Here we investigate the overlooked, the underappreciated, the Shameworthy titles of the world. Jump in to an existing mission thread and give your thoughts, or start your own to kick off a discussion.
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Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by Beige » Thu Aug 21, 2014 3:15 pm

I wanted to remind everybody to play Shadowgate. I think it launches today! I'm a kickstarter backer, so this game is coming to me pre-paid presumably when I get home tonight. Unless you are old like me, most of you will have no context for Shadowgate, so let me break it down for ya:

To really understand what the significance of Shadowgate is, your awareness about games had to be forming some time in the early NES era back when back when the world of gaming was split between text adventure 'mostly in the mind' experiences and something like Asteroids with no plot. Shadowgate falls in the same liminal space as the original King's Quest -- bridging the divide between graphics and story at the dawn of Gaming Time, although unlike KQ, it has now faded into gaming's forgotten lore, remembered primarily by those who were there at the time.

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Shadowgate is notable for being one of the very first Macventures 'words-plus-pictures' video game experiences out there, and in a lot of ways pioneered the concept of 'poke at environment, get item, use item on environment, solve problem , advance' that we would later see replicated ad infinitum with flourishes and refinements in games like Maniac Mansion. While this may have not seem revelatory today, trust me back in 1987 it was a hell of a thing for the world of adventure gaming and it was very much A Big Deal.

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The gist is pretty simple. It's Fantasy Land, and prognosticators have determined that some asshole wizard named the Warlock Lord is just about to complete a dark ritual and summon The Behemoth... which is bad since this will destroy the world. You are some guy... don't know if you even have a name... charged by the king with kicking down the door of Castle Shadowgate where the Warlock Lord lives and sorting this problem out. You will move through the castle a-la text adventure, LOOKing, USEing and FIGHTing by pointing and clicking on stuff. You will die a lot from traps and monsters, but eventually you will learn the right paths and item combinations to succeed.

The game recieved multiple re-issues in its history, being updated famously on the NES to include both COLOR and MUSIC (neither a part of the original release) which has now become iconic to the game experience. As a person who once practiced his grade-school music lessions banging out 8-bit chiptunes from Shadowgate on the family piano I am deeply touched by the fact that the team doing the remake (who are, incredibly, the same now-old-men responsible for creating the original version Back In The Day) went all the way to Japan to track down the composer of the original 8-bit tunes from the NES version and get the rights to modernize/update them for the Steam release.

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Anyway, Shadowgate may not mean anything to players who weren't gaming in the mid '80s, but for those who were it is a glorious thing to see such a triumphant return from obscurity for a beloved classic from my youth. I've played Shadowgate several times since childhood on various emulators, but I understand that this version has been re-imagined in a lot of ways, so I hope the experience holds up 30 years later. Viva la Kickstarter.

If you like the experience, I encourage you to check out Uninvited, which is the NES-only successor to Shadowgate, built in the same engine but framed as a modern horror experience where your car crashes at the side of the road with the creepy old house full of death the only thing visible within walking distance (Jason Voorheesism ensues). I've never actually finished Uninvited despite renting both it and Shadowgate many many times at the $3.99 weekend price from Hollywood Video (which no longer exists) in Petrolia, back in the day.

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I may post updates to this thread on both the new Shadowgate experience and my time with Uninvited, if I am motivated to do both.
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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by Angry Jedi » Thu Aug 21, 2014 3:32 pm

I only played one of these games -- Deja Vu, which we had on the Atari ST -- and didn't really get into it at the time, probably because I was too young to appreciate it, but I've certainly been aware of these games my whole life, and I'm always surprised when people haven't heard of them.

That said, I wasn't aware they were doing a remake. It does like kind of fabulous, though, so I will be very interested to hear how it ends up.

Also, holy shit did Atari ever rip off the Mac's GUI for the ST.
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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by Angry Jedi » Thu Aug 21, 2014 3:35 pm

Out in 2 hours at the time of writing. Here's the Steam page.

