Friday, December 12, 2014

Laura Bow Mysteries: The Colonel's Bequest & The Dagger of Amon Ra

In the eighties and early nineties, Sierra and LucasArts fought each other for the Adventure Game market.  Sierra's strategy was to push out long-running series, like King's Quest and Space Quest and keep longtime fans through name recognition.  Because of this, Sierra would often try new series and cut them if they weren't as immediately popular as their older series.  One of the series they cut, which I mentioned before, was the Manhunter series.

A little later, Sierra tried their hand at another horror series, the Laura Bow mysteries.  Like the Manhunter series, the Laura Bow adventures only got two games deep before Sierra retired the series, but it's unfortunate, because they are fantastic.  Not only were they complex thrillers, but they were some of the first games that truly scared me as a kid.

Laura Bow shrieking, found at

The first game was The Colonel's Bequest, where you play a journalism student in 1925 named Laura Bow and solve a series of cryptic murders.  At the beginning of the game, you are introduced to both Laura and her friend Lillian at college.  Lillian has to go to a family gathering at her relative's estate, an old sugar plantation, and she invites you along.  Once you are settled in (and locked in), people start dying.  You have to try to figure out who the murderer is, of course, and do your best to stop them.  The estate is full of secret passageways that allow you to spy on conversations, and of course there is plenty of classic adventure game puzzle-solving to push through.

The game is great for replaying, since there is so much going on, you aren't likely to catch everything on the first playthrough.  While much of the mystery must get solved in the final act to reach the end of the game, you can be left with a lot of questions about the details, which warrants multiple playthroughs to discover.

The butler saying "Come and get it!" by a doghouse.
Like 'come and get' what? A human head, perhaps?!
The biggest flaw of the game is a few of the cheap deaths.  You can die by checking a closet, or taking a shower, or sometimes just wandering to close to a wall.  Follow Rules for Adventuring #1: Save Often; Save Well.

The Colonel's Bequest uses a text parser for commands, in the style of King's Quest IV, so when you begin typing, a text box pops up and the game pauses while you type, so you can take as long as you need to.

The second game of the series, The Dagger of Amon Ra, bumped up the style of the game to be closer to King's Quest V, and the text parser was replaced by a pointer and a series of icons.  You right-click to change from looking, to touching, to talking, etc., and then left-click to have Laura follow the command.

In The Dagger of Amon Ra, Laura is now a reporter on her first assignment.  Your task is to attend a gala at a museum for its grand opening of its new Egyptian exhibit.  The first act has you rolling around New York City, but once you're in the museum in the second act, you're once again locked in, and the bodies start piling up.
Including, but not limited to, animals in creepy green vats.
In the first game, you were a stranger to a family affair, and the obvious motive appeared to be that the murderer was eliminating people named in the Colonel's will, so you were fairly safe from being a target (apart from the cheap deaths).  In the second game, you have no idea what the motive could possibly be, so the stakes are raised, since you might become a victim yourself.  At the climax you find yourself being chased and you have to do some very quick puzzle-solving to get away.  It's hectic and frightening--but then we get to the one fatal flaw of the game.

In the first game, the biggest flaws was cheap deaths, but that wasn't too big of a deal if you learned to avoid them and saved often.  In the second game, the biggest flaw (and a deplorable one) is that you can be a dead (wo)man walking.  In adventure games, the Dead Man Walking is when you are not in any immediate danger, but you cannot possibly complete the game without reverting to an earlier save (if you have one), or completely restarting.

Laura getting yelled at by her boss.
"Maybe I should restart my career."
In The Dagger of Amon Ra, there are at least two ways this can happen, and unfortunately they're right at the climax.  Being that there's an Egyptian theme, the Rosetta Stone is housed in the museum, which you have to find to allow you to read and write hieroglyphics (as if the Rosetta stone simply says Owl = A).  The Rosetta Stone is broken in half, and you have to find both pieces.  If you don't, you're hosed.  One half is hard to notice, and you don't have much chance to get it.  If you miss it, you're out of luck.  Similarly, there's a special item you need to grab before you get to the chase, and just like the Rosetta Stone, you don't have much of a chance to get it, and it's a bit pixilated.  Without a walkthrough (or some sharp eyes and good luck), you might never complete the game.

It's a shame, because beyond that, The Dagger of Amon Ra is just as good as The Colonel's Bequest.

But, knowing this ahead of time, be sure to save in multiple slots.  Even with this problem (which, in fact, a lot of Sierra adventures were prone to), the game is thrilling and ups the stakes from the first.

