age Inquisition for eight hours a day.
Puzzles are at the core of Adventure gameplay, they offer 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.
Over the past few months, I’ve been hard at work on designing my own puzzles for an in-development adventure game demo. I’ve gone through the classics: inventory, moon-logic, number sequence & math, cryptography and text-based and even old school riddles. For example, here’s one I posted on twitter a few weeks ago, just popped in my head and it was better than I expected:
Ominous when empty. Sad when full.
What is it? Only one person has solved it and in fact offered a different response that works well!
In this series, I’ll talk about some of my favourite puzzles in games, from the silly to the brain melting. But that’s not all, every other week, I’ll also give you one of my puzzles for you to solve, some of them are simple and others not so much. If you solve one first and you’d like to submit one of your own then I’ll feature them in a future issue. I’ve already given you one to get started, and now I’ll focus on this week’s puzzle. It’s from a really old, classic LucasArts adventure: Full Throttle.
At one point in the game, you need to get into The Vulture’s hideout, but it’s protected by a minefield. Getting through it is hilarious and it involves a remote-controlled car and a boxful of Powerblast-battery-powered bunnies to clear the way!
When I first played this game, I wondered what to do with the minefield, and I tried a single bunny, got an item in return but ten I was stumped, because as is the usual case for me, I hadn’t seen something in the environment, but once I did, it all clicked into place and I solved the puzzle and finished that sequence, laughing like a maniac while doing so. It’s funny, on hindsight maybe not that funny, but it just caught me by surprise, especially because the music shifts to Flight of the Valkyries!
It’s another example of how creative the people at LucasArts were/are at creating puzzles. Sure, it’s on the edge of being moon-logic, but there’s enough sense in it that it doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Below you’ll see the end of the puzzle. I want you to have a giggle but not ruin the entire thing for you!
Do you have any favourite puzzle or memory from Full Throttle or any other adventure game? Let me know in the comments!
Originally released in 1999 Grim Fandango is one of the last adventure games released by LucasArts. It combines Mexican folklore with a Film Noir plot and stars the grim reaper himself…well, one of them anyway.
Release Date: 30 October 1998 | 27 January 2015
Played: Full Story
Platforms: PC, OS X, Linux, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One.
I won’t deny it. I was excited when I saw the news for the Grim Fandango remake. I remember playing it when I was younger, about a year after release, in 1999. I borrowed the game from a friend—you know, back in those days where DRM and serials weren’t a thing.
I’ve been playing the game recently, going through it once more and I realised I didn’t remember a thing about it. I couldn’t remember the solution to even a single puzzle, which to be honest is perfect for a review. So let’s get to it.
Grim Fandango puts you in the shoes of Manuel “Manny” Calavera, an agent for the DOD, The Department of Death. As an agent his job is to find the recently deceased and depending on their personal history get them the best deal possible on their trip to the afterlife. If the soul has been especially good, they can get a direct trip on the Number Nine express train to the Ninth Underworld. If there are dark spots in their bio, the options range from lying in a coffin shipped by mail to a walking stick for the long journey.
At the start of the game, Manny’s been in a slump, only getting bad clients and cheated out of new ones by his colleague, Domino. Deciding to take matters into his own hands—and yours—he intercepts one of Domino’s clients and claims her for his own, thinking she’s assured a spot on the Number Nine. But it turns out his bosses rigged the system and have stolen everybody’s tickets. With Meche, his would-be client, now lost in the underworld and the conspirators pursuing him, Manny sets out to find the girl and stop the bad guys…but mostly find the girl.
The story is a traditional Noir plot. There are conspiracies, intrigue, betrayals and deceit at every corner. But it is a Tim Schafer and LucasArts game so there is plenty of comedy as well, mostly from how surreal the world and locations are. Unlike other LucasArts games there aren’t many pop-culture references, instead they take jabs at familiar Noir tropes and poke fun at how we all imagine death and the afterlife to be. It is however a darker game than other in the Lucas catalogue.
