Amecon 2016

If you’re attending Amecon in the UK this weekend, I’ll be running the Amateur voice acting 101 panel on the Sunday at 15:30 Wood Scawen. I’ve presented in there before for various Ayacon panels and it’s a great space. I’ll be talking through some basics of voice acting then when we’re tired and want to chill out we’ll descend into some Anime Dub Live.

Adventure Afterlife: 20 years of Adventure games Part 3 1994

1994 sits right in the middle of the graphic adventure peak. After the staggeringly prolific 1993, the momentum carried well into the following year with a mix of new games and sequels to established franchises. Thematically there’s a heavy thematic shift towards science fiction, however in both the science fiction games I played through for this year there’s a heavy dose of humor.

Beneath a Steel Sky

Many North American gamers will probably immediately name LucasArts and Sierra as the two major adventure power houses. In the UK we were also lucky to have studios like Adventure Soft and Revolution. Revolution is still going having mostly recently released the Kickstarter backed Broken Sword 5. Interestingly enough Revolution somewhat controversially listed Beneath a Steel Sky 2 as a stretch goal on that project. The goal wasn’t reached and since then the Revolution team have been pretty quiet on their next project. This means to this day BASS hasn’t had a sequel, so stands alone as a very differently themed adventure game.

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Bass follows Robert, who as a child is involved in a helicopter crash. His Mother is killed and he is left stranded in a wasteland. A local Mad Max style tribe finds the boy and gives him the last name Foster after Foster’s lager. Foster also being a rather apt name for a foundling. As an adult, Rob is found and kidnapped by security forces and take to the domed Union City. Union City is governed by the mysterious all powerful AI LINC, and Robert soon finds himself having to navigate the city whilst evading the security forces. Union City itself is an interesting location, it’s heavily hierarchal with people lower in the social hierarchy limited to only certain floors on the vertical sprawling city. These people have limited rights, whilst the wealthy live in luxury. In keeping with the cyberpunk theme there’s a strong emphasis on virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

Comic’s art legend Dave Gibbons provided the art design, giving the game a very unusual feel even for the time. The audio is also very strong with a distinctive soundtrack, and unusually for the time quality voice over. If I was a little hard on Revolution for last entries Lure of the Temptress, it’s probably partly because as a personal favorite , BASS released only a year later is a staggering achievement. The virtual theater system is back and used to great effect, allowing the player to follow characters from screen to screen.

The writing is also superb mixing dark cyberpunk with humor and a tiny bit of body horror. It’s hard being totally objective but beside a few whimsical puzzles ( you can launch a dog into the air)m they mostly make sense and work together to tell the story.

Rob don't jump!
Robert Foster from Beneath a Steel Sky
Look at that backdrop.

Once of my all time favorite games,if cyberpunk or science fiction interest you I encourage you to play the game is available legally for free from SCUMVM or GoG as James Woodcock’s ( Fan made) enhanced soundtrack, which I recommend you use. Mobile versions are also available if you want to support the dev.

King’s Quest VII – The Princeless Bride

“I’m going to play King’s Quest VII” I tweeted. I got a few responses fairly quickly along the lines of “ Oh dear” and “Why?”. Interestingly enough VII sees the series take a female focus with the player switching between Princess Rosella and Queen Valance. Series protagonist King Graham is barely seen at all. The art takes a Disneyesque direction and it’s not hard to see Disney films of the era as having a direct influence. There’s even singing about getting married…

You can now never unhear that.Soon after this Rosella is kidnapped, her Mother finds herself lost in the desert and vows to save her.In King’s Quest games you can die, you can die is stupid ways ( wandering in the Desert too long), getting stung by a scorpion etc. Luckily by this point Sierra had grown a little kinder and they let you resume.

The puzzles can be a little obtuse, and follow the traditional mold of weird clue luckily scrawled onto walls and trial and error. In the first section I played with Queen Valance I noticed at least one puzzle with multiple routes all the way through.

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Rosella standing by a salty pool.

