When Technocrat (aka developer James Dearden) took to the stage, he presented us with news of not one but three new games. One is a remake from his popular freeware adventure series, another was released earlier this year, while the third is James's first true commercial game that's still in production. Enduring a few computer-based technical hiccups along the way, James managed a fantastic presentation with plenty of witty banter thrown in for good measure. (I'd tell you what he said, but I was too busy laughing to remember.)
Technobabylon is one of those games that just comes out of nowhere, slaps you across the face and forces you to pay attention. It may have modest graphics of the low res kind, but the puzzles and storyline are deceptively involving and will keep you playing until you’ve beaten the damn thing. The game reminds me of a cross between the dystopian cyberpunk future of the '90s classic Beneath a Steel Sky and the variety of challenging minigames of Operation Stealth. To date there have been three free episodes of Technobabylon released, all of which incorporate a very slick and detailed style but have a very basic retro visual look.
So you can imagine my delight when Dearden announced a remake of the first episode and brought it up for display on the projector screen. It's still decidedly retro, but the remake brings the graphics closer to a true VGA style than the colourful EGA style that currently exists. There may also be some extra puzzles included in the update, though this isn't certain. Already the visual improvements are looking impressive, and I’m looking forward to playing this new iteration. What would be even better is a remake of the next two episodes as well, with Episode 4 somewhere on the horizon matching this new VGA style.
Nancy the Happy Whore and the Perfidious Petrol Station was sold earlier this year as part of a pay-what-you-want bundle in Screen 7’s Summerbatch sale. This retro pixel art game is mostly a parody and has little to do with prostitution except for the obvious puns. The game is done in a sort of Leisure Suit Larry style, except you play a female lead and there’s no sex in the game at all (sorry to disappoint!). Nancy is an ever optimistic… well… whore heading to the big city to fulfil her dreams. On the way her car runs low on gas and she pulls into the nearest gas station to fill 'er up. Things, however, are not what they seem, as an armed robbery is taking place as you arrive and a terrible evil lurks deep within the station, preventing Nancy from collecting her hard earned petrol and driving off. A small- to medium-length game which should be on sale again very soon, it's a fun title that’s certainly one to pick up (pun intended) when you get the chance.
Johnny Hurricane and the Pirates of the Third Reich is set to become the first Technocrat adventure to be released commercially as a standalone game. The game appears to be set in World War II, with Johnny Hurricane a top fighter pilot of sorts, called in by the brass to shut down a host of pirate U-boats performing raids on Allied shipments throughout the Caribbean. One of the ships that's been hit was carrying a vital piece of equipment to the war effort, The Enigma Machine, a secret code breaking device that could tip the balance of the war. Whilst not playable as yet, Johnny Hurricane, based on an early prototype of the game, looks to be a visually impressive pixel art adventure that sits somewhere between Monkey Island 2 and the Day of the Tentacle.
Additional information about all three games and more can be found at Technocrat’s website.
Choose Your Own AdventureX
Playing an adventure game with a friend can be a great help as you bounce ideas off one another. Playing one with an entire room of avid adventure gamers can be anarchy. Such was the situation in this slightly surreal game written specially for AdventureX by Alasdair Beckett-Smith, creator of Nelly Cootalot. Taking instructions from the room as the images appeared on screen, he ran us through an only vaguely traditional tale of a wicked plan and a brave hero setting out to defeat it. To resolve disputes, a captain was elected to have the final say, and the room wisely (or perhaps foolishly) handed power over to yours truly. Vigorous discussion kicked in straight away, with even the simple question of what to name our hero eliciting several responses. In the name of strong but fair leadership, I chose a combination of an undoubtedly excellent hero name, with the hyphenated addition of a somewhat lesser luminary.
The resulting adventures of Steve-Batman (a Spice Mage who once punched a horse named Christopher) were as bizarre as they sound. Travelling across the surprisingly verdant surface of Mars, our brave hero passed through the perilous Monkey Forest and faced up to his dark past using his Word Of Power, “Blimey!” Whilst the available actions were usually limited to a handful of choices, this did not stop even the simplest decisions from being the subject of much debate. The experience was further enhanced by live voice-acting from the author himself, covering characters ranging from Spambot the identity thief to the chief villain of the piece, Baldini. All the voices were performed with great gusto, with the wildly varying accent of Baldini being a particular joy. Of course, with a bunch of adventure gamers on the case, the triumph of good over evil, after a fashion at least, was inevitable. The whole experience was immensely fun and I’d recommend anyone to give this style of play a try. Who knows, perhaps with this example to follow, crowd-playing will be the next trend in gaming.
If you'd like to choose your own AdventureX, now you can (though without the ararchy, unless you gather your own room full of companions), as the game has since been released publicly by Screen 7.
30 years ago, gamebooks were in their heyday. With computer games still limited by available technology, it was left to these tomes full of numbered paragraphs to provide exciting and fantastical adventures. Pick an option, turn to the indicated paragraph and face the consequences of your decision. A legend of this era was the Sorcery! series by Steve Jackson, spread over four books that told the epic journey of one man seeking to wrest the Crown of Kings from an evil Archmage. With a scope beyond anything that had come before, this series also contained a number of unique innovations, including a detailed spell system and a simple yet effective means of rewarding success in earlier volumes by changing the way you played the later instalments. Now inkle Studios are collaborating with Steve Jackson himself to bring this classic up to date for the current generation. Being old enough to own copies of the original books, I was especially intrigued by this project, and took the opportunity to find out more about this project from the lead developer, Jon Ingold.
Having achieved success through their Frankenstein app, inkle showed their work to Steve Jackson, nervous of his reaction. Fortunately, he liked what he saw and in a stroke of luck, an uncompleted deal with another developer for Sorcery! had just expired. With the books being 30 years old, and with Steve himself open to new ideas, the intention now is to take a totally new approach to the presentation. Gone is the page-turning and numbered paragraphs of the original, to be replaced by a navigable map and story pages that build up as the player decides what actions to take. This approach has allowed more options to be incorporated than were possible in the original format, even in the eye-watering 800 paragraphs of the last book. Hopefully this will mean that players of the original will find both a familiar story and new experiences within this game.
The navigation format isn’t the only thing that has changed. Originally combat was handled with the roll of the dice (or flick of the page if you wanted to use the “random” die rolls printed at the foot of each page). This has been abandoned in favour of a choice-based combat routine, inspired by the prisoner’s dilemma, where the psychology of your current opponent needs to be taken into account. Also promised is an eye-popping new combat feature, though this is being kept under wraps at present. The original magic system has also had a revamp. In the books, each spell was represented by three letters that had to be memorised. When given the opportunity to cast a spell in the book, a handful of choices were given – some false, challenging the player to remember a valid and useful spell. Of course, this system was open to players “accidentally” looking at the spell list, rather than working from memory. At time of writing, the adapted system of the new version was still undergoing refinement, but the developers promise greater freedom whilst still maintaining the mystery of the original.
With the first book well on schedule for a March 2013 release, interested gamers can follow news on the project at the developer's website.Continued on the next page...