GOGathon: The Dawn of Sierra’s SCI Era

The story so far: after pioneering the graphic adventure game genre with the first three King’s Quest games (with the third one also being the first good graphic adventure game), Sierra decided it was time to branch out a little – releasing adventure games in a range of different genres, including both obvious videogame fare like science fiction to less well-trod territory like police procedural dramas and bawdy sex comedies.

All this was accomplished using the AGI system, which – as I explained at the end of the last article – was developed for the original King’s Quest I and, whilst technically advanced for 1984, clearly wasn’t passing muster by the late 1980s; 1988 would see the debut of a triptych of new games produced using their exciting new SCI engine, and for much of the next decade – until they switched to 3D engines, effectively – Sierra’s adventures would be produced using various updates of SCI, which both allowed for superior graphics and sound card support and included scripting tools useful for adventure game design processes.

But did a superior toolkit yield superior games? Let’s see…

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GOGathon: Sierra Spreads Out

In my previous dive into the classic Sierra adventure games, I covered the first three King’s Quest games, over the course of which Sierra developed and refined their adventure design processes and principles. Come 1986, the time was ripe to apply these principles to genres beyond the fairy-tale fantasy of King’s Quest.

For this next exploration of the Sierra catalogue, I’m going to look at the first Space Quest game, which emerged in 1986 alongside King’s Quest III as Sierra’s first jaunt into another genre. I’m also going to cover their adventure game releases of 1987, a year in which they put out three games in extremely different genres – not one of them a King’s Quest release – and represented perhaps the apogee of what you could call their “AGI era” – the time period when they produced adventure games using the Adventure Game Interpreter system developed for the first King’s Quest.

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GOGathon: Roberta Williams’ Royal Progress

If you’re fond of a good feud, the videogame landscape of the mid-1980s to mid-1990s were a golden era for them. Nintendo vs. Sega is the classic one, not least because Sega went out of their way to bait and belittle Nintendo in much of their advertising; the Amiga vs. Atari ST feud was perhaps overstated by the media at the time but there was undeniably a bit of smoke to that fire, not least because of the intertwined personalities involved in the development of both systems.

For fans of graphical adventure games of a certain age, of course, the Sierra vs. LucasArts question is particularly memorable. It’s an open question how much of a genuine feud it was as far as the individual personalities concerned. I’m unaware of any actual personal rancour between the two studios, though Ron Gilbert’s famous Why Adventure Games Suck manifesto which yielded the guiding principles behind classics such as The Secret of Monkey Island was certainly taking issue with a lot of issues regarded as being distinct hallmarks of Sierra games, and Gilbert even snuck parodies of the infamous Sierra “You have died” messages into The Secret of Monkey Island itself, but I’m unaware of any return fire from Sierra itself. Indeed, a lot of the negative aspects people associate with the Sierra house style – arbitrary deaths, illogical puzzles, the possibility of putting the game into an unwinnable state, and so on – were most endemic in their early games.

In previous GOGathon articles I’ve looked at the Gabriel Knight and Phantasmagoria series. Notably, death is still possible in both of them, and I’ve come around to the idea that “can’t possibly die” isn’t necessarily a rule which should always be applied to point-and-click adventure design; it was fine for most of LucasArts’ works, which tended to be comedic in tone anyway, but slavishly following LucasArts’ lead without understanding why they did what they did would be just as bad as doing the same for Sierra, and in a horror-genre adventure it’s arguably preferable to have death be possible (and therefore a source of tension) than have a situation where the player can just sit wander about endlessly without progressing anything and never get into any real danger, which will kill tension quickly.

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GOGathon: The Devil Got Overindulgent Here

So, we’ve come to the end of our reviews of the Devil Came Through Here trilogy, and as with all the reviews in the series a ton of content warnings apply. I’m not going to give an exhaustive one for the game, not least because I can’t 100% guarantee that I’ve seen all the content in the game, but this review has content warnings for suicide, abuse, abuse, abuse, more abuse, abuse and abuse.

Lorelai is the story of, well, Lorelai, an 18 year old who arrives home from her job at a nursing home to bear the stress of her hideous family life. Lorelai’s father died of cancer when she was 12, and whilst Lorelai’s a survivor by instinct and has by and large kept it together in the intervening six years, her mother has largely gone to pieces.

In particular, she’s struck up a relationship with John Doe, our antagonist for the game. John’s an Afghanistan war veteran who hasn’t remotely adjusted to civilian life, especially after his job at a brick factory vanished when the factory shut down, and he divides his time between violently abusing Lorelai’s mother and being extremely creepy towards Lorelai. He’s glued himself into the family fabric in part by siring a child with Lorelai’s mother, little Bethany, and Lorelai’s intent on keeping her head down and earning enough money that she can move out and take Bethany with her, since it’s evident that her mother just can’t bring herself to leave John.

