Following Freeware: November 2011 releases
This month sees a popular fan expansion to a long-running series reach its penultimate episode. For those looking for games with a retro feel, there is a troublesome party to navigate and a boy and his dog looking for a friend. Sci-fi adventurers can enjoy the tale of an alien falling down to earth, or an astronaut travelling much farther into space than he intended. Alternatively, you can join a timid ghost hunter on his first assignment, or travel far and wide to put together a recipe. Finally, text-based gaming proves it is still going strong with thirty-eight different adventures to choose from. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
The Silver Lining: Episode 4 – ‘Tis in My Memory Locked and You Yourself Shall Keep the Key of It
As King Graham’s quest to save his children nears its end, it appears the past may be about to catch up with him. As he searches for the final ingredients that will provide the means of rescuing his offspring, he learns more about the mysterious Black and Silver Cloak Societies. Meanwhile, Valanice’s history, and the memories of the past locked away in her head, could play a pivotal role as events unfold. Will Graham be able to save his brood, and what else is at stake in this penultimate quest?
Taking its title from a Hamlet quote, the fourth episode of Phoenix Online’s King’s Quest tribute game brings events ever closer to a dramatic conclusion. The series continues to use the same 3D engine as before, rendering the Green Isles in the same detailed style which players of the previous episodes will recognise. Familiar locales are visited along with some new ones, most notably the Isle of the Beast with its large hedge maze. You will also have the opportunity to view Graham’s world from above, as the King takes to the air in this episode. The game continues to be fully voiced throughout and boasts a stirring soundtrack befitting the ongoing adventures of such a historic character.
With only one episode to go, the culmination of this instalment results in Graham finally journeying to a place players have long expected he’ll need to go. The trip involves much of the puzzling fare present in previous episodes, as well as the maze you’ll need to navigate. For those not fond of labyrinths, a certain amount of direction together with a top-down view that shows a large area of the maze at all times assist in solving this challenge. There are also some arcade-style sequences, including a magical combat with a recurring villain. There is even an opportunity to play another character, with a portion spent controlling Valanice. For longtime Sierra fans, the prominent inclusion of Pandora’s Box in this chapter will serve as a reference to its inspiration, having previously appeared in King’s Quest IV.
Both this episode and the previous ones can be downloaded from the developer’s website (registration is required, but is free and carries no obligation).
Egress: The Test of STS 417
It was supposed to just be a routine maintenance call on an interplanetary probe. As commander of a two man team, you commence repairs while your partner monitors events from the shuttle. When an alien substance suddenly sprays out of a duct, however, you pass out and wake up on an alien planet. With no knowledge of where you are or how you got there, it seems like you might not be seeing home any time soon. Especially since some automatically stored messages from your crewmate indicate he may be as much in need of rescue as you are.
This sci-fi tale from Krams Design is an unsettling experience. Apart from an opening cutscene, the player’s view is constantly shown as if from the inside of a space helmet. This not only puts the player firmly in the suit of the protagonist, but serves to increase the feeling of isolation inherent in the situation. Whilst most of the scenes are of alien landscapes and tunnels, these are rendered in a realistic hand-drawn style, further enhancing the urgency of the predicament. Some scenes also include smoothly rendered 2D animation, though passage from scene to scene is done in a slideshow format. The whole package is nicely rounded up with some gentle and haunting background music.
The first-person action is controlled by point-and-click, with a small inventory from which items can be selected and dragged onto the screen for use as needed. You are occasionally required to select options from a list when taking certain actions, and there is also an interactive dialogue scene near the end. The puzzles are few and relatively simple, most having multiple solutions available. In fact, these multiple solutions are the essence of the game, as the approach you take determines how the story ultimately ends. This approach allows each player to project more of their own personality into the sci-fi narrative, and also provides replay value for those wishing to try different methods.
