Following Freeware: November 2010 releases
This month you can visit a manor house in 1928, a city in biblical times or Vegas in the 1930s. You can also travel to the depths of hell in a quest to overthrow Satan, ascend to a space station in the infinite ocean of the stars or simply head out to a rather unusual house in California. Elsewhere, you could discover a really implausible excuse for being late, learn why gunslingers aren’t the only thing to fear in the old west, and what differences key decisions can make to a life. You can even experience the joy of text in 26 different ways. All these pleasures await in the following November releases from the freeware adventure scene.
It’s 1928, and when Emma Fischer receives an invitation to live and work with her uncle, Doctor Frank Mahler, it seems like a great opportunity. When she arrives, however, she is greeted by his assistant, James, and the good doctor is nowhere to be seen. Investigation of the house reveals many locked doors, including the entrance, which has been chained shut behind her. Coming across a strange man – possibly an escaped patient – in the kitchen, Emma soon realises that all is not well at Hill Crest Manor. Can she unravel the mysteries locked within?
This macabre offering from 10th Play is an impressive piece of work, with detailed, realistic backgrounds and fully animated 3D characters. The setting is a luxurious manor at night, providing for lush interiors with lots of dark shadowy corners. Its interface is point-and-click, with Look, Action and Walk selected either from buttons on the menu bar or number keys. Control is slightly hampered by a lack of hotspot indication, but a small arrow attached to the cursor allows for precise targeting on the smaller hotspots. The sound includes a Dixieland jazz tune and muffled voices beyond some of those locked doors, which change in volume the closer you get to their source. The opening cutscene is also fully voiced. As the name implies, this is a dark tale with some gory elements.
Dark Visions can be played online at the 10th Play website.
Life Flashes By
Charlotte Barclay is a writer of serious novels who has achieved moderate success. On her way to the next leg of a book tour, a car accident puts her on the brink of death. In a forest of her own imagination, she meets the pixie-like Trevin, who tells her that like all people in her position, she must now take a tour of her memories. Visiting her past life from childhood to near-present day, she sees crucial decisions and many variant lives not lived. As she explores these missed opportunities, she gets the chance to see what might have been, but will that change her fate?
Those who have played Deirdra Kiai’s previous offerings like Chivalry is Not Dead will know that she prefers a unique, unconventional approach. This game is no exception, as you can freely hop back and forth through Charlotte’s life, experiencing the various vignettes any way you see fit. For each scenario, there is a road-not-travelled option that unlocks once you fully understand the choice that was made. Being a spirit travelling through memories, you have no physical interaction. Instead, you’ll experience either recollections of conversations or Charlotte’s observations of her own past. This results in extensive dialogue, all of which is fully voiced to a remarkably high standard. This is even more impressive because you’re given different options for Charlotte’s take on each situation, meaning each individual playthrough will miss much of the recorded voicework. Each scene also has its own background tune, be it the generic easy listening music of a restaurant date or the “Doom and Gloom and Horrible Torment” that backs a relationship breakup. The characters are done in a bright cartoon style, but the backgrounds have a more detailed look that helps make the true-life situations seem more realistic.
Life Flashes By is available for both PC and Mac, with downloads for both versions available on Deirdra's website.
The Infinite Ocean
A desolate research station sits in the infinity of space. Time stands still and the wall screens bear messages encouraging you to abandon your struggle. The work terminals, when left idle, simply display four unexplained letters, SGDS. With no sense of your own identity, you walk the empty corridors, fragmented and corrupted computer files all you have to guide your path. And the more you roam, the more questions you’ll ask: What is sentience? What is reality? What is SGDS?
Those looking for a light adventure to pass the time won’t find that here. This is a game that encourages you to think, not just about puzzles but about the concepts behind them. This is hardly a surprise, since Jonas Kyratzes is the man who brought us the surreal but thought-provoking Museum of Broken Memories. The graphics are a stark black-and-white, though with a fine level of detail. The space station setting is austere but at times offers astonishing views, like when crossing a vast chasm that disappears into darkness in both directions. The desolation is enhanced by the haunting choral piece that forms the background music. There doesn’t appear to be anyone else on board, so you will need to piece together what has happened from logs and diaries, many of which have unreadable portions due to file corruption. Accessing these forms the main puzzling element of the game, as you have to locate passwords around the station and within files. Occasionally these passwords can only be found as fragments and have to be pieced together using the small overlap between fragments as a guide. There are also some limited inventory-based obstacles to overcome.
The Infinite Ocean can be played online at Armor Games.
Belial: Chapter 2 – Cause of Chaos
Satan is dead and Lucifer’s son, Belial, is firmly in the frame for the murder. Without leadership, demons are running amok on Earth and heaven seems unwilling to intervene. Flashback two weeks to when Belial is planning a coup, having recovered the powers Satan ripped from him in chapter one. Anticipating Belial’s plans, Satan has shut off hell’s power and sealed himself away in his private sanctum. As Belial, you must gather a legion to help you restore power and get through the gates blocking access to Satan’s lair.
