Random Games Database Thoughts

I’ve been adding a lot of things to MobyGames lately after initially noticing a couple of things missing in my local games community and now it spiraling into me adding stuff from Steam Curator pages and lots of smaller adventure games and interactive fiction, and now I have Some Thoughts

MobyGames is the one I decided to focus on, despite being owned by Atari, since it has the most games and is the one that games historians seem to look at the most. For example, here’s a recent comment from someone at the Video Games History Foundation on cohost after I posted similar thoughts there.

“For the study we’re doing with VGHF, we picked MobyGames for that reason. Even then there’s still some pretty big holes; there’s like 1600 GB/GBC/GBA games in MobyGames and they’re missing another 200. But it’s the best for what it’s covering, for sure. (For comparison, IGDB has 290 C64 games, MobyGames has over 5000)”

That said, MobyGames isn’t perfect either. It’s going through a redesign right now that’s introduced some bugs, which will eventually get fixed but has made contributing harder at the moment. It’s a headache to credit people, especially when the person has used various names or isn’t using a legal birth name. They’re working on improving this too but at the moment it’s still annoying. It also takes forever to approve new game entries. I know it’s all volunteers but man, the current wait time for approving new game entries at MobyGames is estimated at 5 months?

IGDB seems to move much faster and has more entries for games on Itch but also doesn’t seem to have credits for very many games and has some inconsistency with multiple entries per game, etc. There is a process for removing duplicates but it basically requires contacting an admin. And as mentioned before, it’s just missing tons of older games. So maybe there’s just no ideal games database and everyone is doing the best they can with what we got. I’m also not really thrilled about them being owned by Atari and Amazon either.

There’s also more specialized ones like IFDB and the one on AdventureGamers.com that aren’t owned by a big company but again, specialized to just one genre. There’s also the Giant Bomb one but I don’t really think people should invest more time into that one with it being owned by Fandom now, especially when they seem to be letting go of everyone.

I still think people should contribute to these places though, it doesn’t have to be MobyGames. I’ve been adding info from the Michigan game dev communities I’m involved in and there’s just so much missing, so I imagine there’s a lot of stuff other people here know about that isn’t being documented and it would be nice to have more info about these games preserved. There’s just so many games, especially on Itch, that haven’t been documented at all.

FMV Game Review Dump

A few months ago I thought it would be funny to do a ton of reviews of FMV games in the form of a Leonard Maltin review guide and make it into a zine. Then after a day or two I got bored of the idea and moved on. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back to the idea. I’ve certainly played enough games for me to review. There’s also a lot of caveats with this kind of thing like “what is a FMV game?” and a medium like video even being considered a game genre in the first place. The format these reviews followed as the game title, year, the number of stars out of 5 that I would give it, the developer, some of the actors, and then my thoughts. Anyway, here’s my dump of reviews I had done for the zine.

7th Guest, The. (1993). 2 ½. Dev: Trilobyte. Robert Hirschboeck, Debra Ritz Mason. This game was groundbreaking when it was released but it’s hard to recommend now. Conceptually the game isn’t a bad idea, you wander around a haunted house and do puzzles, and successfully completing a puzzle means being rewarded with some fun FMV. Unfortunately many of the puzzles you are required to do require lots of trial and error or they’re just not fun to do. Maybe they were the standard at the time but mazes and sliding tile puzzles are exhausting these days. There’s a few gems in there though such as the famous cake puzzle where you need to divide a cake into equal sizes with the same number of pieces. The parts of the game outside the puzzles are charming though. Robert Hirschboeck is a lot of fun to watch in his over the top performance as the evil Stauf and the soundtrack by George “The Fat Man” Sanger remains a classic.

Book of Watermarks, The (1999). 2 ½. Dev: Watermarks. Jack Donner. This Myst-clone won’t be for most, but those that are into the aesthetics and music will find it delightful. The game has the aesthetics of a Pure Moods compilation music cd commercial from the mid 90s. Features music by Enya’s sister. The game has almost no plot so the only reason to play it is for the art and music. The game is short and the puzzles aren’t difficult, but many may not finish it because the slow player movement speed makes the game feel like a chore. This game was released in Japan only but all the cutscenes are in English so readers will be able to play it.

Conspiracies (2003). 1 1/2. Dev: Anima PPD. Agelos Vougas, Anestis Kokkinidis. In this bizarre adventure game you play as Nick Delios, a detective who exclusively wears grey sweatpants and hoodies, as you investigate a murder of a small-time crook. This case takes the player all around the world, to outer space, traveling through time, and also a concert for a Greek blues band that the developers seem to be a fan of since you must watch a music video featuring them. Doing a game inspired by the Tex Murphy series is a great idea in theory but the game fails to replicate anything that made those games fun. Puzzles are often illogical, the limited inventory space is frustrating when you need to guess what is actually needed, and the plot is impossible to understand. The only scenario where I can recommend this game is if you want to keep a walkthrough open and experience the strange fever dream that is this game.

