Category Archives: Interactive

Posts about computer games.

A Golden Wake (2014)

A Golden Wake is a change of pace for Wadjet Eye, which has previously mostly published fantasy or science-fiction games. Their new point-and-click adventure game is neither of those, but rather a historical story set around the real-life land boom around Miami in the 1920’s, with a jazz soundtrack and jugendstil decorations to prove it.

The main and only playable character is Alfie Banks, a young man eager to make his name in the world (or live up to his family’s name, anyway). Ousted from his late father’s New York real-estate firm via jealous co-workers, he decides to pack up and go to Florida to seek his fortune. It’s 1921, and the local housing market is booming, especially the development of Miama-near Coral Gables, masterminded by one George Merrick. Merrick is one of several historical people who appear as fictionalised versions of themselves in the game and functions as a sort of father figure for Alfie, giving him things to do. Continue reading

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Master of Magic (1994)

Along with point-and-click (and the occasional text) adventures and RPGs, my favourite genre of PC game in my younger years was strategy, especially long-view titles like those from the Settlers, Anno, and Heroes of Might and Magic franchises. I particularly remember spending months at a time playing turn-based “4X” games like Alpha Centauri (1999) and editions of Civilization . 4X, that means exploration of the environment, expanding one’s reach by building new settlements or conquering those of opponents, exploiting the landscape (and, sometimes, your conquered subjects) in order to gain a technological advantage, and exterminating all enemies. There may be a combat component, but it’s typically secondary to the broader, more strategic managing of one’s empire.

Master of Magic is a little older than the games I used to play, which explains why I didn’t own it back then, but follows the same basic principles despite taking place in a fantasy, rather than a quasi-historical, setting. It also adds a dash of Populous in that you play a powerful being (here a wizard) who competes with others similar to him for people and territory (which is changeable via magic and technology).

There are two win conditions. The easier one for most races is destroying all enemy wizards militarily (or rather, conquering the cities their towers are in), something that is complicated by the fact that there are not one, but two procedurally-generated worlds where opponents can lurk. Without powerful plane-shift spells, one may have to almost start from scratch if a wizard has built his empire in a different dimension with a completely different map. The two worlds also lead to interesting tactical challenges, though; for instance, the detail that one need not conquer all enemy towns, just his capital, can considerably shorten the time until victory if you have control of one of the planes, because you can plane-shift an army of elite unites to the enemy’s doorstep and conquer his tower in a surgical strike without having to engage any troops in the way. That is true for the AI as well, of course. Continue reading

Technobabylon (2015)

About 70 years from now, Technobabylon predicts, nuclear wars will have become commonplace. In that world, the U.S. and China will both have violently split apart. The European Union, interestingly, stays together, but apparently at the expense of some unspecified liberties (an extrapolation, perhaps, of the current European attitude towards GMO). Newton, a new city-state implied to be somewhere in the area of what today is southern Somalia, is a place of refuge both for people fleeing from conflict as well as people aiming to test – and widen – the limits of what science can, and should, accomplish. Even the police detectives there are scientists.

This spot at the vanguard of research where almost anything goes technologically is also a remarkably diverse place, with people from all different corners of the world coming together. Because of budget restrictions and the fact that most of the game takes place at night, there aren’t particularly many crowd scenes where one could really observe this, but the main characters and the handful of NPCs are pleasingly varied in skin colour and sexual identity. As the Technobabylon of the title, the city is the setting for the newest game by point-and-click adventure-game publisher Wadjet Eye (developed by James Dearden from an unfinished series of freeware installments).

With its science-fiction noir trappings, the game’s story is difficult (and would be spoilery) to summarize. Suffice it to say that it involves deception, a string of weird murders, duplicity, a man accused of a crime he didn’t commit, treachery, a digital network more advanced than the internet (albeit looking like an 80’s cyberpunk vision of virtual reality), double-crosses, and a highly advanced artificial intelligence and the forces arraigned against it for reasons that are at odds with each other. All of these elements crisscross in the plot and ultimately prove to be the ripple effects of a decades-earlier betrayal. It’s all very engaging even if I saw the central plot twist coming halfway through (thanks to a painting and a name I correctly identified as foreshadowing and thematically relevant, respectively).
Continue reading

Arcanum (2001)

When it comes to RPGs, I have long considered myself to have a preference for long games, presumably stemming from my teenage days, when Bioware and Black Isle offered rich fantasy experiences to anyone with enough leisure time to spend (like a high schooler). I fell out of the habit of gaming while I went to college, but kept following the industry news, full of disdain for companies that took a casual, less time-intensive approach to their games. Over the past few years, as I’ve rediscovered video games, my attitudes seem to have shifted a bit. Arcanum has the bad luck to be the game that crystallized that change, through no real fault of its own.