I love that one of the trailers is basically "This Game Is Going to Kill You."

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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by asatiir » Thu Aug 21, 2014 5:09 pm

Wait.... IT IS OUT TODAY?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?
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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by BusyZombieLord » Thu Aug 21, 2014 9:03 pm

Awesome! I know what I am going to pick up this weekend now. I liked the NES game back in the day but never finished it. This has been on my steam wishlist for months but I had no idea it was out today.
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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by asatiir » Sun Aug 24, 2014 12:39 pm

Played a bit of it yesterday, I'm really liking it. I didn't play the original but had a good time playing Uninvited, which the dev once told me in an email that they would give that the same treatment later.
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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by Beige » Mon Aug 25, 2014 3:26 pm

Update: L and I dug into Shadowgate for a few hours last night. Initial thoughts:

Yep, even with the new coat of paint and the addition of a few things here and there like an actual Character Name, it's still Shadowgate for sure.... for better or worse.

Really really liking the presentation. It's kind of obvious that the game was made on a limited Kickstarter budget, but so much love has gone into the visuals and the audio it hardly matters. The various re-imagined musical themes are more quiet and understated than I was expecting, but this leads to a nice contemplative experience. The Death Music, which used to be such a strong YOU ARE DEAD indicator is now a quiet trickle, gently accompanying your final journey as the reaper whisks your soul away.

I'd forgotten some of the core hooks of the game in the 25 or so years since I've played it. Spent the first run through lighting torches all over the place like a boss, then noticed about half an hour into things that "oh shit, my torch is guttering and... yeah... remembered I'm supposed to be TAKING these things and sacking them away in my invetory, not lighting them... uh..." YOU ARE DEAD.

Playing on Hard Difficulty aka "As close to the experience of the original" sayeth the game credits. I find myself instantly liking Yorick, the not-appearing-in-the-original skull companion who sits in your interface, observing your quest and making the occasional pithy appropos or sardonic comment. He's not overly helpful (though you can start pleading with him for hints if you get stuck... I have not resorted to this yet) but he is kind of like having Morte along for the ride, which I approve of.

Much like the Nameless One's daily 9-to-5 or the protagonists of Virtue's Last Reward, I experience a constant sense of unprompted flashbulb vestigial memory blasts while playing this game which cue me into "I was here once" solutions I cannot possibly know. Standing in a room, presented with a gallery of mirrors... I suddenly know with total certainty - without knowing HOW I know - that I must break the one second on the left with the hammer which can be found in the dragon room, 2 rooms back.

This sixth sense has been a great boon to my progress. Yes... yes.... this random torch can be pulled... I KNOW it. It has however also led to my bumping around wildly in several places, unable to progress because of prior assumptions. Last night we ran into a situation where I KNEW that the spells we have in our posession aught to have done... something.... here... only to discover after a night of ruminating that no, in fact what I was now running into was a situation where the devs had deliberately changed the experience here in a fundamental way from the original version. I managed not to spoil myself on these new changes, but it is enough to know that sometimes my false memory will betray me in this place.

Flavor is a really hard thing to adjudicate, but I feel that Shadowgate really **nails** that sense of Shadow-gateness... if that is a thing. The LOOK, TOUCH, SPEAK, USE style interface elements are startling and archaic at first -- like speaking Latin -- but they quickly blend into a lovely, classical game patina. I like the little touches... like being able to ALT-NUMBER hotkey anything in your inventory (a spell, an item) for quick access. I like double-tapping the LOOK command and caps-locking any action as a permanent left-click until I right-click to deactivate it. Someone has clearly thought through how LOOK ITEM SPEAK should work in 2014 and redesigned for access while maintaining the critical feel of the original.

