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Following Freeware: February 2017 releases

Following Freeware: February 2017 releases
Following Freeware: February 2017 releases

This month you can engage in a variety of side quests as a disgraced fantasy hero or a famous science fiction luminary. Or you could help two bands to succeed, one by simply getting them on stage for a concert and the other by arranging the demo recording they need to hit the big time. You might travel to Venus on a test flight, out into the deep reaches of space in search of resources, or to the mysterious forest of Dancing Trees. Alternatively, you can become a zombie detective searching for lost property, a young girl missing her brother, or a tanner in search of some rare materials. Perhaps you may just want to help an old man get back memories of a happier time. All these choices await you in this month’s jam-packed round-up of releases from the freeware scene.

Steve's Selections

Parco Azzurro

Young Pablo is excited to find that the band Nudi tra I Musicanti (N3M) will be playing at Parco Azzurro school tonight. But when he arrives, he finds that the band are inexplicably not taking to the stage as planned. When his assistance is sought by their tour manager, Pablo sets out to find the individual band members and persuade them to take their places for the concert. With gangs of wild fangirls, incorrectly adjusted equipment and bubbles of zen meditation to contend with, that might not be as easy a task as it sounds.

Image #1Whilst promoting their music is a central theme, N3M's Parco Azzurro proves an enjoyable comedy adventure as well. The developers admit up front that the television show South Park is a major influence, which can be seen immediately from the look. The backgrounds have the same bright 2D appearance of the cartoon, though with plenty of detail, and all the characters are squat with round heads and large eyes. The characters are animated in a similar way too, bobbing along with facial expressions largely carried by eye movement. Events all take place in and around the school, including a computer lab, a store room and the concert stage. The action is mainly backed by a mellow guitar and percussion piece. This changes for some areas, such as an Asian tune that plays in the school dojo, and there are a handful of sound effects as well, including Pablo’s footsteps. There is also a collectible CD of an N3M track that can be played on an in-game stereo, along with several live pieces available when you complete the game.

Control is handled through the mouse, using right-click to look and left-click to interact. Labels appear when you point at a hotspot, and the cursor also changes to indicate the available interaction. The game is gently comedic, with some direct references to South Park, though there is nothing that could be considered adult humour. Your main objective is to get all four band members on stage, a task you can handle in any order you wish. Each musician has a problem or two to solve before they will take their place in the concert hall. These range from setting up an unorthodox video link to creating a "convincing" fake band member. You will need to talk to everyone extensively to find out what they need and carefully scour the area for useful items. Inventory puzzles are plentiful, but there are a handful of standalone puzzles as well, such as a wiring task. If you are not sure what to do next, the band's tour manager will provide hints if you speak to her. Completing certain challenges also provides codes which can be entered on the game’s website to play N3M tracks.

Parco Azzurro can be downloaded from the developer's website.


The Adventures of Commander Shepard

The universe is in terrible danger. The Reapers, a race of synthetic beings, are poised to wipe out all organic life. Only if all the other races come together will it be possible to counter this threat. Commander Shepard, hero of the Alliance, knows exactly what he must do. Wasting no time, he leaps into action and heads out in search of side quests. Because, as every hero knows, if you want to save the universe, you need to build up experience by doing a whole bunch of favours for random strangers first.

Image #2In The Adventures of Commander Shepard, Kung Fu Circus Games has produced an effective spoof of the prevalence of side quests in role-playing games, particularly in the Mass Effect series. The graphics are done in a highly detailed and semi-realistic cartoon style. The lead character is a slightly exaggerated recreation of BioWare’s default male version of Shepard, and other various alien races from the series also appear. The entire adventure takes place on the Citadel, with recognisable locations including the lake side and embassy area. The characters are smoothly animated, both within the game and in the opening and closing cutscenes. The cinematics are also fully voiced to a high standard, though dialogue in-game is text only. For the most part, the action is backed by ambient crowd noise to reflect the bustling life of the Citadel. This is supplemented by sound effects such as the Commander's footsteps and the beep of equipment. The title screen features a specially written song extolling the virtues of the hero.

Mouse control uses right-click to look and left-click to move and interact. Dialogue trees have been laid out like the conversation wheels from the Mass Effect games, though for most options their position on the wheel does not count as a Paragon or Renegade choice. Where a dialogue will affect your status, a red or blue symbol appears next to the choice. You will need to talk to everyone at the station to find out what they need. Tasks range from reconciling lovers to finding fish in the lake for a Krogan. The latter matches a quest from the main series, though previous solutions won't prove effective this time around. To fulfill the quests, you will need to explore thoroughly, often revisiting conversations as you get more information. You must also make extensive use of your inventory, more than once mangling priceless collectibles to achieve a mundane task. If you get stuck, Avina, the Citadel VI guide, can provide hints. The whole experience is presented in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, with the action hero treating these mundane challenges as deadly serious. There are extensive spoilers for the Mass Effect games, so it is recommended that players complete the originals before trying this.

