Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Adventure of the Week: LOOM (1992, CD-ROM Version)

Somehow, I have managed to make it through more than two years of weekly adventuring without tackling any of the classic point-and-click efforts from Lucasfilm Games.  So it's high time we remedy that, with a look at Brian Moriarty's LOOM, originally released in 1990 and upgraded to this CD "talkie" version in 1992.


LOOM doesn't get a lot of love these days, primarily because it is rather brief, and not as wildly funny as most of the publisher's other titles.  Its unusual interface also takes some getting used to -- it has no inventory system, only a musical staff that the hero can use to cast magical drafts (spells), and basic point-and-click examine actions for items.  But I think LOOM is an unrecognized milestone in the development of the adventure game, for a couple of reasons.

One, LOOM is a clear bridge between the Infocom era and the point-and-click adventure; its use of spells, substantial support for applying the wrong spells, and generally wizardly narrative call the Enchanter series to mind.  Brian "Professor" Moriarty's career spanned the technological gamut, from Atari BASIC (Crash Dive!) to Infocom's Z-machine (Wishbringer) and Lucasarts' SCUMM engine, so the game's pedigree is solid.  And LOOM's design feels like a wholehearted but carefully considered embrace of the graphical, mouse-driven age -- the minimal interface makes sense, as an attempt to tell a compelling interactive story without text or other complex forms of input.

Second, this CD-ROM edition of LOOM is a fine early example of adventure gaming finding its voice.  Raw CD Redbook audio was used originally, as on-the-fly mixing of CD and Soundblaster streams was still a bit iffy, and much of the original dialogue had to be edited down in order to squeeze the voiceover content onto the disc. Internet heresy though it may be, in my opinion the reworked dialogue is significantly improved over the original script -- it has more character and more consistency, and some generic lines are replaced with much wittier stuff.  It's also much more British in flavor, and eminently more actable, suiting the voice casting.  (Unfortunately, there are also a couple of new typos in the new onscreen text!)  Unlike the competition at Sierra On-Line, Lucasarts already had access to proper sound studios and acting talent as the new technology dawned, and this was the first CD-ROM "talkie" adventure game I played that actually sounded like a professional effort. 

The game offers Standard, Practice, and Expert difficulty levels -- I'll be playing on Standard here.  The difficulty setting affects how the game's musical distaff is presented -- Expert mode doesn't label or echo the notes, so we have to learn and replay the drafts based on pitch alone.  The original release had another extra in the Expert mode, which I'll detail below, but that was omitted from the CD version along with some other details.  The current Steam release unfortunately lacks the original "radio drama" intro disc, and the Windows engine by default has an annoying graphics smoothing algorithm turned on which muddies the improved VGA graphics a bit.  The CD version also lacks the constant background music of the original, although the music excerpts that remain sound very nice.  It's good to have the onscreen text turned on, also, as some of the dialogue clips cut off too soon or are poorly aligned, leaving bits of starts and endings in the wrong place.

As always, I encourage interested adventurers to visit the world of LOOM before proceeding here.  It's not a long or difficult game, and it is still commercially available for a reasonable price on Steam.  I should warn you that the drafts are somewhat randomized, so don't take my word for any of the sequences mentioned below.  Beyond this point, young Weaver, there lie...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

(Apologies for this screenshot, I hadn't yet turned off the graphical filtering.)

As the story begins, a glowing messenger nymph arrives to wake a young, napping Weaver, our hero Bobbin Threadbare, and tell him that he is needed in the village; the voice actress does a Billie Burke/Glenda impersonation here that isn't wholly successful.  Bobbin doesn't have much to do after she departs, except climb down the mountain to the village.  If he inspects the lone leaf hanging on the tree under which he has been sleeping, it falls.  "The last leaf of autumn!", he notes.  This is portentous.

Bobbin visits the Weaver village, his home, which is now deserted; one tent can be entered, where we find the Book of Patterns (with which Bobbin is already familiar), some green fabric, and a dye-pot.  Clicking on the pot, we hear a four-note tune which presumably is a dye spell of some sort.  But at this point we have no way to cast spells, as Bobbin is under-staffed.  (Sorry.  You knew that pun was coming somewhere along the way here.)