I got as far as Rosella’s section before I caved ( which I hate to do) and looked up a walkthrough as I got stuck. But the trouble was the solution I kept finding does not work. Various fan pages list numerous bugs but not this one. So sadly despite my resolution to play everything, I gave up.

Tex Murphy – Under a Killing Moon

Despite this being a sequel I hadn’t played a Tex Murphy game before. However in keeping with my chronological plan for this series I installed Under a Killing moon in a bit of a strop after the Kings Quest VII incident. I was prepared to hate. All I knew about this game was that it was FMV and had large enough following to warrant numerous sequels and a recent Kickstarter. I didn’t know that the game doesn’t just use FMV but also has gameplay sections in first person 3D ( like Dagonronpa or Hotel Dusk).The controls are bizarre you move via mouse with the speed increasing as you go like a car. You can also duck, look up and down. All the characters in the game are FMV, with video cut scenes often popping up when Tex leaves a location or when a plot vital incident occurs. The game has a noir feel, but it’s set in the future. Tex’s office is in a bad part of town where all the mutants ( played by actors in various masks) live. Mutant life is cheap, and so is the rent so this is where Tex is based.

Here is a FMV mutant in a bin, this is his in game idle. It loops like this. He is addicted to chocolate, this is why you should play.

Here is a FMV mutant in a bin, this is his in game idle. It loops like this. He is addicted to chocolate, this is why you should play.

Near the start of the game, you find Tex’s gun. Tex picks it up, accidentally throws it out the window where a kid picks it up and runs away with it. The whole scene is goofy and silly, and it’s at this point you release they know it’s silly. This is like a holodeck episode of TNG, where Tex Murphy ( also played by the game’s designer Chris Jones) is having the Time of his life, goofing off with a large cast of actors who vary from being in on the joke, to lost, confused and scared.

The story starts you off with a few local cases, and introduces the mechanics before the main plot involving, a missing statue and a mysterious Countess kicks off.

The puzzles mostly make sense, though the game can be a little particular about how you do things. It’s also possible to mess up royally. Thankfully there’s also a decent built in hints system which gives clues in return for deducting points. The only place where this doesn’t help is locating objects, the game makes full use of the 3d environments and hides objects in weird places. This can get a bit frustrating as those objects are often sprites which rotate or disappear at odd angles. It’s also possible I learned when once again breaking my rule and resorting to a walkthrough, to miss an item and get to the end of the game without it. Where Tex will then fail.

You can die in Under a Killing Moon, and it’s weeeiiirdd. A man in shadow with a deep voice appears in shadow to tell Murphy off and offer him another chance. I like to think this means the whole thing is in Tex’s head and he’s utterly deluded, but the game hints otherwise.

I’d never played a Tex Murphy game before and I thoroughly enjoyed it’s bizarre mix of humor and future Noir. Recommended especially for Contradiction fans. Just save often.

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It’s detective Tex Murphy, holding a toy ring.
Meet the Jenks of the future

1994 was still a pretty great year for adventure games. Whilst 1993 saw a ridiculous amount of releases 1993 was still strong. The fact that King’s Quest had gotten to VII at this point is no mean achievement. Sierra games were the big sellers of their time, so it’s frustrating to see from the little I played that they were still buggy, and hadn’t really improved their puzzle design. The art was at least an interesting direction, and very different from the other two games I played. Tex deserves a shout out too, it was utterly silly but a joy to play, I’m not sure that I’d have finished it without help but the comprehensive in game hint system really helps . BASS is still a classic, and certainly the most polished of the three games I played, and still and all time favorite.

Also Under consideration

Also in the cyber punk mystery category was Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher. I’d like to include more Japanese games on this list, so another one to possibly go back to. Sorry Mr Kojima I had to draw a line somewhere so these blog posts could keep coming….

I will now leave you with another gif from Tex Murphy ( this game is very giffable). I shall not give you any context for it:

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Image credit: Some of these screenshots are from Giant Bomb’s database as I’m also blogging this from my account over there.