The Adventures of Commander Shepard can be downloaded from the developer's website. A valid e-mail address is required to get the download link.


Trader of Stories: Chapter 1

Many years ago, two young sprouts discovered a woman in the forest of the Dancing Trees. She had lain unconscious for days, and could remember nothing of her history, not even her name. Though the elders were divided on the matter, given what her kind had done to trees in the past, it was agreed that she would be taken in. Years later, given the name Little Willow, she lives in the branches of old Egunda and works in the nursery raising little seedlings. But a guest is coming to visit who will change Little Willow's life forever. Before she leaves the forest behind, however, she must learn the history of the Dancing Trees, a story she may already know more of than she realises.

Image #3Trader of Stories: Chapter 1 appears to be taking a step back in time for the Rudowski Brothers’  ongoing series of tales of a travelling storyteller. (Whilst not stated outright, it is heavily implied that Little Willow will become Myosotis, the lead character of the previous games.) The graphical presentation is a beautiful slideshow format with a detailed painterly style. The main events take place in the forest of Dancing Trees. The younger trees are almost humanoid in shape, though with leafy accoutrements, and walk around freely. The older plants have taken root, resulting in vast trees with huge faces in their bark. These graphics are unanimated, with movement shown by items and characters fading in and out of the scene. Full-body illustrations of the characters are shown during conversations, though these are also still pictures. A slow and haunting piano piece with soft choral humming provides a soothing background. This is supplemented by ambient noises like bird song and the buzzing of bees.

Only left-clicking is required, with a menu showing available interactions appearing when you click on a hotspot. These options include the chance to give or use an inventory item, though you will still need to select an appropriate object. There is an on-screen button that highlights all available hotspots, if you are having trouble spotting them in the detailed scenery. Dialogue plays a key role in proceedings, as there is a lot to learn about the inhabitants of the forest and your place amongst them. It is also important to pay attention to what characters say, as there are some challenges that test you on the knowledge you should be acquiring as you go along. Interspersed among this text-heavy gameplay are a handful of inventory puzzles. You will also engage in a game of hide-and-seek with the nursery children, and have to open a complex lock mechanism. The tone is one of straight fantasy drama, with this chapter providing some closure whilst opening the way to a longer story.

Trader of Stories: Chapter 1 can be played online at the developer's website.

Memories Fade

A dutiful son, you have gone to visit your widowed father. Age has not been kind to him, and he is now struggling to remember his life. On this visit, you have brought something with you that you hope will revive some of those memories for him. The item in question is a black and white picture of the very room in which he now spends most of his days. When the photo alone is not enough to prompt recollection, you set out to recreate the sensations associated with the objects depicted. Can you restore his memory, if only for a brief time?

Image #4Riaise has created a short but poignant tale in Memories Fade. The presentation is done in slightly jagged pixel art, but is still rendered in a realistic fashion. Animation is simple but effective, with only the lead character moving about most of the time. The game is in full colour, but parts of the scene briefly change to black and white when you succeed in sparking a memory of the past. The action takes place in a fairly small area consisting of the hall, main room and back garden of your father's house. Gameplay is backed by a slow and melancholy piano piece that fits the sad tone of the subject matter. This is replaced by suitable alternative music when you achieve a certain important goal.

Both mouse buttons are used, with right-click looking and left-click moving and interacting. It is impossible to recreate the photo exactly as it appears, so you must use lateral thinking to come up with substitutes from objects around the house. Conversations with your father will provide some clues, though these are unsurprisingly vague. As well as finding appropriate items, you will also need to untangle a mess of wires to fix a television in a standalone puzzle. When you successfully match an element in the picture, the appropriate part of the scene changes to match the photo as an indication of your success. Once you have matched all necessary parts, a final scene plays showing an important event that happened on the day the snapshot was taken. The result is a bittersweet tale that some may find upsetting.

Memories Fade can be downloaded from the AGS website.


The World is Destroyed and It's All Because of You

As a traditional fantasy hero, you thought you were doing the right thing. When you set out on a grand quest to retrieve the magical crystals, you believed that you were thwarting evil. Unfortunately, bringing those crystals together actually summoned an evil being to your world instead, one who now rules over all. Not surprisingly, plunging the world into darkness has not exactly made you popular. With your reputation in tatters, you face constant harassment wherever you go. Perhaps if you can perform some worthwhile tasks, people will start to think better of you. If you can survive the tasks they are inclined to give you, that is.