Tapestries inside the improbably large temple hidden behind the entrance of one tent tell the story of the Great Guilds -- this bit feels very Infocom-ish, as three tapestries in sequence are encountered, and elegant prose describes the Creation of the World, the Passing of Two Shadows, the Decline of the Great Guilds and the foretold coming of a Third Shadow.

As we reach the heart of the temple, Bobbin witnesses the council of Elders punishing an older female Weaver named Hetchel, who has a lifelong connection to our hero at what now seems to be great cost to her own well-being.  She is transformed into a swan's egg, unexpectedly, when the penalty draft is played, and the other Weavers in authority are transformed into swans.  This is all very strange indeed, and the voice acting here is excellent.

The temple is invaded by another swan, and they all fly off, leaving Bobbin alone in the temple.  He picks up the lead Weaver's discarded distaff, and now he can play drafts, though he only has access to the first three notes, c, d and e.  The swan's egg is trying to open, with e-c-e-d echoing on the musical staff when we click on it.  Playing this opening draft hatches the egg, freeing Hetchel -- now in bird form -- who tells Bobbin that strange things have been happening ever since he was born.  She calls him the "Loom Child," telling him that he must escape this island and find his destiny, before she dives into a rift in reality, following the swans to dimensions unknown.

The sequence C-f-g-c plays on the loom if we click it, but most of the notes are too high for Bobbin to play at the moment.  Exploring the village, we learn that the seagulls on the pier sing e-c-e-d also, so this is apparently a bird theme of some kind.  Or an "opening" theme, actually -- we can cast it on a clam, beachside, and one of the gulls gets a treat.  This is no doubt a useful draft for avian scavengers, and it provides a hint about how this universe works.

Now we can hear more specifically that the dye-pot draft is d-d-c-d; we can use this draft to dye things green, though Bobbin hates that grass green color.  Tipping a flask over in the dye tent plays g-f-f-e.  The manual lists all of the spells, with empty staffs for note-taking, which indirectly hints at what sorts of drafts we should be looking for, though some are red herrings.  The randomization of the drafts falls into two categories -- some spells are reversible, allowing Bobbin to do or undo something, while others are palindromes that operate in one direction only.

Some hollow trees west of the village contain three owls, yielding the partial draft c-d-d... but guessing at a fourth note isn't helpful -- Bobbin tells us either that the sequence we've tried isn't a draft, or that he doesn't think he spun that one right if we do come up with the right sequence on our own.  We have to free a rabbit from some brambles in a nearby graveyard where a fourth owl sits -- it takes the rabbit as prey and returns to its tree, allowing us to listen and complete the draft.  It is in fact c-d-d-c, at least in my playthrough, but we have to see the whole sequence revealed before we can cast the draft; guesswork doesn't count.

Another tent in the village has some gold in it.  It's dark and hard to see inside -- but, ah, we can cast the owl's spell on the darkness to see with the creature's night vision assisting us.  A spinning wheel here is used to turn straw into gold -- d-e-d-c -- and discovering this also enables the "f" note on the staff.

What now?  We can't seem to do anything with the Loom in the temple, its magic is beyond Bobbin's ken as a novice Weaver.  Bobbin's mother, Lady Cygna Threadbare, is buried in the graveyard, and her headstone contains a poem with some clues.  Bobbin notes the last bit in particular -- "The day the sky is opened / And the Tree is split asunder."  We can focus on the sky from the graveyard, but trying to open it yields only, "Maybe I should stand a bit closer."  Returning to the mountaintop, and opening the sky, we see lightning strike the tree and send it tumbling into the lake below; it floats and comes to rest by the dock.  Is this transportation?  Yes, Bobbin can set out on the floating tree for parts unknown, with some of the swans trailing behind him.

Along the way, he encounters an ocean-borne tornado, a waterspout.  The open draft doesn't do anything, but clicking on the waterspout yields c-f-c-c.  Reversing this twisting draft to c-c-f-c untwists it., and reaching shore earns Bobbin access to the "g" on the staff.

