MAGS April: Part III

One Room One Month: H to S

Dear all, this is the final entry to my coverage of April’s MAGS compo. For more information on the competition and the previously discussed entries, you should take a look at the first and second part of the article. This Sunday instalment takes a look at the remaining three contestants: Hard Space, Snakes of Avalon and Space Pool Alpha.

Once more, don’t forget to cast your vote! The compo is still ongoing and lasts until the 17th of May.

Hard Space

Our first entry today, Hard Space: Conquest of the Gayliks, continues on the path already taken by Shane “ProgZmax” Steven’s previous game, Limey Lizard: Waste Wizard!, only to bring the parodic aspects even more to the fore. Stevens is also responsible for the vastly, vastly different Mind’s Eye, one of my all-time favourite AGS games.

I do absolutely have to get this out of the way: Hard Space is a parody of the original Star Trek, built entirely on the solid foundation of cock-jokery. The game, set on the ISC (or is it I.S.S.?) Penetrator, “a ship crewed almost entirely by male homosexuals,”1 discusses the all-star entourage of Captain Jack Hardin, “the black sheep of the Interstellar Commonwealth.”1

Admittedly, the foundations for a game like this do exist; not only do we have the legacy of Interplay’s Trek point and click adventures 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites, but also this (never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be linking it here):

Also aboard the starship are the Vulvan Cmdr. Spunk and Lieutenants “Scatty” Scatman and Tagai. I’m sure you get the gist. The captain, visibly shaken by the loss of the only female crew member on the ship to a tragic accident, bounces into a pair of levitating on-screen boobs that divert the ship’s course over to Fallux V in the Boner System.

First things first: Our good Cpt. Hardin has a permanent, raging hard-on (see screenshot on the right). Now that we have that out of mind (but not out of sight, especially now that I just subjected you to a screenshot, sigh), what we have here is an extremely full-fledged one-month project, a whole package. Intro? Check. Unique visual style? Check. Animations? Check. Inventory? Check. Gadgets? Check. A music volume slider?

Chekov! In fact, the game is so full (of itself) that it simply has no regard to the compo’s rule set: not only is the game made by three people (in addition to Stevens, Jim Reed contributed backgrounds and ShiverMeSideways music), but it also blatantly breaks the one-room rule! The nerve!

Some issues with the game’s interface are inherited from the aforementioned Limey Lizard: I would have absolutely preferred a revolving cursor – especially since only three actions plus look at exist – instead of having the buttons sandwiched in a cluttered, super-duper-miniature interface. Additionally, for sci-fi tech, Hardin’s WristCom (on the left) is positively retro-grade: For scrolling text, the communicator has buttons for left and right instead of the more semantic and logical up and down. Also, while its database access works by inputting searches on the keyboard, you still have to switch back to using the mouse to actually enter one. There’s always the chance, though, that Stevens is a fan of Tale of Tales, and these gaffes in the interface have been included to illustrate the incompetence of the Interstellar Commonwealth…

To the game, then: The first puzzle proper, fixing the “Transputter,” (on the right) is unsolvable to me. Now, I don’t know whether I’m confused by the letters X, Y and Z normally being used for denoting axes in a three-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, or whether I’m too much of a humanist to understand how the circuit board is supposed to work here, but with zero feedback from the game and several hours of cracking open the puzzle for the sake of a democratic write-up, no can do!

As the compo’s voting period is all but over, and the two games below warrant equal space, time and attention – and since many other players have reported similar troubles – we will have to leave the very tangible flaws of this puzzle for Stevens himself to solve (for instance, why does the circuit barely cover one fourth of the available screen, when more explanatory details could be shown?).

The tragedy of this all is that I have yet to see whether Stevens’ marketing of the game (“Do you love ACTION and SEX and MYSTERY?”1) as an adult-oriented experience has any bearing on the game’s subsequent content. Whether the game is smart, funny, crude or simply distasteful, I cannot know until I fix the damn ‘sputter. April is the cruellest month, huh?