A guy in a military uniform saying "Please rejoin ze party now, or I vill be forced to injure you."
For instance, there is this guy.
Sadly, after the second game, Sierra put Laura Bow to bed and continued on their other popular franchises, despite some positive critical praise.

Both The Colonel's Bequest and The Dagger of Amon Ra can be found on most abandonware sites.  Take a look and give the games a shot, if you like horror, adventure, mysteries, or just old games.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Latchkey #62 - Ghosts

Fixed a quick bug where when you moved to another room, the directional box didn't refresh.

After that I took a break from recoding the same old stuff and went to work on a new feature: ghosts!

Except the moment I began working on it, I realized that it can do a lot of what the player can do: move through rooms, open doors, etc.  I need to move some things around again.

Now I see the appeal of object-oriented programming.  Finally I have a need!  So now I've restructured so there is a Character class that both the Player and NPCs inherit from.

Well, I was hoping to be able to shrink the Player class a bit, and I did... but just a teensy bit, nothing major, just some shared variables.  Unfortunate the Move command, for instance, is far more complex for the Player than it needs to be for the ghosties.  Better than nothing, to get those couple of basic functions together, at least.

Man, when I get tired of trudging through the mud of recoding what I've already done, and I move on to a new feature, it just makes me rethink other major structures I've got in place.

Next, though, comes working on the realtime textbox.  Ghosts don't matter much if you don't get to see their effects.  What kind of event listener do you need for autonomous stuff running in the background?  Is that even the proper way to do that?  My initial thought is to check on each frame... something.  I want to make a generic listener that can take a ping from a ghost, or other realtime events.  Perhaps it requires a custom event, or perhaps there's something I just don't know about that already exists that can take some kind of internal signal.

Or perhaps there's a completely different way to do it that doesn't require a listener at all.  Perhaps ghosts and any other realtime object can have a pointer to the Interface class so they can manipulate the realtime textbox directly.  I think I'll try that and see if it works.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Flash Game Mini-Review: Run 3

Run 3 is, as the title suggests, the third in a series of games called Run.  Run and Run 2 were decent little time-wasters, though Run 2 was a bit of a disappointment to me after enjoying the first.  So I didn't have my expectations particularly high when I tried out Run 3.

Fortunately, Run 3 is great.

Screenshot of Run 3
Use the lizard. Always use the lizard.
It takes what was great about the first Run and makes it better, while taking away the stuff that wasn't too good from Run 2 (or, at least, introducing those things more slowly, so they're easier to adjust to). Add to that a colossal amount of new (and awesome) features, along with continual updates, and you've got a game that lasts and lasts.

The Run series has you take control of a little alien guy running along a track in space.  All you have to do is avoid the potholes and make it to the end of the course.  You have your choice of two basic characters: the jumper, who goes a moderate speed but can clear some good-sized gaps, and the skater, who is faster but can't jump as high (so he's a bit more of the "expert mode").  In Run 3, you can unlock lots more characters with different abilities, including a child which lets you run over crumbling tiles without crumbling them, and a pastafarian who can cross empty spaces for a limited time.

Explore Mode has you moving through carefully designed levels, with the goal of trying to make it to the proper end of a branching maze of tracks.  New tracks get added slowly, so even after you've completed all there is to complete, you can come back in a month and see what's new.  Just recently a level pack called "Low Power Tunnels" came out, which has tiles that fade to black against a starry background, making them hard to see and harder to land on.

Infinite Mode is more about getting a high score--that is, getting as far as possible.  As you go, the pattern of the levels changes to become more challenging, so just when you think you're a master at it, you get something new.

On top of that, users can create and share levels, so there's always more and more to do.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Flash Game Mini-Review: no-one has to die.

"no-one has to die." is a short puzzle game where you have to save four characters from a building that's on fire.  You direct their actions and have control over fire doors to keep them from getting killed.

Well, okay, it seems someone sure has to die...
However, the plot is where things get tricky.  It's a bit convoluted, but quite interesting.  It's difficult to mention anything about this game without spoilers.  The spoiler-free version is this: the corporation that owns the building is up to some very shady business, and nothing is as it seems.  You, a delivery man, find yourself in a guard room with two dead guards, and you can communicate with the characters through instant messaging.  The questions are numerous:  Who lit the fire? Who killed the security guards?  What does the corporation do?  Why so many cockatiels?!

But most importantly: who are you going to save?

