Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Playing along: Loom (1990) - Introduction

Loom is one of the well-loved series of adventure games from Lucasfilm Games/Lucasarts, and one that I had previously disregarded. My early adventure gaming had been dominated by Sierra, and their popularity obscured everything else. It wasn't until The Secret of Monkey Island (or perhaps LeChuck's Revenge, I can't even remember which one I played first!), before I would finally properly play and enjoy a Lucasarts adventure game.

Ask me about LoomTM

Of course this is more understandable when you consider that we were in the time before the world wide web had become a fraction of what it is today. Back then, to get gaming news, you had to buy a magazine. Those gaming magazines were often focused on console games, or the very greatest games that the PC, Amiga or whatever could produce. I rarely bought the magazines, unless they had a cover disc with something interesting on it. (For the benefit of younger readers, a "cover disc" was either a floppy disk or CD-ROM with game demos on it that was stuck to the front of a magazine. The now ever-present internet has robbed you of this simple pleasure)

Back then, if you hadn't heard from a friend or read about something in a magazine, it may as well not exist. A lot of the time I bought games (or copied them) because the box art looked cool, or just because that's what was available from friends or shops at the time. I remember there being one computer shop that would sell you a bunch of floppy disks and then copy some software/games onto them for free as a bonus. But I digress...

Loom: I never played it, and because a large part of my excursions into retro gaming have involved nostalgia I never even considered playing it. It's a game mainly about music... music and weaving... weaving and music.... Its two main features are music and weaving... and magical swans....Its  *three* features are music, and weaving, and magical swans...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Its *four* *Amongst* its features.... Amongst the gameplay...are such elements as music, weaving.... I'll come in again.

You begin the game on an island, on a hilltop, as the sun rises. Robed in grey, your name is Bobbin Threadbare. A glowing magical thing tells you to head down to the village, to see the elders. On the tree there's a solitary leaf, the last leaf. It falls as you click on it. I'm playing the 1992 VGA version, so everything looks rather lovely and there's full voice acting. Usually with Lucasarts games there is a verb panel at the bottom of the screen. For now, that area of the screen is completely black.

Once in the village, I spend a few moments wandering around what look like tents. In one is a pile of gold, another has green dye. The final one I enter seems empty, but on the far side is a doorway to the interior of a massive stone temple (I'm not sure of the layout here, is it supposed to be a tunnel to the temple, or is the doorway in the tent a portal to the temple, or is there some sort of TARDIS-like thing going on?). I pass a tapestry, lovingly crafted to tell the story of our guild - the weavers. The last bit has been torn away.
The only way to dye in this game.
I reach the end of the hall, and in the main chamber there are several others in bright robes. behind them lies a loom, The Loom perhaps. The woman who has been caring for me is turned into an egg, and everyone else is turned into swans by another swan, who is my mother, and this is all rather confusing unless you've read the stuff in the manual or listened to the audio tape that came with the game. Check out the video below.

Once everyone has become a swan and flown away into a hole in time and space, you are left alone. You have one possession, a staff from one of the elders that has mystical weaving musical magic in it (known as "patterns"). Here is where the puzzles begin, and using eight musical notes you can cast magical spells of a sort. Your first test is to hatch the egg, and clicking on the egg gives you the appropriate notes and the order. Your carer hatches from the egg as a cygnet, and flies away also, and again you are alone with precious few words of advice to follow.

So far you only know that you need to get off the island, easier said than done. It's here where I left the game on my first playthrough, I had solved a couple of puzzles to get off the island, but a waterspout blocked my progress. Next time, I'll head back to the island and figure out what I missed. I had discovered a few patterns, but obviously not the right one.

This game was apparently the first Lucasfilm Game to have the design philosophy that the player should never be killed or permanently stuck. So a puzzle might outsmart you, but you don't have to worry about your character dying or being unable to continue, because there should always be a way to go back and check what you missed. It also has three difficulty levels (I'm playing on "standard"), with a "practice" mode to walk you through the patterns and a harder mode for those with an ear for music (it lacks the visual coloured visual clues for the patterns).

This guy looks like he needs to relax and unwind
So I went back and checked the little village (hadn't posted this yet because I was busy getting screenshots), and realised I missed something in the gold-filled room. Seems obvious now, but after trying all the patterns I had acquired so far, I could see in the areas marked "darkness" by using the pattern from the owl holes. Turns out there's a bunch of other stuff in this room, like a wheel to spin straw to gold. If only I was allowed to carry some of these riches, I bet they'd come in handy later. It also means I have the use of a new note, "f"! Next time: past that damned waterspout.

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