To end, let me just briefly discuss what I think is to blame here, that is, beyond the aforementioned puzzle: Much like Limey Lizard, Hard Space has to be considered a descendant of Space Quest. As we all know, the series is both particular and persnickety – like The Many Deaths of Roger Wilco puts it, “finding all the ways of killing off Roger is half the fun of playing” – and overall, quite the exercise in masochism (or sadism, if you happen think like the website above) and foolhardy persistence.

In these terms, in an era where the rest of the adventure gaming scene is increasingly moving away from the Sierra style and towards the more forgiving structures of the LucasArts tradition and even into the casual (see Eternally Us, for instance), Stevens’ stubbornness has to be lauded – at the very least – for retaining versatility in the, uh, the space-game adventure gaming space.

Fin.

P.S.
I’ll let you know of any progress in the comments section. Do let me know if you got the puzzle.

Snakes of Avalon

Igor Hardy, perhaps better known for maintaining the excellent adventure developer hub A Hardy Developer’s Journal, has also produced an April game together with Alex van der Wijst. Their entry, Snakes of Avalon, concerns the decidedly psychedelic and hallucinatory story of Jack the barfly, who accidentally happens upon a devious murder pact. As he begins to uncover the dastardly plot, despite his obvious self-caused no-go condition, Jack holds a meeting with his conscience and proceeds to try and make a difference – even if only within the confines of his neighbourhood watering hole.

Only, nobody else around wants to lend an ear to the poor soul; zero faith is placed on Jack’s abilities, his perceived agency so diminished that the only thing seen to move him at all is booze. In these terms, Jack often seems defined by other people’s responses to him. Bob the barkeep, for instance, predicts but an early grave for Jack, mocking him of his addiction to cheap liquor; Mike, the compulsory chiselled local tough guy, has fun at the expense of Jack’s physical shape.

A major thread to the game is then how Jack constantly tries to prove his doubters wrong despite being already somewhere far beyond mere alcoholism. Hardy characterises the game the following way:

…consider the fact that there always happen to be snakes in rat-hole. In this particular case, Jack happens upon a particularly nasty conspiracy organized by a bunch of them. He takes an oath to give his best to stop them. Too bad then that he is a complete drunk, who has trouble discerning reality from hallucinations. And of course it all happens on Avalon – the ancient, mythical island.2

Avalon, the bar that functions as the setting of the game, feels like a spin-off of the legendary Lefty’s; both are decorated with the antique head of a moose, for instance, forming an intriguing lineage (see the screen captures on the left and below). Equal emphasis is placed on the presence of the bathroom, too.

But not much else here is derivative. What the game truly excels at is the decidedly unique spin it puts on the competition’s spatial restriction: By utilizing a mid-screen division of high and low, the game offers an example of what we often call the “seedy underbelly.”

Equally important, in the context of the compo, is Jack’s refusal to leave the bar, a manifestation of his psychological dependence and addiction. In this way, better than any other game in the compo, Hardy and van der Wijst’s entry explores the one-room concept to its very limit.

The titular hero, much like the aforementioned setting, is of the Lafferian archetype. In fact, the game’s graphics, while vastly more Paint-erly, are still reminiscent of the Leisure Suit Larry series, with especially the background art recalling the ever-so-slightly skewed structures of the latter-day Lowe-crafted Leisure Suits.

While the game’s looks hardly hold a candle to commercial ventures, they are nevertheless in no way detrimental to the overall experience. Indeed, a great deal of entrepreneurial diligence has been applied to the graphics: Nearly everything is animated, and the bar’s population is constantly changing and revolving, creating not only a fantastic sense of liveliness, but also of time passing.

