Replay: ‘Scapeghost’ (1989)

Scapeghost

A screenshot of 'Scapeghost' in DOS

AKA Spook
Level 9 · text adventure · text parser · 1989
Platform · Amiga · Amstrad CPC · Atari 8-bit · Atari ST · C64 · DOS · ZX Spectrum
Download · DOS · Spectrum


There is only one reason I would ever deign to tell you about some boring old text adventure, and here it is: Scapeghost is awesome.

For one thing, the game is well-written—we hardly get to applaud computer games for good writing anymore!—and for another, it is authentically creepy.

A lot of the creep factor is indebted to the atmospheric artwork that accompanies each new location’s block of text. (One 1990 review calls the VGA art “photorealistic,” which, no, but all the versions really are very good.) You can’t interact with the pictures—that’s the sort of thing you’d find in Déjà Vu, a super-duper-early Macintosh point-and-click adventure game—but each backdrop goes a long way in establishing the setting’s grim moodiness.

You were Alan Chance. You were a good cop; now you’re a dead cop. You were trying to bust a dirty drug deal and now, in death, everyone assumes the worst about you. You wake up at your own funeral. You can practically taste the mist.

From the get-go, this adventure is slim on real mystery. If you already know to follow the one especially-suspicious dude, he basically confesses to your murder under his breath. God, why do murderers always talk to themselves? I ask you.

So you already know the identity of the two-timing detective who offed you. All that’s left is to vindicate your own death… FROM BEYOND THE GRAAAAAAVE.

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Daily Linksplosion: Weird Dreams edition

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Daily Linksplosion: Sunday, January 30, 2011

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1995’s notable un-games: ‘Cosmology of Kyoto,’ ‘I Have No Mouth…’ and ‘Chop Suey’

I was looking something up online when I fell upon these really excellent gameplay videos by Bruno de Figueiredo (AKA “dieubussy,” AKA the Eastern Mind guy).

And I was really gladdened to see the videos because, not only do they illustrate PC games that are harder to obtain and get running, but these games are also absolutely essential non-games. All three titles are contemplative by anyone’s standards, but they feel especially slow now.

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FMV: when games weren’t very scary or suspenseful

I have never played 1996’s PC full-motion video nightmare Ripper, but I totally would have, had I only known Scott Cohen from the “10th Kingdom” television miniseries stars in the game! (Also: Karen Allen and John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Walken, the late Ossie Davis, Burgess Meredith in his final fucking role, serial creep David Patrick Kelly, and of course, Paul Giamatti. What?)

Speaking of Toonstruck—I know we actually weren’t, I’m just changing the subject—I love that, beginning in 1993, Tim Curry and Mark Hamill apparently both decided to each try outdoing the other at Being in the Most Video Games Ever.

Anyway. Rumor has it Ripper is pretty OK, and God knows I love Gabriel Knight II, along with everybody. So now I am trying to think of other suspense/horror FMV PC games. There’s Tim Curry’s Frankenstein, the Phantasmagoria games (the sequel is supposedly SO AMAZING and trashy), and… And… How many games am I forgetting?

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Looking back at The Dig

What I remember most clearly about The Dig is my associated feelings of disappointment. The 2D point-and-click adventure game—released in 1995, soon after Myst—had beautiful, painterly, 1992-era graphics. That is to say, upon its release, The Dig was already dated as hell.

falls

I was 13 when I played it—The Dig had been in development since I was 7—and it was the first time I’d played an adventure game so “on rails,” so “cinematic,” so a series of narrative moments and cutscenes, each one waiting for your trigger. I remember consciously thinking, “This game doesn’t even need me! It can just play itself if it wants to!” I’d felt, at the time, that the game was, somehow, overly directed, somehow too controlling and too, too linear, and I’d wondered if that wasn’t maybe because Steven Spielberg (!!!) was too protective of The Dig’s storyline. I was frustrated.

What’s interesting, though, is how well the too-dated parts of the game have aged: the 2009 eye can’t tell the difference, I guess, between 1992 and 1995. And contrarily, as John Walker notes in his excellent Dig retrospective for Eurogamer, the 1995-era stuff—those little moments of then-impressive CGI—look comparatively cheesy next to the game’s painted backdrops and setpieces.