Conspiracies 2: Lethal Networks (2011). 1 ½ . Dev: Anima PPD. Agelos Vougas, Anestis Kokkinidis. Nick Delios returns in a mystery that can’t even replicate the weird charm the original game had. The studio spent eight years working on the game but all of the issues that existed in the original game return. The only improvements that make it into the game are some minor visual updates. I suppose it’s impressive that even with the big time gap between sequels, even though the game itself is only set a few months after the first, they were able to get the actors to return.

Contradiction (2015). 4. Dev: Baggy Cat. Rupert Booth, Paul Darrow, Anarosa De Eizaguirre Butler. In Contradiction you play as Detective Inspector Jenks, who is investigating the murder of a young woman in a small town in England. You explore the town, asking the residents questions about her and other conversation topics. During these conversations, you will be able to snip together pieces that form a contradiction and confront the people about them to learn more. The highlight of the game is the performance of Detective Inspector Jenks, wonderfully played by Rupert Booth. While most performances in the game are fairly grounded, Rupert’s performance is over the top, in a way that’s reminiscent of Nicholas Cage, but never gets annoying. It’s such a joy to watch him talk to other characters who almost seem like they’re struggling to comprehend the behavior of such an unusual person. Of course, none of this would matter if the gameplay was bad, but the gameplay loop of asking people questions and using that info to find contradictions works very well. I would love to see a sequel.

Dancing for Cats (2021). 5. Dev: Jonny Hopkins. I may be slightly biased because this game features my cat, but I think you could make a strong argument that this cat-focused rhythm game is the best game of all time.

Devo Presents: Adventures of the Smart Patrol (1996). 1. Dev: Inscape. Jamie Rega, Gerald V. Casale, Tom Finnegan. Even hardcore Devo fans will want to stay away from this mess. Interesting visuals can’t make up for the dull puzzles, flat humor, and a frustrating timer that makes this game a chore to play. Stay away but do check out Inscape’s other games. Fans may at least enjoy hearing some new music by Devo as well as muzak versions of their classic hits.

Killing Time (1995). 2. Dev: Studio 3DO. This horror FPS has good ideas but poor design makes it a boring experience.  If Trilobyte decided to make a FPS instead of the 7th Guest, it would be like this, a shooter with puzzles in a fairly open world with lots of FMV. The FMV scenes are integrated with the world, meaning you walk up to nodes and the FMV of ghosts starts playing without it going into a cutscene. Weirdly enough, when they decided to bring it to PC and Mac, instead of just porting the 3DO version, they remade the game so the levels are better designed, and added a couple new weapons too. Unfortunately the FMV is lower quality and they made the enemies bullet spongy so neither version is ideal.

Myst (1993). 4 ½. Dev: Cyan. Rand Miller, Robyn Miller. The game that helped start the multimedia revolution holds up better than most of the games that followed it. Exploring the various worlds is still a joy, with the exception of one or two parts, and the game is nowhere near as difficult as I remember it being once you figure out the gameplay loop. The performances by the developer are a campy treat and serve as a nice reward for making progress in the game. Go with the most recent Myst remake if your computer can run it.

Pyst (1996). 1. Dev: Parrot Interactive. John Goodman. This parody of Myst is awful. None of the humor in the game works. The premise of the game is that the island of Pyst, a parody of Myst island, has become a tourist destination that has been trashed by all of the visitors. You flip through a series of postcards containing photos of locations from Pyst island, and click around to discover animations and jokes. None of it works. Even the appearance of John Goodman does nothing. The only redeeming feature of this whole debacle is the Making of Pyst video which is an amusing fever dream. A special edition was followed a year later that featured teasers for some of their upcoming games, including an unreleased parody of the Myst sequel Riven called Driven where the joke seems to be that lots of cars exist in the world.

Riven: The Sequel to Myst (1997). 5. Dev: Cyan. Rand Miller, John Keston, Sheila Goold. Cyan builds on what they established with Myst to deliver one of the best in the genre. While the worlds created in Myst are a joy to explore, every island in Riven feels as though it could be a real place, including the puzzles which feel like tools in a functioning world and not just puzzles for the sake of having obstacles. It is one of the finest examples of worldbuilding in games. The acting is also a big leap over the performances in the original game. My only complaint is that it’s a little too difficult. 

