Five Years of Following Freeware: Year Five
No cost... no publisher... no problem! It's mind-boggling to think how many devoted developers are working tirelessly, month in and month out, to deliver games that are not only free of charge, but free of outside interference that would impede any creative independence. As gamers, we are the beneficiaries of this abundant talent and dedication, freely shared, and it's our privilege here at Adventure Gamers to honour their efforts. With today's article, we conclude our whirlwind five-day retrospective that began with Year One, Year Two, Year Three, and Year Four. It's a lot to take in, but it's well worth the investment to catch up.
August 2014 – Generation Ship by Shide
In recent years, the Unity engine has grown more popular among developers. With its 3D capability and fairly wide cross-platform support, it’s not exactly hard to see why. It is even starting to usurp Flash as the lead choice for making online games, with Generation Ship being but one example. The setting of a spaceship in trouble is realistically rendered, with the lighting reflecting off the metal panelling and walls. Your actions can result in a ship teeming with plant life or overrun with wild animals. But this is a game that is more than just pretty graphics.
You are woken from hyper-sleep to try to save the titular ship. Various systems have been damaged in an accident, with both oxygen and power at dangerously low levels. Unfortunately, the computer that is meant to assist you has also taken damage, its behaviour circuits having been fried. It is still prevented from killing you, but it isn’t exactly inclined to help you either. In fact, in a wonderfully deadpan female electronic voice, it takes every opportunity it can to mock your efforts. Mind you, given how easily a single wrong command can doom you, perhaps she has a point.
This sci-fi flight out to a disaster flows through Ludum Dare.
September 2014 – A Tough Sell by LabLabLab
Rarely do we get to play the bad guy in the story. Whilst player characters do take a lot of stuff that doesn’t belong to them, they are generally on the side of right. It is therefore always refreshing when a game like A Tough Sell comes along, and we get to play a character that is indisputably up to no good. The antihero in question is the wicked stepmother from the tale of Snow White. Your task? To successfully convince Snow White to eat the poisoned apple that you have prepared for her.
Disguised as an old woman, you stand outside the house of Snow White and the dwarfs with your basket of apples. When she first answers the door, Snow White is most reluctant to converse with an unexpected stranger. As you win her over, she emerges from behind the door and makes her way towards you. But take care: arouse her suspicions and she could be back behind a closed door in no time. As a purely conversational text adventure, the game uses a text parser for your side of the dialogue, and you will need to pay attention to responses if you are to win your target over.
For those feeling up for a bit of wickedness, the game can be found online at the developer’s website.
October 2014 – The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo by Michael Lutz
If you’ve come across a horror story on the internet that purports to be true, you’ve probably stumbled across some creepypasta. With their roots in the real world, these tales are ripe for disturbing horror games, and The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo is just such a game. The story starts off pleasantly enough, with you going over to a friend’s house for a sleepover. He always has the best games, with his eponymous uncle cited as a source. But as the evening wears on, things get weirder, and the news that the uncle is going to pay a visit that very night is not as good as it might seem.
This is a truly disturbing tale, with the horror building very slowly. The presentation is entirely text-based, with hyperlinks in the text giving you a choice of further actions. Some actions open up new possibilities, whilst others move the clock along, with the visit scheduled for midnight. The game has multiple paths, with a total of five different endings available at the start. One of these unlocks a further ending, which on replay gives you a much more satisfying conclusion to the tale than the others. Unfortunately, the lack of a save system does mean unlocking this special ending will require at least two playthroughs in a single session. With a reasonable reading speed, I got through in about an hour, and I would highly recommend setting aside the time to do the same.
Creeping yourself out completely is as simple as heading over to the online game at JayIsGames.
