Following Freeware: November 2012 releases feature

This month you can experience the joy of text in a big way, as an annual competition gives you 28 different games to choose from. For science fiction fans, there is the tale of a matrix hacker in a dystopian future, a gate that allows travel between worlds buried in Wyoming, and a book-educated alien’s ill-fated first trip to Earth. Fans of the macabre can investigate their own death, search for a missing person who may have been taken by a supernatural beast, or travel into the spirit world to stop a demon and save a girl. Alternately, you might join a television family trapped in a malfunctioning game console or help a man find out why his girlfriend has disappeared on the day he set out to propose. All these await you in this month’s round-up of games from the freeware scene.
 



Interactive Fiction Competition 2012

Now in its eighteenth year, the annual Interactive Fiction Competition shows no signs of slowing down. This time around there were 28 entries in the competition, many once again showing the unique challenges that only games in this medium can offer. With styles ranging from hard-core text adventures to hyperlink-based play more approachable for new players, there is something for everyone. The top three games this year were:

Andromeda Apocalypse by Marco Innocenti – The last survivor of his world, and possibly last surviving human, Ektor Mastiff floats through space. As he travels through the cosmos, his voyage may change the history of mankind forever. This sequel to Andromeda Awakening continues the high concept sci-fi tale begun in that game. Your journey into space takes you into a gargantuan edifice, apparently a long abandoned space station. The game's tone is serious with an air of mystery and long-lost wonders. A hint system is available, providing a progressive series of clues to each unsolved puzzle encountered to date, though players wishing to remove the temptation can disable this system.

Eurydice by Anonymous – Celine is gone, with empty spaces in her room where once her possessions stood. Your friends crowd the rooms downstairs, but their companionship is scant comfort to you now. Perhaps by following the path of an ancient tale you can get her back, but do you risk losing yourself doing so? With inspiration from the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, this is a powerful and moving tale of bereavement and grief. Characterisation and mood are the main aim of the game, with the puzzles taking a back seat. The story is powerful and tragic, nicely meshing a modern setting with the echoes of myth. Most challenges have more than one solution and there are four different endings available for those who can discover all the options.

Guilded Youth by Jim Munroe – Tony the Thief is a member of The Guild, the bravest band of adventurers in the land. This is a virtual land, however, and Tony’s interests lie in the real world: the Old Manor house that is scheduled for demolition. The puzzles in this game are quite simple, with only three commands really necessary to solve them. The pleasure of the experience lies in the mix of fantasy and real life. When logged in online, you and your companions are visually represented by noble avatars. In the real world, your true nature as children is equally well illustrated. Junk gathered from The Manor becomes fabulous treasures in The Guild, allowing you to entice your fellow players to become members of your real-world exploration party. The resulting story is a pleasant tale of small town life.

Downloads of all the games and interpreters for both PC and Mac are available from the competition website. For those wishing just a single game, or to play many of the entries online, a complete list of the games with brief details is also available.
 



Full English

Wendy just wanted the whole family to be together for her birthday. Unfortunately, none of them seemed keen on attending, especially her father Ken. He was busy sabotaging the new game console from Alan Sugar, the Sugarcube. When Ken reluctantly turns up to the party with a sabotaged cube in his pocket, the family are sucked inside. Now trapped in a variety of video games, they must use their wits and bravery to escape back to the real world. With this lot, that probably means they are all doomed.

Based on the adult cartoon series on UK Channel 4, this production by Fish in a Bottle brings the series' twisted humour to the gaming world. The graphics match the television show, with brightly animated, realistically proportioned characters. These models are fully detailed, making the many parodies of UK celebrities, including Heston Blumenthal and Brian Blessed, instantly recognisable. The smooth animation of the TV series is also in evidence. The initial setting is the family home, but the game worlds include a medieval fantasy land and a sports stadium. The same voice actors have also taken part here, giving the game professional performances throughout. As well as the series theme tune, the various worlds also have music appropriate to the setting, such as a middle eastern theme in a desert combat sim.

