The UK adventure format has now well defined itself
in the years after the release of The Hobbit.
For your (most inconsiderable) financial outlay you
get the split-screen graphics, the cassette versions,
the limited vocab, and the poor parsing for your money.
Other countries on the other hand -- the USA in particular
-- have gone for disk with all the benefits of increased
storage that that offers.
course, not all cassette-based games are (ahem) crap,
and neither are all disk-based games up to Infocom standards.
But the fact remains that every time I load up a game
like Gremlins or Apache Gold (see below)
or a Quill-ustrated game, I find myself heaving a sigh
of anticipatory disappointment. The sad fact is that
most UK adventure systems are pretty awful and so the
authors have to really struggle with the ol' inspiration
to make the best of things.
from this is a feeling that games like Kayleth,
Gremlins, Apache Gold (see below) and
other typical UK products all belong in a sub five pound
price range. So not only do I moan at the inadequate
parsers and the shoddy vocabularies -- I also wail at
the price. Frankly, ten quid for a game like Gremlins
is outrageous. And I hate to say it but even Level 9
-- whose games come out with flying colours despite
the limitations of the format -- are beginning to seem
slightly archaic and overpriced to me these days.
back to the game in question. Kayleth is the
latest offering from Adventuresoft and was mentioned
briefly by the Wiz in his little piece on this company
a couple of months back. Billed as a presentation by
'Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine', the game
has in fact nothing at all to do with this great writer
but is in fact the product of Stefan Ufnowski's imaginative
pen -- one of the co-writer's of Rebel Planet who
is now moving on to better things.
remember having been impressed by Mike Woodroffe's set-up
in Birmingham when I wrote about them in the earlier
article and saying that, although some of the software
from his company had left something to be desired, things
were looking up. Now Kayleth has come up and I'm glad
to say that I'm not disappointed, but first let's get
one or two things straight . . .
have been several games released by Mike Woodroffe's
companies and they all have two things in common. They
all have split-screen graphics, and they all use adventure
generating systems (developed in-house) to enable the
titles to be produced as efficiently and therefore as
commercially as possible. They are in fact typical examples
of the UK format of adventure game I mentioned earlier.
nothing wrong with that, but consider the implications.
First, a game with split-screen pictures that has a
picture for every location simply CANNOT offer as much
vocabulary, parsing and text response options as a text-only
game. And if it's cassette-based (as most UK games have
to be) then you'll get even less.
games released using the same system will have an identity
of tone and emphasis that can detract from the individuality
of the separate titles.
these two points together and you can come up with some
obvious conclusions -- which is that at their worst
these sort of games can be unoriginal in presentation
and limited in gameplay. And in retrospect I would say
that all the Brian Howarth games are good (or should
I say poor) examples of this -- though many became very
popular and would still represent good value for money
if available as budget titles.
the fact, however, that software houses have to earn
money in the UK, where government policies and global
recession have so reduced our disposable income that
we can't afford disk-drives -- given these facts, I
guess we have to live with the results, which means
living with games like Gremlins (ugh), Rebel
Planet (hmmm . . .) and now Kayleth . . .
hold it right there, because Kayleth is actually
one of the best of these games I've played to date.
the plot's a good one, with some nice (if rather obvious)
twists as you attempt to eliminate the tyrant Kayleth
who is enslaving the population and destroying the environment
of your home planet Zyron. The game is full of suggestive
descriptions that conceal solutions to puzzles or other
relevant information and the text as a whole (though
necessarily brief because of the pictures) has been
carefully thought out.
parser seems improved on earlier releases of this ilk
-- and seems to be even better than Rebel Planet.
This doesn't mean that its up to, say, Level 9 standard
by any means, but the responses are reasonably helpful
and in some cases will even point towards solutions
if you're barking up the wrong tree. Result -- enough
obstacles to keep you thinking, but not necessarily
to frustrate you.
the graphics -- since you've got to have them -- are
great and draw instantly (after a short pause with a
blank window). Many of them are animated and some quite
strikingly so, with vicious creatures lunging at you,
mechanical claws grabbing at you and AZAP chambers flashing
at you. My only quibble with the animation is that the
time the program takes in looking after it is taken
from the input routine, which consequently can't accept
more than about one character typed in per second while
animation is in progress. Infuriating if you're a reasonable
typist . . .
an expensive and limited bunch of titles that have been
foisted by various companies, from Interceptor to CRL,
onto the British adventuring fraternity in the last
few months, this game is one of the better releases.
If you enjoyed, for example, Gremlins, then I'm
sure you'll agree with me that Kayleth is a far
better adventure -- even if it doesn't have the instantly
marketable allure of a famous TV or film tie-in to back
it up. But alongside something like HitchHikers or
Borrowed Time it looks, frankly, primitive.