November 2014 – Vortex Point 5: Monster Movie by Carmel Games
After a while you start to see the same developer names turn up again and again each month. Depending on their abilities, this can be cause for celebration or frustration. With Carmel Games, it can go either way as the sheer rate at which they produce games almost guarantees a range in quality. Vortex Point 5: Monster Movie is one of their better games. Vortex Point is a town that acts as a magnet for all-things-supernatural. As in the previous instalments, you take on the role of psychic investigator Kevin as he finds himself in a 1940s horror film. The cartoon graphics are smoothly animated as always (though not as brightly coloured as normal) and all the characters are fully voiced with wild enthusiasm.
I have only just got round to playing this game, which undoubtedly sounds contradictory when it appeared in Following Freeware back in November 2014. But having extensively covered both the many games and people at AdventureX 2014, I was completely written out for the month. Fortunately by this point I was not writing the articles alone. My colleague, Willem Tjerkstra, had been assisting for some time, and for the first time flew solo for an entire monthly article. For a while our write-ups were mixed together, often without specific authorship citation, but since we each have our own tastes and opinions and writing styles, now they are split between “Steve’s Selections” and “Willem’s Winners” (even though we often agree on which games are worth covering each month). With two heads being better than one, there should never be a month that goes by where the budget-conscious gamer won’t get plenty of tips on where to find new things to play.
To take your role as the hero in a classic monster movie, dive over to the online gaming portal MouseCity.
December 2014 - Mu Complex: Episode 1 by StudioCime
We play games to escape the mundanities of life, like an office job sitting in front of a computer. That being the case, making a game that seems to have you doing just that would appear to be an odd choice. But Mu Complex: Episode 1 proves more than it seems at first. Apparently offered a position at the mysterious Mu Complex research facility, you have to perform a series of tasks to prove your worthiness for a role there. As you work up through the levels of access, you find hints about the experiments conducted there. But what is their ultimate goal?
The interface is a simple text-based command line. With this you enter programme instructions of increasing complexity as you progress through the game. Typing “help” calls up a list of the commands available and instructions for their use. The fact that there are only a handful of commands on each level may deceive you into thinking that this game will be simple to beat. The truth is anything but, as you have to create complex series of commands and solve difficult riddles. Getting to the end is truly a victory hard-earned, and with a solid story that continues in a sequel, this series is well worth a look.
Your application to join Mu Complex awaits you, with the online portal Kongregate hosting its testing platform.
January 2015 – You.Me.Hell. by Biscuit Placebo
Human relationships can form an important part of the story in adventure games. Sometimes these are played for drama, other times they are played for laughs. You.Me.Hell. is definitely in the latter camp. Tova is always on the verge of breaking out into a violent rage, whilst her partner Tor is about as laid-back as a person could be. Now the conflict between them may or may not have taken them to hell. As well as the rocky environs of the underworld, this tale will take you into their past, including the party where they met. Is this unhappy couple doomed?
This is one of those games where grasping the internal logic of the game world is important to success. Dealing with a cranky sentient computer and having a friend who can extract the 1s and 0s from CDs are just par for the course. You get to play as both Tova and Tor throughout the course of the game, with each taking a very different approach to life. Whilst the difficulties of their relationship can sometimes be a bit on the pointed side, the game is in essence a lighthearted one. This tone is enhanced by the graphics, which are presented in a somewhat goofy papercut style. The story might not make a great deal of sense, but for those with a slightly twisted sense of humour, this is one to check out.
Available across multiple platforms, this tale of a less-than-heavenly relationship can be acquired from the developer’s website.
February 2015 – Little Briar Rose by Elf Games
Whilst it shouldn’t be the only thing people consider, the art style can be a major influence on how a game is perceived. For developers wanting to achieve a specific tone, choosing the right look can be vital. The creators of Little Briar Rose decided to present the game as a stained glass window, with features made up of panels of subtly different hues. This aesthetic fits the story – a version of the tale of Sleeping Beauty – very nicely, its fantastical setting appearing to be lit by the sun shining through from behind. With a hero prince wearing a flamboyant hat with a feather in it, and a forest inhabited by a variety of imaginary creatures, this adventure is a pleasure for the eyes.