Adventure Afterlife Part 2 – The adventure games of 1993

I’m starting my Adventure game play-through in 1993, the year after Monkey Island 2 came out. I’d played all the games in my selection before, though not for quite a while. This became evident after purchasing Gabriel Knight off GoG, and I realized I had no music at all. After about 90 gagillion hours I finally figured out that Windows 8 & 10 don’t actually have midi support, and then after messing about further I finally got it to work.Let it not be said I am not committed to this project. (I am also aware there is a remake on mobile, however it changes puzzle flow and has re-recorded VO). 1993 was blessed with a lot of adventure games, and it was quite hard to pick what ones to play.

I’m also going to admit the flaw in my weird project is that I didn’t set rules about what I should and should not play. I am therefore going to pretend this is a deliberate recreation of how I picked what games I played in the early 90s.Mainly by going into poky old game shops, then wandering around asking what adventure games they had.*

* Most of the time they tried to sell me lemmings or else lemmings came free with a lot of other games. I am not going to play lemmings.

Lure of the Temptress. (Revolution)

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Lure of the temptress has several interesting features right from the start. It uses the ‘virtual theater’ system which allows NPCs to move from screen to screen. You can if you want follow them or at some points in the game an NPC will follow you. If you bump into them , they’ll say something and NPCs can also be given fairly complex strings of commands. This means that you can instruct the other character to go into another room and pull a series of levers, or press a button at theoretically the same time as the player.I say theoretically because the pathfinding can be extremely awkward, if your character takes to long to path to the target NPC or gets stuck then command will time out and end up with both characters standing around with a question mark over their head. It’s also fairly easy to loose Ratpouch your companion from the start of the game. I ended up needing him for a puzzle and having to traipse back the way I came to find where he’d gotten stuck. It’s a shame because Ratpouch’s semi autonomy leads to several funny points in the game. If you enter the rougher pub in town, he’ll try and buy beer from the barkeep. There are a few brief cut scenes that manage to do a lot with very little animation, and it’s a shame there aren’t a few more. The story is a little bare bones, but in enhanced by pockets of very funny dialog.

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There’s also combat near the end of the game, which I beat somehow.

Lure of the Temptress hasn’t aged well control wise, there’s a lot of wandering about trying to get things to happen, and the jankyness of the pathfinding makes it fiddly to play. However the use of NPCs is really interesting, they act more like characters from an open world RPG wandering around and interacting with each other. It’s a system that very few other straight up adventures ever used and adds a bit of life to the town. Similarly it’s the snatches of very funny duologue that shine in a fairly average story. Since of my aims in this blog series is to cover interesting things about adventure games, I urge you stick with me for 1994 for Revolution’s next game which took these two elements and ran with them.

Simon the Sorcerer (Adventuresoft)

In 1993 if an adventure game had voices it was a talkie, and despite a spate of awfully voiced games in this period Simon the Sorcerer cast Red Dwarf’s Chris Barrie as the title character. Simon is meant to be a young teen in this, and despite what a think is a slight pitch shift Barrie is probably a little old. However he and the rest of the voice cast are excellent. The gameplay is fairly standard in adventure games, the puzzles largely make sense although there are a few utterly frustrating points which let the game down somewhat.

  1. Tiny Bespoke Rocks

At at least four points in the game you need to find some kind of small rock. Several of which use the same sprite in the inventory. These rocks are usually hidden somewhere on the floor….or these wonderful incredibly densely packed pixel backgrounds. But only certain rocks on certain screens can be picked up and used. This happens four times in the game with rocks alone.

     2.  It wasn’t finished

The final part of the game features a lot of weird dead ends. A small wooden wedge appears then disappears from your inventory. Simon picks up and can polish a shield, only to leave it hanging on the wall as he enters the final area where it’s never used. Whilst the game is still completable these numerous dead ends toward the end of the game are frustrating.

