Monday, 16 August 2010

Infocom: A Love Story

This week, a bit of positivity and nostalgia as only E14 can deliver:

Infocom: A Love Story


If, like me, you've been aware of games in some form since you were a kid, then the name Infocom may mean something to you. If it doesn't, then read on without fear, as I shall enlighten you!

Infocom were founded by a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which acted as an independent company until the mid-1980s, where it was purchased by Activision, who I'm sure you're probably more familiar with as the company responsible for modern day franchises such as Tony Hawk's Skateboarding, Guitar Hero and Call of Duty. Back then, Infocom was a big deal in itself, with literally dozens released in their 'interactive fiction' genre as well as graphical adventures.

"Wait", I hear you cry (silently via the Internet...in advance...), "what is this 'interactive fiction' you're talking about? It sounds strange and confusing to me!" Relax, relax: it's not as scary as it sounds. Remember those endless amounts of hours you've spent pissing yourself laughing at Dickass DM here at E14? Well, 'interactive fiction' is a very similar concept. In Infocom's series, you were placed in the role of a character in a strange and wonderful world, and it was your task to make your way through the game using text-based commands rather than a graphical interface. There was no point-and-click interface; no graphical interface of any kind was present. There were no hidden objects, as these games had a purpose beyond killing half an hour, and actually had a depth of story to them that rivalled plenty of contemporary movies and novels.

So the game was controlled by text, with players inputting commands such as "West" in order to go west. Simple enough, right? Exactly. One of the great things about these games was their simplicity of use. There were no complex button commands to learn. The most complex thing you had to learn was working out which verb they would use for commands like attacking or talking to people. I suppose it should technically be a little disconcerting that I put them in that order, but I'm sure there's nothing whatsoever to worry about there.

Anyway, another one of the great things about these games was the range of stories available.

One of my favourites was Enchanter, a heavily magic-based fantasy game and the ninth in the studio's library. This saw you become a warlock armed initially with a few spells, learning the craft of wizardry and ascending to greatness in order to defeat the evil wizard Krill. This game was one of the few games that my family was able to play together, and the game was so well-paced that we often felt so compelled to do things quickly that we'd have a little family mini-panic when a tense moment came up, such was the gravitas attached to your potential success.

It was a shame, however, that you weren't able to fully customise your character, as most people's Enchanter character would probably have been a lot like this:



Of course, there was the Zork series, which is one of the more well-known franchises as far as the studio goes, plus they also did a licensed game for the popular Douglas Adams novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which was awesome, if a little predictable. However, my absolute favourite was Deadline.

It should be no secret to loyal readers and friends alike that I'm a big fan of the detective genre when it comes to movies, games, novels and such. I'm a loyal fan of CSI, although I've yet to check out the Miami and New York spin-offs. I also believe that there is no finer Sherlock Holmes than Jeremy Brett, and no finer James Bond than Timothy Dalton. Not always the most popular ideas, I realise, as a lot of people haven't even seen the Jeremy Brett interpretation of Holmes, and a lot of people hold Connery or even Craig up as a better example of Bond. As far as games go, some of my favourite games recently have been the Sherlock Holmes adventure games released over the past few years for PC, as well as Still Life, a murder mystery PC game that still occupies a special place in my heart.

Deadline put you in the role of an unnamed police detective, investigating the murder of Marshall Robner, a wealthy industrialist. It was your job to investigate all the guests at the Robner house in order to solve the murder. There were a number of things that made this game awesome. Firstly, the game gave you a time limit of twelve in-game hours to investigate the murder, and every move you made advanced the game clock. Though it sounds like you'd be frustrated, the game played out really well for this reason, as not only did the game focus you on the story rather than dicking around, but you also actually did find yourself getting frustrated at the right times as if you were really in the story investigating.

Better still, as the game only had 80k of disk space (incredible to consider nowadays, when you think that some games now require over SIXTY THOUSAND times that amount to install on a hard drive), the game's designer made it the first to include what were called 'feelies', physical items included in the game's box that gave the investigator some visual references along with the game's engine guiding you along in the right places. It was about as realistic as adventure gaming got at the time. It's not saying much, I realise, but what can you do?

Thankfully, someone saw fit to make these games available for people to play in the modern age (or more modern I guess, considering that it was only the mid-80s). By venturing Here, you can experience the excellent storytelling and depth of universe that Infocom adventure games provided. Particular recommendations include those listed above, as well as Zork and The Lurking Horror, a Lovecraft-themed adventure. Oh, and Leather Goddesses of Phobos, but you probably didn't need to be told that one. Enjoy!



DRAGON BALL: RAGING BLAST 2 TO FEATURE BONUS EPISODE OF TV SHOW

There's no stopping an energy attack once the ki hits critical, and Namco Bandai have launched a devastating new blast with the revelation that all retail editions of Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2 for PS3 and Xbox 360 will feature a brand new 30-minute episode of the Dragon Ball anime on the game disc when it launches this autumn.

The exclusive new episode is entitled Dragon Ball: Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans and is a completely reconstructed, re-scripted and re-edited version of the original Japanese episode, offering something unique and unmissable to fans of the series. Everyone who buys the game can watch the brand new anime straight out of the box, with a bonus in-game character awaiting all those view the episode in its entirety.

Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2 features a host of improvements and new features with the development team at Spike pushing themselves harder than ever to deliver the most authentic and advanced experience. Everything from the camera to the controls has been reworked in an attempt to create an accessible game with more than enough tactical depth to satisfy even the most battle-hardened Dragon Ball fan.

In Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2 the story is told as the action unfolds. The game features more than ninety of the most popular characters, over twenty of whom are new to the Raging Blast series. Environmental destruction now has an even more profound effect on the fights in the enhanced battle stages, which include a number of brand new ones.

Running at 60fps, Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2 produces faster and smoother animations than ever, further enhanced by countless new stunning visual effects. With seven game modes, original Japanese voices, loads of unlockable treats, fully optimised 5.1 sound, ultra-realistic HD visuals, dazzling never-before-seen visual and camera effects, a new combo system, and the exclusive 30-minute Dragon Ball anime episode, the latest chapter in the irrepressible saga looks to be an essential treat for fans.

CHERRY TREE LANE

From the director of London To Brighton comes this chilling edge-of-your-seat tale of urban horror.

An ordinary British family face their worst fears when their normal, everyday lives are destroyed, piece by brutal piece, by a group of vicious youths who subject them to a vicious barrage of humiliation and violence. While the evening starts like any other, with the family settling down for a quiet evening in front of the telly, a simple knock at the front door will leave its bloody mark on them forever...

Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams carves his signature vision on the urban horror genre with this slice of violence and terror, out on DVD from 13th September.

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