Following Freeware: November/December 2013 releases page 3

Following Freeware: November/December 2013 releases
Following Freeware: November/December 2013 releases

The Loop

2:14 am on 11 October, and an aspiring writer finds himself wide awake. Unable to get back to sleep, he rises to get something to drink. But as he goes about his mundane business, a feeling of déjà vu overtakes him. Has he experienced these same minutes before? A demonic clown has him trapped in a loop, living the same time over and over again. Only by gathering clues left by this funny fiend can he hope to break out of this endless cycle. Soon his investigations will take him deeper into the clown’s dark past, and he may find that the truth is simply too much to face.

Gliese Productions have created a profoundly disturbing game, where a clown is no laughing matter. Presentation is first-person, with detailed and realistic 3D scenes throughout. You will start the game in the protagonist’s flat, consisting of four relatively small rooms. As you go further, you will encounter scenes from your foe’s past, such as a dilapidated circus trailer, and a plush but eerily empty hotel. Whilst full of detail, these scenes are entirely static, with actions reflected by objects simply appearing or disappearing from the screen. As well as the full-room views, there are also close-ups when appropriate, such as when examining a number of items scattered across a desk. The opening tune is an oppressive version of “Pop Goes the Weasel”, with the music throughout generally being more subtly disturbing. There are also a handful of atmospheric sound effects.

With a choice of three difficulty levels, each of which adds more steps to the puzzles, there is some variety available to any gamer looking for a challenge. Even at the lowest of the three levels, this is not an easy game, and inexperienced players may be advised to steer clear for now. This is also a psychologically disturbing game that may be unsuited to the young or squeamish. Created with the Ren'Py visual novel engine, actions are taken from a list of on-screen choices, presented as if scribbled on a torn piece of notepad. With a large number of choices to be made, and the lists often changing depending on other actions, simply trying to exhaust all the options is unlikely to be a viable plan. Navigating a train requires abandoning normal physical laws, and you will also need to apply dream logic to a locked door. There is a timed sequence near the end and there are a couple of sections where you will need to make selections quickly. Failure in a section of the game forces you back to an earlier part of the loop, often the beginning, so using the generous number of save slots available is advised.

The Loop can be downloaded from the developer’s website.


Time Stone

The red-haired Elle enters the house of her professor to get her next Potions lesson from him. She is shocked to find him tied to a chair and gagged, and soon finds out that he has been captured by the evil warlock Garglewart, who then teleports the professor to his castle to be tortured until he reveals the whereabouts of his Time Stone. Before he leaves, the evil warlock places an unbreakable Hex Curse on the door so no one can get in or out of the house. As soon as Garglewart is gone, Elle sets out to find a way to save the professor and herself.

Time Stone, by Stuart Lilford, takes place in a fantasy world where magicians and dragons are quite common. The whole game takes place entirely in the one-room house of the professor. Designed in a display resolution of 320x200, the game can also be played full screen or in a bigger window. Both the room and the characters are drawn in bright colors and remarkable detail considering the low resolution. The graphics, the music and the many jokes you encounter give the game a relaxed and pretty look and feel. There is no voice acting, but the characters' mouths move while they 'talk.' What they are saying is displayed as text on the screen.

You control Elle using the mouse cursor, as she walks where you click. The names of objects you can interact with are displayed at the bottom of the screen when the cursor hovers over them. Left-clicking an object causes Elle to do something or tell something about it. Objects you pick up appear in the inventory, where items can be used by left-clicking on them and then clicking again on the items you want them to interact with. Right-clicking throws the thing you are holding back in the inventory. The puzzles are mostly inventory-based, fun and very well integrated into the game. The whole adventure is very short, as even slow players should be able to finish in about half an hour.

Time Stone can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio  database.


The Everloom

You have had weird dreams before, their reality fading with the morning sun. But this dream feels different. In it you meet a glorious being called The Weaver, who tells you that your presence has trapped you both there, turning this incarnation of the Dreamworld into a fixed place. You soon find that you are not the only person trapped in this place, with a dark cult seemingly intent on bringing down The Weaver and the Dreamworld with it. Seeking the aid of the other trapped denizens, can you unlock the tangles before the whole nocturnal realm is torn apart?

Lucas Paakh has created a relatively short but satisfying tale set in the realm of slumber. The setting is a series of islands apparently floating in space, rendered in a mildly pixelated format. Human characters are small, though their generally fixed locations and a good use of colour enable you to tell them apart. Native denizens of the Dreamworld tend to be much larger and more detailed, such as a maliciously grinning Sphinx and a floating eye that calls itself The Watcher. Animations are equally simple, though there are some pleasant waterfall effects, and roaring flames that block your free movement. The musical background is a gentle and slightly ethereal piano piece, backed up by a handful of gentle strings, that befits the setting.

