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Ben X

The Big Adventure Playthrough - Beneath A Steel Sky (1994)

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Ahhh, Hit The Road. Ostensibly very similar game to DOTT, but it's got the fullscreen (albeit 4:3) graphics, a more wry humour and an anarchic hyperactivity. It's packed full of pointless diversions like feeding Max's cockroaches, brutalising a convenience store robber, having one-sided conversations with carny freaks or even just listening to weird answerphone messages, and the animations are surprisingly detailed and fluid. If DOTT is Chuck Jones cartoons, then HTR is Ren & Stimpy or Duckman.
It's nice as well that in this run of games - DOTT, HTR and Full Throttle - that the gameplay matches the story and tone. In DOTT, the Chuck Jones cartoon, you're endless running through the same space performing variations on actions, setting up contraptions and falling from heights, swapping objects for similar objects and pulling pranks. In Hit The Road, the detective story, you're finding clues and interrogating people to open up new locations. In Full Throttle, the biker action story, there's no inventory-combining and you're performing basic actions, mostly to demolish stuff.

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Finished it! There are a few quibbles - the anarchic nature is a bit of a double-edged sword, collapsing into randomness by the end when new locations are opened up because you happen to see a leaflet, or the final puzzle being a fetch quest for four random items; although it's tricky for me to judge the difficulty having completed the game so many times over the years, some of the puzzles are bizarre and sometimes lack the signposting to make them truly fair; there are a few iffy exit hotspots. Overall, though, the shagginess does fit the Sam & Max style, and the game is so wild and funny and stuffed with character that it's not dampened much by these issues. It's nice how it acts as a sister game to DOTT, too, in a similar way that Monkey Island did to Loom - just as Max cameos in DOTT, Bernard cameos (three times, in various terrible disguises!) as a Stuckey's employee, some easy-listening musak and sound effects are shared, and there's a bunch of other stuff like the founding fathers' appearances that make them feel of a piece.

 

MixNMojoRetro: https://mixnmojo.com/features/sitefeatures/LucasArts-Secret-History-9-Sam-and-Max-Hit-the-Road
Short making of: https://www.pcgamer.com/uk/the-making-of-sam-max-hit-the-road/
Laserschwert's (he of the Lucasarts poster fan-remasters) excellent work-in-progress arrangement of the game's music with HD samples (almost makes me want a HtR remaster!): https://soundcloud.com/laserschwert/sets/sam-max-hit-the-road


Now onto the first game in a while that I haven't played before: Gabriel Knight.

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On the one hand, I'm looking forward to this as the second game so far that I've not played any of (the first being Loom). However, I'm also a little trepidatious because I suspect even the lesser Lucasarts games have given me high  general expectations that most other adventures will fail to live up to.
This game was too buggy on ScummVM, surprisingly, so I'm playing directly via Steam, which plays it through DOSBox. The speech audio has a fair amount of pop and crackle on it, unfortunately, but apart from that everything else runs smoothly. Fun voice cast, though, including Tim Curry, Mark Hamill and Michael Dorn.
I've played about two minutes of it so far.  It starts off very abruptly, with you waking up at your bookstore on a regular day and not given any even short-term goals. Also, I didn't realise there was a narrator at first, because she doesn't say anything until you start looking at certain objects, so for a short time I thought that Grace was breaking the fourth wall and mocking Gabriel's item descriptions and accent! It's atmospheric and it looks nice enough, though the sprites for some of the interactive objects are jarringly sharper than the rest of the art. There's already some awful pixel-hunting just perusing the bookstore (e.g. the tiny hair-thin tweezers) and your cursor doesn't change when it's over a hotspot, so I expect to be checking walkthroughs a lot on this one, to be honest.

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I've got a very small way into this, but this is a really frustrating game to play. There are NINE cursor verbs and no keyboard shortcuts, so you have to either cycle through them or go to the top menu every time you want to use them. You can't cycle through while dialogue is playing, to save time, and dialogue keeps getting interrupted or delayed by incidental events like NPCs talking to each other or walking in and out.

Story-wise, all I have to go on is that I'm researching voodoo for a novel I'm writing, and there happen to be some voodoo-themed murders happening in my neighbourhood. So I'm reduced to wandering around randomly looking at stuff and talking to people, picking up all the loose crap I can find. Every conversation has ten or so general topics that I have no reason to ask about, and look at dialogue is mostly there to show off the research the writers did,  but I have to go through it all in case it opens up a new location. Like, the furthest I've got so far in any one direction is asking my assistant three times about my messages, getting told that my grandmother left one, which opens up her house on the map, so I go there, ask her randomly  to tell me about my mother, and that opens up the cemetery on the map. So far, this is a worse detective game than Sam & Max Hit The Road.
There's also a Day system in place where, presumably, once I've achieved enough things the game moves onto Day 2 and certain new characters show up or whatever. So I'm not sure what I should be interested in now, and what I just need to wait for. Am I supposed to find the latest crime scene, or wait to read about it in tomorrow's paper? And if not, what the hell am I supposed to do? To the walkthrough!
(There is one helpful UI element: the tape recorder that lets you play back your conversations, in case you forgot or missed a bit of information.)

