Sunday, April 29, 2018

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (PC) - Unfinished Playthrough Review

Sin of the 90's.

Sometimes I really wonder why I think I like point-n-click games. I am notoriously lousy at puzzle solving and this genre is pretty much all about exactly the out-of-the-box thinking that I constantly fail at. And still I have played a fair share of these games and I keep coming back to them. P&C games (as I am going to refer to them) hold a special place in my heart, as they are among my first video game experiences and fond ones at that. I remember watching my mom play games like The Dig and Myst and loving it. I'm not sure she's much better than me at puzzle solving, but her enthusiasm was infectious and definitely helped a lot in developing my love for gaming in general. I think by playing P&C games I get some of that nostalgic feeling in a way that makes me enjoy the game even when it frustrates the heck out of me.

That isn't to say that I succeed at every P&C game I play, far from. I often end up having to use a walkthrough for more than I'd like to admit, but at least most of the time I get through them. But every now and then there will be one that is more frustration than it's worth.

Gabriel Knight was one of those series of games I had heard of for the longest of times but knew very little about. I pretty much only knew it was a P&C game and well spoken of. Which is probably for the best. Most P&C games are story-heavy and are best experienced knowing as little as possible about what you're going to get through. Every now and then I have the urge to play some P&C, more often than not I will go back to one I have already played (probably because I know more of the puzzles) and the last one I played was Broken Sword for the fifth or so time. But a while back when I got the itch again I decided it was time to check out something completely new. Well new for me at least, but quite old in the gaming world.

Anything or nothing could be of interest.

Released in 1993, one of the first things that I noticed (and had sort of expected) when starting up Gabriel Knight was that this was not going to be a helpful game. You're released into the world (New Orleans) as the titular Gabriel Knight, not knowing much more than that there have been some murders, dubbed the "voodoo murders" and that Gabriel has an interest in them in his role as a wannabe-author.

I immediately noticed that nothing in the world is highlighted for you as important. Oh no, this game was really going to make me work for it. Instead you can choose to look at things in your surroundings, and that can be literally everything - from the magazine half-covered under a stack of books to magnets on a refrigerator. Some of these items you will need further down the line, but trying to figure out which ones you need to interact with and in what way was the first massive hurdle to pass. And that's true for every screen you enter. The game even recommends that you thoroughly search through every area you encounter and while that is more or less true for every P&C game this one takes it to a whole new level (I think the 20th Anniversary Ed. might've improved on this issue).

So far it was pretty much what I expected though. P&C games are about scouring the surroundings and trying to figure out different interactions, either between you and items or between items. Gabriel Knight was just not very forthcoming in telling me exactly (or even slightly) what items were worth interacting with, but that's just the way it was back then. Something I wasn't ready for though (although I should've been), was the fact that you also often had to talk to people about the same things several times before they'd spill the beans you were actually after. In the end it all came down to the regular case of trying everything with everything... but then doing it several times.

George might look like a bore, but at least he's not a creep.

It didn't help that Gabriel himself came off more like a creep than the suave player he probably sees himself as. Of course it's hard to not see his "harmless" 90's banter with his secretary without modern #MeToo glasses, but for the short time I played the game he also had little else interesting going on about him. He wasn't the guy-next-door-average like George Stobbart in the Broken Sword series, and nowhere near anything as whacky as something from a LucasArts game. To me, Gabriel had not aged well and would've probably been written differently today. Further aggravating was the narrator of the game, whom, while I assume meant to add to the atmosphere of the game, was an absolute chore to have to listen to. And she speaks every line of text not said by a character. Fortunately you can turn her off.

The story seems better written however and starts out interesting enough. As mentioned there are murders and Gabriel needs to investigate them. The history of his family seems involved somehow (maybe this is what the title is about?). Presumably this all leads to him getting involved in more sinister stuff (yet again I see similarities with Broken Sword, released three years after this), maybe a bit like the Da Vinci Code? I enjoy stories with a bit of the supernatural and conspiracy thrown in as much as the next person, but unfortunately I never made it far enough to explore much of anything.

The puzzle that broke this camels back was when I was required to use a mime to lure a cop away from his bike for me to be able to listen in on his cop-radio (and this is still right at the beginning of the game). Even if I could've figured out I needed the cop radio (which doesn't seem too farfetched considering the objective was to locate the police chief), I don't think I could've in a million years figured out to use the mime to lure away the cop. There is simply not the slightest hint for it. You have to make the mime, which is in a completely different part of the area, follow you around until you get to the cop at which point they will interact in a way that allows you to use the radio. But apparently (according to the walkthrough I was reading), just getting the mime to follow you around is pretty tricky. And then to surmise that the mime would be what makes the cop leave...

