Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Loom", 1992.

So, Disney bought Lucasfilm, and I joked about this great opportunity to re-introduce the intersections of these companies and their co-held properties (eg. Muppets, Marvel). Meaning: more Star Tours & Captain EO, a sequel to the Howard the Duck movie and Labyrinth, etc. A feature-film version of the Maniac Mansion TV show? The Monkey Island / Pirates of the Caribbean crossover we always so desperately needed? Ha ha ha. Instead, because Disney already has software developers, they shuttered Lucasarts. Ha ha ha. (Ironically, as I note, almost certainly with big bucks they garnered from their partnership with Pixar [thanks to which, rumour has it, Steve Jobs was the largest single shareholder in the Disney company] -- the computer animation division spun off from, you guessed it, Lucasfilm, back in 1986, when they couldn't figure out how to turn a profit selling 3D imaging equipment to hospitals. Ha ha ha. Aww, phooie.) So after a decade in the sticks and recent baby steps toward at least acknowledgement of Lucasfilm's innovative adventure game legacy, we see the gates close shut one final time. Maybe some of these characters will reappear in a future installment of Epic Mickey or Kingdom Hearts (which now has free rein to mash up all sorts of unprecedented realms.) In the meantime, well, we have our memories. Also, we have copies of SCUMMVM installed.

Anyhow, I thought it was too bad I didn't have any ads for Lucasarts games to commemorate this event on my blog, but it turns out I do have a few related pieces in the archives. Just your luck!

The game is fantasy. The interface is magic.
Alone on a craggy hilltop, high above an island shrouded in perpetual mist, your quest begins. But tread gingerly, because while the world of Loom is breathakingly beautiful, unspeakable danger awaits the unsuspecting.
Trepidation soon gives way to bravado as you peek inside abandoned tents in the village. Stumbling over a discarded weaver's distaff, you watch in wonder as it gradually glows and resonates with a sequence of musical notes. Tentatively at first, you point the staff and repeat the notes. After considerable experimentation, you may discover the power to see in the dark. Or weave straw into gold. And eventually find the means to leave the island itself.
A fantastic odyssey ensues, as menacing waterspouts, merciless dragons and exotic cities draw you deeper and deeper into the fantasy. Armed with the distaff's magic power, you stride fearlessly across vast, cinematic landscapes. Seeking the arcane knowledge possessed by the Great Guilds, accumulated and refined since the dawn of time.
Typing is banished from this kingdom.
Loom is more than a masterpiece of fantasy storytelling. With Loom, Lucasfilm Games literally redefines the fantasy computer game experience. Simple point n' click actions move your character, select objects, and perform magic. No cumbersome keystrokes, text parsing, maze mapping, or inventory management intrude to break the spell.
We even transport you to the Age of the Great Guilds before you turn on the computer. With a lavishly produced, 30-minute drama on Dolby Stereo audio cassette that's included with the game. Recorded by Lucasfilm's Academy Award-winning Sprocket System, it introduces the characters and sets the scene for the impending, epic struggle against imposing odds.
Then it's full immersion into Loom's 3-Dimensional, scrolling panoramic landscape. Where detailed animation, high definition graphics, startling special effects and stirring musical score combine to create a total environment. Captivating you from the opening scene to the final climax.
And your quest for a truly magical fantasy adventure is finally realized.
This game was pretty much unique. Moriarty (now, hilariously, Professor Moriarty) always had some interesting ideas about game design and, well, here in this environment he got a chance to experiment with a glittering bejeweled petri dish -- accounts have it that the game-brains at Lucasarts weren't under standard industry pressure to move mega units, but rather to get all the big brains in the room and see what comes out, like the first MMORPG, Habitat, for the C64 in 1986. But I digress. Everything the ad boasts is pretty much true, but there are So Many Sentence Fragments! Describing the weaver's distaff as "discarded" might be a little misleading. And then, this game does have a couple of relatively simple mazes; I'm not convinced that at this early date point-and-clicking would have been a naturally more-intuitive interface to anyone. (Admittedly, this game does take it to extremes. No inventory management with no inventory! I do remember controlling the distaff with keyboard letters, however.) A whole paragraph devoted to the audio drama included on tape, which most people found hilariously over-the-top... sometimes, production values work against you!

It's interesting what marketing has dubbed 3-Dimensional over the years. 1980's Battlezone FPS wireframe tank combat? Zaxxon's isometric projection in 1982? Moon Patrol's parallax scrolling in 1983? King Quest 1's walk-around landscape features of the same year? Regardless, we all knew it when we saw it in Wolf3D, and up until then blind gropings toward 3-dimensionality were the holy grail everyone was striving toward in different ways. (Then, once it was achieved, that one way was enshrined and refined to the point where all other genres became irrelevant. But... I digress.)

The detailed animation, high-def graphics (and sorry, just how do startling special effects differ from those? the game's entire display is special effects!) and stirring musical score are all indeed quite impressive to this day, though I recall this game falling in a kind of gap between its floppy diskette release and its CD-ROM one, with the former actually containing more dialogue lines and character portraits, with the latter having beefier presentation but lacking enough space to do everyone justice.

And, well, Loom. I can probably talk about it for longer than it would take you to play through it. Just go play it. I believe it's back being sold through Steam. No excuses! Probably a failure, but a very interesting one.

PS -- Thanks for 8000 views!