Perhaps other aspects of the game have withstood time, too. Maybe the game’s painstakingly planned moments of revelation, and all its meticulous exchanges of dialogue—which, in 1995, were irritating and aggravating for an old pro with her very set ideas of how an adventure game should play and feel—can be accepted and amended by a 2009 eye and ear as simply part-and-parcel of “the way adventure games were back then.” In his article, John Walker even applauds those moments for their capability at pushing a story forward.

It isn’t that I feel at odds with John Walker’s retrospective—I really don’t—but I do wish I hadn’t played The Dig in 1995. If I hadn’t, perhaps I could play it now with Mr. Walker’s fresh, wide eyes.

John Walker writes,

But [that’s] not what I’ve taken away. What I’m left with is the feeling of isolation, the ambient loneliness, and most of all, of a sense of the potential for gaming to slowly, carefully tell a story.

I will say this: I do remember that feeling of alienation, some intrinsic melancholy, in playing The Dig. I’m relieved that Mr. Walker felt that, too, because for years after, I had—perhaps narcissistically—misattributed those feelings to simply being a 13-year old girl, and to being the sort of 13-year old girl who sits all cooped up, hours at a time, with a CD-ROM spinning and spinning in front of her.

youwontbelieve

Edit: Chris “Papapishu” Person left a really incredible, illuminating post about The Dig in the comments. I’ve never done this before, and I apologize: I edited his comment, albeit only slightly, and I’m linking to it here.

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Get ready for summer sequel: revisiting ‘Fool’s Errand’

Perhaps you are wondering why Infinite Lives is being updated with alarming consistency! It is because I have the flu and a fever, and I am in bed and bored.

But besides trolling the Internet for items of interest, and coughing, I’ve also been looking around for abandonware DOS games to install.

My current squeeze? 1987’s The Fool’s Errand.

foolserrand

Late last week, GameLife published David Kushner’s interview with Cliff Johnson, the designer behind Fool’s Errand. Its sequel, The Fool and His Money, is slated for release this summer. (If you absolutely can’t wait, you can play the demo now.)

The 1987 puzzle game seemingly builds itself around the Tarot—which itself has an inbuilt sequence and circular narrative—beginning with the Major Arcana and then moving toward made-up arcana like ‘the Humbug’ and ‘the Not-A-Merchant’.

Johnson has made Fool’s Errand and all its extras available as free downloads. While he himself prefers the Windows and Macintosh versions of the game, they might require a little finagling. Intel MacBook users like me might do well to install the much uglier, 16-color DOS version instead:

DOS version

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Digital Download Korner: 10 games for your MacBook

Look, I realize that Mac gaming is, on the whole, an oxymoron, like ‘jumbo shrimp,’ ‘diet cake,’ and ‘libertarian.’ And if you want to play on your Apple laptop, why, you’re even worse off—seemingly relegated to ports, casuals, freebies, and castoffs. Until recently, even Apple admitted you were better off dual-booting into XP.

But you bought a MacBook Pro anyway, knowing full well what you were signing onto. “It’ll be a dedicated workstation,” you told yourself. “I’ll only do work on it; I’ll be careful with disk space and RAM; I’ll spend all the rest of my days trying not to covet PC gaming.” But one morning you woke up and you realized iMovie wasn’t cutting it anymore. I need to download ten games that are totally ideal for my MacBook Pro. That’s what you said. That’s what you sound like.

Fortunately, I was sitting at my word processor when I distinctly heard your cry of despair. And your cry of despair coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Mac, erm, two weeks ago.

What luck, then, that I’ve made this list of ten games! Each one is downloadable, every one, ideal for MacBook gaming. Enjoy!

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Starflight and the open-ended RPG

I remember the first time I saw Mass Effect in action, months ago. Here was a game where you could travel from solar system to solar system, exploring worlds in your ATV and interacting with alien races. And I couldn’t help but feel that I had done this before, years ago, with the Genesis.

Starflight screen, filched from Wikipedia Starflight is a now-obscure EA game that originally saw release on Microsoft’s old DOS platform, before being ported to the Genesis and a slew of other computers systems, where you essentially traveled through the galaxy, exploring planets, meeting aliens, and either talking with them and getting information or blasting each other to bits. Part of the appeal of the game is simply how fleshed out the world is; each of the alien races have histories together, and each will tell you slightly different stories about one other and themselves. Some will come after you for having a particular species of crew member on your vessel, while others will just try to blow you away immediately.

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