June 11, 2004

Adventures in Flash

by Nick Montfort · , 11:05 am

qfr.png You called yourself “ESCAPER.” The oddly compelling miniature Flash adventure Crimson Room was mentioned on here back in February. Now Toshimitsu Takagi’s sequel, Viridian Room, is out. I haven’t done more than fiddle with it, as is the case with another game that Josh Kellar pointed me to, this one by Jan Albartus: The Mystery of Time and Space. Branko Collin on rec.arts.int-fiction linked to what is certainly the most visually appealing and easily clicked through adventure of this sort, a promotional game for The Polyphonic Spree’s new album: Quest for the Rest. It’s by Amanita Design. (The image here is from Quest for the Rest.) It looks like adventure games and interactive fiction may have a rich life ahead of them in advertising, given this and Burger King’s IF-style online video puppet. But it’s certainly the case that Flash is being used for some interesting little online graphical adventures.

Update (6/12): A detailed review of The Mystery of Time and Space follows…

Update (6/12): There’s a more extensive Flash adventure by Amanita Design: Samorost.

It turns out that lumping The Mystery of Time and Space together with Crimson Room as an “interesting little online graphical adventure” is a bit misleading. MOTAS isn’t little. It took me all of last evening to finish its twelve different “levels;” each of these is a section with a few rooms, in contrast to Crimson Room all taking place in a single room, but being rather elaborate for a single-room game.

Enabling cookies is essential, if you want to avoid having to hack your way back to the level you were at by finding the appropriate Flash file name. I accidentally closed the window (with cookies disabled) after I’d almost finished level 10, and I felt about as bad as when a friend accidentally erased my far-advanced Ultima 5 characters from floppy back in 1993. Fortunately, there was a remedy, but it’s better to use the cookies for this one.

MOTAS is full of Commodore 64 references, and reminded me of a first-person graphical adventure game from the early home computer era, before Sierra redefined the genre by adding a “little guy” avatar and LucasArts further redefined it with wonderful multi-avatar wackiness. After accounting for the different interface, I’d say the quality of MOTAS exceeds that of games like Asylum and Lucifer’s Realm by Med Systems Software. (These, like many early games, had a text interface for commands.) MOTAS refers to early graphical adventure graphics while still doing Flash-like things such as zooming between rooms and providing an animated view of the usual resolution. The game looks nice and works pretty well, with none of the minute clickable regions found (or not found, after hours of searching) in Crimson Room.

As was the case with many early graphical adventures, this one isn’t entirely literate or properly spelled or punctuated – in this case, it’s because some texts are poorly translated into English. The situations of the game aren’t really the stuff of literary or high aesthetic experience, anyway – even Asylum and Lucifer’s Realm probably do a better job at unfolding a coherent mystery, in fact, while MOTAS is better at cribbing logic puzzles and IQ tests into the game in an enjoyable way. Some of the puzzles are a bit painful, but Albartus did a decent job of supplying ones that were easy enough to keep people going but provided at least some challenge. (Quite a challenge, given the large number of them.) For whatever reason, the gameplay, general texture, and nature of the curious, windowless world remind me pretty strongly of a (decent) early-1980s graphical adventure, even though very few of these had an interface that involved only clicking on things, and even inventory management is quite stripped-down. The game has a tone of conspiratorial, science-fictional silliness is in keeping with its heritage.

I’m more of a text adventure fan myself, as I particularly appreciate the interface qualities and literary orientation of that form. But I can see from this example that if as much development of Flash-based graphical adventures takes place as has with textual IF, it’s likely that there will be some very interesting results, perhaps as diverse and interesting as have been seen in text-based IF over the past decade. Albartus has even developed MOTAS F.A.C.E. (Flash Adventure Creation Editor), a simple kit for creating adventure games like MOTAS. Although I don’t think this kit will have the widespread appeal of more general-purpose and powerful IF languages such as Inform and TADS, it’s good to see that this tradition from the 1980s – when kits such as the Bard’s Tale Construction Kit were common – is also part of the revival. This certainly isn’t the only such system, but I’ll invite people who have had some experience to chime in with information about their favorites.

Well, now I’ll have to check out Chasm and Tork before too long, as suggested…