I also like the total and constant sense of threat and menace. Unlike Monkey Island, Shadowgate makes no bones about the fact that it is actively trying to kill you all the time. It's Dragon's Lair. Shit is fucking lethal in here. I am well on my way to the "discover 67 unique ways to die" achievement, no question... though I suspect I will be a far cry from the "finish the game in < 2000 turns" achievment for Shadowgate masters. There is a pleasing old-skoolness to the "as you reach for this X, the floor crumbles beneath you and you plunge to your doom" sensation. I also particularly like how each new spell transmits vague information about its usage. "Looking" at the first rune gives you "the sense that a shadowy spiritaul figure is standing just outside the periphery of your vision" while the second "conveys a great sense of an immense, slab-like weight pressing down on you" but provides no other context beyond headaches and singed eyebrows when the spell is used on this and that. What am I supposed to do with that? Experiment and find out, I guess.

I used the words "Cryptic Crossword" to describe Shadowgate this morning and I think the analogy is apt. This isn't the funny papers. It's not trying to be accessible... in fact, it is trying its best to be a box with spikes and blades on it that slices your hands and laughs derisively at your attempts to plumb its secrets. It is a kind of entertainment loved only by a specific type of bloody-minded masochist -- a style of entertainment that once roamed the land in great herds times of yore but is now all but extinct: The "You Have To Be This Smart" PC adventure game. A bit like a text adventure... a bit like Myst, but with fangs. Something that challenges your grey matter and has no problem at all with squatting there laughing at you (quite literally as seen on screen 2) because, ha ha, YOU FOOL!

For this reason, I feel like the Shadowgate experience fits its Living Castle theme perfectly. It's a gorgeous but thoroughly unwelcoming ride that revels in its role as a murderbox for cocky and confident would-be heroes. More Gygax dungeon less La-Mulana. For this reason, each victory -- even a small one, such as a torch which is pulled to release a secret passage -- seems and feels genuinely heroic in a way that Press X To Open does not. It's you vs the Warlock Lord. Your wits vs their pits. And yeah, you'll die over and over again and you may (unless you're smarter than me) come crashing headlong into that Adventure Wall... but hopefully you'll go out, clear your head, rethink your options and come back next time ready to Dragon's Lair a little bit further.

Looking forward to see what future adventuring efforts will unearth!
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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by Rampant Bicycle » Mon Aug 25, 2014 4:29 pm

Sample of what talking about this game sounds like:

Rampant: We probably shouldn't break those other mirrors.

Beige: Why not? I mean, it's not like you can
Spoiler: show
discover the hidden door
without learning that they're breakable by hitting them...

Rampant: Honestly? Paranoia. I don't trust them not to make the game unwinnable later. They're not above making you
Spoiler: show
waste a perfectly good torch in the tutorial
at which point you're better off reloading and trying again anyway to save turns and such.

(A brief, thoughtful pause)

Beige: They are kind of fuckers. I don't know if they'd go to that length or not, but possibly...

Save early, save often - a good mantra in any game but especially here. Then again, I was that kid who would place bookmarks in her Choose Your Own Adventure books so that she could return to an earlier 'save' and try something different.

I do maintain that a game puzzle design truly deserving of the label "genius" is of the sort that may not seem to make much sense at the time but which, in retrospect (or at the critical moment of realization), will give one that little spark of admiration for how actually, if viewed in the right way, all the needed clues were there all along and things do indeed make sense. Shadowgate isn't QUITE doing that - there is at least one action within the first hour or so of gameplay that appears to be beneficial but there isn't any damned reason to DO it. You might hit on it as you poke around trying to <VERB> <THING> and be pleasantly surprised, but if you don't hit on it I have yet to see anything that might prompt one to take that particular action anywhere.

This is of course very 80s - a very unapologetically retro-game experience - and I find overall that (so far) the "What the hell?" factor is outweighed by a certain pleasantly popcorn-movie-ish satisfaction inherent in sitting on the couch and going "What if we tried hitting it?" or "Wait, see that bit of description? Try ____________!" at the person currently at the helm.