From the beach we can enter a forest or approach the glowing green city of Crystalgard.  In the city, we observe an official of some kind conversing with an older man.  Approaching, Bobbin can eavesdrop -- these are the Bishop, and Master Crucible.  Apparently a sphere with the ability to see 4-6 hours into the future has been produced, but the Bishop demands an 8-hour capacity.  After these characters depart, Bobbin can enter a tall crystal; ringing the bell inside transports us to a tower where two men are sharpening a scythe of some sort.  It's a restricted area, so we are summarily sent back (though not killed, as this is a Lucasarts game!)

We can enter another part of the crystal structure, where one Master Goodmold welcomes us and asks if it's true that peering beneath a Weaver's hood brings instant, agonizing death.  Bobbin doesn't know, but this is a useful hint.  Goodmold allows us to look around, "but if you break it, you buy it!"  A finely sculpted chalice is worth investigating -- we can reverse the spill spell we learned from the flask back home to fill it with wine, though we don't need to do so.  We can also explore this area, using one of those then-fascinating "force the player to navigate the 3-D space!  Isn't this cool?" paths through the background's several doors and transport towers.

In the forest outside the city, Bobbin meets a group of four shepherds who are sure he is here to steal their sheep.  They have heard of a wizard foretold and ask Bobbin to show off some magic; they also have some invisibility magic of their own.  None of our drafts seem to work, but when they become invisible, we hear g-c-g-c.  Let's try that... no good, they are not impressed.  This scene has much-improved dialogue compared to the original's generic dismissals -- the shepherds are heartily-voiced and jauntily insulting, sending poor Bobbin away with, "Don't trip on your robe, little Wizard!"

Maybe we can use the invisibility spell in the crystal city now.  We can see something going on up in the tower, probably the people working on the scythe.  We seem to have no opportunity to go invisible ourselves, though; at least there's no obvious way to target Bobbin.  The crystal room is a cemetery, where we can note husband and wife, Luscent and Softshard Bottleblow, buried side by side.

If we empty the chalice and examine it, Bobbin remarks on its beauty and we get a brief history lesson from Master Goodmold.  This artifact is the famous Chromax Conundrum -- for unknown reasons, carved out of diamond instead of glass by Luscent Bottleblow -- and it is the only surviving example of his work after a dragon attacked the city years ago.  We learn that the first Scrying Sphere was lost in the attack -- so perhaps we should see if we can find it.

While we have been exploring, a solution comes to mind -- we can cast the invisibility spell on the people working in the tower, which effectively makes Bobbin invisible, it just works differently than I had assumed.  He can eavesdrop on the workers to learn that Master Crucible is selling a scrying sphere to the Bishop for a considerable sum, though nobody knows why the Clerics would want such a thing.

Invisible Bobbin can also walk right past the workers and take a different crystal tower to access the Scrying Sphere.  And now, in one of those illogical time-travel puzzles, we learn that e-f-f-e apparently transforms Bobbin (in what appears to be an illusory fashion) into some beast that scares the Shepherds away.  So now we have a new draft -- I guess the learning is legit, it's just a paradox that doesn't quite make sense.  We can also see a vision of fire in a cave, and of a swan's eye, hearing C-f-g-c as the associated draft.  Examining the deadly giant scythe on the way back out of the tower, we learn a-a-a-g -- apparently a sharpening draft.

Using the illusory spell, the shepherds now see Bobbin as the dragon of times past and flee.  A new draft, d-e-f-a, sends the remaining shepherd's sheep over the fence, and the inverse brings them back again.  We can dye the sheep green, and the shepherd complains about it -- how can he watch sheep he can hardly see? -- but there doesn't seem to be a reason to do this.

At the far end of the shepherd's fields, we find a small cottage.  Here, Fleece, female leader of the Shepherds, tells Bobbin that there are problems with the dragon.  The creature spots the white sheep easily and makes off with them, which is making it very hard to fill Bishop Mandible's order for 10,000 sheep.  Hmmmm.  Is he raising an army?  Of sheep?

