Reiko's Ramblings and Writings

What I'm reading and writing about lately.

Archive for October 23rd, 2013

Game Review: Olav and the Lute

Posted by Reiko on October 23, 2013

This post is the response to a challenge given by Trickster over at the Adventure Gamer, to play through a new short adventure game inspired by the classic game Loom, which he is about to play and blog through as the next game in his schedule. The new game is called Olav and the Lute and can be downloaded or played through online from its main website. I’m going to try playing it online in Firefox.

Now, I’ve never played Loom, actually (something I should remedy soon as well), but I know the concept: instead of a regular inventory, the main character collects magical melodies that can affect the world around him. It’s a clever, unique concept, and I’m looking forward to seeing what this new piece does with it. It’s a short game, so I’m going to go all the way through it. If you haven’t played it and don’t want to be spoiled, you’ll want to go play it for yourself first and then come back here.

Olav01-unity

There is a Unity Web player that needs to be installed first before the online version will work, but that went without a hitch for me: I didn’t even have to restart Firefox. But the game takes several minutes to load after that. Make yourself a sandwich or brew some coffee while you wait. It’s probably faster to download and install it, honestly.

Olav02-main

The main screen has one large button to start the game, and smaller buttons in the corner that, surprisingly, take you away from the game page. I clicked on the music note to see if that muted the music or gave other audio options, but instead it took me to a link to the soundtrack. When I went back, the game had to reload all over again. Definitely not intuitive behavior. I’d rather have a link to the soundtrack from the main website rather than from within the game, or have the music button open the soundtrack link in a new window/tab so that the game doesn’t have to be reloaded.

It starts out in typical adventure fashion, dropped (literally, perhaps, according to the opening animation) in a mostly empty woods with no idea what’s going on. The only useful thing around is an empty book, but on the next screen, there’s the first clue that something needs to be done, in the form of a lute and a huge runestone.

Olav06-runestone

Then we come to the loom itself, which is literally called a loom in the game. No hiding the inspiration here. But it seems that the loom is broken somehow. There are three objects in front of the loom: a goblet, a fireplace, and a sword, and three icons on the runestone: water, fire, and a wrench, which implies what must be done for each of the loom’s objects. The sword is clearly shattered; the fireplace is clearly cold; and the goblet is not so clearly empty.

On the next screen there’s a huge key, which, when examined, gives the first melody, the open sequence. As I understand it, unlike the original Loom, this game automatically writes down the melodies you find in that initially empty book. Plus the notes are color-coded, so it’s very easy to use the melodies as long as you can remember a sequence of four colors. (Reminds me of the color-wheel version of Memory, which at the beginning of Castle of Dr. Brain requires the player to build up to a sequence of 8 or 10 colors in order to enter the castle.) Color-blind people might have some difficulty, though, because every note is the same triangle shape. If each note also had a different shape, then it would be fully visually playable. It would also be nice to hear the notes on mouse-over, both on the lute and in the book, in case you do want to play the melody by ear. There’s no music staff, so there’s no way to hear or compare the notes other than to actually play them.

Playing the open sequence on the door on that screen opened it, naturally, so I could proceed to the next screen, which had quite a few things on it to look at. Oddly enough, one thing was a traditional Japanese water fountain labeled shishi odoshi which needed water from a crack in the boulder above it to run. Using the open sequence again on the crack split it open and allowed the fountain to fill with water, giving me the fill sequence.  When I interacted with the fountain again, the melody played in reverse order, implying that I can empty (or “drain”) with it as well.

Olav09-Fukushima

The fountain isn’t the only Japanese influence on that screen: there’s also a radioactive barrel that’s described as “Made in Fukushima.” Let’s see how many current events references there are in this game.

First I went back and filled up the goblet with the fill sequence, which worked perfectly, then returned to the fountain screen. On the next screen from there (this game is pretty linear, at least so far), there’s an odd Eskimo-looking guy on the other side of a deep gorge that obviously needs to be filled up with water to be useful. After a moment the guy disappears, so I fill up the gorge, and conveniently, a nice wooden raft/bridge appears long enough for me to walk across it, and then disappears again. What happens when I want to go back?

The next screen past the gorge has the Eskimo’s camp, with one of his friends. They seem to be toasting sausages or something over a crackling fire, which, naturally, gives me the heat sequence. Now I should be able to go back and start the fire in the fireplace. But how do I get back across the gorge? The raft is nowhere to be seen. The Eskimos don’t seem to speak my language, and I don’t see anywhere else to go.

The solution is what was hinted at before, but I missed some of the indications. I reversed the heat sequence to freeze the river, and then I could cross. But earlier, I tried reversing the open sequence to close the door, just to test the concept, and it didn’t visibly do anything. There’s nothing irreversible about opening and closing a door, so that should be supported in order to reinforce the idea that sequences can be usefully reversed.