It probably says something that while I enjoy the more painterly approach to the art in the remake, it makes me feel a bit concerned that I won't be able to pixel-hunt efficiently enough. ;)

But I must have enjoyed it at least a bit - I've been reflecting off and on about how to get past That One Thing Where We Got Stuck all morning.
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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by RedSwirl » Fri Aug 29, 2014 10:13 pm

Never heard of these games before the announcement, but then again I started playing video games in 1990.

So these were like some of the first graphic adventures right?
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Re: Shadowgate: We are only passing through history

by Beige » Tue Sep 02, 2014 5:23 pm

We finished Shadowgate (2014) last night after a long-weekend marathon that saw us up into the late hours longer than I want to admit.

Final thoughts: Welp, it won't convince anybody who wasn't already sold on the concept, but I have to hand it to the team at Zojoi for a successful modernization of a classic experience.

The classic-ness of the whole quest is basically the litmus test by which the product either succeeds or fails in your eyes, so take that as a word of warning. This is the kind of game where you can click "use sword on self" and have your main character slit their own throat (though you have to do it twice to confirm)... so, yeah.

As was the original, so is the remake -- essentially a text adventure with some graphics bolted onto it for show. Can you click "go -> window" and have Jair leap to his doom from just about every balcony in Shadowgate? Of course. There are achievements for finding 35, 45, 55, and 65 unique ways to die in this game and all of them kick you over to the Grim Reaper screen, forcing you to load a quicksave. It's either a bug or a feature - you decide.

I wish the guys at Zojoi had $155k instead of $55k of kickstarter money to make this happen, because we probably would have seen a product whose art was much improved. Most of the time I am on board with the new visuals - there are certainly some striking vistas in this game - but if you can't deal with tweened motion sprites animated by stretch and skew filters you should probably steer clear. Me, I didn't mind it... it definitely had that "two guys making the best porridge they can make" feel.

One of the things which was substantially improved in the quest was the overall plotline, such as it is. Don't expect Shakespeare out of Shadowgate, but at least you get some context and cutscenes at regular intervals helping you contextualize what's happening as you roam around.

Some of the puzzles (on "master" difficulty, which is admittedly my own fault) are real bears though. Generally well designed but with one or two exceptions requiring the kind of serious leap in logic that can stop momentum in a game like this in its tracks. I'm looking at you, wooden flute. After banging my head for HOURS on Monday on certain stuck points I was ready to throw in the towel, but somehow we persevered and managed to hang tight on fleeing to GameFAQs. In the end, we finished off the whole quest with nothing more than a gentle forum hint nudge at two specific points. No, I did not resort to the hint-giving Yorick skull... he wasn't in the original dammit.

Being a series vet potentially did me more harm than good this time around. I loved the sense of constant "I've been in this room before!" nostalgia I got at every turn, but as most of the big puzzles have been reworked and refactored for the 2014 game, I found myself more than once wild goose-chasing solutions such as potions of levitation which just straight up weren't included. I'd have been better to keep a more open mind, but what can you do?

I found overall that the structure hung much tighter on this version... things seemed more cohesive, less random Gary Gygax foolishness ('there's a hellhound in this room... because....?') going on. The primary beats are still the same... golden thorn, platinum horn. Warlock lord.... Just that the locations and solutions for these things had been re imagined for the better and expanded to quite a degree. Shadowgate has an inner keep, caves, caverns and four towers to explore now.

Overall, absolutely a worthy remake provided you are ready (as I was) for some grit in your adventure gaming. Kickstarter money well spent.

The poor devs are, tragically, already casting about in panic and asking people to share and promote Shadowgate in their peer group to get their sales numbers up. I suppose this thread is me doing my part. According to reports, Shadowgate stayed up on Steam for about a tenth of an second before being kicked off the front page by 11 other big name games on its release week and now nobody is buying copies because... either ignorance or just mismatch with public taste.

This absolutely sucks, as the possibility of a similar-treatment remake for Uninvited and Deja Vu (which the Zojoi guys have already expressed interest in) is now up in the air and far from certain. Dammit, it must be hard to be an indie dev right now.... but at least we had this this one glorious nostalgia factory for a shining moment.

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