Whilst this game from keybol is a sequel, playing the first chapter is not vital, as everything you need to know is explained here. Despite the subject matter, this is not a gory horror game, though the story is mostly played straight with occasional flashes of humour. The graphics are done in a cartoon style with shading to give depth, and they are well-animated, especially Belial’s use of his wings and tail. The adventure presents a moderate challenge, so you will need to keep your wits about you to spot vital clues and necessary objects. Along with more conventional puzzles, you will use Belial’s own demonic powers, such as fire and lightning, to advance. You will also recruit a cohort of five other demons to assist in your quest, each providing access to a power of their own. The soundtrack includes suitable sound effects and a tune that starts off eerie and builds to a more dramatic tone. Though this score is repeated for a large portion of the game, the way it suits the atmosphere largely prevents the repetition from becoming distracting. There is a side quest to find 15 forks hidden throughout the game, and finding all of them unlocks a slightly longer ending.
A House in California
Somewhere in California there is a house. It once had light and colour and sound, but all those things are gone now, and four different characters now seek to restore the house to what it was. Searching through a surreal, minimalist world where memory plays an important role, can you bring back life to this house in California?
At times more a surrealist work of art than a game, this is undoubtedly an experience well outside the mainstream. The graphic style is mostly line drawn in shades of grey, with a handful of glowing orange fireflies initially serving as the only indications of colour. With the house having lost its sound, the game also begins in total silence. The four characters, named but otherwise undistinguished, each have their own chapter, and interaction is entirely handled using the verb list at the bottom of the screen. This list changes depending on your location, and actions include some unusual options such as “Play” and “Cook”. The most often used are “Remember” and “Forget”. By remembering certain items or locations, you are able to travel to them, later needing to forget them to return. This control system leads to puzzles that, whilst not especially difficult, require some investment in the strange game world to understand.
As a cowboy drawn to the American west by the lure of gold, six months of searching have left you almost destitute. Having traded your last few belongings for a horse and some supplies, you set out across the plains. Along the way, a strange tornado snatches you up, and when you come to your senses you are outside the strange town of Red Hill. You just want to continue your journey, but leaving town is not going to be an easy task. Appearing alternately as living community and forsaken ghost town, reality seems uncertain. One thing is certain, though: Madam Aurora’s show is coming, and you probably don’t want to be here when it arrives.
The graphics display a watercolour style with faded colours that suit the dusty and sometimes desolate nature of the setting. The town has an old western feel complete with the usual locations like a saloon, all wonderfully rendered. The soundtrack consists of a slow guitar piece with a background drone that rises and falls, an ambient track that perfectly fits both the western setting and the supernatural feel. You’ll also get to play two reels of music in an old player piano, both of which also feel very much at home here. Conversations with townsfolk will give you some story background, as well as provide certain items. Other than that, you will mostly be hunting for and using objects to further your quest to escape. The local shop has a number of red herrings in it, but the ability to sell items you have no need for should prevent money from being a problem.
This Pastel Games production can be played online at Games Nitro.
Johnny, Why Are You Late?!
We‘ve all had one of those days where things seem to conspire against us and we end up being late for work. Explaining his tardiness to his boss, Johnny is keen to stress that it isn’t because of his alarm clock. The subsequent backstory, played out over the course of the game, will involve a wife who hogs the bathroom, a son who is less than respectful to his father, and objects stored in the most unhelpful of places.
This is a gently comedic tale from keybol, with our hero fighting against the mundane frustrations of every day life rather than saving the world or foiling secret conspiracies. The graphics feature a cartoon style using bright colours and flat objects with limited detail, though all objects are recognisable and the characters have basic expressions. The trumpet and bell background tune is pleasant enough, but its repetition grated on me after a while, making the mute option invaluable. The puzzles are not overly taxing for an experienced gamer, but they incorporate a light mix of locating lock combinations and inventory use. There is also one puzzle which will require a small amount of dexterity with the mouse.
Johnny, Why Are You Late?! can be played online at Newgrounds.
Nephi’s Adventure 2: Quest for the Plates
In chapter 1, Nephi managed to secure entrance into the city of Jerusalem. Now he is back on his quest to retrieve the brass plates of Jewish history from the wicked Laban. But Laban isn’t going to give up his prize so easily, and his house is heavily secured against intruders. It appears that Nephi is going to have to do some puzzle-solving around the city to get the information and equipment he needs to reach his goal.
The setting is from biblical times but the game’s influence is actually the Book of Mormon, with Laban, Nephi and the quest for the plates themselves all drawn from it. Despite this, the game does not hammer home a heavy religious message, adopting a more comedic tone throughout. You’ll interact with a Kosher hot dog seller, a hobo who claims to actually be a great inventor, and a man who seems more fond of his camel than is strictly healthy. The graphics are a bright cartoon style with a moderate level of detail, and animations are well done. Four actions, including walk, are selectable from the bottom of the screen. When any icon apart from walk is selected, interactive objects gain a prominent white border when you mouse over them, making hotspot location a snap. The background soundtrack has an Eastern-style tune, and the game is fully voiced. Whilst recording quality is not entirely uniform, the level of voicework in the game is a decent standard, definitely enhancing the feel. Puzzles largely revolve around satisfying the needs of the various characters in order to obtain what you need for your break-in.
