Friday, December 12, 2014

Laura Bow Mysteries: The Colonel's Bequest & The Dagger of Amon Ra

In the eighties and early nineties, Sierra and LucasArts fought each other for the Adventure Game market.  Sierra's strategy was to push out long-running series, like King's Quest and Space Quest and keep longtime fans through name recognition.  Because of this, Sierra would often try new series and cut them if they weren't as immediately popular as their older series.  One of the series they cut, which I mentioned before, was the Manhunter series.

A little later, Sierra tried their hand at another horror series, the Laura Bow mysteries.  Like the Manhunter series, the Laura Bow adventures only got two games deep before Sierra retired the series, but it's unfortunate, because they are fantastic.  Not only were they complex thrillers, but they were some of the first games that truly scared me as a kid.

Laura Bow shrieking, found at

The first game was The Colonel's Bequest, where you play a journalism student in 1925 named Laura Bow and solve a series of cryptic murders.  At the beginning of the game, you are introduced to both Laura and her friend Lillian at college.  Lillian has to go to a family gathering at her relative's estate, an old sugar plantation, and she invites you along.  Once you are settled in (and locked in), people start dying.  You have to try to figure out who the murderer is, of course, and do your best to stop them.  The estate is full of secret passageways that allow you to spy on conversations, and of course there is plenty of classic adventure game puzzle-solving to push through.

The game is great for replaying, since there is so much going on, you aren't likely to catch everything on the first playthrough.  While much of the mystery must get solved in the final act to reach the end of the game, you can be left with a lot of questions about the details, which warrants multiple playthroughs to discover.

The butler saying "Come and get it!" by a doghouse.
Like 'come and get' what? A human head, perhaps?!
The biggest flaw of the game is a few of the cheap deaths.  You can die by checking a closet, or taking a shower, or sometimes just wandering to close to a wall.  Follow Rules for Adventuring #1: Save Often; Save Well.

The Colonel's Bequest uses a text parser for commands, in the style of King's Quest IV, so when you begin typing, a text box pops up and the game pauses while you type, so you can take as long as you need to.

The second game of the series, The Dagger of Amon Ra, bumped up the style of the game to be closer to King's Quest V, and the text parser was replaced by a pointer and a series of icons.  You right-click to change from looking, to touching, to talking, etc., and then left-click to have Laura follow the command.

In The Dagger of Amon Ra, Laura is now a reporter on her first assignment.  Your task is to attend a gala at a museum for its grand opening of its new Egyptian exhibit.  The first act has you rolling around New York City, but once you're in the museum in the second act, you're once again locked in, and the bodies start piling up.
Including, but not limited to, animals in creepy green vats.
In the first game, you were a stranger to a family affair, and the obvious motive appeared to be that the murderer was eliminating people named in the Colonel's will, so you were fairly safe from being a target (apart from the cheap deaths).  In the second game, you have no idea what the motive could possibly be, so the stakes are raised, since you might become a victim yourself.  At the climax you find yourself being chased and you have to do some very quick puzzle-solving to get away.  It's hectic and frightening--but then we get to the one fatal flaw of the game.

In the first game, the biggest flaws was cheap deaths, but that wasn't too big of a deal if you learned to avoid them and saved often.  In the second game, the biggest flaw (and a deplorable one) is that you can be a dead (wo)man walking.  In adventure games, the Dead Man Walking is when you are not in any immediate danger, but you cannot possibly complete the game without reverting to an earlier save (if you have one), or completely restarting.

Laura getting yelled at by her boss.
"Maybe I should restart my career."
In The Dagger of Amon Ra, there are at least two ways this can happen, and unfortunately they're right at the climax.  Being that there's an Egyptian theme, the Rosetta Stone is housed in the museum, which you have to find to allow you to read and write hieroglyphics (as if the Rosetta stone simply says Owl = A).  The Rosetta Stone is broken in half, and you have to find both pieces.  If you don't, you're hosed.  One half is hard to notice, and you don't have much chance to get it.  If you miss it, you're out of luck.  Similarly, there's a special item you need to grab before you get to the chase, and just like the Rosetta Stone, you don't have much of a chance to get it, and it's a bit pixilated.  Without a walkthrough (or some sharp eyes and good luck), you might never complete the game.

It's a shame, because beyond that, The Dagger of Amon Ra is just as good as The Colonel's Bequest.

But, knowing this ahead of time, be sure to save in multiple slots.  Even with this problem (which, in fact, a lot of Sierra adventures were prone to), the game is thrilling and ups the stakes from the first.

A guy in a military uniform saying "Please rejoin ze party now, or I vill be forced to injure you."
For instance, there is this guy.
Sadly, after the second game, Sierra put Laura Bow to bed and continued on their other popular franchises, despite some positive critical praise.

Both The Colonel's Bequest and The Dagger of Amon Ra can be found on most abandonware sites.  Take a look and give the games a shot, if you like horror, adventure, mysteries, or just old games.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Latchkey #62 - Ghosts

Fixed a quick bug where when you moved to another room, the directional box didn't refresh.

After that I took a break from recoding the same old stuff and went to work on a new feature: ghosts!

Except the moment I began working on it, I realized that it can do a lot of what the player can do: move through rooms, open doors, etc.  I need to move some things around again.

Now I see the appeal of object-oriented programming.  Finally I have a need!  So now I've restructured so there is a Character class that both the Player and NPCs inherit from.

Well, I was hoping to be able to shrink the Player class a bit, and I did... but just a teensy bit, nothing major, just some shared variables.  Unfortunate the Move command, for instance, is far more complex for the Player than it needs to be for the ghosties.  Better than nothing, to get those couple of basic functions together, at least.

Man, when I get tired of trudging through the mud of recoding what I've already done, and I move on to a new feature, it just makes me rethink other major structures I've got in place.

Next, though, comes working on the realtime textbox.  Ghosts don't matter much if you don't get to see their effects.  What kind of event listener do you need for autonomous stuff running in the background?  Is that even the proper way to do that?  My initial thought is to check on each frame... something.  I want to make a generic listener that can take a ping from a ghost, or other realtime events.  Perhaps it requires a custom event, or perhaps there's something I just don't know about that already exists that can take some kind of internal signal.

Or perhaps there's a completely different way to do it that doesn't require a listener at all.  Perhaps ghosts and any other realtime object can have a pointer to the Interface class so they can manipulate the realtime textbox directly.  I think I'll try that and see if it works.