The game itself is pretty enjoyable as well. The woods surrounding the castle home of the title character are magical, and both trees and briars impede the hero’s progress. To get these mystical plants to open up the path, you need to help the locals with their problems. This includes building a house for the dwarfs and helping a somewhat homely Spriggan woo a beautiful fairy princess. Annoy these powerful creatures or fail in your task, however, and you will be transformed into a Spriggan yourself. In a clever move to avoid player frustration, this does not end the game. Instead a new prince comes along (same character model with different colour clothes) to pick up where his predecessor fell.
The developers are looking at a larger commercial release in the future, but for now this version can still be found at the bottom of the developer’s website.
March 2015 – Sleuthhounds : The Unlocked Room by SeaLeft Studios
With his penchant for mentally challenging mysteries, it is no surprise that Sherlock Holmes has inspired more than one game. In Sleuthhounds: The Unlocked Room, you get to play a slightly different version of Holmes. The hero of this tale is Pureluck Holmes, a master detective who is actually an anthropomorphic dog. Setting out on a new case, Pureluck has been waylaid and now finds himself chained up in a dungeon. What first seems like a villainous plot to keep him from investigating turns out to actually be a test of wits. It would be a harsh blow to his reputation were he to fail.
Whilst all the characters are dogs, the game tries to convey the genteel Victorian atmosphere of the original stories. The characters are fully voiced, and the moderately upper-class tones of Pureluck fit the protagonist perfectly. A variety of puzzles are on offer, though only a handful are required to actually escape. Some of the extra puzzles are straight standalone challenges, such as the riddles posed by your captor over a speaker. Others involve revealing clues that will enable you to deduce the reason for your captivity. The most satisfying to my mind is a deduction puzzle in which you literally piece together facts in a mental jigsaw to reach a conclusion. The rewards for solving more difficult puzzles are not simply a sense of achievement either, as extra content is available to those who put in the extra effort.
To sleuth your way out of a tricky situation, head on over to the developer’s website to download the game.
April 2015 – The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1 – The Horse You Sailed In On by Gnarled Scar Manipulations
A not-uncommon way of starting a story is to have the lead character caught up in some dire situation. After this opening scene, the narrative then goes back in time to explain how they got there. This is the setup for The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1 – The Horse You Sailed In On, with O’Sirus the Snip facing some sort of tribunal. In his defence, he recounts the tale of his quest to become a Guffaloon, a member of the royal guard. He had begun hearing a spooky, ethereal voice that told him he just needed to travel to The Knobbly Crook. For a humble paper farmer, this seemed too good to be true. And sure enough, he soon found that even this simple journey would not be as straightforward as he might wish.
This game’s detailed stylised art has a surreal quality to it that accents the oddness of the setting. The boat that O’Sirus boards, naturally travelling in the wrong direction, appears to be a living mechanism. It has the head of a horse, and its cargo area has an acidic pool, much like a live animal would have stomach acid. O’Sirus himself is also a striking figure, with a breastplate shaped like a monstrous face. The other characters you meet in your quest to get the ship redirected are no less odd, and some of them wish O’Sirus ill. Whilst this first chapter only tells the first part of our hero’s story, it more than whets the appetite for what is to come.
Set sail on a bizarre journey aboard a most unusual horse by downloading the game from Steam. (Free, though an account will be required.)
May 2015 – Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space by Artificial Hair Brothers
Way back in 1988, LucasArts (then still Lucasfilm Games) introduced us to intrepid reporter Zak McKracken. In Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders he thwarted the plans of some evil aliens, the Caponians, to take over the Earth. Fast forward more than a quarter century later and we finally have the fan-made Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space, which continues his adventures. The end of his last escapade was supposed to have kept the Caponians from ever returning to Earth. But when Zak later stows away on a plane, it seems to come under attack from his old foes. His daring escape inexplicably winds up with him back in his apartment, but while all seems temporarily well, our investigative hero soon finds himself on another world-spanning quest to protect the human race.