She Sees Red (2019). 3. Dev: Rhinotales. Veronika Plyashkevich. She Sees Red is an interactive movie about a detective investigating a murder inside of a nightclub. Each playthrough of the game is about 30 minutes long and you are expected to play through the game a couple of times to learn all the pieces of the plot. I thought the 30 minute runtime for a single viewing was perfect and really appreciated being able to skip scenes I’ve seen before. Like a lot of FMV games, there are Good and Bad choices but you’re not given any insight into which one leads to a more favorable outcome and unfortunately the writing is often much better in the Good choice. However you’re expected to explore all of these choices to figure out the entire plot. Despite the occasionally inconsistent writing, most of it is pretty good regardless of the decisions you make. The acting is enjoyable as well, especially by the lead actress.

Space Ace (1983). 1 ½. Dev: Advanced Microcomputer Systems. Space Ace is the second game by Don Bluth Productions. Just like Dragon’s Lair, it featured animation being played from a laserdisc. Space Ace introduced a few innovations to the laserdisc game format. Unfortunately the game still suffers from the same flaws that Dragon’s Lair has. There’s only one correct action during almost all sequences and failure to do the action leads to you repeating the same series of quick time sequences until you press the correct series of buttons. This forces you to focus entirely on looking for flashing yellow spots on the screen instead of being able to appreciate the incredible animation by Don Bluth Productions. It feels like a big disappointment compared to the interesting variety of creatures you find in the castle from Dragon’s Lair. Much like Dragon’s Lair 1 and 2, it’s more fun watching Space Ace be played than to actually play it.

Under a Killing Moon (1994). 4. Dev: Access Software. James Earl Jones, Brian Keith, Russell Means, Margot Kidder, Chris Jones. This soft reboot of the Tex Murphy series delights with its futuristic noir setting, puzzles, and performances. The frequent tonal shifts and hammy performances may be off putting to some but I found it charming. The controls may take some getting used to but it’s an interesting approach to navigating an adventure game and I came to appreciate it by the end. Puzzles are mostly good too but players will be frustrated by the cliched shredded paper puzzles and stealth section.

Yeli Orog (2018). 3. Dev: Yeli Orog Games. A first person horror adventure game that might be worth checking out if you want something about an hour long. The game is a slideshow like Myst but uses video to show leaves moving in the breeze and waves crashing on the shore to make the scenery feel more alive. Most interactive items are either highlighted or glowing, eliminating the need for pixel hunting. Despite the short length, the ability to save would have been appreciated. Yeli Orog is about a bizarre stone tablet written in the Celtiberian language found during an archaeological dig. The game is at its best when it’s focused on horror and surrealism and drags when it’s trying to explain the lore. The FMV looks great. Aside from a puzzle near the end that I found frustrating, most of the puzzles felt fair and the game moves quickly. It’s free!

An Intro to The Legend of Kyrandia

This is a spoiler-free guide for people who wish to check out the game The Legend of Kyrandia, a point-and-click adventure game developed by Westwood and released in 1992. This is not a walkthrough and is just meant as an intro to the game to help people get started playing it. Before Westwood became famous for developing RTS, they made games in a variety of genres like RPGs and adventure games. One of their series before creating Command & Conquer was the fantasy series Legend of Kyrandia. The first game was released in 1992, with the sequels The Legend of Kyrandia: Hand of Fate and The Legend of Kyrandia: Malcolm’s Revenge released in 1993 and 1994.

a man standing outside of a cave with a jester inside it

Why Should I Play It?

If you’re an adventure game or Westwood fan and have an interest in its history, I think it’s worth checking out. Just as a heads up, the game has some dated gameplay mechanics like being able to softlock, when a player can get stuck without knowing it and has to restart the game or load a save before they took an action that made the game impossible to complete. It also has a maze that goes on for way too long and I would maybe recommend just using a walkthrough to power through it. I still find the game charming though. The art and music are great and it has some fun characters like the antagonist Malcolm.

How Do I Get Started?

It’s easy to get the game running on modern computers. If you already own the game, you just need to copy the files to a directory and open it with ScummVM. If you don’t have the game, you can buy it on GOG.

Tips for Playing The Legend of Kyrandia

There’s a few things to keep in mind while playing the game that will help you avoid most of the headaches people can run into with this game.

Make a Map
Mapping everything is essential while playing this game. The game has a lot of rooms, with a few of them not having anything to interact with. It’s not a bad thing, it’s to help show off the game’s great pixel and add to the atmosphere, but it does make the world a little harder to navigate. Each room has a name so for my map I just wrote the names in boxes and had them connect to each other and it wasn’t an issue for me. There’s also a gigantic maze at one part of the game and a map is required to complete it.

