davidn: (Default)
[personal profile] davidn
So, The Colonel's Bequest, then. Since completing the game I've read around it a bit more, mostly starting from this dedicated Colonel's Bequest fansite, and I think that despite its flaws - and the sense I had at the start of being completely clueless - I think I grew to appreciate what it was doing. There are also some interesting notes laid out in this recovered design document with some complimentary tea-stains - I love seeing how games of this era came together.

It's certainly an interesting game, particularly when you consider the time it was released - it's still hard to believe it was 1989, a time when most PC games I knew about resembled Jason Jupiter. In terms of graphics, obviously, it was very advanced, and it was an unusually early attempt at making a game that was more about observation than fiddling with things (something much more prominent in the modern era with 'adventures' like Gone Home and Rapture). If you look in "About" under the menu, you get a glimpse from the authors themselves of what Sierra was trying to do here:

They acknowledge that the inventory-based puzzles of their previous games are pushed to the background here in favour of being an interactive story, and - rather pompously, if you ask me - tell the player that if they don't get it then they're not putting enough effort in. Looking at some magazine reviews from the time, it seemed the setting and new idea was appreciated but that some reviewers found the game extremely dull (the linked reviewer's experience being exacerbated by being on the Amiga and therefore having to swap disks every two minutes). I would agree with this, as without a walkthrough there really is very little in the way of the player being given purpose in the game. From first principles, a new player would have to lap the house many times trying to discover the largely random-seeming events that they needed to witness to move the game forward, and there isn't really a thread of clues to follow - your role is to wander around observing things and there isn't any guidance as to what important things are about to happen, not even that you can dig up somewhere to hint as to where to go next.

For that reason, I wonder if this would work better as a visual novel with a limited decision tree instead - in a way, it already is, just with a ton of wandering in between important scenes while you try to find something else worth seeing. Though it's understandable that Sierra kept to the familar adventure-like appearance, as games as non-interactive as that were a long way off in the West when this was released. And it's hard to imagine how they could have balanced that while preserving the sense of mystery as you creep around the increasingly empty house.

One of the most significant things the game has going for it is just how sharply it improves towards the end, leaving me with a good impression! Including an entire alternative ending was something I didn't expect (I thought I'd just done something else wrong earlier because surely they wouldn't have put in an entire ending-like scene for making a bad decision when their usual go-to was just to kill you for the most minor infraction). The game seems very bland at first, but starting very late on once you reach act 7 (if you take the correct route), there is suddenly a sense of danger that's been lacking from the game until that point.

I went back and looked at just how little it's possible to discover - you can blaze through the game in about 20 minutes if you know exactly what you're doing, but you miss out on all of the story and get the Barely Conscious rating if you do so. The only actions that are actually required to reach the end of the game are detailed here - each action that advances time is fixed although the order in which you do them within an act doesn't always matter, so it's up to the player to notice when the clock moves and when to move to the next act. But as for the number of actions that are possible, that seems to be stratospheric - every time this walkthrough says "perform full conversation" it's asking you to run through the whole spiel that I did in addition to trying various combinations to see how their responses change. I'm not totally sure how many of these will produce more than brief generic responses, but... in theory, there's a lot there.

The trouble is that the important actions are so hopelessly arbitrary - the fourth act does the best job at illustrating this even when you have a walkthrough, because you're relying on random chance to prevent you from advancing until you've seen everything. From looking at [personal profile] kjorteo's playthrough, the sequel The Dagger of Amon Ra improved on this in some ways and absolutely fell flat in others - a lot of information you can gather in the sequel leads you to know that you have to be in certain places at certain times, so that you can then eavesdrop and discover further information. However, time seems to advance in a much less controllable way than in this game, meaning that your chances of actually getting anywhere on time are slim even if you do everything correctly.

The final complaint that I have is that even bearing in mind that the game improves the tension at the end, there really isn't any danger - in a game that should have been ripe for danger in every corner, you can't die except in incredibly stupid Sierra ways that aren't related to the ongoing mystery. Yes, you can get grabbed by the mysterious man who lives in the toilet roll cupboard, but most of the time you'll die from falling down the stairs or be pointlessly squashed by a falling chandelier. But I'll definitely give them extra points for the bell.