Egress: The Test of STS 417 can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Agent Moss, member of the Omega 1 Earth Abduction Unit, flies above New York in his saucer. Meanwhile, below him Danny Myers tries to work out how to complete his chores before his crazy brother returns to give him another beating. These two disparate lives come together when Agent Moss’s saucer malfunctions and he is forced to eject, right into Danny’s backyard. As these two lives cross, only time will tell how this clash of civilisations will affect them both.
No-one can accuse NickyNyce of lacking ambition in his first game, a large one involving two playable characters, numerous triggered story events and at least one optional puzzle beyond the main quest. The result is an enjoyable dark comedy game. The graphics are done in a semi-realistic cartoon style with simple perspective used in the three-wall room locations. Whilst Danny is a normally proportioned human being, Agent Moss is a short, green-skinned alien with a bulbous head and large black eyes. His spaceship is full of strange consoles and displays, whereas Danny’s home is a typical suburban house with a fish tank and bookshelves. Appropriate sound effects like the creak of stairs are offset by eerie sci-fi music.
The game uses the standard four-cursor point-and-click interface, and hotspots are both clearly visible and highlighted with labels when you mouse over them. Through the course of the game you will control both Danny and Agent Moss twice each, in chapters of varying lengths. In the second and longer of Danny’s chapters, you’ll regularly catches glimpses of Agent Moss, though Danny remains oblivious for almost the entire time. Inventory combination and use in the environment is key to most puzzles, with a certain amount of backtracking necessary to succeed. An optional puzzle provides an additional cutscene at the end. With the nature of Agent Moss’s mission, black humour abounds, as the alien is understandably nervous about being stranded on a planet from which he has been abducting people.
The Visitor can be downloaded from the AGS website.
For generations, the Von Penumbrus family have hunted supernatural creatures, adopting the Latin term for hunter, Venator. The latest scion of the family, Gilbert, is finding it hard to live up to his ancestors. Lazy, timid and not particularly bright, he has struggled with the training regimen his uncle has forced him to endure. Now, after some decidedly questionable success in his studies, Gilbert is being sent out on his first ever solo hunt. A ghost has been disturbing the locals in a nearby cemetery and it is up to Gilbert to put it to rest once and for all. Perhaps his father’s magical medallion would help, if only he could locate it.
Darkdan’s tale of a reluctant ghost hunter avoids the horror inherent in the premise, adopting a light comedic tone instead. The presentation uses a cartoon style with realistically proportioned backgrounds and equally well-proportioned characters, though with slightly over-sized heads. The graphics are clear and nicely animated, especially the flight of Edgar, the talking raven who becomes your companion after you meet him at the graveyard. The nighttime ambience is maintained throughout, the palette largely limited to shades of blue for backgrounds, though the characters are fully coloured. Sound effects include the growl of a ghostly dog, together with a laid-back tune that plays in the background. The text-only dialogue does suffer from some translation issues, but nothing severe enough to affect play.
Using the standard four-cursor point-and-click interface, you hunt around town for the clues and items needed to banish the unquiet spirit. At the start you only have two locations on your map, with more becoming available as you find out more about the identity of the ghost and the steps required to defeat it. Initially you will use a small amount of inventory and solve a riddle in order to obtain your father’s magical medallion. This device can assist you, both with advice and more magical gifts such as retrieving a vital object from a locked box. However, it can only provide help a limited number of times, so care needs to be taken in using it. It also requires you to solve a standalone puzzle each time you ask it to render aid. As well as using inventory, you will need to seek clues from the friendly spirits in the graveyard and solve a handful of riddles and combination puzzles.
Venator can be downloaded from the AGS website.
There are few things more annoying than setting out to make your favourite recipe and finding out you are missing most of the ingredients. Such is the case for the furry heroes of Daps, who wake up to find their larder distinctly lacking in the requisite consumables. Their quest for food-stuffs involves more than a simple trip down the shops, however, as they must travel in their fridge-shaped rocket and face many dangers if they are to make the meal they desire.