I Was a Vegas Showgirl
Vegas showgirl Sissy O’Leary is looking down at her own dead body, and she’s not very happy about it. Fortunately for her, she is not the only one surveying her fountain grave. Her Indian spirit guide, Chief Sitting Duck, is also on hand, and he is prepared to give her a second chance. All she has to do is think back to a couple of hours before her death. Back then her boyfriend was asking her to steal casino owner Stack-O-Lee’s lucky Stetson hat. Sissy now has the opportunity to play out that scenario again, but can she walk away from it alive this time?
This game from Alasdair 'Ali' Beckett, who previously brought us Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!, is the first to be made with the DAGE engine. The game is presented in 3D with backgrounds having a realistic, if slightly sterile, appearance. In contrast to the realism of the backdrops, the characters are ovoid. Arms and legs, as well as Sissy’s more feminine attributes, stick out from this basic shape. Facial features and clothing generally conform to the character’s outline, the main exception being hats – or in Sissy’s case, a feathered head-dress. Despite the unusual shape, the animations of these characters, both walking and gesticulating, is reasonably well done. Movement is handled through direct keyboard control and a text cue tells you when you can use the space bar to interact with people and objects. The soundtrack includes a selection of 1930s lounge music that fits in well with the old-style Vegas casino setting. Achieving Sissy’s goal will require use of her feminine charms and a modest inventory, accessed one item at a time by pressing Enter. Whilst a relatively short adventure, possibly intended as a test bed for DAGE, this debut shows real promise for the new engine.
I Was a Vegas Showgirl can be downloaded from the DAGE website.
Interactive Fiction Competition 2010
If you thought text adventures were dead, think again. Now in its 16th year, the results of the annual Interactive Fiction Competition were announced in November. The competition was originally conceived back in 1995, when Graham Nelson released his text adventure programming language, Inform. With users lacking examples to show them the way, text adventure creator Kevin Wilson ran with a discussion forum idea to hold a game-writing competition. That original incarnation only had one rule: all games had to be winnable within two hours. Twelve entries were received, and the rest is history. There have been some changes over the years (even the two hour limit no longer applies, though all judging is still based on two hours of play) but the 26 entries this year show the competition is still going strong.
In order, the top three games this year were:
Aotearoa (Matt Wigdahl) – In the real world, the continent of Zealandia (known to the Maoris as Aotearoa) ceased to exist in the late Cretaceous. In the world of 12-year old Tim Cooper, this never happened. Walking in his shoes, you now have a chance to visit this fabulous lost world where prehistory, including dinosaurs, has been miraculously preserved. This game features a detailed optional tutorial as well as the facility to highlight important words in the text. Both features may prove useful to those with no prior experience of text adventures.
Rogue of the Multiverse (C.E.J. Pacian) – On the planet Dryzandia lies the prison Imbroglio. For a rare human inmate of this facility, life is hard; the other prisoners consider you a potential food source if they consider you at all. You might think that anything would be better than another day there, and selection for scientific research looks like your ticket out... If you count being put through an unlicensed matter transmitter and sent to a variety of hostile environments to look for salvage as an improvement, that is. The game comes with an in-built hint system and a PDF front page from The Dryzandia Sun that illustrates the game’s dark sense of humour.
One Eye Open (Colin Sandel and Carolyn VanEseltine) – Being a guinea pig for the Corona Corporation seems like a cushy job. Good salary, food and exercise, and all you have to do is undergo daily testing. Of course, when you’re in a game labelled “An Interactive Nightmare” (which comes with a hefty content warning at the start), you know things aren’t going to stay pleasant for long. Another standard test produces some disturbing results. Can you survive the ensuing horror? The content lives up to the warning, and the game includes occasional illustrations to aid the atmosphere and provide clues.
You can download all 26 entries, along with the necessary interpreters, from the competition website. Downloads for both PC and Mac are available. Alternatively, you can download the individual games, or even play many of them online, from the entries listing.
Other new releases
Not all games are created equal, and freeware games especially come in all shapes and sizes. Not to be overlooked, the following list might also be of interest, though these games may be significantly shorter or less polished, more experimental titles than those detailed above, some perhaps only borderline adventures to begin with.
Pig Detective by gamystar – As the eponymous porcine Sherlock Holmes, pursue a shadowy figure through a puzzle-filled townscape.
Anbot by Pencilkids – When factory robot Anbot is damaged in an accident, he must find a way through his factory’s security measures to escape scrapping.
Octodad by DePaul University – It’s hard being a loving husband and caring father. It’s even harder when you’re an octopus trying to pass itself off as human.
The Agnostic Chicken: The Quest for the Bottle Opener by Tor Brandt – Help the Agnostic Chicken get to his beer in this basic but promising first game from the developer.
That’s it for this month. Think we’ve missed a gem or want to tell us about your own game? Then pop in to our Adventure forum and tell us about it!