Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Loom Post-Mortem

[Now Experiencing] [Computer Gaming]

About three hours ago I booted up an emulated version of LucasArts' seminal adventure game, Loom, and began the quest of Bobbin Threadbare. About three minutes ago, I watched the credits roll over the end sequence.

They don't make 'em like they used to.

No, really, they don't. This game is so far from anything you'd expect to find on store shelves today that it's really a breath of fresh air to go back and play it. It's one of only two of the LucasArts SCUMM games that I never played (the other being Zak McKraken), and I'm very glad I just did.

The game is a traditional point and click adventure (although it's worth mentioning that it appeared quite early in the history of the genre). However, instead of being presented with a wide range of verbs such as "USE", "TAKE", et cetera, with which to manipulate your environment, you are instead given a magical distaff (because you're a Weaver, see) which you can use to cast spells. Spells are cast by playing sequences of four notes on the distaff, and you get those sequences from observing your environment. For instance, watching a knocked-over flask dripping onto the ground will play the tune for the "empty" spell, which you can then repeat on your distaff. (Playing the same tune backwards creates the "fill" spell.)

The story is simple, and yet rich, creating an intriguing world, and then deliberately not explaining more than it has to so as to retain an illusion of vastness that isn't borne out by the actual scope of the game. A lot of very elegant foreshadowing occurs. The very first spells that you learn play an important role in the climax of the game, giving you a nice sense of your victory coming from the nature of your origins.

The art is fantastic; the soundtrack (Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake) is well suited and well executed (in part by prolific 90s game composer George Alistair "The Fat Man" Sanger); the plot is coherent and well dialogued by Orson Scott Card. There's very nearly nothing that this game leaves you wanting.

Except for three things.

First, as you may have guessed from the start of this post, it's a short game. Three hours to complete, and I wasn't stumped by a single puzzle. It's a story driven game, and these days I'm playing it for free, but back in the day I probably would have felt a little cheated to have payed full price for this when comparable point-and-clicks being made by Sierra were significantly longer. Although it's worth saying that I'm playing Loom today, whereas I have no intention of going back and replaying the early Police Quest games.

Secondly, there's no in-game way of remembering your spells. You have to write down every musical sequence you hear on paper, because if you get up to the game's final moments and can't remember that spell for "healing" that you only heard once and haven't had a chance to try out yet... well, there's no going back to hear it again. I didn't have any trouble using pen and paper to do this, but still, these days you'd have at least an in-game notepad or something.

Thirdly, why has there never been a sequel for this game? The ending is a cliffhanger! The last words before the credits are pretty much the big bad evil thing threatening that you haven't heard the last of it, and you vowing to return to your homeland and undo the mischief that has been wrought upon it. And... that's the last we heard of Bobbin Threadbare for a couple of decades. Dagnabbit. Even Sam & Max is getting new games these days - where's my "Return to Loom"?

Anyway, it's been a nice afternoon running through this old classic, and if you haven't ever played it, it's well worth getting hold of a copy and working through it yourself.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder that I really need to go back and play this game sometime. Certainly one of the breed of games that I hope this industry returns to one day (not only in terms of the adventure genre, but the manner of storytelling it employed).

Greg Tannahill said...

A newcomer to the blog! ... or at least a new commenter. I should get some sort of tracker to let me see how many unique hits I'm getting around these parts.

Cliffhanger ending aside, I'm hardpressed to name any game I've ever played, including other LucasArts titles, which blended plot and gameplay so tightly and satisfyingly as Loom. (Although the Wing Commander series and Fahrenheit come close.) The way it blends central points of the storyline into the central gameplay is fantastic, and probably worth a whole post sometime in the near future.

Anonymous said...

I missed this one!
Where can I get it?

... I still grab out my tex Murphys and my Zork anthology from time to time.

I would do that with sam n max and Grim Fandango too, but I've lost the CDs over the years.

I have lucas arts Indiana jones adventure game fate of atlantis, iffen you want to borrow.

Greg Tannahill said...

Ah... you can get it by buying the enhanced CD on Ebay (the one with speech), doing a quick google search for ScummVM (a SCUMM emulator), and using it to run the CD.

Even though there's no way I know of to currently buy Loom in a way where the people who created it receive revenue, I would still NEVER suggest that you obtain it through a quick and easy BitTorrent download.

I actually have a CD copy of Fate of Atlantis, but thanks for the offer.

Anonymous said...

Zak MacKraken rocks my world. It's down as one of my all time favourite fun games. There's a couple of annoying mazes, and you have to loop around a bit, but ...

It has two-headed squirrels! You can kill your fish! There's true love! And martians!

Though, I've never played Loom. :)

Duncan M said...

Ah... Loom. I remember playing it when it was new(ish) on an actual DOS machine. It was stunning how simple, yet captivating it was. It has held a magical place in game design history for a long time now. It really is a beautiful example of how to extend a system we have built into something intuitive and pure.

I'd encourage anyone to play it. After all, it won't take very long.

statistical_blip said...

Ah! I tried Loom back in the day, but couldn't figure it out. Now I know why: my computer had no sound!

Anonymous said...

Face it, no one will ever love you. This is why you have no sequels to play.

Greg Tannahill said...

It's true. *weeps*

And my, aren't we vitriolic today? You know, you need to get a blog or something that you can link your comments to. Or, y'know, at least a name.

Which is my way of saying: thanks for stopping by to comment!

Anonymous said...

I'll not take orders from you sonny. It's entirely possible that I have a blog and a name I just don't think your worthy to know them. On the other hand I might just be I'm a prick, I'll leave it up to you.

Greg Tannahill said...

S'okay. People without names and webpresences get to insult me less before I hit the "delete comment" button. The benefit to identifying yourself is that you get to fling more grauitous insults. I leave it to you, sir, to do the maths. (Mostly because I don't like maths.)

Anonymous said...

Now I wish I could play this game again. I remember playing it when I was young and enjoying it greatly. I can even still hum the final spell in that game.

Thanks for bringing back memories of such a classic game!