There's a sickly lamb in the cottage, and we can try to dye it green to demonstrate the idea that obviously springs to mind, but no, that doesn't work.  Fleece's healing spell -- c-a-a-c -- is not helping the poor animal, but we should make note of the spell for later.  We can turn all the sheep in the field green -- and immediately, the Dragon arrives and picks up Bobbin as the easiest target.  She is disappointed in her catch, comically so, and rather vain and house-proud to boot; this dialogue is substantially rewritten for CD, and the performance is very entertaining. 

The dragon informs us that some wizard came in a while back and made off with much of her treasure, and destroyed her glass collection, except for a glass ball that survived.  Can we reverse d-e-d-c to turn her gold into straw?  Yes.  She demands we turn it back -- NOW -- but we gain the "a" note on the distaff for our trouble.  We also learn that she's not fond of breathing fire -- she can do it, but generally won't.

So we have learned a bit, and we aren't being eaten, but we are still stuck in the Dragon's cave.  The healing spell doesn't help us, but we can use the e-f-f-e spell to manifest as fire -- apparently we look like whatever our target fears or at least dislikes the most.  The dragon flees, and afterwards... hmmm.  The straw is actually all burned, so Bobbin's fire mode was more than an illusion, it seems.  Now we can navigate out of the dragon's cave through an unblocked passage -- the fire fulfilled the earlier vision from the scrying sphere -- and cast the owl spell so we can maneuver through the dark cavern, with a simple "spotlight" showing only the immediate area around Bobbin.  We can wander around quite a bit, but the only "success" I had here was finally walking Bobbin off a ledge, causing him to take a one-way fall to another part of the cavern.

There's a pool here; what draft should we use on it?  Clicking on it yields a new draft -- f-a-a-f -- which shows Bobbin's reflection in the water.  Trying the spill spell indicates that we must be trying to flood the cave; the inverse, however, dries it up, and we find the dragon's Scrying Sphere.  It shows us an erupting volcano, reprises the earlier vision of Mother Cygna, and shows us Bishop Mandible acting generally suspicious.

Now how do we get out of here?  I tried a number of spells on the pool in both dry and filled states, to no avail, before figuring out that we have to travel back into the maze proper by going up behind the area where we emerged after falling.  Now we can make our way out of the cavern to a twisty outdoor staircase, untwisting it to continue. 

We find ourselves in a cemetery, lit with an eery orange glow.  A boy lies fast asleep on the ground; we can cast the healing spell to wake him, long enough to learn that he is one Rusty Nailbender of the blacksmiths' guild, before he falls asleep again.  There really is some beautiful artwork in this game, considering the era and the newness of 256-color VGA graphics:

Bobbin can approach the impressive smithy; he is told by a strapping, shirtless man in the tower that the gate only opens for Blacksmiths, but the open spell gets Bobbin in, at least until he is immediately escorted back out.

Casting the fear spell on Rusty doesn't do anything; we can try the "send home" sheep tune, but Rusty just complains about being bothered and goes back to sleep.  We can try to cast the open draft on one of the graves -- the ground shakes, and Bobbin concludes that perhaps he should not try that.

What have we learned recently?  The reflect spell doesn't do anything interesting on the grave, despite its shiny bronze surface. But we can cast it on the boy, and it switches our images.  Now Bobbin looks like Rusty and can enter the smithy.  Unfortunately, just like the real Rusty, Bobbin has gathered no firewood, so he is thrown into a dungeon while the distaff is taken from him as a scrawny bit of fuel.  The blacksmiths are busy making swords for the Clerics, which seems a very unclerical thing for them to be needing.

Stuck in the cell without the distaff, Bobbin-as-Rusty is tempted to sleep on the straw.  It's the only thing we can do, actually, and sets off a fairly complicated cutscene.  The dragon spots the sleeping "Bobbin" and devours his flesh (offscreen), leaving a bloody skeleton behind and an angry Ghost of Rusty.  The distaff cast into the fire magically refuses to burn, drawing the attention of Hetchel (still in bird form), who arrives avis ex machina to return it to Bobbin, who has returned to his normal appearance now that the mirror image is disrupted.