The production values of this game would not be out of place in a full commercial release. Whilst locations are displayed from a fixed camera view, they have a full 3D look for the most part, and a highly detailed one at that. This presentation is further improved in the numerous cutscenes, which present different views to the fixed angle shown during actual gameplay. The game is fully voiced with high quality performances and there is a dramatic science fiction soundtrack to back things up. Numerous references to the previous game, such as Zak’s pet fish, are included, as well as other series from the LucasArts studio, like Murray the skull from Monkey Island. The result feels like a project made by fans of the original who have given their all to honour a game they love. The amount of effort they’ve put into it is reflected in the download size, a hefty 3GB, but this is a game well worth the bandwidth investment.
If you want to save the human race again, grab your reporter’s notebook and download this game from the developer’s website.
June 2015 – Somnamulizer: A Tale from Olympus U by Alex Whitington
In myth and legend, the origins of the gods are dramatic and awe-inspiring. Some rise up from the chaos before the creation of the physical world as we know it, whilst others arise from the destruction of their predecessors. What they don’t normally do is go off to university to study how to wield divine abilities. But in Somnamulizer: A Tale from Olympus U, that is precisely what young god Hypnos is doing. He is supposed to be a deity of dreams but he just can’t seem to get a handle on his powers. Exasperated, his overbearing mother provides a helping hand in the form of three guides. Hypnos will of course use these to aid his studies, not to try to get to a party to win over a girl he likes.
There are two main things I like about this game. The first is the lightly humorous setting, which depicts a nerdy student life with casual mentions of awe-inspiring powers. Hypnos comes across as a student who wants to do well, but finds the pressure from his mother a bit much. Meanwhile, his roommate is more than happy to sit on the couch all day playing video games and guzzling energy drinks. The second thing is the dream manipulation interface, which presents an interesting and unusual mechanic. Once you have entered someone’s dreams, you are able to apply the forces of Dreams, Nightmares or Nonsense to objects there. These options change the objects in different ways, and because you need to prevent the sleeper from seeing the changes happen, misdirection is a must.
If you feel up to taking on a dream job, you can download this game from the AGS database.
July 2015 – Don’t Escape 3 by scriptwelder
It is a convention in gaming that, if you are trapped in a small location, your purpose must be to get out. This series of games turns that concept on its head, with the aim being to stay in instead. In the first game this was because you were a werewolf wanting to prevent yourself from wreaking havoc when the moon rose. In the second game you needed to fortify a location before a zombie horde descended on you at nightfall. In Don’t Escape 3, the reason for not wanting to escape is not so obvious. But once your investigation turns up the true horror of your situation, you find that not escaping is going to be harder than it looks.
In a way, the title premise is actually easy to achieve in this game. You start out shut in a spaceship airlock with the computer counting down to opening the outer door. Doing nothing kills you, and earns an achievement in doing so, but it will doom those that come after you. To truly win the game, you have to remove all source of danger as well. Some of the tasks necessary to achieve that will take significant amounts of in-game time, a problem since you only have an hour of life support at the start. Achieving a successful conclusion will probably take a few tries, but the game is short enough to make that fairly easy. The achievements will give you a hint of what endings are possible, and it is worth getting both the “Lost in Space” and “Hull Breach” endings for different versions of success.
Resist your natural urge to break out by heading over to Armor Games to play this game online.
So that’s five years of Following Freeware.
In picking just a single game each month for this retrospective, I had to ignore many other games I loved along the way. To all you freeware developers out there, I’d just like to reiterate that having your game in the regular monthly articles means I (and/or Willem) thought your game was good. I am in awe of the quality adventures I keep seeing being produced for free, and I urge you all to keep up the good work.
With a constant stream of new and interesting games each month, I don’t see the freeware adventuring scene disappearing any time soon. All being well, that means that the Following Freeware articles are here to stay as well. Here’s to the next five years.