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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spooks & Nanobots

After playing so much Dwarf Fortress, I obviously ended up slightly fed up with it (I just can't take things in moderation and that's how it usually ends up... thankfully I don't drink alcohol!).

Last time my friend came and made me want to try out Dragon's Lair again, he brought Still Life 2, an adventure game, to show it to me. I showed him one of the indie adventure games I discovered during the last years: Spooks. And yesterday, I felt like playing it again, knowing it wasn't extremely long. Once done, I remembered reading the author had made another game: Nanobots, and I went on to try this one too.


The game was made with Adventure Game Studio (AGS) by Erin Robinson, aka "The Ivy" and is about a young ghoul named Mortia visiting the Carnage Val in the Land of the Dead. It's gray all around and looks like lots of fun! Well... okay, no, actually Mortia is quite bored there, and her cynical take on things is not helping, though it's the source of many laughs.

Soon enough, Mortia is coerced into playing a seemingly harmless game of darts. What she does win is beyond all imagination : a fish... that is "alive"! Why isn't the fish gray like everything else? What does "alive" mean? Why are these strange authority officers looking for it? This is just too mysterious for Mortia to ignore and she decides she will help the little fish get out of there. But first, she must find out more about the word "alive".

Spooks grabbed me way back then because it looked so much like the adventure games of my teen years. It's full of pixelly goodness and of rather good quality. What it might lack in graphical polish, it makes up for with its style (it has a somewhat Tim Burton feel, for lack of a better comparison). And of course, it has funny dialogues, unique characters to meet, and puzzles!

The puzzles are not terribly hard but not incredibly easy either! It's just the right dosage to get your brains running without frying them up in frustration. The game is not very long (a few hours) and considering I'm an adult with a job, it's something I appreciate now. I'd say it's possible to finish in one sitting but it might take two if you get stuck.

Overall, it's a very good mix of all its parts, making a very nice adventure game. Apparently there's a even a sequel in the making!


Nanobots is also made with AGS and, as I said, by the same author. It's not always obvious wether an author can follow a good game by another good game, but I'm glad to say Erin has been on a roll, and hopefully will continue to be :)

This time, the story takes place in a dorm where Groovy Greg, a hippie student, is trying to finish his project: build robots that can love. What he ends up with are the Nanobots, a group of specialized tiny bots with an attitude. So much attitude that they keep bickering instead of working together. Greg is desperate as it means he will fail his grade, which his thesis professor, Mr Killfun, is quick to remind him. He is also quick to reveal a nefarious plan as soon as Greg leaves to get some rest: the professor plans to crush the Nanobots so that *he* can reveal his own LoveBot to the world! Muahaha--*ding!* Oh, coffee, I'll be back in a minute.

A good thing for the Nanobots that the professor is so unfocused as it gives them the time to hopefully make an escape! Except... they're on a desk, very far from the ground, and with no obvious way down. And they're still bickering. But it's time for them to unite their strengths to get out of this in one piece!

The games I was reminded of by Nanobots is the Goblins series because of how each character has a specialty and must work as a team to get through trouble. It's not *just* like Goblins though, as there's no "timed coordinated sequences" at all, and there are way more characters in the team AND they're really specialized. I thought it was interesting because it challenged you to think a bit differently.

One other difference is that each bot can only carry one item and can't drop them. They need to exchange with another bot if they need something else. This particular aspect was not my favorite as it got frustrating after a while. I suppose one important thing in adventure games is to make sure the player is not slowed down by the interface as he's already busy trying to solve puzzles. It still worked, but it could have been better. The only good side of it I found is that it created some (possibly) emergent puzzles of the "how the hell do I pick that up when my hands are full and no other bot can pick what I'm carrying?" variety. But really, even though I'm mentioning it, it's definitely a *cough* nano-problem compared to the whole thing :)

As with Spooks, most of the fun is in the dialogues, unique characters and cute graphics. Oh, there's even a "hidden" hint system in there ;). It helped me quite a bit.

The game is moderately difficult. I got really stuck twice and had to resort to a walkthrough. One of these I could have found by myself but my brain got stuck in one way of thinking that just prevented it. The other, I didn't regret, because I just wouldn't have figured it out. But every puzzle is logical so I don't think the game is at fault here.

Again, another very good adventure game, although it needs a bit of interface polish to remove some unneeded frustration here and there. I strongly recommend playing the tutorial by the way, as it teaches you the concept through an amusing scene.

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