Following Freeware: October 2012 releases

Following Freeware: October 2012
Following Freeware: October 2012

This month you can become a virtual supporter of an independent game project before deciding whether or not to do it for real. Out in space, a strange robotic being attempts to retrieve his rubber duck, and a cyborg seeks to reveal his imprisonment to his companions. Elsewhere, in England you can flee a creature from beyond or in Ireland you can simply look for a lost lamb. On the adventure franchise front, a long-running fan series gets a translation of its 77th episode and a short series comes to its cyclical conclusion. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.

Pledge Quest 1: The SpaceVenture Adventure and 2: Noodle Shop of Horrors

A long-time fan of the Space Quest games, Bea is eager to donate to the SpaceVenture Kickstarter project, Unfortunately, a cat-chewed cable and a missing credit card stand in her way. Having resolved these issues, she settles down to a noodle-based lunch with her boyfriend Roger, only for him to suddenly forget all about the classic game series. It would appear the chewed cable was not an accident. Bea’s cat, Vohaul, feels too much of her money is being spent on Kickstarter projects and not enough on cat food and toys, so he has travelled back in time and wiped Space Quest from history. To save her beloved games, Bea must find a way to pursue her villainous feline companion into the past and set things right.

Akril and Decaffeinated Jedi have collectively taken their love of classic gaming and used it to promote the SpaceVenture project by Two Guys from Andromeda. The graphics have a realistic look somewhat reminiscent of the later Space Quest games, with a fair amount of detail. Bea herself is a large but properly proportioned character, fully and smoothly animated. The first episode is entirely set in Bea’s small apartment, with game posters adorning the slightly seedy walls and a computer placed in a prominent central position. The second episode features a more detailed opening cutscene and involves more locations, including the Sierra On-Line offices circa 1986. The music also harks back to its forebears, with dramatic pieces that would not be out of place in a Space Quest game at appropriate moments. Gentler jazz tunes back up the more mundane action. There are also some sound effects, such as the flushing of a toilet and the clicking of a computer keyboard.

Akril is the creator of the behind-the-scenes Adventure series and Decaffeinated Jedi runs Roger Wilco’s Virtual Broomcloset, so a lot of gaming background knowledge is brought to bear in this game. This shows in references not just to the central series, but also other games such as Laura Bow and Day of the Tentacle. There are also general gaming jokes, such as a suggestion that the world outside Bea’s apartment is available as expensive downloadable content. The point-and-click controls include the usual four-cursor choices along with smell and taste. The vast majority of interactions produce unique responses, making simple experimentation instead of solving puzzles hilarious. When you do get to the puzzles, you will find password obstacles and inventory challenges, one involving some clever substitutions. The messages to donate to the project are prominent but infrequent, and feel naturally part of Bea’s enthusiastic character.

Pledge Quest 1 and 2 can both be downloaded from the developers’ website.

The Freewill Cycle: Volume 2

Your escape from an experimental research space station has transported you to a nondescript corridor. Entering the door at the end, you catch a brief glimpse of a seated figure, which almost immediately vanishes. A nearby computer talks of an industrial espionage mission that could have relevance to recent events. Taking up the job, you hope to find out the truth about your experiences, but you may discover there is a lot more at stake than you bargained for.

Winner of 3rd place in the Casual Gameplay Design Competition, this sequel from William Buchanan forms the second half of the story started in Volume 1. The same first-person slideshow presentation is used, with a fully detailed and realistic 3D environment. From the stark utilitarian corridor at the start, you will travel to the sleek if austere offices of Verified Technologies, the target of the espionage mission. The graphics are unanimated, though clever use of fading can create an illusion of movement in places. An ambient sci-fi musical piece plays throughout. The game also features numerous sound effects, such as a key clicking in a lock and the strained clanking of a jammed door.