From his tall furry blob heroes onwards, Michael Van Holker has clearly set out to make a surreal adventure. The graphic style mixes coloured photographic compositions with simpler hand-drawn characters in a style somewhat reminiscent of Amanita Design’s. The resulting combination is an effective, if highly unusual, look. Even the more normal parts of the scenery often get abnormal uses, such as the fridge rocket. From the protagonists’ underground cave, you will travel to a broken-bridged canyon and a dangerous Colorado Beetle-infested hillside. Sound effects such as the alarm clocks waking our heroes and pleasant bursts of mellow guitar music form the audio backdrop.
With its basic point-and-click control system, operating the game is extremely simple. In some scenes you simply click on various interactive areas to pass the current obstacle. At other times you will need to time your clicks to avoid attracting attention, and there is one danger-filled maze to pass through. Death is possible, but the game allows you to immediately restart where you died whilst helpfully providing a sketched clue to indicate what you did wrong. With such surreal settings and graphics, it is also important to consider more unorthodox approaches, though all solutions are logical within the context of the bizarre world presented.
Daps can be played online at the developer’s website.
Que Pasa, Perro?
For aficionados of the history of computing, the rarest of jewels is the infamous El Ultra Conquistador Especial 124. Available for only a few weeks in June 1984, it boasted graphical capabilities far in excess of its contemporaries. Sadly, its creators, a small contingent of Spanish farmers with a grudge against Sweden, did little to market their unusual offering. The only program of note, about a boy and his dog and their hunt for fun items to play with – was ultimately lost to history. Until now, that is, as a Windows recreation of this classic adventure allows modern players to enjoy the game in all its buggy, surreal and somewhat racist glory.
Kurt Kalata has created a game whose extensive fake history is as surreal as the game itself. The graphics are deliberately crude hand-drawn affairs, reminiscent of the daubs of a small child in brightly coloured paint, and seen from a first-person perspective. Both characters like Perro the dog and buildings such as the local nuclear power station are so heavily distorted in these depictions as to be all but unrecognisable in places. With these visual deviations, it is understandable that there is no animation, though amended versions of scenes sometimes appear based on certain actions and story events. Unsurprisingly, given the game’s alleged age and system, there is also no sound.
Interaction is by means of a simple text interface. Apart from the repeated question “Que Pasa, Perro?”, which is used to request the next item to be sought, the commands involved are fairly simple, most of which are listed in the manual and any others plainly obvious in context. The items you are looking for start off sensibly with a ball, but soon veer off into strange and unexpectedly worrying realms. Puzzles mainly centre around collecting and using items, though there is a number-coded door to open as well. The game does not have a save system, but instead provides a password every time a requested item is returned, meaning it should never be necessary to replay large sections. This is fortunate, as there are a variety of unpredictable deaths, including accidentally blowing up the reactor and being hit by a meteorite. The game also presents a very negative view of the Swedes, though depicted in such a ludicrously over-the-top fashion that it is clearly not meant to be taken seriously.
Que Pasa, Perro? can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
You were on a boat on your way to a rugby game when someone offered you some strange drugs. Now you’ve woken up to find yourself in someone’s back garden at what appears to be some sort of wild party. With a band blocking the front door, weird noises coming from the toilet and philosophers in the kitchen, getting back on track to your intended destination could prove a tricky challenge.
This game from Sceneman has an unashamedly retro feel to it. The graphics are distinctly pixelated, though not to a point where objects or people are unrecognisable. Animation also harks back to the games of old, consisting of two or three images alternating, such as the hero’s simple open- and closed-leg walking motion, though certain actions that advance your quest result in more detailed illustrations of individuals and rooms. The soundtrack has a distinctly 8-bit sound to it, with a variety of tunes that would not be out of place in a 1980s console game playing throughout the house.