Save Often
You will want to save frequently and create a lot of save files. There are points in the game where you can mess up and will be unable to complete the game so you’ll want points you can return to if that happens. There’s also a few points where the player can die and a reload is required. I would also save before you use items since there are some parts where using an item incorrectly results in it getting destroyed. You’ll probably know when an item wasn’t used correctly and have to reload.

Item Management
You have a limited inventory space and the game will give you a few items you never use. This isn’t too much of an issue but still something that’s good to know. Just make sure you know where items are when you drop them, in case you need them later.

Turn Walk Speed to Max
Eventually you’ll get bored of your slow walk speed, especially with the frequent empty rooms, and wish you could walk faster. Luckily the game provides this option and it’s easy to change in the options menu.

Issues with the game aside, I’m having fun playing it and hope you’ll consider joining us in the Adventure Game Club discord this month to play through the game and discuss it!

An Intro Guide to Colossal Cave Adventure

This is the first in a series of guides about how to get into older games. There’s plenty of walkthroughs for older games but often I’ve found myself wishing for videos or guides that just told me how to get started playing a game, what patches I should use, what versions of the game are the best, and tips for playing the game. There’s no spoilers in this guide and it’s just to help new players get started. I hope to do these for a lot of old games I enjoy so other people can check them out as well.

What Is Colossal Cave Adventure?

Colossal Cave Adventure is a text adventure game released in 1976 and is one of the first adventure games. It was later expanded upon in 1977 by Don Woods and this is the version most people are familiar with. Players explore a cave system in search of treasure, all while learning spells and encountering fantastical creatures like a giant snake and dragon.

If you’re an adventure game or interactive fiction fan and have an interest in its history, it’s worth checking out. The game mostly held up for me once I realized it’s a game that requires multiple attempts, just like a roguelike, and I learned to really enjoy mapping everything as I explored the caves. For a long time, it was considered the first adventure game and has inspired many game designers like Roberta Williams, creator of King’s Quest and recently remade this game as Colossal Cave, and inspired games like Rogue and Zork.

How Do I Get Started?

The version I recommend is the 350-point version found on the Interactive Fiction Database titled Advent.z5. It’s free and easy to get running. Once you have it downloaded, you will also need something to run it. There’s a lot of applications that can play interactive fiction and text adventures, but one I enjoy using is Gargoyle. It’s free and easy to use. You just open Advent.z5 and it will start running. 

How Do I Play Text Adventures?

Personally, I wouldn’t really recommend Colossal Cave Adventure as someone’s first text adventure. There are games built for introducing new players to the genre that also happen to be better games as well, like Emily Short’s game Bronze. That said, here’s some tips for getting started playing text adventures. Text adventures are controlled by typing in commands and seeing what information the computer returns. Commands generally include directions like North, South, East, West, Up, and Down, which can also be shortened to the first letter. As well as examining and using objects, and checking your inventory. I would also recommend this video for more tips on playing text adventures.

Tips for Playing Colossal Cave Adventure

Mapping everything in Colossal Cave Adventure is essential. It is impossible to keep track of all the rooms and some early text adventures had parts where movement between rooms isn’t what you would expect. There are parts of the game where if you go East to a room and then West, you will not end up in the room you started in. The game will ask you at the beginning if you want instructions and it’s important to say yes. The game deducts a couple points and will make it impossible to get a max score, but it gives you important information for solving a puzzle and doubles the amount of time you can keep your lantern on in the cave without having to get batteries. Keep in mind when playing CCA that it is a game meant to be attempted multiple times, like a roguelike or learning how to speedrun a game. Your lantern may run out and while you can get batteries, you must complete some steps to do that and may run out of time. This sounds like a tremendous headache but restarting a text adventure isn’t a big time sink like it is in graphical adventure games and should only take a minute to get back to where you were with a much more optimized path.

That all said, it was still one of the first ever adventure games and has a few illogical puzzles. Consider playing with a friend over something like a Discord voice chat. Older text adventures seem to work best when sharing ideas with others and working together to solve puzzles. Understandable, getting someone else to play a 50-year-old game may not be feasible so if you’re playing alone, just a reminder that it’s ok to look up hints when you feel like you’re stuck.

I enjoyed playing this game for the first time ever a month ago and I hope you’ll consider trying it after reading this guide. If you still have questions, leave it in the comments and I’ll get back to you. I also run a monthly adventure game discussion club Discord and we would be happy to help you there as well!