So that's about where I am - I'm still not quite prepared to call this or Amon Ra good games, because they're immeasurably more enjoyable with a walkthrough on hand that helps you to avoid what the authors considered the actual "game" part, but they're... interesting. And this one in particular was ahead of its time.

The Colonel's Bequest is available on GOG.com!

One last thing I want to note is an oddity with how the graphics in the SCI0 engine are stored - one of the secrets to how good the game looks for EGA is that the graphics weren't actually drawn with regard to limits of the EGA standard - the artists used many in-between colours in their background vector artwork and the engine was written to rasterize the graphics using dithering when a colour wasn't actually available. As the extra colour data still exists in the files, a source port like ScummVM can ignore the need to dither pixels and can produce the backgrounds as they were drawn - and this is what some of them look like.

Date: 2017-05-25 11:57 pm (UTC)
xyzzysqrl: A moogle sqrlhead! (Default)
From: [personal profile] xyzzysqrl
I wanted to kick in a few things too!

For one, if you (well, you seem to have found this, but other folks) ever wanted to know just how utterly oblivious you have to be to get the "Barely Conscious" rank, someone has done a minimalist run in both uncommented and commented versions.

There's also a full text dump of the in-game text available, which points out that it's possible to find a strangled Gloria in the well -- which I never knew, I never thought to check the well. I think it's based on whether you look in the gazebo or well first.

I also love the full list of clues you can get in the ending, which seems to cover everything except the 'Ruby' puzzle.

Interestingly, every single way to die makes very little sense narratively speaking. The shower murderer is 100% a "Psycho" reference and makes no sense whatsoever in terms of storyline. But y'can't have a creepy mansion shower without a Psycho reference.

Date: 2017-05-28 08:33 pm (UTC)
xaq_the_aereon: I caught it...now what? (Default)
From: [personal profile] xaq_the_aereon
Well, yeah, it's a Sierra adventure, not a Shadowgate clone. :b

Date: 2017-05-26 01:51 am (UTC)
kjorteo: Screenshot from Daedalian Opus, of a solved puzzle with the text "GOOD" displayed on underneath it. (GOOD)
From: [personal profile] kjorteo
Oh, wow. I think our Laura Bow play-throughs somehow ended up on opposite ends of the spectrum: I felt like I was a bit hard on Amon Ra throughout so I made sure to make the closing thoughts all about "okay yes BUT in context and with what they were trying to do it was actually really impressive!" whereas your run actually made this look like a great game only for the closing thoughts to confess it maybe actually wasn't. In your case, I'm going to go ahead and theories that's because most of its failings were in the gameplay, which your audience didn't have to experience. :)

Barring the classic "wandering around somehow-aimlessly despite having two walkthroughs" Laura Bow experience, I just saw the graphics (which are gorgeous) and writing/characters/etc. (which are maybe a bit tropey but good God they're rich and incredible compared to the stereotypes in the sequel.) It made curious enough to compare the full developer credits of both games--there were different teams for each, obviously, and I can't help but wonder if Amon Ra's staff may have been a bit of a downgrade in some areas? Like, maybe this is what happens when you have Roberta Williams herself co-directing and handling the writing/characters/dialogue, as opposed to leaving her as a "Creative Consultant" (read: someone who okayed the use of Laura Bow just to check and make sure she wasn't being portrayed against her character) while Bruce "Secret Agent/Astronaut Tau Wolfsinger" Balfour directs.

Anyway, thank you so much for getting through this--I'm sorry for the parts that might not have been fun to actually play, but please rest assured that reading it was a blast and I am so glad to have gotten the opportunity to experience this at long last. :)

Date: 2017-05-27 04:48 pm (UTC)
kjorteo: Screenshot from Werewolf: The Last Warrior, of the titular Werewolf next to a sign that says "Don't Knock". (Don't Knock)
From: [personal profile] kjorteo
Ah, so it does share Amon Ra's problem of having no real intuitive way of knowing which clues are real and which aren't.

I still argue that the second game was worse--much like how a point in every direction is the same as no point at all, it really was an Albatross Soup scenario where I had enough evidence to implicate the entire cast if I wanted to, and therefore I had no leads. (Well, a couple of the murders are painfully obvious, but assuming that killer was the killer and therefore blaming them for every single remaining crime in the game--including the ones with no evidence implicating that person and plenty of evidence implicating others--was a bridge I wasn't quite comfortable with being made to follow.)