This dreadful night, however, Lorelai becomes concerned when her mother locks herself in the bathroom and won’t come out or respond. With the aid of the boy next door, Zack, who has a very obvious crush on her and who she may or may not have a crush on in turn, Lorelai forces her way into the bathroom to discover that her mother has hung herself. John shows up, laughs at the situation, and then ends up brutally assaulting Zack and slashing Lorelai’s throat open with a broken bottle.

That’s when the Queen of Maggots gives Lorelai an opportunity much like she offered to Susan in The Cat Lady: a sort of immortality which would allow her to come back and keep trying until she can defeat John and, if not save her family from him, at least stop others suffering at his hands. Lorelai’s processes of resurrection will prove to be a bit more involved than Susan’s, however, for the Queen is grooming Lorelai to one day succeed her…

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GOGathon: The Devil Checked In Here

Joe and Ivy Davis are a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. In a bid to get away from it all, Joe’s arranged for them to have a lovely seaside holiday at a quiet coastal town, where the only accommodation on offer is from the Quiet Haven Hotel. Once Joe and Ivy arrive, however, they find that the hotel is a bit of a shambles – and Ivy’s behaving and talking in an incredibly strange manner, alternating between total silence and incoherently talking about things only she can see. To make matters worse, a terrible storm has blown in, so strong heading out into the downpour to seek help isn’t a sensible option.

Joe and Ivy go up to their hotel room and have a tense conversation about their problems, before going to sleep. When they wake up, Ivy’s nowhere to be seen. When he goes down to the hotel restaurant to look for her, thinking she might have gone to breakfast ahead of him, he finds the hotel manager standing in the midst of a bizarre tableau. She informs him that Ivy made the mistake of angering a certain Sophie, another guest in the hotel, but that if he hurries he might be able to persuade Sophie to let Ivy go.

And it’s around then that things go full Eraserhead. (With additional content warnings for issues of murder, mental health, eating disorders, and utter tripped-out mayhem.)

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GOGathon: The Devil Meowed Through Here

Harvester Games is an indie development studio whose efforts are largely driven by the efforts of main game designer, programmer and writer Remigiusz Michalski, who’d cut his teeth producing Downfall – A Horror Adventure Game using the baseline Adventure Game Studio development environment before attempting more ambitious works. The main crop of Harvester so far has been the Devil Came Through Here trilogy – named for a phrase that recurs throughout the series – consisting of The Cat Lady, a spruced-up remake of Downfall with some plot and writing tweaks to make it fit the themes of the overall trilogy better, and the recently-released Lorelai.

Just lately, I finally got around to giving The Cat Lady a proper try, having bought it for cheap in a GOG sale a while back and forgotten it was there. As far as setting the tone for the rest of the trilogy goes, it certainly makes a powerful aesthetic statement: eerie, often-monochrome graphics paired with a soundtrack from Remigiusz’s brother Michal makes sure that what the aesthetic lacks in polish it more than makes up for in atmosphere.

It also really aggressively pushes themes of suicide, nihilism, murder, death, depression, and general misery at you from the beginning. So, you know, content warnings for all of that apply to the rest of the review.

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GOGathon: Third Time’s the Charm… Or Seven Years’ Bad Luck?

Fans of the Black Mirror series of point-and-click adventures (not to be confused with Charlie Brooker’s “Oh no, technology!“-themed Twilight Zone knockoff) had to settle in for a long wait between the first two episodes of the series; the original The Black Mirror was released by Czech developers Future Games in 2003, but it wouldn’t be until 2009 that German outfit Cranberry Production served up Black Mirror II. Fans did not have long to wait after that for Black Mirror III, however, with the final game in the original trilogy coming out in 2011, also through Cranberry.

The signs that we should expect another sequel were right there: the previous game ended on a bit of a rushed cliffhanger. The action here picks up in the immediate aftermath of that. Darren is the prime suspect in the grim events that concluded the last game, and the police have little patience for his story; however, they don’t quite have the evidence they’d need to bring him to trial. After three weeks cooling his heels in a cell in the local police station, Darren has his bail paid by a mysterious benefactor. He’s warned not to leave the Willow Creek area, and he’s feeling the occult consequences of the end of the previous game; if he’s to rid himself both of his legal troubles and the Gordon curse once and for all, he needs to resume his investigations of the area.

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