[GAME MASTER]Adventure Game Studio FreewareIn the Good Old Days of Adventure Gaming, the days of “Space Quest” and “Day of the Tentacle,” a character looked like a crude stack of Lego blocks, mechanical MIDI music hung in the air between levels, and all you had was a cursor with which to comb 76,800 pixels on every screen, hoping against hope that you’d solve the puzzle and pull yourself out of the rut you’d been stuck in for hours.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like much fun, but when they were good, these games overcame their technical handicaps with clever art design, cheeky writing and engaging puzzles. They came from a different era, when a game was made by a small, close-knit group of programmers. Because the technical considerations of today’s games require a much larger staff, almost all of them lack the idiosyncratic spark that pervaded their more intimately produced predecessors.
If you, like me, look back fondly on these pixelated gems but wish there were more out there, you’re in luck. The folks at www.bigbluecup.com have crafted the Adventure Game Studio, empowering anyone with enough patience to create a point-and-click adventure regardless of programming experience (though it helps). They also provide the best examples of the new wave of fan-made games for free download.
The default interface (and the one in most games made using AGS) is based on Sierra’s SCI engine (used in games like “Space Quest IV”), with different icons for different actions (walk, talk, etc.) available from a pull-down menu. However, it is possible to make games that emulate LucasArts’ SCUMM engine, the one used in “Day of the Tentacle,” as well.
Among the best of the free games are “Apprentice,” a series of games about a wizard’s apprentice that features a cartoonish, tongue-in-cheek style LucasArts fans will recognize, and “Two of a Kind,” which follows a pair of fraternal twins with mysterious powers as they solve a jewel theft. The player can switch between the characters to make full use of their special powers and different personalities, giving this game an added layer of depth. One of the authors recently moved to Seoul, so perhaps we can look forward to a game set in Korea.
If more serious games are your cup of tea, there are several, of varying quality. The “Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator” features interesting characters, good animation and well-executed music and sound effects, but the puzzles are far too simple and the gameworld rather limited.
You’d be better off playing what is in many ways the main event of the AGS project: “King’s Quest II+ VGA.” This is not an original game at all, but in fact a remake of one of the seminal adventures of the mid-1980s. The remake not only updates the EGA graphics to slightly more modern standards, it also fleshes out the story significantly, making for many improvements on the original. Well-done music and passable voice tracks are included as well.
Of course, these games cannot be judged on the same level as commercial games. But if you’re ever overcome by nostalgia, or want a break from the assembly-line modern game industry, they’re worth a look.
The days when individual game designers like Roberta Williams and the Two Guys from Andromeda could command the attention of the industry may be gone, but AGS proves that, at least in one corner of the Internet, their spirits are alive and well.
by Ben Applegate
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