Following Freeware: October 2012 releases
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.
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.
Somewhere in England 1928
For some time, Thomas, Harriet and I have been investigating the occult. Our valiant efforts have broken up cults and prevented these misguided souls from summoning up creatures they cannot comprehend. That is, until now. This time we arrived too late, and a hideous being has been brought into our world. Harriet is lost, perhaps dead, in the confusion, and Thomas is severely wounded. Now he and I are trapped in a half-collapsed corridor and trailed by an eldritch horror. The distraction of other victims is the only thing delaying its pursuit, so this investigation could well be our last.
Showing the influence of H.P. Lovecraft, this short adventure from Drink Cider. Make Games. is a brief tale of horror. The pixelised graphics are fairly simple, with the characters made up of blocky, faceless people. The backgrounds are slightly more detailed, with tentacle-like shadows on the walls of the starting location and a bookcase in a later scene. The visuals are unanimated, with any character movement performed by fading out from one position and reappearing in the second. The gameplay scenes are interspersed with black screens backed by gunfire, monstrous roaring and the sound of destruction. Within the game itself there are a handful of sound effects such as shifting rubble, with a low tone throughout like a wind blowing through a subterranean tunnel.
The essential action of the game is based around a number of simple room escape scenarios. From the original corridor you will work your way out through various rooms of the mansion where the rite was taking place. As you start each room, you and Tommy will have a brief conversation which gives depth and history to the characters. The dialogue is also well suited to the period and location of the game. The point-and-click controlled puzzles are fairly simple, using limited inventory and some hidden codes. The tone is light horror, with a constant feeling of threat, though none of the sequences appear to be timed.
Somewhere in England 1928 can be played online at Armor Games.
Maniac Mansion Mania 77: A Matter of Some Gravity
Keen to show off his new invention, the Graviversor ™, Bernard has invited his friend Hoagie over to see a demonstration. But Hoagie is more interested in exploring the room of Bernard’s sister, Britney. When the Graviversor ™ is accidentally triggered, the two friends find themselves standing on opposite walls. Their personal gravity has been altered, and the house is devoid of the fuel needed to fix the problem, Gurgleurp soda. The two friends must find a way to cross the street to Hoagie’s house to access his emergency stash. But with the pair being pulled in opposite directions, even leaving Britney’s room safely could prove tricky.
Markus Klein’s freshly translated entry to the long running fan series brings a whole new perspective to adventuring. The graphics feature the enhanced Maniac Mansion style used in previous instalments, with a slightly blocky look but clear lines making scenery recognisable. Britney’s room is a vision in pink with a large heart pillow, whereas Hoagie’s is a dishevelled mess. The animation is also similar to the original Maniac Mansion, as is the music, with jaunty and slight peculiar tunes providing the background. There are also a handful of sound effects.
The main difficulty facing you in this game is how to climb floors that are now smooth cliff faces. Moving furniture, often with the help of inventory items, allows you to construct means of ascending and descending carefully, as other items are unaffected by your personal gravity change. The controls use a SCUMM-style interface, including a button to switch between the two characters at will. You will need to do this often, as the two must work together to overcome most obstacles. Objects can be passed between the two, provided they are in the same room and their hands aren’t otherwise occupied. Dead ends are avoided by treating any action that would lead to one, such as throwing a vital item through a window, as a “what would happen if I tried that?” scenario. The game exhibits the surreal humour of the Lucasfilm original and its fan-made successors.
Maniac Mansion Mania 77: A Matter of Some Gravity can be downloaded from the AGS website.
On a remote moon, an alien ship has been converted into a base. To hide the ship from prying eyes, a camouflage shield has been set up to protect the base site. This system both shields the signals from the ship, and projects a false surface over the mouth of the cave containing it. A captured cyborg soldier has managed to escape his cell in this base, but with no space suit he is unable to flee the base itself. As his fellow cyborgs scan the moon, his only chance is to find a way to shut down the camouflage shield so he can be discovered.
This game is a spin-off from Programicks' Thorenzitha series of action games. The graphics are rendered in full 3D but presented mostly in a third-person slideshow format. The view switches to first-person in a handful of cases where you are looking through doors or into hatches. The protagonist has a slightly robotic body to reflect his cyborg nature and is smoothly animated. The briefly glimpsed aliens are humanoid in nature, though with strange skull-like heads. The ship consists of metallic corridors with various machines related to its operation scattered around. A moderately dramatic sci-fi tune plays in the background, and a handful of sound effects, mostly machinery-related, are also used.
With no direct access, shutting down the camouflage shield will require manipulation of several ship systems. You will acquire and use a limited inventory, some of which is rather difficult to spot in the detailed scenery. As well as combining and using items, you must find the correct setting for a piece of machinery and figure out how to stop an elevator where you need it. There is also a puzzle where you only have enough power to cut a handful of wires, and must determine by logic which ones to cut. It is possible to solve this puzzle the first time using the limited number of clicks allowed, but a restart switch prevents this from becoming a dead end for those who make a mistake.
Vaontis can be played online at Newgrounds.
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.
The Burger Flipper by elruffo – Under threat of closure by a government against healthy food, a burger restaurant must make the dreaded unhealthy monster burger, El Poetera.
One Rainy Day by Basti – Having shut off the electricity prior to an expected storm, Day of the Tentacle’s Laverne must find a new way to power her computer.
Dummy Sneak Out by Abroy – A crash test dummy tries to escape his life of being crushed and smashed.
Neb Jones (lite) by Yellow Bouncy Ball – Help explorer Neb Jones explore the treacherous ruins of Ourobouros.
Flip the Farmer by Abroy – Another day of farming work faces the hard-working Flip.
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!