Exiting the cell with the open draft, Bobbin can explore the smithy a bit, or would do so if he didn't realize he's inappropriately dressed.  We can go downstairs to eavesdrop on Bishop Mandible some more; like most power-mad world-domination schemers, he's not being very circumspect about his plans.  The ten thousandth sword is almost finished!  We'd better cast an unsharpen draft -- g-a-a-a -- but it's too noisy to cast any drafts in the active forge.  Listening to the Bishop's conversation produces a brief respite from the blacksmith's pounding during which we can do a little weaving.  The draft a-a-a-g doesn't do anything, so let's try sharpening it instead.  This doesn't quite work as I expected -- it acts the same way a twist spell would have, ruining the blade and getting the quietly lurking Bobbin noticed by Bishop Mandible, and not in a good way.

Bobbin is thrown into a hanging cage, where Mandible's assistant Cob (seen later in a Secret of Monkey Island cameo, where his name is spelled "Cobb" and he promotes LOOM) is eager to torture the young Weaver.  Bobbin and Loom's provinciality are somewhat underestimated by the arrogant Bishop, and there's some good dialogue and acting in this scene.  Bobbin is forced to demonstrate his power by opening the cage -- it comes to mind that perhaps it would be more interesting to open the cage of a small dragon also housed here, but it's not accessible at the moment.

Mandible takes Bobbin's staff, and informs us that he plans to open the vast graveyard below, raising an army of ten thousand undead soldiers and launching the Age of the Clerics.  He has preparations to attend to and dismisses Bobbin, under Cob's watchful eye, as he is to touch nothing.  We can try to gaze into the Bishop's Scrying Sphere -- not touching it, mind -- but Cob won't stand for it and demands a foolish trade.  He wants to do some looking of his own, testing the old warning that to look under a Weaver's hood brings death, and it does, as it turns out.  It's a quick, disintegratey death, though Cob's screams are heard only as annoying noise by the Bishop out on the balcony.  (The original version showed us Bobbin's bare face, briefly, when playing on Expert difficulty, but that feature was cut for this edition; I admit to being curious, but storywise I like the idea of the Weavers staying hooded and mysterious.)

Now Bobbin can observe the sphere, where he sees an image of mother Cygna again, a roast bird of some sort, and a single black feather floating to the ground.  We return to the balcony, but do not have time to stop the Bishop -- he opens the very fabric of the world, releasing an evil being who resembles Disney's Maleficent.

The new CD script makes it clear that Chaos does not consider herself to have been summoned; she has been released, and thirsts for power.  She tears the Bishop's body apart in a surprisingly graphic bit of animation, and then stalks off in search of evil to do on this plane.  The distaff is left behind for Bobbin to reclaim, but the other cage in the dungeon is now open.  The hungry dragon steals up behind Bobbin on the balcony, causing him to fall into the rift in reality.

Through various wormholes, Bobbin can revisit earlier locations to marshall his resources for the presumably apocalyptic battle ahead.  Visiting the blacksmiths' graveyard, we encounter the late Rusty, who is a bit ticked off at being dragged back to the real world while waiting to finish his transition to the next.  He is saddened that the Forge has been destroyed, of course, but we can heal his corpse to restore Rusty to the land of the living, which improves his disposition.  He goes off to investigate the fate of his fellow 'smiths.  We'd like to follow, but Bobbin can't wander far while visiting these earlier locations, just to keep the narrative tight.

Revisiting Crystalgard, we find Master Goodmold dying on the ground.  The crystalmakers could not bring themselves to use the Scythe, fearing its terrible power would make them the equal of the enemy; Chaos stole it and is now armed for the world's destruction.  His corpse vanishes before we can heal him.

We can also reach a new location, the Shore of Wonder, outside the Pattern of the world, where Mother Cygna and the other swans are floating.  Bobbin is the first to see it with mortal eyes, but he doesn't have the full range of notes on the distaff yet.  Bobbin learns that the swan is in fact his mother (this has been thoroughly telegraphed earlier), who did not die but was banished in swan form by the Elders when Bobbin was born of the loom, unforeseen.  We also learn that Chaos seeks control of the Loom, while Hetchel is trying to stop her.  Cygna advises her son to close the holes rent in the Pattern before confronting Chaos.

