Adventure Game Field Guide, Pt 1

Monday, May 25, 2009
I knew this day would come. Monkey Island may very well be coming to a console near you. I'm not the first on this site to say it's about goddamn time, and I'm certain I won't be the last. This game has been a long time coming, as previous posts of mine have pointed out quite clearly.

Hiro said earlier that the Adventure genre was past it's prime. I beg to differ, good sir! The genre is alive and well, though the years have seen it fade from the public eye. The adventure game as defined by the early SCUMM set may not be as common these days, but they do indeed exist.

I have recently taken it upon myself to find and collect for you, dear somnambulant thrall, some of the best modern examples of these games. Hopefully, these will tide you over until our favorite pirate adventurer returns.

First and foremost, get yourself a copy of SCUMM VM. Available for Windows, Linux, Mac, and pretty much every piece of electronics ever(seriously, you can even get it for modded Wii, Gamecube, PSP, even your old Palm Pilot), SCUMM VM offers fans of the old SCUMM adventures a chance to play them on their home computer and laptop. It's essentially an emulator that keeps these games running in line with today's machines. The best part about it? It's free!

You can get the necessary data files for the old lucasarts games all over the vast intertubes. I grabbed most of mine from old copies of the games I had laying around. Yes I still have most of my old adventure games. I'm just that awesome.

If you already have SCUMM VM, and you should if you write for this blog, there are a few other interesting options out there. Head over to Steam and you'll find a couple Sherlock Holmes games, chief among them Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, which has you on the trail of a Cthulhu cult. The game is very detail oriented, with many pieces of evidence so small you'll walk right past them five or six times before discovering them.

As an example, I gathered various clues to a kidnapping at the scene with the aid of my trusty magnifying glass and brought it back to Baker Street. Sitting down at Holmes' desk I put various samples under the microscope, examining rope fibers and pulling stained samples out to dissolve and analyze. Once all the evidence was collected and examined, I was put in the shoes of Watson to answer a question posed by Holmes. I was asked that based on the evidence we had collected, where was one of the kidnappers from? I thought the game glitched out when no choices appeared in the dialogue box. Much to my amazement, I found I actually had to type in my response.

Also out there is Scary Girl, the bizarre flash based game that took various forums by storm a while back. I haven't played a lot of this one, but it's got a the right flavor and art style to remind you of the later Monkey Island games.

Adventure games still roam the wilds. They are an elusive beast to be sure, but when you capture a good one, you'll never forget it. Good adventure games make me happy. They can make you happy too, you just have to find the right one.

The Secret

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Look. We here at Somnambulant Gamer hate to say "I told you so". But we FUCKING TOLD YOU SO, okay?!

Well, maybe we didn't tell you just yet. So let me tell you now, again or for the first time, just in case.

The Monkey Island series, published by LucasArts (back when they didn't suck mynock anus), is the (second) greatest adventure game series of all time. It's fun, challenging, hysterical, and never takes itself too seriously. It chronicles the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate, and his quest for Big Whoop, the treasure of Monkey Island.

Anyway, it's a point-and-click adventure--a genre that's past its prime. But there is an entire library of these extraordinary games just collecting dust, and they're perfect for Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network, price-point wise. I myself would pay full price for the games on the Nintendo DS--Monkey Island is what touch-screens were invented for, if you're asking me. (And clearly you are).

Well, our prayers have been answered.


Today, game sites across the vast blue intertronz have reported that GamerBytes spotted a listing for "Secret of Monkey Island", the first game in the series, as coming to XBLA. The listing was quickly pulled, but not before they got a screen grab.

With E3 just two weeks away, could we see an announcement? Could a new generation of gamers, lacking in insult-sword fighting skills, rise to cross the sea and thwart the Pirate-Ghost-Zombie LeChuck?

Oh please Oh please Oh Please Oh please.

Melech is the mighty pirate around these parts, so be on the lookout for his rabid updates on the matter.

Everybody Was kung f-I CAN'T DO IT!! na na nana na na na na naaa

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Just as the title suggests, Ragdoll Kung Fu is awesome. In the same way that Kosher sausage and spaceships crewed by sentient lemurs are awesome. I downloaded it from the PSN not long ago, figuring that with a price tag of "FREE!" I'd at the very least get my money's worth. What I got was one of the most entertaining little games I've played in a long time.

The premise is simple. Your character is a doll figure, complete with plasticine shine and large circular joints. The character movement is somewhere between a marionette and your old action figures. Your various pieces can be swapped and customized however you like.

The game plays a little like smash brothers. Every character has the same move set, and items like Nunchucks and throwing stars regularly fall from the sky. The controls mix standard punch and kick moves with Little Big Planet like free posing arms and grabbing mechanics.

