Last
month Lucasarts released their first volley of classic games on Steam,
and for adventure gaming stalwarts like myself it was a godsend.
The Dig, Loom, Indiana Jones! No
longer would we have to worry about hunting down out of print games, or
getting our old ones to work on XP or Vista with billions of patches.
Plus, for people who have never played the games before there’s no
better or cheaper way to experience them.


Over the next few installments we’re going to bring you back to these games and see how they hold up.

1990.
While most kids my age were smashing dinosaurs with a caveman’s
gigantic forehead or killing viruses with pills from a shady doctor
with a big moustache, PC gamers were getting immersed in Lucasarts’
latest adventure game, Loom.
 
The brainchild of game developer Brian Moriarty, Loom
was a very strange game for Lucasarts and quite a departure from their usual output. Unlike their previous hits Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken humor is definitely not the focus here. It’s based heavily in a fantasy world, but it’s not Tolkien fantasy
with happy hobbits and elves and dragons bouncing around like every other
work since the 1960s. (Well, alright, there’s one dragon.) No, this is
a serious work of fiction with some really dark themes and quite a
compelling and unique story.
 

It revolves around a kid named Bobbin Threadbare who lives in a
guild of “Weavers”, mystics who manage the literal fabric of reality.
There’s something not quite right with the kid but he’s finally come of
age and is ready to start learning his own spells himself.



CHUDTIP: There’s a reason he wears a hood.


He is
summoned to the Elders of the guild on his big “I’m a man now!”
birthday, but he overhears them saying how they aren’t happy that he’s
been taught their secrets in the first place, hinting of a peculiar
past that Bobbin’s unaware of. Before the Elders can reveal his fate a
swan bursts through the window and transforms all the other villagers into swans, who curse Bobbin as they escape through a rift that opens in the sky. Bobbin’s horribly
confused but has to find his people, so he sets off by himself to find
his flock, meeting other guilds along the way.

The game was a
true trend-setter. The greatest change it made for adventure games was
that you can never die, something that made older titles needlessly
frustrating. The CD-Rom version of Loom (released in 1992) was also the first Lucasarts title to feature voice-acting, something else that became a standard.
 

But at the same time it was so innovative, it’s quite different from any other adventure
game to date. There are no dialogue choices, for instance. You never choose
what you’re going to say in conversations and the story is fairly
linear because of it. The most compelling part of the game are the tricky puzzles,
which hinge on you using your staff to play musical notes. Four notes
compose a “draft”, basically a spell that performs various functions.
They do everything from simple stuff like opening a door to turning
yourself invisible. Playing the spell backwards reverses the effect for
most of them. It’s incredibly satisfying to figure out when to use them
and I’d implore you to stay away from Gamefaqs for this one- unlike
other needlessly convoluted adventure games (Monkey Island 2, I’m looking at you) all the puzzles make sense, as long as you can wrap your head around the drafts and remember them.




CHUDTIP: You can learn new drafts to weave from all kinds of objects, but some are more obvious than others.

 
See, the game’s difficulty involves memorizing all these musical
notes and figuring out where to cast them. Some of them are pretty
tricky, and if you don’t write down the drafts you’re going to suffer
for it. As is the case for most of these Lucasarts adventure games,
checking out the manual is key and in this case, printing it out might
not be a bad idea. You have so many drafts to cast that you’ll easily
get them mixed up if you don’t write them down. Keeping a textpad open on my desktop worked fine for me.

 
The other notable thing about the game is how beautiful it is.
When this game came out it was a revelation, with big stunning
environments and character animation, and it still holds up today. The music is equally nice, with excerpts from
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake used as a theme. The use of music as a gameplay mechanic means that there’s a lot of it, and you’re constantly listening for new drafts to weave.

If you try the game on the hardest difficulty there’s even more of a reliance on musical knowledge, as you’ll have to play the notes by ear. It’s not for everyone and thankfully the lower difficulties give you a scale that lights up when notes
are played (as you can see in these screens), so don’t worry if you can’t read music.

Also note that this Steam version is the CD-Rom version.
Many of these old adventure games have different versions with various
pros and cons, and while the cd-rom version has much improved graphics,
music and fantastic voice acting, it also loses a bit of the feeling.
Due to the limitations of cds the music doesn’t loop, instead running
for one play and then letting the game descend into eerie silence.
 



CHUDTIP: Hit Alt+Enter to get the game to run in full-screen. Not sure why they never mention how to do this.


If you can do without the voice acting, there’s actually a superior
version (the Japanese FM-Towns computer version) that you can grab here
after purchasing the game through Steam. It’s got the full looping
music, close-up character portraits that pop up when talking to people,
and a few other improvements.

Soon after it was finished,
Moriarty got the idea of continuing the story. They planned two more
sequels to make a trilogy, with each game focusing on a different
character from the world. But everyone soon became too involved with
other projects (remember, this was back when Lucasarts’ game division
was about 20 people strong) and it never got done. It’s a shame, and interesting to think what could have been.

Short, linear, but incredibly satisfying, Loom
holds up today as one of the more unique adventure games ever made. At
a measly five dollars on Steam, you would be stupid to pass this up.