Side-note: it originally came bundled with a short graphic novel. It's not included with the Steam release, though the manual is, so I had to track it down online. It's a nicely illustrated flashback story about a voodoo-related slave revolt in the 17th century, which seems to tie in with the nightmares Gabriel is having. Also, seems like a descendant of the witch-hunter in it has been trying to call me! So that's pretty cool, though it doesn't help me progress right now.
This game is reminding me of Loom, in that they're trying very hard to conjure up a certain atmosphere, and at least partly succeeding, but the clunky gameplay is getting in the way.

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Ugh, so the solution to finding the crime scene was to go to the park, walk past a mime so he'll follow you, then, hoping the mime doesn't get distracted by an NPC and head back to his starting point, walk three screens over to the motorbike cop so he gets annoyed by the mime and chases him off. If you then listen to the police radio (which you've been able to hear anyway) you overhear a conversation about where the crime scene is. This is bullshit. But that gets me somewhere. Later, I ask my detective chum for some photos, he says to ask Officer Franks. When I do that, she tells me she doesn't have time to talk. The solution? Use the second 'talk to' verb on her. This usually just leads to a quip, but here it's what you have to use to open up a dialogue tree instead of the regular 'talk to' verb that normally does this. This is bullshit.

Another issue with the Day system is that you can potentially solve a bunch of puzzles before you have any idea why you want to. This means that a lot of walkthroughs just have you do stuff as soon as possible, so it's tough to work out the one thing you need to get you moving past your current obstacle. Even the Universal Hints System site isn't great with this game. So far the best thing I've found is this walkthrough/fan-novelisation hybrid that puts everything in the order you should be doing it logically: https://lparchive.org/Gabriel-Knight-Sins-of-the-Fathers/ Thanks to that , I now know that there's one puzzle I can solve now, even though I don't need to until a few 'days' later. 'Clues' for it will be dripfed over the next few days, but I will never have any logical reason for following them. Apparently the player's thinking should be:
Gabriel's paintings and sketches have groups of three snakes in them.

Gabriel has a dream where three snakes transform out of a knife.

If you randomly look at a book on snakes, Grace mentions that old stories of dragons were actually about snakes. So maybe 'three snakes' can mean 'three dragons'???

Gabriel gets calls from Wolfgang Ritter, who claims to be family.

If you look on Gabriel's bookshelves for no reason, eventually you'll find a poem, by Heinz Ritter, called "Drei Drakhen," (which, if you find a German to English dictionary by clicking on other shelves, and click on it a few dozen times, you'll learn means 'three dragons'). So if Wolfgang is telling the truth and Gabriel is related to the Ritters and therefore a family member wrote a poem that refers to three dragons.
So taking all this into account, the 'three dragons' motif seems important to Gabriel's family. He should therefore go to his grandmother's attic, look at a little clock, turn the hands to three o clock, and rotate the paintings round the face so that the dragon is at twelve o'clock (??), turn the key, and this will open a hidden drawer.
This, my friends, is bullshit.

I think I'd pretty much be using a walkthrough constantly to get through this game, and due to all the technical issues, design issues, merely adequate visuals and rather shoddy writing, that's not something I fancy doing. So I'm giving up on this one.
I can't find much in the way of ancillary reading materials, except this amazing video from the CD release@

 

And with that, on to Beneath A Steel Sky.

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Got a little way in. I played BASS a few years ago, enjoyed it and got very close to the end but then got stuck and never went back to it for some reason, I think. Anyway, I'm still liking this. It looks great even though the pixel art is a little smeary in places. The opening intro, a motion comic with art by Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame, is full of artefacting too. It's kind of disappointing at this stage to not get an animated intro regardless, though. Gabriel Knight used still comic-panel-style art for some of its cutscenes too, and it always feels cheap. Even Revolution's own Lure Of The Temptress found a way to have an animated intro on a budget. (The remastered iOS version of BASS redid it with all the same source art at a high res, and doing a better job with the animation and camera moves, which all makes it feel a little more high-value.) Anyway, the game overall looks good, and there's a fair amount of Gibbons' character in there. The voice acting is cheap and cheerful, with a lot of regional Brit accents in there, giving it a Monty Python or Aardman feel. The writing is great so far - a pulpy dystopian setting that draws on a bunch of influences from 1984 to Mad Max, some gory deaths, lots of British slang, and a robot sidekick who constantly slags you off and complains about you transferring his circuit board to a vacuum cleaner. The puzzles are fine so far, nothing too ridiculous and they make use of the setting well. And I very rarely bump into any of the Virtual Theatre issues that plagued Lure Of The Temptress.

I'm now stuck - I think my prime goal is to get the elevator working, and I've managed to distract a worker elsewhere so I can flip a switch, but that doesn't seem to have affected anything. So either it's a puzzle I don't need to solve yet, or I've missed something. I'm sure I solved most of this game without a walkthrough last time, so I'd really like to manage it again! I'll take a break and see if something clicks when I come back to it...

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