Image #5With The World is Destroyed and It's All Because of You, Gredge109 takes a satirical look at what might happen when a role-playing hero fails. The presentation is styled in the traditional isometric view of a retro RPG. Befitting a world that has fallen under the sway of evil, the colour palette is generally dark, with the streets battered by constant rain or snow. The hero is a squat figure that glides around the streets, occasionally trailing a companion behind him. The setting includes the hero's home apartment building, a wilderness area and the castle from which the world is ruled. The background score consists of mostly somber echoing pieces, adding to the grim atmosphere. These are occasionally interspersed with more traditional role-playing action music.

Movement is controlled through the arrow keys, with space interacting with the object or person in front of you. Talking to everybody you meet will reveal a variety of optional quests to redeem yourself, though many are not what they first seem. Challenges include dealing with a fierce animal on the outskirts of town, and helping provide advice on a job interview. Some of these are resolved by simple dialogue choices, but most will require you to explore thoroughly for specific items. Travel between major locations is accomplished by using the bus stop central to each place. There is also a single quest that requires you to be quick on the keyboard, though with other tasks to choose from it seems you can bypass it if so desired. The game has a dark humour to it, with most characters giving the protagonist a hard time in one way or another. There are multiple endings available, though given the premise of the game, it is no surprise that I have not found a "good" ending yet.

The World is Destroyed and It's All Because of You can be downloaded from the RPG Maker website.


Spoons III

After a long period of struggling along, the rock band Spoons are about to get their big break. Unknown to the rest of the band, their leader and shop owner Richy has secured them an advance from a record company. With this they can finally get some time in a proper studio and record a demo that will net them a record deal. Unfortunately, Richy decided to have a celebratory drink before informing his bandmates of their good fortune. In Scid's bar, an apparently friendly stranger was only too keen to encourage Richy's drinking. Come the following morning, Richy is in hospital and the money is gone. With her fellow band members too angry and upset at Richy's stupidity, it is up to guitarist Jackie to find another way of recording the demo and keep the band together.

Image #6In the tradition of the Reality on the Norm (RoN) setting, jwalt has taken another developer's idea and added to the story in Spoons III. As a new game in a shared universe, it adopts the same retro graphic style of previous games, using many of the same characters and locations. The majority of characters are those that appeared in Irishrichy's Spoons, in which the band first appeared, including the aggressive female goth protagonist. The ever-popular Scid's is a central location, both in its original incarnation and later as an experimental beach bar. Music includes the standard cheery RoN theme, along with 8-bit versions of pop songs as performed by the titular band, including “One Night in Bangkok”. There is a separate music video, accessible from the main menu, showing the band playing on the beach. There are also a handful of sound effects, most notably the scream of the woman first finding the injured Richy.

Right mouse clicks are used to observe hotspots and left-clicks to interact. Navigation between main locations is achieved via a screen showing all the main characters you expect to find at each. When unsure where a character is at a given time, they will have their back to you and be unavailable. The local radio station has a studio you can use, but gaining access to it will involve performing a series of favours. Dialogue is the key to the majority of puzzles, requiring you to talk to some characters repeatedly. There is also a small amount of inventory use, including a change of outfit the black-loving lead is not happy with. Whilst having its serious moments, the game is mainly comedic in tone, with numerous fourth wall breaks. On completion, there is an awards ceremony, mostly for optional actions you could have taken on the way.

Spoons III can be downloaded from the AGS website.

Willem’s Winners

Zombie Society: Dead Detective

Interactales, creators of the interactive Zombie Society comics, have now created a real adventure game starring the well-known (for people who followed the old series) Inspector Margh. As with all detectives in all detective stories, Inspector Margh is dying for a new case. Oh wait, that can't be, because inspector Margh is a zombie! But he has to pay the rent and he only has two neuros in his dilapidated old hat, one of which he uses to pay for a newspaper, so he is very happy to hear that a new customer is on his way to his office. The client, Mr. Milsk, tells Margh that something of great sentimental value was stolen. Once on the case, Margh has to interview some people, make a lot of deductions, negotiate with a zombie who lives in a trash can, and shoot a gun in order to capture the culprit.

Image #7Zombie Society: Dead Detective is a beautiful and very well thought-through detective story. It is shown in third-person mode in a colorful and detailed cartoon pixel art style. There's movement in almost every screen to enhance the presentation, whether it’s a man sweeping near a restaurant or a paper boy shouting near the graveyard. All characters in the game make noises like zombies, and you will hear shouts like “AWGROGNM” and the like a lot, but luckily these are translated on the fly into readable English that appears in text balloons next to the speakers’ heads. The sound effects, like the swish of a broom, doors closing and a gun shooting, are realistic. The background music is comprised of forgettable tunes that depend on the location.