     3. Tiny Bespoke exits

Whilst the fast travel map is a great way to backtrack, it only features select locations. It also doesn’t hint if you’ve missed something, especially annoying when several screens have exits you can only leave when you click on the right object ( usually something Simon has to climb).

Despite these flaws, Simon is still a funny game. The talking wood worm stuck with me for years after I originally played it ( on an Amiga CD 32 no less, puzzle hunting is not fin with a gamepad). Interestingly it also moves save/load and fast travel to inventory items. This means with the verbs and inventory permanently taking up the bottom half screen the top half is almost never obscured.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers ( Sierra)

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Gabriel Knight was the most serious of the three games I played. There are a number of notable voices in the game; Tim Curry voices the lead character Gabriel, Mark Hamill voices his best friend Detective Mosely and Michael Dorn appears as Dr John the creepy head of the local voodoo museum. There’s a bit of pixel hunting in Gabriel Knight, and you can get frustratingly far into the game then grind to a massive halt without even realizing that items can be that hidden. In it’s defense in nowhere in the game does Gabriel have to pick up four tiny bespoke rocks.

fmv

When Gabriel gets on a bike FMV happens for the only time until Gabriel Knight 2.

The game has two main narrative threads Gabriel’s family history, and a series of ‘voodoo’ murders.These interweave as you go on and you can make quite a big discovery about Gabriel’s family on the first day via solving a really obtuse puzzle. You can also do what I did ( despite having played it before), and forget about it assuming that the puzzle can’t be solved only to grind to a halt later because you arbitrarily need to solve it before the day will end and new events trigger. Gabriel can also die, but the only way you’d know that is if it happens to you. If you do die you’d better hope you’ve saved recently. Lure of the Temptress at least alerts you to the fact you can die by making it fairly likely to happen at least once near the start of the game.

Whilst digging around I found this making of doc for Gabriel Knight.

Gabriel himself is an interesting character, a lot of his traits are very useful for an adventure game character to have. He’s selfish, likes to steal things (especially from police friend Mosely) and lies a lot. Gabriel also has a pretty horrible attitude to women, (you even have to use the ‘pick up’ command on a female character urch). However Gabriel does have an arc, he starts off investigating the murders and irritating his friend Mosely as a way to let of the the stress of his writer’s block; by the end he actively cares about the case and steps up.

All three of the games I played featured fantastical elements, and to some extend featured the same flaws hiding objects unfairly and failing to communicate what the player has to do to pass. Simon and Gabriel both feel like characters you wouldn’t find in other genres of games, even if in Gabriel’s case you don’t always like them completely.

Related Post

     

    Adventure Afterlife:Part 1

    Apparently adventure games are still dead and someone wants to revive them, but what if…they never died and people kept making them. What if there were new ideas or really compelling characters in them ?

     

    gabe

    The schattenjager stalks through the night, his breath rising in the cool French air. He misses New Orleans fiercely, hell right now he’d give anything to be back in schloss Ritter. He pauses, his fake mustache is irritating him but it can not dampen the the thrill of the hunt. In his hand is a shovel, in the other? Adventure games, Gabriel Knight and his cat hair mustache killed adventure games and now…

    Baron von Glower stands before Gabriel. Gabriel shudders, he should not be here.

    “ You’re thinking I shouldn’t be here” he says “ but you’re carrying the whole of adventure games in your hand Gabriel. If you’re carrying an abstract concept I can be here.”

    “ But I killed adventure games” Gabriel says, his Southern drawl growing more pronounced.

    A third person arrives, a game developer.

    “ I am going to revive adventure games” they say, they look like they mean it too. Von Glower turns and raises an eyebrow, but the game developer can’t seem to see him. Gabriel shifts nervously and hides the adventure games behind his back.

    “ Oh and how are you gonna do that?” Gabriel asks.

    “Well you see I played Monkey Island when I was growing up!”

    “Oh” Gabriel replies.

    “ Hey aren’t you Gabriel Knight? Didn’t you kill adventure games?”

    Gabriel panics, how could they know so soon?