The frequent use of famous UK faces may limit the appeal for those outside the country, and being based on an adult cartoon, this game is unsuitable for children. Much of the humour is of questionable taste, including a simulation of the Paralympics where the unpleasant Ken mocks the other contestants’ disabilities. Parody is at the centre of this adventure, with the video games satirising well-known franchises. One character ends up in a World of WarCraft variant, whilst another ends up in something that looks suspiciously like Farmville with a particularly ruthless rival player. The mechanics of such games are mercilessly lampooned and subverted, such as the fast-growing trees and constant need for upgrades of the Farmville clone. After the initial chapter set in the real world, you will generally have control of more than one character, with switching accomplished through on-screen buttons. This is often vital, as objects need to be passed from game to game for success. As well as inventory puzzles, you will face some dialogue challenges and a cleverly designed dance contest.

Full English can be played online at the Channel 4 website.


Gray

Gray knows all there is to know about every planet in the solar system. Sadly, this knowledge comes solely from books, as Gray has never left his home on the moon. Determined to get some practical experience to back up his book learning, Gray sets out on a field trip to Earth. This could prove to be a bad idea, as his ship fails on entering the atmosphere and Gray is ejected into a cornfield. Trapped on the planet, Gray must try to locate his wayward craft if he is ever to see his beloved lunar home again.

Fitz’s tale of an unfortunate alien is a wordy but satisfying tale. The graphics have a slightly retro look, using only a handful of colours throughout. This is offset by the visual detail, be it the redneck farmhand that Gray almost immediately encounters, or the bees that harass him further down the road. All characters are smoothly animated, with many having idle gestures. The farmhand is especially impressive on this front, as his idle animations change throughout the game as you complete various tasks. The various locations have their own music, including gentle pastoral music for an orchard, and a more threatening tune for a campsite with a sleeping bear. There are also numerous sound effects such as buzzing bees and the childish laughter and scream of Gray.

The overall tone is lightly humorous, and a touch surreal in places. As well as conversing with the locals, you will also have dialogue with the sun. A key repeated puzzle is trying to get the sun to go down, as Gray believes his space ship will be easier to spot in the dark. You must gather and use a small amount of inventory as you progress. It is also important to revisit areas, as completing some tasks will result in a change to previously visited areas that will provide you with the means to proceed further. With his literally encyclopaedic knowledge of Earth, Gray spouts a huge amount of detail about practically anything you look at or interact with. This ensures a lot of text to get through in this game, though the facts are generally interesting for those willing to read it all. The end result is a slightly whimsical game that is likely to leave the player better informed, though not necessarily on anything practical.

Gray can be downloaded from the AGS website.

Continued on the next page...





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About the Author
stepurhan's avatar
Steve Brown
Freeware Coordinator

Comments

Fitz
Jan 1, 2013

You may have noticed the link to ‘Gray’ isn’t working. As luck would have it, AGS chose to migrate to a new server/host just last night—rendering all database links useless: So for anyone interested, here’s the currecnt link: http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/site/games/game/1627/

Dag Dag
Jan 3, 2013

Full English is pretty cool, if you’re looking for something funny to kill some time. Don’t expect a challenge though. As I understand, it was intentionally made very easy so that even non-gamers (not just non-adventurers) would have a steady flow in progress. The game features outstanding British humor, however, of a more modern style than the Monty Python-inspired humor found in games like Simon the Sorcerer or Discworld.

diego diego
Jan 3, 2013

It’s a rare occasion that such artistic impression can be achieved with so few colors like in Gray, will have to try it!

stepurhan stepurhan
Jan 4, 2013

Full English is undeniably British humour, with a great modern British comic actor, Richard Ayoade, as the dad.

The look in Gray very much comes across as a deliberate artistic choice and, in my opinion, a pretty good one.

Fitz
Jan 25, 2013

Thanks, Diego Smile Hope you enjoyed playing it!

Stepurhan: Yeah, it’s not like my graphic card only allows four colors Wink The story behind choosing this particular set of colors is silly, actually: I have four rubber stamps at work - one with a blue casubg, a red one, an orange one and a very old and dirty white one, which now looks beige. And I always wanted to do something using those colors (I also make webcomics, check http://www.drunkduck.com/A_Bit_Cheesy/ if you’re interested). So one day I scanned the stamp casings - and used these colors as a template ever since. Love it so much I will keep it for future games, too (which I hope to start making sometime this year).



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