Actually, I realized later that the door can be closed, but if you close it from the original side, it doesn’t visibly change and you can still go through it, but then it’s closed on the other side. From the other side, it’s not so obvious that it’s actually closed because there’s still space at the bottom, as in the screenshot above. But it can be visibly opened further at that point, and then closed again. So I think there’s a bug here with the door from the key screen.

Now all that’s left is to get some kind of fix or repair sequence. From the fountain screen, there’s another exit off toward the town, which presents me first with a ramshackle hut and a passed-out drunk. Lovely. Oddly enough, I could explode the radioactive barrel on the fountain screen with the heat sequence, but I can’t explode the one on this screen the same way, although it seems like I’m supposed to do something with it. There’s another Japanese reference here: the drunk’s name is Buki, which means “weapon”. There’s also a hint that I’m supposed to make a bomb out of the radioactive barrel somehow (another weapon), but why, I’m not sure, maybe to wake up Buki?

Olav10-Buki

None of the six sequences (three and their reverses) work on either Buki or the barrel. Other than the house, which I can repeatedly open but not close, and on which none of the other sequences do anything, there are no other selectable objects on the screen. I thought maybe I could empty Buki of whatever he drank, but no. So I’m stuck. Unlike Trickster, though, I have no established readership and no particular reputation for puzzle-solving acumen to maintain, so I’m going to look up what’s going on here, particularly because I have no assurance that I haven’t run into another bug or dead end of some kind.

Erm. I apparently missed an exit. It goes from the fountain screen leading off in the same direction as the river, so it’s completely not obvious, at least to me. That means there are a total of four exits from that screen. Anyway, a poisonous mushroom in the forest gives the poison/heal sequence, so now I have something else to try on Buki. There’s also a broken TV and a small ghostly-looking creature that seems very sad about the fact that the TV is broken, but I can’t fix it yet.

Poisoning Buki doesn’t seem to make him worse, but healing him makes him wake up and silently go into his house and fall asleep again in his bedroom. Buki’s house inexplicably contains a (working) destruction machine that smashes small objects when it’s triggered, and also gives the destroy/repair sequence. At this point, I could theoretically go back and repair the sword to finish fixing the loom, but I’ll go try fixing the creature’s TV first.

Strangely, fixing the TV makes the creature very happy, but then puts me to sleep and breaks the TV again, with no sign of the creature once I wake up. At least now I have a completed book of melodies. If you flip it horizontally in an image program, it’s far easier to read the reversed sequence names. Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t read “drain” backwards in that font at all because that ‘d’ looked like an ‘o’ or something instead.

Olav11-melodies Olav12-inverted

So I’m going around and trying some extra things, like repairing the TV again, repairing the broken bicycle on the fountain screen, refilling Buki’s plate, and waking up Buki. The first three work fine, although I don’t seem to have much use for a TV or a bicycle right now, and I can’t eat the food. Buki momentarily wakes up, takes a gulp from the cup by his bed, and goes straight back to sleep. Oh well.

Repairing the sword did exactly what I expected it to do, except that the awake sequence also has to be used to wake up the loom before it is fully functional again and starts glowing. The ending is a reversal of the opening, with Olav being lifted out of the scene and taken back to wherever he came from, presumably, and then the credits roll.

It’s interesting that there are optional things that can be done before the ending, but they don’t seem to have any effect, really. For that matter, nothing really seems to have much effect. There’s no indication of what the loom is supposed to do, why it broke in the first place, and what the point of fixing it was. For all we know, the loom was what caused the apocalypse in the first place, and reawakening it will just make things worse.

It’s an atmospheric little piece, but I wish there was a bit more explanation about what’s going on. I mean, Loom itself had a half-hour audio piece as its backstory, which sets the stage. Naturally a bite-sized game like this can’t go into that much detail, but something would be helpful. Just a bit more polishing would help as well. The descriptions are very brief, and there’s at least one typo like this one, with “fight’s” instead of the correct plural “fights”:

Olav07-sword

So I never did do anything with the second radioactive barrel, and I never found a use for the “drain”, “sleep”, “poison” or “destroy” sequences. Maybe I could have made the Eskimos go to sleep or something. What I particularly would have liked to see the game do is track all the optional actions (and add more so that all the sequences have uses) and then give some kind of score or result at the end to indicate whether the player tended more toward destruction or toward repairing. Alternate solutions could also help here. Some actions are fully reversible (opening/closing, waking/sleeping), but others might be less so (poisoning/destroying, perhaps). The loom itself could even depend on this, making it beneficial to wake it using positive actions, and less so to wake it using negative actions. That would give consequences based on the gameplay, making the outcome much more interesting.

Anyway, it was a nice diversion for a little while, but ultimately seemed rather shallow. I don’t think it made the most of the concept. I’m sure it was great experience for the team, though, and I’ll be interested to see what they do next.

Posted in Games, Writing | 1 Comment »