The tone is one of light fantasy, with a number of the residents being born of the human dreamers' imaginations. Using the keyboard to both move and interact, you will converse with the inhabitants, finding out what is keeping them tied here. A number of puzzles involve fetch quests, including a girl who needs you to gather balloons so she can float back home. Even these are not always straightforward, as catching the helium-filled water cacti ideal for the job will require you to find materials for tethers and a character that can make them for you. There is also a maze where teleports carry you from place to place and switches redirect flames to open and close paths around you. A latter part of the game finds you under attack, but an ally acquired by this point means that being hit simply knocks you back slightly rather than ending your quest.

The Everloom can be played online at Kongregate.

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Bobski101 Bobski101
Feb 1, 2014

Heroine’s Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok, is one of the best games I’ve played all year. It’s so good, it probably shouldn’t be freeware. It has a very steep learning curve, but once your over that, it is really is quite a blast.The game is filled with subtleties and nuances, it doesn’t reinvent the story telling wheel, but implements amusing cut scenes, drama and suspense. If you’re a QFG fan, get this game now!

Feb 1, 2014

Having downloaded Donald Dowell a couple of weeks ago I was enjoying it in a casual sort of way until hitting a really stupid level of crudity totally jarring with what had gone before. I’m not easily offended by any means but players need to be aware of this, maybe female players more so. It’s completely stopped me playing the game which is a shame as, up until then, it was pretty good, particularly for freeware.

Advie Advie
Feb 1, 2014

The question that is always puzzling me and I can NOT find no answer for; How do games like Adventure Land or Heroine’s Quest are much much better with their’ development’ and financial wise/looks than many (maybe Hundreds) other commercial adventures !!.

Lambonius Lambonius
Feb 1, 2014

Really, Advie?  This is a mystery?

Unlimited time to design and polish the game as they see fit will trump having a budget every time.  When you have no deadlines to worry about, you can take the time to polish it into infinity if you really wanted to.  Heroine’s Quest has been in development for the better part of a decade.

Advie Advie
Feb 2, 2014

Lamb , I was afraid that this would be the answer that I didn’t wanna think of, because what you said can be word(ed) into ‘Passion’  .

But then what does that means , does it mean that LSLR ,BSV ,BA developed without passion , does it mean that Heroine’s Quest team would have/had more passion than you ,Steve and the rest of the team of QfI (because they weren’t stressed with those budget issues) .

Really this is so sad to think about/of . This also (and I know it) why Sierra will always remain the best thing happened to the adventure gaming ,because Sierra was a family name not a brand or a company ,I don’t need to explain it as you already know all of it for sure; that the 70+ adventures Sierra gave were made by groups working with and FOR each other projects/family-members , you wouldn’t find Al only at LSL (for example he almost made the 1st PQ and the same for who Mark made the 3rd Mostly)  they were everywhere and on every game Sierra developed ,also that goes for the whole Sierra’ team ..

At last I think I am kinda sure that Kickstarters had Spoiled the Devs, way much.

This way ,Freewares and Indies might be the future of the genre.

And also now when I listen/remember Tim Schafer ‘words’ about how now Devs/Fans can create the adventures they want/like to have without some annoying publishers giving them hell , I just L.O.L from my heart.

Fizzii Fizzii
Feb 2, 2014

Heroine’s Quest was actually in development for four years. The original Heroine’s Quest: The Legend of Fair Spring was scrapped in 2005 and Corby did not revisit the project at all until late 2009.

The development of Heroine’s Quest will be longer than QFI’s in terms of start and finish dates, since QFI will be coming out this year, but for a team smaller than half the size of QFI’s, you could argue that the development time is about the same in terms of man hours. To answer Advie’s question, I would put it more to the fact that the people working on the project were very passionate about making it.

The reason why there are not so many high quality freeware games out there (in terms of art, music and gameplay) is that it is not easy to assemble a team of people passionate enough about a single project to see it through to the end. In Heroine’s Quest: THOR’s case, Corby was extremely dedicated to finish it this time around, and Radiant is an exceptional programmer and designer. If you have the right dedicated people on board, then quality games can be made regardless of whether they are freeware or not.