The story plays out in four acts or Years, each with a different location, new characters and new pieces to the conspiracy. I loved the Year transitions. Years 1 and 2 end with Manny in a precarious position, stuck at a dead-end café and a broken down ship respectively, but the opening cinematic for the following one show him turning those around—the Café into a successful nightclub and casino called Café Calavera and the ship into a mercantile vessel. And all of it without losing sight of his goal of finding Meche and get her to the Ninth Underworld.
Manny as a character is one of the best in adventure games. He’s both selfish and selfless at times, he cares even if he has to manipulate and cheat. He’s not an angel, but he’s not evil either. In essence, he’s a very human and relatable character, with strengths and flaws. The supporting cast on the other hand is a collection of extremes and Noir tropes, from the sultry femme fatale to the extremely greedy villains. But that isn’t to say they aren’t as interesting as the main one. Each has their unique personality and they make you want to know more about them. Glottis, for example is one of my favourite characters. He’s a Mechanic Demon, first acting as Manny’s driver and on the way becoming his loyal companion…and comic relief. Meche starts off as the typical good girl, but shows more strength and determination you would think she had. The central characters all grow during the story, and that is rare in adventure games.
Grim Fandango’s visual style takes its inspiration from Mexican “Dia de los Muertos”—and in fact it is that exact day at the start of the game, the only time when the dead can visit the living. All characters look like Calaca figures, walking skeletons. When Manny reaps a soul, what comes with him isn’t a ghost but another bony figure. Environments area mix of 1930s aesthetics, such as you would find in classic film Noir, and Aztec architecture. There are high-rise buildings and race tracks with Aztec colour tones and even temple-like structures in the last act, but there are also more traditional Noir locations, such as the Poet’s nightclub The Blue Casket or even Café Calavera. The locations and character designs draw you in as much as the voice actors and music do.
The game uses static environments with 3D objects and characters and fixed camera angles. The remake improved on the character models, though considering they’re all skeletons there wasn’t much to improve. Mostly they just made the faces more detailed. But they also improved on the lighting, and this bit adds a lot more to the game’s atmosphere, especially at the start. Now light streams through Manny’s blinds, falling on him in stripes as if it were the office of a Noir detective.
The game also features FMV both during gameplay, such as when opening the mailing machine’s door or the elevator in Rubacava, and for story cinematics. The latter mostly take place between acts or at significant moments, such as when you pull up the SS Lamancha. The remake doesn’t change anything about these, nor did they have to because they work perfectly well. In fact, the best thing about them is the original development team went to great lengths to make sure the characters and environment in the FMVs looked exactly as they do in the game’s engine—called GrimE and based on the Jedi Knight engine, no SCUMM for Grim Fandango—so that players always saw familiar faces.
Speaking of actors and music, there isn’t anything bad to say here. The sound design is outstanding. The soundtrack mixes the jazzy tunes you need for the Noir vibes with traditional Mexican music, in the process creating a new style that instantly brings the name Grim Fandango to your mind. Hell the music is so good there were moments I stopped progressing just to take in as much of it as I could. It’s the kind of videogame music you’ll buy the soundtrack and listen to it every day!
Voice acting is superb, particularly because most of the actors are native Spanish speakers, making them much more authentic and convincing, but also because as actors they give strong performances. I often complain how screams and shouts in games feel half-assed, but in Grim Fandango the actors give their all and remain convincing no matter the situation.
Finally, there’s the gameplay and this is where I have a problem.