Unfortunately, the game is all too short on content. The single player experience consists of several challenges made to familiarize you with the various controls and modes. Capture the Fish is a sort of basketball-esque and involves throwing large green, squishy fish into a basket. There's even a dodge ball mode with a persistent ball that can kill you in one hit if moving fast enough. There's a straight up death match mode and finally a King of the hill mode that has you struggling for the high ground against your opponents. Each game type can be played with up to 3 other people locally.

It makes for a great party game, Watching your character flail about the screen with a staff is somehow always hilarious. The motion controls add a sort of frantic energy to the matches. Shake the controller to power up a Chi lightning ball to hurl at your opponents. Hold the punch or kick button and jerk the controller to hurl yourself in that direction like a fettuccine rocket. Four player battle can get a little hectic mostly because there often isn't enough room in the arenas for you t ever get away from the action.

Some might say it's a touch racist, but I'd say it's no more so than the "Hebrew Hammer" or "Shaft." Sure they're all about stereotypes and the characters were caricatures, but no one was ever meant to take any of it seriously. It's a farce, a parody, walking the line at the edge of satire.

Everything from the character design and arenas to the music and the art style is a send up of the already outrageous kung fu movies of the 70's and eighties. If you've seen "Fantasy Mission Force" you have a rough idea of how outlandish the setting can be. No, there are no haunted mansions or Nazis driving Ford LTD's but it's still insane.

It's the delirious, frenetic style that gives Ragdoll Kung Fu it's charm. It's far more accessible than the 2005 original and is easy to pick up and play for a few hours. I'd recommend grabbing it if you get the chance. Hiro, I'm looking at you. Train your Kung Fu so we might meet in the arena!

More Content, Less Premium

Saturday, May 16, 2009
We've touched on the matter of overcharging for DLC, now I want to take the matter a little further. Should we be charged for DLC at all? It's a sticky question. Most developers would say yes, pay per download content is perfectly reasonable while most consumers would say DLC should be free. Strictly speaking from an economic standpoint, free would be nice for us, but the video game industry can't run on donations alone.

I don't think all DLC should be free. I'm fine with paying for something here and there but I don't think most of the DLC out there is worth the price tag put on it. I'll pay 30 bucks for a whole expansion a la Shivering Isles, but paying even 10 for what for most games amounts to two or three rehashed maps from the last game in the series, or a couple new skins or items to play with is unacceptable..

Let's face it, the DLC for most games is abysmal. Even major releases fall seriously short of decent content. The map pack for World at War added more content for the Nazi zombie mode, which was nice, but the majority of the maps were just night versions of maps included in the retail version.

We all should know when we're paying too much for something. Unfortunately, as paid DLC is still a relatively new thing, most people aren't sure where to draw the line.

I'm curious about your thoughts on the matter. What are you willing to pay for content? Should there be a charge at all? What's the most overpriced content you've ever come across? I'll be interested to hear what you think.

Premium Content

Monday, May 11, 2009
I understand that a business survives by it's profits. I can allow that the end goal of most developers is to make money, not art (unless that art makes money). What I can't allow is developers charging for what amounts to a patch.

This has become a bigger issue recently, with the Resident Evil 5 Versus debacle. More specifically, I'm talking about the latest DLC for Fallout 3, Broken Steel. The DLC up to this point has been good, if a little temperamental (read; broken) but Broken Steel is a little different. Broken Steel actually changes the static ending for Fallout 3 so that it's greater storyline may unfold. Essentially it's the Epilogue or the game. Most fans of the series see it as a fix or Fallout's disappointing ending. I won't spoil the disappointment for those of you who haven't beaten the game yet.

The issue with this fix is that Bethesda has chosen to charge about $10 for it. Essentially, we're paying them to fix an earlier mistake. Never mind the fact that the DLC doesn't always work (read; freezing) we're paying for maintenance? I know you built a big new quest for the game but we all know your ending was flawed. Couldn't you at least charge less for this DLC than the last two?

This issue is the same reason I have trouble playing MMO's. I'm old school. I like to pay for my game once and no more. Occasional expansions are fine, but I can't pay for a game once a month, every month until I die or quit playing. Don't get me wrong, the games are great, but I have so little time to invest in a single title that it just isn't economical for me.

Games like Fallout 3 shouldn't need to charge us for a game fix. Granted, most free patches are strictly under the hood fixes but should a gameplay fix, an alternate ending, be viewed any differently? I don't think so.

Back on the subject of Resident Evil 5, some things just shouldn't be. First off, competitive multiplayer in a game where to shoot, you have to sand still? Not happening. Second, asking me to pay for something that, contrary to Capcoms claims, comes on the disk I already paid $65 for? You're out of your zombified minds.