Much of the storyline is also augmented with semi-animated cutscenes, which a great deal of work must have gone into; for a MAGS entry the game indeed sports massive amounts of action and movement. Some interesting artistic touches, like the crazy train (on the right) exist; a selection of music, which I assume to be from the public domain, is not quite as successful in creating ambience, instead serving to confuse the temporal placement of the game.

Curiously, the mouse buttons for look and use are inverted here compared to the usual paradigm, something that threw me off for a brief moment: Cognitive lock-in, I guess. As far as the puzzles go, once you get the gist of Jack’s internals, they become a smooth sailing, as the game constantly takes advantage, both in regards to its puzzles and its narrative, of its setting; only one or two inventory puzzles went decidedly beyond what could have seen to constitute Jack’s muddled-up inner life.

A thread of magic realism penetrates the internal logic of the game in a way that makes everything that happens to Jack still seem human-size and understandable. All in all, the game is a helter-skelter collage of events and occurrences that ultimately render its otherwise tragic protagonist a sympathetic – and quite a bit heroic – figure, even if only for a fleeting moment.

Two things of note: The game’s LucasArts metaphor is surely not lost on players! On that topic, do check out our story on goodwill and LucasArts. What the Arthurian Avalon has to do with all this I haven’t the faintest of clue, though.

Space Pool Alpha

Last but not least, Space Pool Alpha by Steve McCrea, Sheldon Moskowitz and Mark Lovegrove (against the rules, again?!) is a highly polished arcade experience that illustrates the inconceivable yet surprisingly potent combination of, yes, Asteroids and pool.

Let’s just… let’s stop and dwell on that for a moment: While the authors sell the game as an “intergalactic arcade sports simulation,” I don’t think that particular turn of phrase sufficiently illustrates all the different layers of the game.

What Space Pool Alpha is, really, is a video game whose mechanics are loosely based on the real-life ™ game family of cue sports, games played on a specifically designed table and with cue sticks and pool balls. This real-world game and its varying rule sets have been abstracted and subsequently brought into the computerized realm, as a symbol-based simulation, with another such abstraction – the science fiction of a space shuttle stuck in an asteroid belt, shooting its way out – layered on top of it.

This mixture of simulation-upon-simulation is then transformed together, by Mr. McCrea and co., into something entirely different. On top of everything, all this has been conceived and executed – successfully, if I may add – on an adventure game development system! Goodness, there are so many facets to this erratic entry that I simply cannot fathom how our brains cope with it all.

But I have played Space Pool Alpha and survived. In fact, it all could not be simpler as you are playing the game. The whole concept only becomes a brain-buster when you start thinking about it.

(Sorry.)

The graphics, then, pay successful homage to the original wireframe-based Asteroids style, retaining these ultra-familiar translucent shapes down to a tee. The sound effects similarly enhance the fiction, of a retro game, very successfully. The enemies, in arcade fashion, all have colourful portraits and background stories that tell players more about their opponents’ temperaments. The bots are largely competent and the gameplay is a polished experience, with no apparent issues sans some advantageous shooting methods. All in all, there are four modes of play: A quick tutorial and separate modes for practice, tournament and 2P each.

While I did find Lovegrove’s midi stylings to be somewhat more jarring here than usual, the problem has much to do with my idea of pool being better suited to a loungier, jazzier style.

That’s all from me, folks – and what a task it was! So many interesting entries this month. Again, the entries can be voted for up until the 17th of May, so you still have some time to familiarize yourself with the rest of the entries. Also, many of the games mentioned in part I, part II and here have also seen further revisions and updates since their original release. You can find more about these improvements by checking out the corresponding threads in the Completed Game Announcements section of the AGS forums.

Finally, also remember that we have quite a bit of existing Adventure Game Studio coverage on the website – feel free to take a look. Questions? Comments? Have a go below!

  1. http://www.bigbluecup.com/yabb/index.php?topic=40883.msg540428#msg540428 [] [] []
  2. http://www.bigbluecup.com/yabb/index.php?topic=40476.msg539011#msg539011 []