Battle Chess & Space Quest return

May 14th, 2012 5:27 PM
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Tim Schafer, what hath you wrought? The extravagant funding his unidentified adventure game received via crowdfunding site Kickstarter has opened the floodgates to a resurgence of vintage franchises: Wasteland, Leisure Suit Larry, Shadowrun, and more.

The latest Apple II licenses to seek resurrection via Kickstarter are Space Quest and Battle Chess. The former, dubbed "SpaceVenture" (they apparently couldn’t get the rights to the original name), will be produced by Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, aka "The Two Guys from Andromeda", the two designers who created the series for Sierra On-Line in the first place. The development seems to be pretty well outlined, with several notable voice actors having signed on, though I’ve seen no assets from the game as of yet. The final game will be installable on PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, or playable in Google’s Chrome Web browser. A preorder will cost you $15 and get them that much closer to the usual half-a-million goal before the June 12, 2012, deadline.

By contrast, the Battle Chess project couldn’t be more different. Subdued Software, developers of no games I’ve ever heard of, have licensed the Battle Chess name and have essentially completed production of an update to the classic strategy game. All that remains before its October 2012 release is to add Internet support, for which they are asking for a paltry $100,000:

… implementing a full featured online experience, like the one we have planned, will take several months. A list of features include; Skilled Based Matchmaking, Statistics, Leaderboards, Achievements and in-game chat. We also needed to factor in the cost of fulfilling rewards and running this campaign. We have carefully planned out the costs of staffing the programmers, artists and testers necessary to complete online multiplayer feature and arrived at this amount.

This modest ambition extends to the scale of the release: $100K will secure a PC-only release, with additional funding promising ports to Mac, iOS, Android, and Xbox 360. If you’re counting on support for one of those platforms, one course of action is to pledge your dollars to the project — and, if they don’t collect enough funding for additional systems before the June 1 deadline, withdraw your pledge. (Selfish, no?)

The lack of accessibility to Battle Chess brought to mind a potential alternative. Longtime readers of this blog may remember my discussion of a similar game, Battle vs. Chess, originally scheduled for release on Sep 28, 2010, then pushed back to Spring 2011. To date, Battle vs. Chess has still not been released in the United States, according to Wikipedia, "due to an injunction by Interplay Entertainment for trademark infringement due to its similarity to Interplay title Battle Chess." In February 2012, I received this update from Robin Kunimune, Community Manager of publisher TopWare Interactive:

… Battle Vs. Chess has not been released in the USA, yet. If it were in our power, we would do so in a heartbeat, but sadly the publishing rights remain with a company with which we no longer associate. We are currently waiting for said company to fold and declare bankruptcy (at which point we would regain the publishing rights and release the game) or to go ahead and release the game themselves.

In the meantime, the "true" Battle Chess is looking pretty polished, with plenty of neat death sequences — although the outcome is determined in accordance with the rules of chess, it’s still fun to watch the characters duke it out, with each potential matchup of pieces and winners resulting in a unique encounter. Check out these three gameplay videos:

Whether you support an ambitious game that’s still in the planning stage and not coming out until 2013 but for a variety of platforms, or a game that’s all but finished with a meager fundraising goal and target platform — or both — is between you and your wallet. Happy funding!

Do funny games need a kickstart?

April 26th, 2012 10:39 AM
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Earlier this month, Al Lowe launched a Kickstarter to remake the original Leisure Suit Larry game. The project has since met its goal of $500,000 and still has until Wednesday, May 2, to generate further funding.

Double Fine’s Kickstarter success opened the floodgates to a reemergence of the adventure genre, but in a guest blog post for Wired.com, Lowe talks about why this is important: games have lost their funny bone, and adventure games can bring it back.

Lowe attributes the decline of the genre to improved accessibility to personal computers:

Adventure games were perfect for 1980s’ computer users. Back then, if you weren’t a puzzle solver, you didn’t own a computer. Remember config.sys files, autoexec.bat files, setting interrupts, managing extended memory? No? Consider yourself lucky! It’s a wonder anyone got anything done at all.

I remember discussing with Ken Williams (founder of Sierra, the leading publisher of such games) about how great it would be when 10 percent of homes had a computer powerful enough to play our games. But when the majority finally had computers, they ran Windows. They didn’t have to solve operating system puzzles, or couldn’t. And they didn’t want to solve game puzzles either.

Sadly, this was widely interpreted that new gamers preferred action and 3-D environments instead of contemplation and humor. Within a year, most major adventure-game development was shut down. And with it went humor.

I remember the games Lowe references fondly, though perhaps because the years have removed me from the frustration they inspired. Although King’s Quest and its kin were often infuriatingly inscrutable in their puzzles and riddles, they often had a quirky and consistent internal logic that tickled your imagination, giving you a knowing wink and a sense of accomplishment when you stumbled across the solution. It’s a kind of challenge that’s often missing in today’s games — or am I just playing the wrong ones? The Xbox 360’s DeathSpank, created by Ron Gilbert of Double Fine, had some clever dialogue, though I didn’t play it far enough to find if that sense extended to the gameplay.

And I spent about two hours this week in the practice arena of Scribblenauts Remix for iOS, interested less in completing levels than in testing the limits of the player’s capabilities and seeing what unusual creations and interactions the game’s designers anticipated.

What do you think — is Lowe right? Have the humor and discovery of early computer games disappeared and are now ready for a comeback? Or have they been here all along, just in an unrecognizably evolved form?

UPDATE (11-May-12): I belatedly found Phil Elliott’s interview with Al Lowe in my "to read" pile. In this article from April 2011, Lowe talks about how the humor in games has been replaced by replayability, and that he has no desire or intention to exit retirement. Ah, hindsight!

(Hat tip to Robert Boyd)

Leisure Suit Larry returns

April 5th, 2012 1:28 PM
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Hot on the heels of Juiced.GS‘s March cover story on Kickstarter, Apple II franchises are crawling out of the woodwork to seek crowdfunded revivals. Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert will be delivering a Maniac Mansion-style adventure game in October 2012, while exactly a year later, Brian Fargo will publish a sequel to the role-playing game Wasteland. What’s next?

It’s a return to the land of the lounge lizards with Leisure Suit Larry, the sexy, seedy adventure games featuring pickup artist Larry Laffer and his quest to become better acquainted with the opposite gender. The series was a contemporary of adventure games Space Quest, King’s Quest, and Police Quest and featured the point-and-click interface endemic of Sierra Online titles.

Franchise creator Al Lowe is asking for a cool half-mil to apply a graphical overhaul to the original 1987 game, add voice acting, and port it to "XBLA, PSN, Android, iPads, iPhones, Windows Phones, Kindle, Linux and of course, Mac!"

The best part of Lowe’s pitch is the video that prominently features an Apple II, both in the opening shot and around three minutes in:

In addition to the aforementioned features, I’m hopeful that, like the recent special edition of The Secret of Monkey Island, we’ll be able to switch between the original and updated graphics on the fly. We’ll find out upon the remake’s release this October.

(Retrogamers may also be interested in backing an original Shadowrun game)

(Hat tip to Kay Savetz; consultation by Steve Weyhrich)