Played entirely using the mouse, the game contains a tutorial that explains the interface until everything is covered. This is quite handy, because Zombie Society contains a nifty deduction board that works well and makes the experience of sleuthing much more profound. The puzzles vary between simple inventory problems to talking your way into a protected building and getting into a house unseen, which often need some outside-the-box thinking to solve. At the beginning of the game, Margh gets an unwanted companion in the form of Mr. Milsk's night watchman, named Ghvnn, who always wanted to know how a detective works and now seizes his chance to see one up close. He follows Margh wherever he goes and you can ask him for a hint if you are stuck. The game auto-saves but there is also supposed to be a manual save option. This didn't work when I played the game, but the author told me that he is working on it, so it may be fixed by the time you read this. The auto-save function works fine, in any case.

Zombie Society: Dead Detective can be played online at Newgrounds. If you like what you see, Interactales are planning a Kickstarter soon to support a full-scale version of the game.


Where Be Dragons?

Life is tough for the boy in the tannery. No-one wants to buy tanned hides anymore, and the tannery owners are too old, fat and lean, respectively, all of them nasty to the boy. Does he ever hate his life! But one morning it turns out that things can get even worse. Someone from the palace comes by and orders no less than 10,000 suits made from dragon hide for the king! And who is going to have to get the hide? You guessed it.

Image #8Benjamin Penney (aka Gurok)'s Where Be Dragons? is a very short but cute game, presented in third-person view with very crude cartoon line drawings. Despite the lack of detail, however, every screen you visit has one or more touches that show how much care has gone into this game, like the small puddle of urine beneath the chair of the oldest of the tannery owners and the look on the owners' faces when the King's messenger arrives. There are no sounds whatsoever to be heard; spoken text is shown above the speaker's head.

Clicking the right mouse button cycles through the verbs Talk, Grab/Take, Look and Walk, indicated by the shape of the cursor, and left-clicking executes the verb on the object or place clicked. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen brings up the game's menu and its inventory. The boy has his work cut out for him: the dragon is enormous and fierce and hungry, and before he can slay it the protagonist must first get a weapon. Luckily there is one close by; he only has to free it from the stone in front of the tannery. The few puzzles to be found are inventory-based, easy, and quite cleverly conceived, so I had a lot of fun solving them. The way the characters talk, the subtle use of animation and other world-building details, and the way the simple story develops show that despite its tiny size, this game was clearly made with TLC and it deserves the ten minutes or so you will spend on it.

Where Be Dragons? can be downloaded from the Adventure Game Studio website.


Home Story: 1971

It's Jamie's birthday, but she is not very happy. She misses her brother, whose room has been locked for a while. Her mother is in her own room, feeling ill, her father is silently watching TV, and Jamie kills the time by searching for fragments of a picture her brother tore apart a little while before he disappeared. As she searches for the pieces and does some other things around the house, we gradually find out why Jamie's birthday is such an unhappy one.

Image #9Home Story: 1971, by justtwo, is shown in a sort of detached first-person view: Jamie is not visible, but though we see her immediate environment, it’s not directly through her eyes. The game world, comprising the inside of the house and part of the back yard, is shown in colorful but simple drawings in subdued colors. During the action a simple, sad piano tune plays, reinforcing the melancholy feel. Other sounds are heard too, like the opening and closing of doors and drawers. There's no voice acting in the game, with spoken dialogue shown in text balloons that appear in the vicinity of the speaker. The things Jamie says or thinks appear in a dark grey bar above the image that materializes when needed.

Only the left mouse button is used. Clicking on objects makes Jamie give a description of them or do something appropriate with them. Simple inventory boxes are shown at the bottom of the screen, which fill up with items as you acquire them. The puzzles in Home Story: 1971 are fairly simple but well made. There is one beautiful puzzle involving shadows that I found very original. A combination of the things Jamie discovers, the way her parents behave, the wistful music and the story’s ending make this game a very sad but beautiful experience.

Home Story: 1971 can be played online at Kongregate.

Gateway Remake

An explorer on Venus found an alien ship that took him to what is best described as a parking garage for spacecraft. Realizing he couldn't get back and he had no food or water, the man decided to let the fuel cells on his ship explode, causing a flash that was detected by NASA. A few years later, an international company called Gateway was formed to exploit the many faster-than-light vessels in the garage. Now it's 2102, and you have won the opportunity to ride one of these ships! Despite the 15% chance that you will not return to our solar system, you decide to take the chance: if your mission succeeds you will find yourself a very rich person. Once on the Gateway premises in your very own hut, you have to find out how the place works and learn to drive the spaceship. You start by reading the messages on your comset.

