Sunday, April 1, 2012

Virtual Theatre Adventure Games

File this under "Posts I Finally Have the Initiative to Write Due to Recovery from Oral Surgery."

According to Wikipedia, Revolution Software's Virtual Theatre game engine was first used to make Lure of the Temptress in 1992. It attempted to revolutionize the genre by implementing an artificial intelligence for all non-player characters, enabling them to roam the world and have their own routine. Four games were made with the Virtual Theatre engine: Lure of the Temptress, Beneath a Steel Sky, and the first two Broken Sword games.

Lure of the Temptress

My quest to experience the evolution of the Virtual Theatre engine began with this game. Undoubtedly, the first thing you will notice if you decide to play this game is the interface. It involves right-clicking objects and choosing from an extensive list of verbs to make an action or tell others what to do. The designers had a lofty vision in mind when creating this interface, but most of the time it just gets in your way, and all the extra verbs are entirely unnecessary. This game would greatly benefit from a simpler interface, such as those found in middle-era LucasArts games (Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island 2). The plot is short (though it doesn't feel like it, with all the time you have to put in to moving) and uninspiring.
Overall, I would rate the game 3/5, mostly for its art (which is very, very good).

Beneath a Steel Sky

Where to begin? I downloaded Beneath a Steel Sky shortly after I discovered ScummVM about seven years ago. I never got around to playing it because it didn't capture my interest until only recently.
BASS takes place in an archetypal dystopian future, somewhat like Orwell's 1984. The story is pretty short (in comparison to other adventure games) but BASS makes up for it in terms of awesome dialog, gameplay, puzzles, and art (which, by the way, was helped along by Dave Gibbons of graphic novel fame.) The influences of Lure of the Temptress are clear: character animations are similar, and characters still have a degree of autonomy (making some puzzles a little frustrating, but manageable.) BASS did away with the horrendous verb lists of LotT and instead focuses on a true point and click interface. Out of 5, Beneath a Steel Sky deserves a very solid 5.
One thing I highly, highly recommend using is James Woodcock's enhanced music for Beneath a Steel Sky. The original music is good, but James Woodcock's remasters are absolutely amazing.

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars

(Director's Cut includes original)

Broken Sword was offered as a freebie for the third anniversary of Had that never happened, I probably never would have played this game. It completely blew me away and rekindled my love for adventure games. My favorite part of this game is the art. By today's standards, it isn't very high-quality, but it is clearly very carefully hand-drawn and beautiful in every sense. Even better, the game is set throughout Paris and other rustic parts of Europe. The plot is very interesting, and the characters are fully voiced and extremely entertaining. The influence from previous Virtual Theatre games is noticeable only in the interface: the basic pointing-and-clicking operations are the same as in Beneath a Steel Sky. In this game, there are no characters to hunt down or follow you around for long portions of time. What else can I say? 5/5. Highly recommended.

Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror

(Includes original!)

George Stobbart is back for another globe-spanning adventure. The first thing I noticed about BSII were the slight interface changes that I felt were unneeded. The story itself is very different from that of the first, but it is still very good. A few characters make second appearances. George and Nico have some very memorable moments in dialog. In terms of engine development, BSII is no great leap from BSI.
Even so, 5/5!

Playing through the Virtual Theatre games gave me some interesting perspective on the development of adventure games in general. Not only that, but Charles Cecil had a hand in all four games, and Charles Cecil is currently working with BBC on the Doctor Who Adventure Games!
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