In each level, you are forced to sacrifice one character so the others can move on.  Who you choose to let die not only changes the plot, but also changes how the next level is played, because the characters that survived will be in different positions.  In this way, any given level after the first, while technically having the same layout, can be made into different puzzles.

The puzzles are pretty easy, so don't worry about too much brain-bending; the game is much more about solving the mystery.  The story is anything but linear, and I think the game did a great job mixing the gameplay and the plot, in both a literal and an abstract-design sense.

It definitely gives a new meaning to "replayability"...

Friday, November 7, 2014

DOOM: The Mine #2

More detail in The Mine:

This is the previous space from the first post, with more detail.  Now it has been shrunk a little bit, there's more obstacles/decoration, and the bump in the floor gives it a feeling of a new room even though there's no door.

This is the center so far.  The player comes in from the green marble area at the top, and the screenshots I've shown are of the very center.  Those smaller rooms on the sides house demons or barons, depending on the difficulty.

This is one of those side rooms.  Again, to keep it from being too much red brick, I cut the wall to have the stripe around the center.  It's still a bit pink, but pink is okay I think, as long as it's a little bit of variety from the red brick.  The pink intestines-looking bit right under the gun is similar to the bump in the way to the center area, just pink instead of beige.  I decided to make them different so when you're circling the middle, the beige one catches your eye, so you head that way to escape, while these pink recesses are more to be unnoticed and you freak out when you hear the monster shriek.

For instance:

The part on the left is the exit (the first screenshot above), while the part on the right is a niche with a baron in it.  I'm thinking of making this level more of a run-away-type than a real shooter; ammo will probably be scarce the deeper you go, so you might not be prepared for a baron (or three), and you'll want to get to the exit quickly.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Latchkey #61 - Recoding the Take Command, Parser

Figured out the crash with commands that are nothing but verbs.  At an early point in parsing, I splice out the verb, which means the rest of the input might be null, but I don't check for that.  I just removed the splices for now.  Thought it would be more efficient, I guess, but not really a big deal for now.

So in other news, it appears that the move and look commands work in a vaguely alpha way, if not a grammatically correct way.  So that's good.

Taking items works again now, too.  Some weird little bugs, but I've fixed the crashes that came up.  But now, although you can take the item, the item still stays in the room too, and I can't remove the duplicate. Eek.  It's basically because during the initial parsing, I don't differentiate between items in the player's hand and items in the room.

So now I'm in the middle of fixing that mess.  Which also means I'm rewriting the code for figuring out which item the player is talking about when they use adjectives.  I'm perhaps halfway through that, but it gets tricky.  The old code for it was quite sloppy, and wasn't perfect by any means, so I've got to get it a bit better before going further.

Tasks within tasks.

Next Log: Ghosts!

Friday, October 24, 2014

DOOM: The Mine #1

To get back into the swing of things with DOOM (and hopefully getting back into Sacrifice), I'm making a quick one-off level to warm me up.

The purpose of this level isn't so much to be great design, or intricate, or anything, but mostly to work on my decorating skills.  I often find that my levels tend to look bland, either by being big open spaces or tight little corridors, with the same texture often repeated.  So for this level, I'll be trying to split things up into sections, and adding as much fine detail as I can.  We'll see if I go overboard.

But level design-wise, the idea for "The Mine" is to work in concentric circles.  The inner most circle will be the end, but since measuring things all out perfectly beforehand is impossible, and I probably wouldn't give myself enough room in the middle if I started from the outside, I'm instead starting at the end, and working my way out to the beginning.

Visually, the start of the level will be outdoors, with a cylindrical building in the middle.  The building will start with a sci-fi (or at least building-ish) theme, then go into a more natural rock formation, since the building was created over a mine.  Going deep enough into the mine, in turns itself into the green marble motif, and finally into a red hellish motif, ending with one final hole to jump into. The whole level will drop in elevation as you go.

This is the first try at some detail.  It's very, very red.  Probably far too red, which is why I tried to provide some variety with the candelabras.  But more importantly, I'm trying some things with the ceiling, which is something I often forget about.  I'll be trying a lot of funky things with the ceiling as I go.

I wanted the level to be a lot darker, at least this portion of it, but things seem to go gray over distance when the lights are low.  Perhaps I'll lower the brightness later, but for now, it's at the default.  There is a smidge of brightness-changing here, with the center hole being brighter than the rest to draw you in, but it may be too subtle, so lowering the ambient light will help.

Perhaps I'll also figure out how to break up the floor, so it doesn't seem so bland.

But that's what this level is all about, so I'll continue with lots of little tweaks and details as I go.

Part 2...