Grated, it is possible I just think the second game is worse because I actually had to play it. :)

Date: 2017-06-14 12:01 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lizzyloo
Technically, body-wise, you can find Dr. Feels in either the chapel or the stable, Ethel in the Rose Garden or the carriage house, Gloria in the well or on the steps of the gazebo, and Clarence on the Murphy bed in the doctor's room or in the bathroom. It's pretty random, as far as I've seen. So the fun of a minimal run is avoiding all of those locations while doing the minimum to make the game progress.
Anyway, I've really enjoyed this playthrough! I will say that it and DoAR tag-team the pros and cons. Like, in CB, it can be very frustrating how characters wander around... sometimes it triggers the time change when you're not ready. It was kind of creepy in DoAR if you tracked the movements of the characters... often they would wander to places where you would find them dead later (like Ziggy and the Countess) and it made sense that the murderer followed them and then killed them when they were alone. In CB, people just kinda rambled around until they appeared elsewhere. I think the characters in both games showed similar depth (aka lack thereof), although Laura established herself as plucky and humorous.
It might be childhood trauma, but I found both games to be genuinely scary. I would say that CB had a more thoroughly spooky environment (especially with all the shadowy corners you could get dragged into), although it was lacking the beautiful and spine-tingly soundtrack of DoAR.
Both games, honestly, seem to be geared for replaying, although CB seems to approach it in a more blatant and user-friendly way. It also seems much shorter (looking at you, party scene at the Leyendecker)and therefore not as daunting for replays. Although, one could argue that DoAR replays could just start at Act III with no loss.
Either way. I love both games, and it's fun to watch you guys tackle them. I think I agree that CB is the better game... it's actually more realistic (somebody going nuts and revenge murdering people who they see as having wronged them isn't the biggest stretch, and the methods and condition of the bodies isn't as... um, whimsical as DoAR) and delightfully Agatha Christie.

Date: 2017-06-27 03:23 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lizzyloo
The only one that really got me in LB2 was Ziggy's head. It's still... ugh, so gross.
It's true that the CB team obviously wanted you to feel the panic of glancing over your shoulder to see if there's a killer standing behind you, but it just never quite gets there. Not to say LB2 was much much better for most of the game (owing in part to the fact that you can't just randomly die at the murderer's hands in the shadows of a secret room), but having a relentless killer wielding a medieval blunt weapon chasing you down in a breathless and scary scene definitely helps build that tension!

Date: 2017-06-14 05:47 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lizzyloo
Ok, I’m going to recant my statement that the CB murders are less impossible to believe than the DoAR murders. Although especially in the cases of the neck-splitting papercutter (with only a splash of “red ink”) and the Venus De Lacroix statue, when the DoAR murderer (who at least was a strapping male) made some impossible things happen in record time… well, the thought over the course of a half an hour, tiny Lillian could get up to the attic, suit up, run downstairs, bean Dr. Feels in the head with a fireplace poker without him noticing her sneak in, scatter some feathers on the floor? (…idk), drag his heavy ass body across the plantation to either the chapel or the stable (up steps and through rickety doors), make it back to the house and into Wilbur’s room for the bag (without the Colonel seeing), and on to the attic to de-uniform, then across the plantation again to the playhouse for a little tea with her spree kill-enabling dolly friends, then BACK to the stable to grab the body, drag it BACK to the mansion, and dump it in the chute (presumably without going back for the disguise, because Laura is optimally just about to head upstairs to the attic for the first time and discover the uniform, which manages to be spick and span despite the fact that poor Wilbur is found in a pool of blood). Which leads me to another question… I mean, are the chutes only upstairs? I don’t remember downstairs chutes, and hauling a limp body up rickety stairs to a second-floor bedroom that may be occupied seems kind of complicated. And Gertie! If her bed was the one by the window and there wasn’t a balcony outside, it would still be hard to believe that anyone could startle her out of sleep, drag her to the window and toss her to the ground below without anyone hearing it (especially the amateur sleuth who’s just kinda hanging out in the open doorway and having imaginary conversations with her father.)
Maybe society is going downhill, but at least our criminals are getting smarter! That’s… something? Isn’t it?
Even though Rudy is the wrong killer, he’s probably the more believable option, for me.

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