    “ I read it on Old Man Murray.”

    Gabriel gasps, and as he does so he realizes his hands are empty, they are gone.

    “Or perhaps, you never killed them at all, but what do I know I’m just a figment of your imagination and you’re a fictitious character.” Von Glower’s voice echoes through Gabriel’s head. Somewhere overhead an owl hoots, and Gandalf enters the room. 

    As an adventure game fan there are several things that make me start grinding my teeth when I see either journalists covering adventure games or developers talking about their work. These are:

    1. Adventure games died, and xxx game is reviving them.

    2. The developer or journalist played Monkey Island and xxx game is somehow like them.

    3. This new game made in 2015 must be retro, because it’s an adventure game.

    I’m going to talk about some of these points in this article and then I’m going to explain what my musings on this topic have led me to.

    Adventure Games Died or were only made in the 90s

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    Frequently when we see people talk about adventure games we seem them talk about their death. If you press further you’ll get linked to Old Man Murray’s hilarious and insightful  ‘Death of adventure games’ which highlights a pretty awful puzzle chain in Gabriel Knight 3 where the player uses cat hair to make a fake mustache. I’m not debating the awfulness of the puzzle here, or the excellence of the article. What I am pointing out was that this article was written fifteen years ago in the year 2000.

    To give you an example of more recent coverage, in 2014 Birth Movies Death wrote about Broken Age:

    “Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who played games in the nineties: exploration, inventory juggling, conversation and gentle puzzlework”

    Which is funny because I’m pretty sure that could describe Fallout 4,I’ll get to the 90’s comment later . They add:

    “But adventure games aren’t about gameplay innovation – the puzzles and thus player enjoyment are driven by the writing.”

    This is a little harder to unpack, they are correct that adventure games are more about story and writing. A dialog mechanic probably won’t make the pull quotes as a special feature but it implies that adventure games don’t innovate or that mechanics don’t matter or that graphics or audio don’t get better. The variables may be smaller but that doesn’t mean that a good designer hasn’t thought about every single element of their game or that adventure games can do nothing new.

    What I want is for games of any genre innovate and get better, but at the core the most important thing is if a game is good, if a player can have fun. Adventure games have continued to get released since the year 2000. Which brings me onto:

    The Curse of Monkey Island

    Not that Curse of Monkey Island

    Comments where devs talk about their love of Monkey Island cause me some frustration. Let me clarify I love Monkey Island, it’s one of my favorite games series but if you want to make adventure games then ignoring twenty years of awesome stories and innovation is harmful. How can you make the best decision for your game if you’re ignoring what has come before? There’s twenty odd years of great ( and awful) ideas. Anyone can be inspired by anything they like, so I’m not dismissing Monkey Island as an inspiration but it’s like making an FPS in the modern day having loved Doom as a kid, but never having played anything else. In fact you just have to compare the original Doom with a screenshot from the trailer for the new Doom reboot and you’ll see some differences:

    Stop using the word retro

    The final of my gripes is the automatic use of the word retro. . Again by ignoring 20 years of games, you’re ignoring 20 years of progress for no reason. You’re also associating your game with cat haired mustaches. If you want to make a ‘retro’ adventure does that mean your game requires a bizarre leap of logic or a series of dead ends? No it doesn’t.Do you have to use pixel graphics? ..No. I by the the way love pixel art, but it should be treated the same as any other creative choice because that’s the style you want ( and dare I say it afford). When you make or write about an adventure game that has been made in 2015 then you shouldn’t do so out of context.

    Broken Age

    When Double Fine started it’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, it did draw the spotlight of the mainstream game press back onto adventure games and led to coverage like the BMD article above. Broken Age ( the resulting game) didn’t revive adventure games, but it did draw press coverage from areas of the gaming press that wouldn’t have otherwise covered it. But despite being spearheaded by Lucas Arts alumni Tim Schafer it still described itself:

    “A graphic adventure game for the modern age”

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    Whatever your opinion on the final game Broken age featured graphics, animation and sound that just wouldn’t have been possible in the 90s. It was released for a dizzying array of devices with inputs that did not even exist. There are games that deliberately call back to old titles but I hope even they don’t blindly copy what has gone before.