Valve knows how to do it right. The regular updates for Team Fortress 2 and the recent addition to Left 4 Dead have all been free. Free and awesome. Who doesn't love the "Sandvich?" I've loved the additional levels to Left 4 Dead, each one is as complex as the ones packed on the game disk. How does Valve manage to keep these packs free? Well it helps that they're smaller than many other developers, privately funded and have heavy hitting games like Half-Life to fill their coffers.

I'm fine with paying for a little extra in my game. Hell, I love extending the life of my games as much as possible. But should we expect the same charges for basic fixes that we do for expansions and episodic DLC? I surely hope not. My solitary rambling won't change a damn thing, I'm sure, and the download numbers for Broken Steel certainly aren't indicative of an industry change. The only thing that can change this is us. If enough people give a damn about this issue (I don't think enough do) we might get a price reduction, or maybe even free download day. Is it all worth the effort? We'll see.

Of Koalas and Phalli

Tuesday, May 5, 2009
My latest creations have reached the tribal stage, having literally eaten most of the competition. Their fires burn high and long into the night. The nightmarish shadows they cast on the ground become part of rival village's folklore. "Stay out late, my son, and the Teleki-Li will chop you into bits." Most of the children dismiss these as mere boogieman tales, but many learn all too late their fathers spoke of lost siblings in those stories. One by one, the tentacles and gnashing jaws come for all.

Yet the Teleki-Li speak of a greater nightmare, one that has brought ruin to the village many times. A gigantic and terrible beast that crushes all life beneath it. This beast resembles a small, adorable creature known as a Koala. This particular monster notes one major difference. The evil giant has an enormous, tree-like, leafy phallus, which swings like a date palm in a sandstorm as it lumbers about the plain.

The beast brings only pain and death. Eight hunting parties have been dispatched with fire axe and spear. All have died. Even the chief of the Teleki-Li fears the embiggened one. It's visage features prominently in the Teleki-Li folk art and mythology. Their creation tale tells how every creature sprang forth from the beasts loins. Every creature is son or daughter to this beast. As it kills it's children, so the Teleki-Li follow suit, stamping youths who do not pass their trials to death.

The chief follows the religious doctrines, makes offerings of meat to the beast every lunar cycle. But as the child kills the parent to survive the winter, so too must their spiteful god one day die. On that day they will have a great feast and light the ceremonial fires. They will eat heartily the meat from their fallen idol and use its strength as their own to conquer the rival tribes. The Teleki-Li will rule their world

All hail Koallus!

How to lose a day

Friday, May 1, 2009
My new laptop has an inviting glow and comfortable warmth that make it hard for me to do anything else. Whether everyone feels that way about their first laptop I don't know but it's not important. What's important here is that I want to take it everywhere I go. To make matters worse I finally bought Spore and was barely able to tear myself away from it long enough to write this post. (The fact that it's taken me over a week to finish this post should be evidence enough.)

I was excited about Spore back when everyone still thought I was talking about fungus. Now that I finally have it I'll admit some disappointment. Why Maxis felt they couldn't start the creature stage in the sea or even bother furnishing the sea with anything more complex than cellular life is beyond me. I remember early tech demos with robust sea life, even talk of evolving your creature to live wholly underwater.

Aquatic issues aside, my biggest issue with the game is it's goal oriented structure. Every stage of the game pushes you to advance to the next. Even the space stage pushes you ever forward to the galactic core. Because of this I feel pressured in each stage to go forward, to move past it. It's a shame because there is so much depth in each stage to explore and create.

It's a Maxis Game, I shouldn't feel pressured. They've always been more about exploring your environment and your options. I suppose I could just ignore the constant nagging of the game but I've never been very good at that.

I love the creature stage. Something about the constant kill or be killed environs is terribly entertaining to me. I'm constantly on the lookout for new parts to put on my creature and evolve into an even more terrible lovecraftian nightmare. Currently I'm wandering the primordial swamps as an Elder Thing. For those of you unfamiliar with such a being, I refer you to "At the Mountains of Madness." Good reading.

When I reached the space stage for the first time I felt a little overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Suddenly the entire galaxy was open to me. I twisted through nebulae, streaking by fiery worlds and primordial moons, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no Teleki-Li had gone before. Wait a minute. *several hours and thousands of legal papers later* Okay, it's different enough to avoid a lawsuit.

What I love about Spore is the same thing I've loved since I was a small child. Discovery and exploration. Finding a kind of ant you've never seen before, feeding insects to said ants, etc. It's the greatest part of youth (at least in my eyes) and easily the best part of Spore.

I can spend hours in the creature creator tinkering with the way my creature moves and looks. What if I turn these legs into arms? What if I put the head on the back end? I've experimented with most every little thing I can imagine. As it stands I only have a meager 36 creations, but they are each one completely different from the last.

Spore will keep me busy for a while, I'm sure. There are just so many creatures I haven't made yet, so many tribes I haven't conquered, so many stars I have yet to visit. I've got more on Spore coming up on Monday, so stay tuned.