Image #10Frederic Pohl's Gateway was released by Legend in 1992, based on the author’s 1977 book of the same title. A text game with pictures, HandsFree has remade the game, simplifying the interface and leaving out the deaths and dead ends of its predecessor. Every location in the new version is shown in first-person mode in beautiful pixel art drawings that are very similar to the originals but not exact copies. The items you can pick up seem different, as well as some of the colors and shapes in the artwork itself. The palette used in each scene is fairly limited, probably because of the hardware restrictions back in 1992, which HandsFree has tried to authentically reproduce. During gameplay, a soundtrack that can only be described as typical '90s computer music is played, the current tune depending on your location. Sound effects like the rolling of balls in a roulette table in the casino, the clinking of glasses and clicking of buttons, etc. sound quite good. There is no voice acting to be heard; all spoken text appears in a bar underneath the view screen.

Gateway Remake is played entirely with the mouse. Hovering the cursor over objects makes a description of them appear on the screen. Right of the view screen is a bar containing verbs that can be used on the object. Right-clicking lets you cycle the verbs; the chosen one is shown in yellow. Your score is displayed at the top of the bar, and underneath the verbs are buttons for loading and saving the game, as well as another for accessing your Dataman, a small computer that contains information about the ship, Gateway and your mission. Almost every object has an extensive description, and the many different computer screens, magazines and such you encounter also contain plenty of text. You will be reading a lot while playing this game, and learning a great deal about life in the 22nd century!

The original Gateway is a very big game and it must have been quite an effort to recreate it. You can roam around a fairly large part of the ship, meeting different people and doing different tasks in order to gain knowledge about the place and how to pilot the spaceship. Later in the game, you will also visit and explore other places in the universe. You will have to perform a myriad of different tasks, such as beta-testing a virtual reality program, completing simple missions in your spaceship and exploring planets, which includes avoiding and/or killing various alien creatures. The puzzles vary widely: there are inventory and deduction-based puzzles, but also challenges that test your knowledge of history. The game even features some predictions that now turn out to have been pretty accurate.

Gateway Remake can be downloaded from its AGS webpage.


In Space

It's 2274. You are on a mission to find new resources for the inhabitants of Earth, who have completely depleted their planet. After 12 years in cryogenic sleep, you have just awoken and it's time to meet your fellow crew members. Unfortunately, one of them seems to have some difficulties with being trapped in a spaceship so far from home, and things get out of hand fast. It's up to you to make the right decisions and save the mission.

Image #11RunningZombie and ChronoNomad's In Space is presented in first-person mode, with simple drawings in subdued colors showing the different parts of the spaceship, like your quarters, the lounge, and a room where the plants cultivated for oxygen and food are grown. Ominous music plays throughout the game. There is no voice acting but there are a few sound effects like the opening of doors and the beeping of computers. You never see other people actually inhabiting these environments; instead you are presented with a popup screen on which a portrait of the speaking person is shown next to their dialogue text.

In Space is played using only the left mouse button. Moving the cursor over an item makes a short description appear in a narrow bar underneath the view screen. Under that bar you’ll find portraits of all the other crew members. Hovering over them makes windows appear with a larger image of the person and a short description of their psychological traits, like Methodical, Self-reliant, Mischievous or Paranoid. Every person has six traits, arranged as positive, neutral or negative qualities. The lower part of the screen also contains a small inventory and buttons for your goal of the day. The game begins simply enough with you meeting the crew and doing simple tasks for them. Later on, however, things get complicated and you need the descriptions of the crew members to make the right decisions. The puzzles are very easy and you will likely have no problems with them on the way to one of multiple different endings.

In Space can be played online at Newgrounds.


Other 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.

Sideways by Superstroke – Undertake a series of quests to unlock a mystical tower in this meditative game with entirely pictorial dialogue.

The Adventure of the Hero by DanVzare – A brave hero's quest to destroy an evil witch could have unforeseen consequences in this humorous and fully voiced adventure.

Millika Village by Raius – Stuck in the titular town, you have to help the locals survive a cataclysmic storm.

Please say Hi! by Vonka TI – A girl celebrates New Year's Eve all alone in this side-scrolling interactive story.

Davochka Quest by seaweed – Help a girl prepare for her Christmas party in this beautiful hand-drawn game.

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! 

Article written by Stephen Brown and Willem Tjerkstra.


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