The two volumes are effectively two halves of a single game, and it is highly recommended that you play them both in order. The tone is straight sci-fi, with your experiences in the previous episode becoming clearer in this one. As well as messages needed to advance your quest, there are numerous seemingly insignificant details in both episodes. With these, it is possible to piece together the entire background story, though a detailed breakdown is available at the end for those still unclear. As in the previous game, you will collect inventory and work out how to use the scientific apparatus around you. There are two endings to the game, with an automated save system allowing you to experience both without having to replay the second episode in its entirety.

The Freewill Cycle: Volume 2 can be played online at Armor Games. The first episode can be played online at JayisGames.

Sheep Quest

Angus the shepherd arises at his flock one morning to find that the fence has broken. Worse, little lamb Molly has escaped through this hole and is nowhere to be found. After fixing the fence, Angus sets off in search of his lost lamb. With vast fields to search through, one little sheep is going to prove tricky to find. Perhaps his fellow villagers or the people running the nearby fair can assist him in his search.

Cat’s gentle Irish tale proves that saving a lost lamb can be as satisfying an adventure as saving the world. The graphics are bright and sunny, with a semi-realistic look. The local pub is constructed of irregular stones and the fair is made up of trailers and tents. The human characters have some slightly exaggerated characteristics, but are generally well-proportioned and all smoothly animated. Some even provide background animations, such as the small boy continually failing to knock down bottles at the fair. A soothing pastoral soundtrack plays in the background, changing to area-appropriate music in places, including a mystic tune for a fortune teller. There are also some sound effects like bird song.

Control is handled by simple two-click interaction, with right-clicking for look and left-clicking for action. You will travel around the village seeking assistance from the various characters you meet such as Madame Cassandre the fortune teller and Arthur Beeswax, the balloonist. Whilst some will be free with their information, many require some sort of assistance before they will give any aid. Some gentle exploration, a bit of light inventory use and a simple but elegant dialogue puzzle will all help you in your quest. The characters are generally amiable and pleasant, and the overall atmosphere is calming. The game has a gentle humour to it as well, and would make a good adventure for introducing younger players to the genre.

Sheep Quest can be downloaded from the AGS website.

Spaceman in Space

Spaceman has just returned from travelling out in space. On return to his space home, the wicked space witch informs him that she has stolen his rubber ducky. Eager to retrieve his bath-time companion, Spaceman concocts a cunning plan to manufacture a fake ducky. With this he intends to fool the witch into discarding the real ducky as a fake, thus retrieving his beloved pal. Hopefully his space home will have all the items he needs to pull off this ruse.

Made for the October MAGS competition, this game from Ben304 is a surreal experience. The graphic are done in a Day of the Tentacle-era LucasArts style familiar to players of his previous games. The setting is a long, thin asteroid forming a single scrolling location roughly four screens wide. The graphics are smoothly animated, with the somewhat robotic Spaceman marching back and forth. The asteroid is distinctly odd, with such features as Spaceman's floating aunt found on it. All sound effects are voiced, using the vocal talents of Grundislav of Ben Jordan fame. These not only include whooshing and clanking noises, but also Spaceman vocalising his actions in a robotic voice, down to saying “Left, Right” repeatedly as he walks.

The game is essentially a single large inventory puzzle, as you try to find all the necessary items to make a convincing rubber ducky substitute. Along the way you will encounter a simple dialogue puzzle as well as a cunningly disguised code. Some of the actions are decidedly odd, though eminently logical for the setting. There is also one action that some players may find mildly distasteful, though it is not depicted graphically on-screen. The atmosphere throughout is humorous, with the matter-of-fact tone of Spaceman’s voice making his dialogue all the more amusing.

Spaceman in Space can be downloaded from the AGS website.

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Nov 30, 2012

i love these features!

many thanks

inflikkt inflikkt
Dec 8, 2012

i really need to check these freeware articles out more!!  pledge quest 1+2 sound amazing.  as an old sq fan, the review has me completely excited Smile  i really enjoyed the space quest fan games that came out about a year ago too.. i hope they keep coming.

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