    So…

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    After coming across yet another forum post where a well meaning person wanted to discuss the future of retro adventures, I decided that I wanted not only to write this rant but to actively highlight and discuss the innovations the genre has been through, and work my way through and blog my way through all the adventure games that released in between. I also want to discuss the ‘death’ of adventure games, and talk about the post Old Man Murray world of adventures. If ‘m going to angrily tell people to go away and and do something like play through 20 years of adventure games, then I am happy to do so myself.I hope along the way I’ll also learn something as I take a second look at games I played as well as playing a few titles I missed along the way.

    I plan on starting a bit before the article was published in 1993 the year after Monkey Island 2 came out, I’ll then run past the year 2000 when Gabriel Knight 3 come out right up to the present day.

    I hope whether you agree or not that you’ll join me in this journey. Feel free to suggest games I should be playing and why.

    Related Post

    Free anime voice pack – Kawaii Friend

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    Click to download the free anime voice pack

    Since my Kawaii Fighter  voice pack has been weirdly popular, I thought I’d use the spare few moments I grabbed during vocal warm ups this week and record you another free anime voice pack. Samples included are

    Ready
    Go
    Great
    Cool
    Amazing
    ooooh

    Bad
    Awful
    Maaaan

    Hi
    See Ya
    Morning
    Evening
    Afternoon

    laugh

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/qhr9jodqv6ml61v/Kawaii_friend.zip?dl=0

    The voice samples are in mp3 format and are zipped.Only restriction is no adult themed games and nothing you make money on please. If in doubt please ask and I can check it’s OK or work something out. Music use is a-OK and in fact is probably the most wide use case for these samples.

    Also please credit :

    “Azure’s Kawaii Friend Voice Pack http://www.shonen.co.uk” or credit my twitter @azuresama

    You can also use it for other projects such as mods, animations etc

     

    Sun Dogs is out! on Steam & Itch

    Sun Dogs, the game I contributed to as a writer is out now to buy on Steam and ITCH.io , there’s also an article on Kill Screen with quotes from myself and Nic Tringali the game’s lead designer. It’s really awesome to see the game out, Nic’s been working really hard to get it ready for release. I had a lot of fun working on it, so I hope you all take a chance to enjoy it.

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    Sun Dogs is on Greenlight

    Sun Dogs, the interactive fiction / adventure game I’m working on as a writer is now on Greenlight please vote

    “ Sun Dogs is a game of exploring our inner solar system, altering your body, and embracing death.In a distant future where humanity alters itself without a second thought, you must do the same. Skim along the Sun’s corona, float above the surface of Venus, travel the dusty plains of Mars. If your body dies, your mind will be given a new one, and you will keep going. FeauturingExpansive and unique sci-fi worlds

    Dynamic text reacts to your character and actions
    Full modding system allowing additions or rewrites to the entire game

    For more info on modding and the game, visit our website and devlog at www.sundogsgame.com

     

    RPG Shopkeeper free indie game/ mod voice pack

    It’s been hard to record much lately but I’ve found time to make a new voice pack! This pack is a fantasy shop keeper that could be used in something like a skyrim Mod or RPG maker game. As with my other voice packs this is free for non commercial use, and for projects with out adult content. If you have any questions or wish to use the pack for commercial use please email me. ( aralechan@gmail.com)

    Download free RPG / mod/ animation voice pack
    Download free RPG / mod/ animation voice pack

    It can be Downloaded here

    Voice is English , female, mid pitch

    Included are various phrases:

    Greetings.

    My Lord!

    My Lady!

    We have a sale today!

    Thank you

    Also please credit :

    “Azure’s RPG Shop keeper Voice Pack http://www.shonen.co.uk

    You can also use it for other projects such as mods, animations etc

    Preview:

    [soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/211299732″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]