Tag Archives: In Praise Of

LucasArts Time Machine: Loom

loom_distaff

I have been aware of the existence of Loom ever since meeting the pirate in Monkey Island wearing an “Ask Me About Loom” badge who is otherwise monosyllabic, but who spouts flowery ad copy for the game at you if you Ask Him About Loom. A more serious, fantasy-themed adventure game from the same people who made one of my favourite games ever? Sounds great, sign me up! Unfortunately despite first hearing about Loom in 1995, I was not actually in a position to play Loom until 2009, as the game had almost immediately disappeared from UK shops and wasn’t available on digital distribution for another twenty years, and by that point I had all but forgotten Loom existed. Not only that, but so did nearly everyone else; it seems that despite the generous advertising plug, the release of Monkey Island in the same year massively overshadowed that of Loom. LucasArts were known as the Monkey Island studio afterwards, not the Loom studio1, and while Loom is more fondly remembered than, say, Zak McKracken, it remains little more than a footnote at the bottom of the list of LucasArts’ greatest achievements. Yet there remains a cult following of people who talk fondly about Loom, and not just because they’re characters in a game who have been explicitly written to advertise Loom, and so I was genuinely interested in experiencing Loom for the first time as part of this series just so that I could see what it was about.

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  1. Now, you might wonder why LucasArts weren’t known as the Star Wars studio at this point since they were part of Lucasfilm and should have had easy access to the IP. The answer is very simple: the rights to make Star Wars video games had been sold to Atari years earlier, and so the first titles from LucasArts had to be based on original IP — this is why we got Maniac Mansion, Zac McKracken, Loom and Monkey Island instead of a cavalcade of Star Wars tie-ins. LucasArts didn’t get the rights back until 1992, with X-Wing appearing the following year.
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LucasArts Time Machine: Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders

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Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders. For something with such a mouthful of a title, and especially for something produced by LucasArts, it is surprising that I had never even heard of Zak McKracken until it was added to GOG in 2015. Nobody talks about it — or at least if they do, they don’t talk about it anywhere near as loudly as the later classics like Monkey Island and Day Of The Tentacle.  Even Maniac Mansion sometimes gets a mention just for being the first modern adventure game (not to mention the entire thing being included as an easter egg in DOTT) but Zak McKracken? Might as well have been lost to history until GOG rereleased it.

This seemed strange considering how well-loved all of the other LucasArts games are, but after having played through it now I completely understand why nobody ever talks about it. It’s because Zak McKracken sucks so badly it deserves to be thrown into the memory hole and never spoken of again.

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LucasArts Time Machine: Maniac Mansion

maniac_radio

I haven’t been playing much that’s new recently, so after a gap of several years I have decided to do another one of my concept pieces whereby I play through an older game series to see how it evolves over time. Unlike my prior attempts, because we are currently in the middle of a pandemic, and more importantly because I have half of the games already played and written up, I’m 90% sure I’m actually going to finish this one. The series in question is the point and click adventure games made by LucasArts in the late 80s and early 90s, and the reason I decided to do this is because I haven’t actually played most of them — I haven’t played anything before Monkey Island, and I haven’t played Full Throttle, or Sam & Max, or Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis. So this is going to be just as much a learning experience for me as it is a trip down memory lane, as I fill in some missing gaps in my gaming history and hopefully learn a little something about the evolution of adventure games in the process.

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Civilization Through The Ages: Civilization 4

civ4_berlin

And so we reach the arguable zenith of the Civilization series, the peak from which there is only a slow decline into senescence and eventual barbarism. Civilization 4 is actually the game that triggered this whole chain of posts, as I was looking for something relatively meaty to play over Christmas that would run on the Macbook I had with me while I was visiting family. It was meant to give me something to do in the evenings in between coding, reading and writing. Instead it ended up sucking me for two games in a row, like it was just released yesterday instead of almost fourteen years ago, and it’s the only one of the series where I barely notice the seams. Civilization 4 may well be ageless — Civilization 5 has aged far worse than 4 has, for god’s sake — and that’s entirely down to Firaxis’s drive to imbue the game with some of the character it had lost in Civilization 3’s relatively sterile treatment of the world, and an absolutely stellar piece of design work on the part of the game designers, especially lead designer Soren Johnson.

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Civilization Through The Ages: Civilization 3

civ3_empire

Civilization 3 was the first Civilization I actually bought with money. It was released in 2001, and by that point I wasn’t having to rely on bootleg copies or swiping my brother’s Civilization 2 CD when he wasn’t looking; I was still in sixth form1 but had a small amount of disposable income thanks to a rather unpleasant summer job, and so I wandered down to Dixons2 the lunchtime of release day and bought what might actually have been my very last big-box3 PC game ever.

It was a big disappointment.

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  1. Note for any non-British people reading: the sixth form covers studying for your A-Levels between ages 16-18. At the time it was the thing you did if you wanted to go to university, but these days the government keeps people in education until they’re 18 to keep the unemployment figures down.
  2. Note for any non-British people reading: modern British high streets are derelict wastelands thanks to the rise of online retail, but twenty years ago they were in rather ruder health and you could find shops that sold things outside of clothing and food. Still, even back then Electronics Boutique and HMV wouldn’t venture outside of the cities, and so if you wanted to buy a PC game in a smaller town you had to fall back to Dixons, a seemingly-omnipresent electronics retailer who would at least carry the biggest releases for a few weeks as part of their PC section.
  3. Note for any non-European people reading: big-box PC games died earlier in Europe than they did elsewhere (I understand they held out in the US for a few more years before eventually succumbing there too), and by 2001 most new games were being shipped in smaller DVD-style keep cases.
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Civilization Through The Ages: Civilization 2

civ2_empire

To me, Civilization 2 has for many years been the Bigfoot of the Civilization series. You can find the original Civilization on abandonware sites quite easily, and once you’ve got it you can run it via DOSBox with zero fuss. You can buy Civilizations 3 and 4 on Steam, and they both still work fine apart from the missing Gamespy functionality and the occasional crash to desktop. But Civilization 2? It’s not available on GOG, but acquiring a copy of Civilization 2 via alternative methods is just as easy as Civilization (so long as you’re happy with losing the music, the wonder videos and the advisors, anyway); however, it was a Windows-native game released in 1996 — in other words, that awkward period where Microsoft were still sorting themselves out in terms of drivers and APIs for Windows-native games. Consequently it doesn’t play nicely at all with modern versions of Windows, and since it doesn’t have a commercial release on a digital distribution platform it’s entirely reliant on dedicated fans to drag it into a state of semi-compatibility. Getting it to work on Windows 7 was a bit tricky, but doable. Getting it to work on Windows 10 was nigh-impossible until a new fan patch was released towards the end of 2017 that specifically addressed Windows 10 compatibility; up until I found out about it I was seriously considering installing Windows XP on a virtual machine just so that I could play Civilization 2 again.

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