We stop by the Shepherds' field again, to find most of them dead, and Fleece trying to put them out of their misery.  She enlists Bobbin's help, but while we can't invert it, the healing spell actually works, and they are revived.  The new CD script has Fleece and company fearing Chaos' impending "harvest," which is a much better and more Irish-accent-friendly line than the original, in which they feared that, erm, "the Dead Ones [will] return to reap us again!"

With the last hole sealed, note "b" is added to the staff, and Bobbin can cross the Shore of Wonder to return to the island of Loom, and to the Temple where the Loom itself resides. 

Which draft should we use on the Loom?  The open and heal spells do nothing, nor does untwist.  Clicking on the Loom yields Cygna's draft, but we still don't have access to the high C needed to weave it.  Chaos appears and demands that we teach her to use the Loom, as her trusted advisor, despite Bobbin's protestations and outright refusals.  Chaos has drafts of her own, and Hetchel is silenced when she tries to give Bobbin the unmaking draft necessary to rend the Loom and defeat Chaos.  (Chaos was male in the original game, but her voice and gender are clearly female this time around.)

Maybe we can unsharpen Chaos' scythe now?  All of our magic appears useless on her.  We can't heal or reflect Hetchel to free up her speech.  Clicking on the loom yields b-a-g-f; reversing it does nothing interesting.  Casting it on Hetchel frees up her speech, but she soon gets fried by Chaos, and served on a plate, to boot. 

Now the Loom gives us b-f-b-f... but what to cast it on?  Hetchel, the Loom, and the Dead One seem impervious to it.  But we can reverse it on Hetchel; the Loom is just echoing the most recent spell cast, which I had forgotten.  She returns to bird form, but now gets killed properly by Chaos, rather graphically torn apart in a small but bloody explosion; Chaos also seizes Hetchel's last feather (as seen earlier in the Scrying Sphere) as a memento.

The Loom now recalls b-c-c-b.  We can use it to rend the loom in similar fashion.  Now Chaos is unhappy, trapped on one side of reality, but so are the rest of Bobbin's friends, subject to her now-limited but still thoroughly evil reign.  High "C" is added to the staff, and Bobbin knows he must return and face Chaos.

However, we are now floating outside the Pattern, with the last note available.  Our earlier visions and recent events indicate that C-f-g-c ought to be useful now.  Bobbin casts it on himself... and...

Bobbin turns into a swan and flies off with the others, leaving Chaos in charge of the remaining world on the other side of the rift.  Presumably our hero may be back to fight another day, but it's not a very satisfying ending, given that no sequel emerged.  (Apparently two were planned, FORGE and FOLD, featuring further adventures of Rusty and Fleece and presumably a final confrontation with Chaos, but these games didn't happen.)

The original LOOM had closing scenes of Rusty and Fleece watching the swans fly away, but these were cut from the CD version.  One suspects this is because it was now clear that the sequels were not going to see production, but these moments might also have been trimmed so that the CD music could play through the ending credits, without pausing to load new data from the disc -- quite a slow proposition at the time.

Hey, George "The Fatman" Sanger of The 7th Guest fame worked on the music!

I played LOOM when it was released back in 1992, and enjoyed revisiting it for this post.  It may not be a masterpiece of adventure gaming -- it is on the easy side, as at worst we just have to try casting every draft we can think of on every object we encounter -- but it's a solid piece of interactive storytelling, with solid graphics and great voice acting, and I have always enjoyed it on that level.  It also captures a moment in time, as the text adventure gave way to the full-blown multimedia era, and many of Lucasarts' innovations inform gaming to this day.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I really enjoyed this, just like I enjoy all of your other playthroughs.

    One interesting thing - you just made me aware of an alternate puzzle solution or two. If I remember correctly, the draft with the sheep jumping over the fence and back is actually a sleep spell. To take care of the dragon, I put her to sleep and when she snored, her fire burnt up the straw. I had no idea that you could use the "illusion" spell to accomplish the same thing. Similarly, I didn't know you could "heal" Rusty rather than wake him. :)

    Please keep these up!

    BTW, Matt Barton is currently in the process of interviewing the Fat Man in his Matt Chat series on Youtube - you might want to check that out.