I first heard of Arcanum when it was previewed for the gaming press, and while I thought its mix of fantasy and steampunk sounded intriguing, I never bought and eventually forgot about it. Years later, it was part of an offer on GOG, and the blast of nostalgia caused me to purchase it for some unspecified holiday period, which finally came around in August of 2014.

My first impressions were definitely positive. The character creation dialogue is the most detailed and option-full of any RPG I’ve seen, greatly encouraging real role-playing and making up a unique player character. I eventually opted for an arrogant and vain gnome with a racially atypical interest in wizardry. And the game responded quite admirably to my choices. For example, a background story I picked gave me more Willpower points (an advantage for a mage), but also restricted the number of points I could spend on my Charisma stat, limiting my ability to gain followers. NPCs treated me differently as a gnome than they would have as a dwarf or elf. Continue reading

The Blackwell Epiphany (2014)

Three-and-a-half years after the release of the last instalment, and two years after my corresponding review, Dave Gilbert has now released the newest episode of the Blackwell series. He can be excused for the long wait time, having been busy growing his family, adapting to changing times by preparing mobile versions of his games, and building his studio, Wadjet Eye, into a well-respected and trusted indie publisher. So trusted that I pre-ordered their last two games (this one and Primordia, 2012) without consideration to any reviews and will likely do so with the next one when it becomes available on GOG. Not that the early reviews would have dissuaded me, which were pretty glowing, promising the longest and most emotional series instalment.

As far as I can recall (unfortunately, The Blackwell Epiphany does not offer any kind of previously-on recap, perhaps so as not to bore people playing all five games in close succession), the ending to part 4 suggested the advent of a larger, more epic world. The main characters, medium Rosa Blackwell and her ghost sidekick Joey, were confronted with a shadowy conspiracy they intended to take down. There were also continued hints that Joey was withholding important information about his demise from Rosa, grounds for a future falling-out. The latter thread doesn’t really materialise: We do learn a few things about Joey’s past and how he was connected to previous game characters (whom I didn’t really remember, to be honest), and there’s an achievement promising “The hows and whys of Joey”, which however, I did not manage to get. But there’s nothing relationship-threatening there. I wonder whether this was something Gilbert planned but dropped, or whether I simply misinterpreted some dialogue two years ago. Continue reading

Dragonsphere (1994)

A magical kingdom populated by humans, fairies, dark elves and shapeshifters is threatened by an evil sorcerer. A spell to trap the wizard inside his tower is crafted and deployed at the last minute, but it won’t hold forever. 20 years later, the king who had led the initial fight against the sorcerer has died, and the dragonsphere, an artefact designed to show the progress the villain makes in weakening the spell, has begun to crack. Now, the new king must go on a quest to find a way to defeat the wizard once and for all.

That’s the apparent premise for Dragonsphere, a point-and-click adventure from 1994. I say “apparent” because there’s a fairly good twist two thirds of the way in that changes the nature of the story substantially, though not in a way that distracts from the fairly generic setting. It is a bit disappointing, though understandable given the limitations of the era, that the protagonist’s epic quest is rather understated. The dragon-like mounts seen in the animated intro stay in their stables, our hero using his feet to travel from location to location. The king of the fairies holds court in a small garden, and the majestic civilisation of the dark elves turns out to be a single tent near an oasis. I can’t help but think that if the production team didn’t want to or couldn’t create appropriate, large-scale locations, they shouldn’t have promised them early in the game. Some seeming inconsistencies (like a small infusion of science-fiction into the fantasy world) are never fully explained. Continue reading

Nethergate: Resurrection (2007)

Nethergate: Resurrection is the 2007 update of a 1999 independent role-playing game. The original release falls within the window of my gaming socialisation, which included a fair number of first-person RPGs (like some of the Might & Magic and Realms of Arkania titles) and then mainly the Interplay Dungeons & Dragons adaptations. The latter, for me, led to the pinnacle of the genre, Planescape: Torment (1999), with its fantastic setting, pleasing design, creative quests, manageable (and relatively rare) combat, highly compelling characters (both within the party and outside of it), immersive story and the availability of a wide variety of choices.

Despite my appreciation of what the genre can achieve, I only played a few more RPGs outside of the ones already mentioned (of those, I probably most fondly remember Return to Krondor, 1998). By the early oughts, a trend towards more real-time combat and mindless action to the detriment of story and character development emerged and pretty much made me stop investing in new RPGs; the two Knights of the Old Republic games are the last ones I played all the way through, if I’m not mistaken. (A note regarding the absence of Japanese titles: I’ve never properly owned a console, and to this day my only exposure to, for example, the Final Fantasy franchise remains the ill-fated and, title aside, apparently unconnected animated film.)

A few weeks ago, a few days of vacation with not much else to do coincided with the release of a bunch of Spiderweb Software role-playing games in a Humble Bundle. I had never heard of the company or its products, but it sounded like a good deal, so I bought the bundle and installed the one stand-alone title: Nethergate: Resurrection. Continue reading