Thanks AG for the writeup Smile

RIDance RIDance
Feb 2, 2014

Heroine’s Quest is such a refreshing game. The open world with its magical atmosphere is exciting to explore. The story is intriguing from the very beginning. The art is beautiful. Characters are entertaining (for our entertainment as we are being entertained by the characters… as Aurvandel might say). Wink The voice acting is excellent! Very clear and full of personality. The class/combat system is fun and the puzzles/quests are challenging but not with far fetched solutions. Give it a try!

Feb 2, 2014

I don’t think Kickstarters necessarily spoiled developers. Others might think that LSLR, BSV, BA are “much much better with their’ development’ and financial wise/looks” than HQ: THOR. There are no generalities. Some Kickstarted games can be good, some indie/freeware games can be bad, and vice versa. We have no reason to believe either way. For example I backed the development of Resonance 2 years before it was out kickstarter style (I was promised a copy at release), and it turned out to be great - my opinion - but it was also “indie/passion/developed by single guy” for 5+ years, so it falls under both categories.

Lambonius Lambonius
Feb 3, 2014

Don’t put words in my mouth.

What I’m talking about has nothing to do with “passion.”  It’s simply the practical reality of whether or not one literally has enough time to create and polish an experience of the same kind of depth as something like Heroine’s Quest when one is faced with a limited amount of time in which to do so.  4 years is a LONG development cycle for any game, let alone an AGS game.  Not to mention the fact that the foundation of the game (or at least the knowledge and experience to create a solid foundation) had already been learned in the previous version of the project.

Fizzii Fizzii
Feb 4, 2014

Lamb - not quite true about Heroine’s Quest. Radiant was not involved with Corby’s previous project, and the way the team works is that Radiant determines upfront what is required for the game in terms of locations, functionality of the rooms etc. Corby started from scratch on the environments, and only a small handful of sprites were carried over. There was NO foundation or learnings from the previous project which was used as a basis for the final Heroine’s Quest (Corby’s art improved significantly during development of HQ:THOR itself, where he redid all his backgrounds in 2010). Indeed, the learnings which would have been beneficial to Heroine’s Quest would have come from the many other previous game projects Radiant has designed and programmed. Radiant’s experience in game design was key to Heroine’s Quest, in my opinion.

Four years is a long time indeed, but for freeware it shows the perserverance of the team. This was all being worked on while we had full time jobs or study as well.

Anyway, my last comment was around why Heroine’s Quest is good for a freeware project, to address Advie’s first comment (his second comment was approved at the same time as my first post). Around projects in general, there are three things that affect them: Scope, Cost and Schedule. If you have limitations on cost or schedule, then something has to give (e.g. Shorter schedule = Smaller scope, possibly higher cost. Note though, that having more money does not always translate in getting work done faster). So commercial projects always have that pressure of schedule and cost driving them. On the other hand, the higher budget means they can attract professional artists/composers/writers to work on the game.

Small indie teams usually don’t have enough upfront money to pay team members a full wage. Often this means that the people working in these teams are very passionate about these projects anyway, so it’s not necessarily true that the people working on one project are ‘more passionate’ about it compared to a team working on a freeware project. So I am in agreement with Lamb on that. On the other hand, because of their very limited budgets, indie projects also run the risk of attrition so it is important for the people in the indie teams to have good working relationships and stability so that they can continue working on the project.

In terms of a game being enjoyable, this is purely dependent on the game designer and the writing/story telling. If a game project is thoroughly scoped from the beginning, then it should be possible to accurately determine a budget and schedule and go from there. Unfortunately, (and not just in game making), often the budget and schedule is set first, before the scope is fully fleshed out. It’s ultimately better for a project if the scope to be determined before anything else.

stepurhan stepurhan
Feb 12, 2014

I would say freedom is probably what makes (some) freeware adventures excellent.

If you want to make money, you have to meet certain expectations. You have to make a game people will buy. You have to make a game a publisher will support. You might have to achieve some sort of popular support to get on sites like Steam. You are likely to have deadlines, and a lot of pressure to meet them. All these might mean compromises to the game you want to make.

If you are giving it away, you can make whatever you like. You can take however long you want. You can put stuff in that most publishers wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. You can even have a whole game that is in no way commercial. Some great stuff comes out of people with good ideas being able to run as far as they can with them.

But what you have to remember is the FF games are the cream of the crop. There is a lot of dross out there that never gets near these articles, far more than actually gets in. So judging freeware solely from FF entries is like saying all rock bands are great because Kiss are (substitute own favoured genre/band here). You’re not hearing the guys in their garage hitting strings at random and getting feedback on their speakers.

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