I hate the inventory system for Grim Fandango. I sincerely do. Instead of the grid-like inventory used in other LucasArts titles or the horizontal list-like inventory of games such as Sam & Max, you can’t see all the items you have at once. Manny’s suit is your inventory and every time you need an item, you’ll have to scroll through the entire inventory. Worst still is that it doesn’t remember what the last item you looked at was, and it even gave me the impression that the item positions changed from one look to another. I knew an item, a piece of bread, was two items to the right when I first looked, but the second time I had to scroll even further. It ties nicely with the item-drawing animations, as the inventory is essentially part of it but it’s clunky and can make you waste a lot of time. It actually made me grateful there aren’t any item combinations, because that would’ve bene a terrible hassle.
As this is a LucasArts game, the puzzles are almost exclusively inventory ones and they are generally in the moon-logic realm. To be honest, I’m now convinced Schafer and his team were on peyote while designing some of these, because you would have to bombed out of your head—or be a long-time adventure gamer—to figure them out. For one puzzle you need to figure out the combination of numbers and days for a winning betting ticket using pieces of casual conversation, a plaque for a statue and the complaint of a worker. For another, you’ll drink alcohol with gold flakes just so you can have some stripsearch time with a sexy officer to get her metal detector. See what I mean?
As you progress, however, the complexity lowers and the last act has generally easy puzzles, which is slightly disappointing.
One of the best aspects of the remake for me is they built in a fan patch, released years ago, that changes the control scheme from the tank-controls the game originally had—inspired by Resident Evil, popular at the time of the game’s release—in favour of point & click controls. It’s much more comfortable though the originals are still present and work really well with the added gamepad support.
I mostly played the game using the original rendering, which you can switch to at any moment in the game’s menu, but I did enjoy the developer commentary. In commentaries we often hear from the designers and storytellers about something fun they did, but this commentary is from the entire team. From their field trips for environment design ideas to the struggles to program certain things in the game, to how many pieces of different engines they cobbled together to build Grim Fandango. As a software developer, it was fascinating to know the ins and outs of the development side of this great title.
Tim Schafer mentions something very interesting during the commentary. He states that the game happened because of the amazingly talented people that came together at the time, but also because they and he infused in the game a lot of what was happening in their lives. And that if they decided to make the game now, it wouldn’t even get close to what we have, even if they made it with the best of intentions.
Grim Fandango is a hell of a ride. There are grievances with some of its design decisions, especially with the inventory and the original controls, but they don’t really detract from the outstanding experience. It’s a folklore story with Noir soul, and one of the fines adventure games ever released. And I think Mr. Schafer is right, this game couldn’t be made today and have it make the same impact.
5/5 – HELL YES!
Even if you’re not an adventure gamer, chances are you’ve heard of Telltale Games, especially since their big Borderlands & Game of Thrones announcements, as well as possibly seeing ads for The Walking Dead everywhere. Telltale is big as a brand right now, but did you know it was founded by ex-LucasArts employees, in response to the cancellation of the 2nd LucasArts Sam & Max game? Continue reading The Telltale Topic – Looking back…
“You crack me up little buddy…” Is something you’ll hear quite a bit in Sam & Max, and it never gets old or annoying.
For those like me without any idea on what Sam & Max was beyond easter eggs showing up in LucasArts games, here’s a little explanation. Sam & Max is a comic book by Steve Purcell starring the eponymous Sam & Max, Freelance Police, sort of Private Detectives but working for the Police Commissioner as extra cops, called in when needed, which is quite often to be honest. Sam is a 6-foot Dog in a grey suit with matching fedora, prone to over-exposition and long-winded exclamations, and Max, his trusty partner is a white “hyperkinetic rabbity thing”, with straight long bunny ears, a permanent manic grin and a fluffy tail and is a complete sociopath. Their office is in a rundown building on the corner of Straight and Narrow and they share the floor with a Noir inspired, more traditional PI called Flint Paper, who can be seen almost every time beating up a suspect for information. The office is also where you are at the beginning of most episodes, and with each episode and season, the office is funnier, as the boys enjoy keeping trophies in their closet, which more often than not come from living beings, or are actually alive.
Our…uhm…heroes? Continue reading The Telltale Games Sam & Max series