You might remember a long time ago when I wrote a post about my love for point and click games. It was one of the very first posts I ever wrote actually. One thing I barely touched on was the story of how I got back into those games. It’s a story I don’t feel I did justice to, so I’m going to take this post to explore that story in greater detail. So here goes.
I think I can trace the beginnings of my re surging interest back to the Penumbra games, a series of horror adventure games made by Frictional Games who would then go on to make Amnesia, a game series I have talked about quite a bit on this blog. The first game, Penumbra Overture, was this engrossing horror adventure set in this abandoned mine in Greenland. The ambient music and the environments were downright chilling (no pun intended…it is Greenland after all). About the only part I didn’t like about the game was the strange combat system where you held down the mouse button and dragged the mouse back and forth to swing your weapon. It was just a silly little mechanic which Frictional wisely took out in the next game: Penumbra Black Plague.
It was nice to be playing a game again that wasn’t all about shooting bad guys or being the perfect hero. It was nice having a game that felt more like an experience. But it wasn’t really until my second year up at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Let me set the year for you. It was only my second year there. I was living on campus in an apartment with three other guys, total strangers to me until that year. They were nice people, but I didn’t really find much in common with them so I spent most of the year as the “quiet roommate”. Because of this, and my growing tiredness for all the Shooty McShoot’emups in the gaming world, I really needed to find a different type of game that I could play in my free time, something a bit more laid back that didn’t need constant action and explosions in your face, something that wasn’t always throwing unlocks and experience points your way for every little thing you did. Something that was more focused on telling a story and showing off an environment.
It wasn’t until I scrolled through the site Good Old Games (GOG.com) that I found my answer.
Scratches was a game that as I mentioned in that post all those months ago, I had encountered before. But the website that reviewed it gave it an extremely poor review, so I ignored the game at that time. But I stumbled into it again on GOG and the user reviews were all saying it was extremely well done. So I figured, what the heck, it’s only like five bucks. What have I really got to lose in the end?
I remember my first moments with the game were middling and inconsistent. The voice acting was a little stilted, but the music was nice and ominous. I started exploring the house, reading notes and journal entries, wondering if I had wasted my money on it at first. It wasn’t until the first nighttime section in the game (the game takes place over three different days) that I found that I had extremely underestimated its potential.
The first time I heard that surreal hammering sound, I shivered. And I was playing it in the middle of the daytime.
Scratches quickly proved to me that the point and click genre still held some intangible pull for me, that there was something there that interested me greatly. Over the next couple of months or so, I played the game on and off before I finally beat it (puzzles are hard sometimes man). So then I started looking for more games like that. I picked up the original version of realMyst off of GOG, revisiting a classic game from my youth whose impact on me I didn’t fully understand until later (I made a post on that too).
Much later on I went scrolling around GOG again for some more point and click games that had a horror bent to them, which is where I stumbled upon the Dark Fall franchise. This time, I was living off campus in my own apartment with a buddy of mine, the same apartment I sit in right now writing this post. Again, I wasn’t too sure about the game when I first began playing it, but it grew on me, and sure enough I found myself engrossed in the world and the atmosphere, trying to solve the mystery of what exactly happened to the Dowerton Hotel on that fateful night in the 1940s.
Scratches may have been the game that got my mind thinking about point and click games again, but Dark Fall: The Journal (the first of three games) was the one that made me realize my love of them. It wasn’t like one of those movie moments where the main character slowly realizes everything in a single moment, but rather a slow and steady realization over a long period of time. And since those two games, I have played quite a few more. Barrow Hill, Dark Fall 2: Lights Out, The Lost Crown, The Darkness Within, Outcry, The 7th Guest, and more. I’ve played a lot of them over the last few years.
What surprised me the most about the point and click genre was that it still existed in some way. I had always assumed that point and clicks died out a long time ago considering I didn’t hear much about them aside from references to Myst every now and again. But in reality, they just went underground so to speak. There still exists this community of people who create games like these, with different twists and mechanics. There still exist games that let you take things at your own pace, that don’t constantly cram things like experience points or weapon unlocks down your throat. It was a nice feeling, knowing that there were still games that wanted to be relaxing without taking things to an extreme and almost pretentious point. It’s really hard to put into words, which is probably why I feel like I’ve never done it justice.
But more so even than the atmosphere and the pacing was just the passion behind it. Here were games that were obviously passion projects, games that the people behind them knew weren’t going to make them a whole lot of money. These were games that felt more like a genuine experience than just a cash transaction (for sixty dollars you get this many hours of fun). They felt like inspired products rather than just new iterations of the same thing. That’s what makes them memorable. They may have mediocre looking graphics. The voice acting may be stilted. And they may be beholden to a 1990s style of puzzle design at times. But I can’t deny the heart that went into making them. Of course, this is not to say that they are the only games with passionate people behind them, but it does feel like more and more that the video game industry has gotten to the point where developers prefer playing it safe than actually trying to innovate. If it was actually working, that would be one thing. But it isn’t. Most of the games that try to emulate Call of Duty end up falling flat and failing. A copycat can never be as memorable as the original.
In a perfect world, only the people with the passion for it would be making the games. This is not a perfect world. But it can be made better. All we have to do is try.
Well that’s all I have for this week (hey look it’s December and I’m still talking about horror). I hope everyone has a great holiday season and a wonderful time with their families. I wish you all the happiest of holidays, the merriest of Christmases, and so on. Tune in next Wednesday for another post and, as always, have a great week everyone.