The whole game has a tongue-in-cheek feel to it, the graphical limitations being mocked from the outset with a “video sequence” containing virtually no movement. Using the arrow keys to move around the house, you can interact with nearby people and objects with a tap of the space bar. Puzzling mainly consists of fetch quests, though you are not always told exactly what to look for or who requires a particular item. There is also a simple dialogue quiz puzzle to successfully answer.
Party Quest can be played online at Kongregate.
Interactive Fiction Competition 2011
If the persistent rumours of the death of adventures were true, then text adventures would surely only be found in the fossil record. Now in its seventeenth year, the Interactive Fiction Competition proves that this sub-genre is still very much alive and thriving. An astonishing thirty-eight entries were submitted this time around, a near fifty percent increase on last year. A wide range of game themes and settings are on offer, providing something for fans of all styles. Some entries even made use of the text-based medium to create games that would be, at best, tricky in other formats. These include the tale of a blind kidnap victim operating by touch, hearing and smell, and the story of a computer seeking to prevent its owner from making a terrible mistake. The results of this year’s competition were announced in November, and the top three games from this year’s selections were as follows:
Taco Fiction (Ryan Veeder) – When the money has almost run out and you are on the verge of losing everything, a late night robbery of Paco’s Tacos seems like a good idea. With a junker of a car, a gun with no bullets and the vaguest of plans, it’s time to go to work. But Paco’s Tacos hides a secret that may make this a more lucrative night than expected. Taking the unusual approach of coming up with the title and then writing the game, Ryan Veeder has created a fun little escapade. The tone is not quite as grim as the man-on-the-edge premise would suggest. Instead, much of the text is a gently humorous internal monologue of a man clearly out of his depth. There are also a variety of endings, including a hidden ending that will take some finding once you have apparently succeeded in your quest. Scoring is determined by an on-screen display of the amount of money you acquire.
Six (Wade Clarke) – It’s a young girl’s sixth birthday party, and she is playing a game of Hide and Seek Tip in the park with six of her friends. Can she find all of them before it is time to settle down for her birthday picnic? This game possesses the lighthearted tone of the children’s game it simulates. The text also matches the innocence of its lead character as you chase around the park trying to “tip” or tag your friends. The game also includes limited graphics, such as the title picture of the player character, and sounds, such as the giggling that gives away the location of one of your friends. The six children present widely varying challenges, including a mock duel and a fast character constantly running out of reach. The number of people you have found, as well as the number of turns taken, appear on-screen at all times. The game also includes optional exit indicators and a scribbled child’s map of the park.
The Play (Deirdra Kiai) – The dress rehearsal for a production of James Dough’s farce “Nothing’s Fair in Art, Love or War” is not running as smoothly as it could. As director Ainsley Warrington, it is up to you to keep cast and crew happy, or you could end up facing opening night disaster. Played by clicking on highlighted options in the text rather than typing, this game offers somewhat more accessible gameplay for the text adventure novice. It is not easy, however, as handling the four disparate and well-characterised members of your band of players is a tricky juggling act. An on-screen panel shows the current mood of each individual, with early changes affecting later parts of the rehearsal. Actual dialogue from the play is distinguished from other rehearsal action by being displayed in white panels against the text’s normally light-brown background. Success is judged at the end by the content of a review of your final production.
All thirty-eight of the Interactive Fiction Competition entries, as well as interpreters for running them, can be downloaded from the competition website for both PC and Mac. Alternatively, games can be downloaded individually, or in many cases played online, at the games list page.
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.
Reincarnation: The Final Happy Hour by BG Productions – Retrieve the escaped soul of an evil bartender in another mini-episode of the long-running series.
Ninja Delivery by FastGames – Delivering a package to the master in the next village is not an easy task with enemies of your clan on the road between.
Goblin by cobcris – When a mischievous goblin steals the colour from the world, some clever puzzling will be needed to get them back.
Secret of Mystery House 2 by RetroRex – Search an abandoned elderly care centre looking for a missing priest.
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!