Of course it's the mime

I realized right then and there that I wouldn't be able to get through the game without using a walkthrough 95% of the time (or spend 30 minutes on each puzzle), and at that point I'm not really playing the game anyway. If all I was going to get was the story without doing any actual puzzle solving myself I might as well just watch a playthrough on YouTube. After two hours of really trying to be clever enough for this game I had to face the facts that I didn't have the time (nor patience) it required of me.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is probably not a bad game. And it might have a really cool story. Unfortunately it's buried in gameplay mechanics too old for me to handle and honestly I doubt few people except the buffest of puzzle-nerds will have the patience to struggle through this. While I am not a fan of handholding and leading by the nose in modern games, let this be an example of what it's like when a game veers too much in the other direction. In the end, neither of those options are much fun to play.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

How Twitter Restored My Faith In Humanity

With the help of some Mario cereal.

Twitter is an interesting place. It is simultaneously voicebox to one of the most laughably horrible people on the planet, and some of the best strangers I don't really know. I never got into Tumblr or Instagram and only use Facebook to keep track of what my closest family are doing (because unfortunately we live far apart), but Twitter always felt like my kind of thing. It's just this steady stream of peoples thoughts, free for you to chime in if you feel like it or not. For some reason I enjoy watching half-strangers share tidbits about their day with me. This and that about a dog or cat, food, very often streaming or gaming. I mean, what is not to like?

It hasn't always been smooth sailing. Trying to keep some people on my feed who are clearly of a different political view means I sometimes read things I strongly disagree with - I choose to do this however because I feel there is a danger in surrounding oneself with just likeminded people. This way I get challenged and an opportunity to evaluate my beliefs in various topics. I also once bought a couple of games of someone on Twitter that never showed up, but being the endless optimist that I am I also chose to put it down to bad post service rather than a scam (and I still keep that person on my feed).

Most of the time however Twitter is a big source of enjoyment for me, and as it turns out, the occasional source of huge surprises.

It must've started with just yet another thought I was sharing on my feed. Very few of the things I tweet are meant to elicit much of a reaction, if someone feel like what I tweet rings a bell or touches on a subject near to heart it's always fun to get a comment back. Most of the time however it's just random thoughts bubbling to the surface, and I think it is both the best and unfortunately for some people the worst thing about Twitter.

And this is it...

While there are very many good things about living in Sweden, like I do, Twitter is a place that often reminds me of how very backwater this country can be. Especially when it comes to selection of commodities. When I recently visited England I tried to explain it to my mother-in-law. We have most things, but only very few of them. Where you will have 50 different flavors of crisps we have three (ok so maybe we have eight or so...). We only recently got the fanta-coca-cola-mixed soda in our stores although I know it's been around since the 80's or something. One of my biggest annoyances has been the fact that we have one (1!) flavor of milkshake (chocolate if you're curious) whereas in England you can find at least strawberry, banana and vanilla and endlessly more if you go for the bottled ones (same goes for Germany which I also sometimes visit).

This is of course such a meaningless, first world kind of problem to have, and if I had to choose between free healthcare and banana flavored milkshake... well it's a tough call. Twitter feels like the perfect place to vent that kind of frustration. So it was when I complained about the fact that Sweden would never see the new Mario cereal that every gaming website I read was writing articles about. I posted about that and didn't think much more of it, which is often the case with my tweets, but clearly someone on my feed had taken my problem to heart. That someone was @Snozell.

Suddenly I see in my DM inbox;
"Hey, remember that Mario cereal conversation we had in November? Do you want me to send some to you?".

I wasn't sure what to think. First of all, no I didn't remember that conversation! Mostly because if I brooded too much about things I would never have I'd go around in a constant state of bitterness. Secondly, wait what? Someone is offering me a completely altruistic gesture of niceness? Surely that can't be right? We're still in 2018 right? The year where humanity can't agree on or be helpful about even the most basic stuff (even though that could probably apply to any year of the calendar)?

I'll admit, my mind was a bit blown. As soon as I had gathered my thoughts somewhat to try to thank this person enough for even having the thought of doing something like this for me, I was worried he didn't know how much it was going to cost him in shipping. Since I often lament the fact that shipping from USA turns out pricier than the item I want I knew that even a box of cereal would probably cost a bunch (the bf recently had to pay 70 euro shipping for a damn sweater...).

But this guy didn't let that deter him. He had bought some Mario cereal and was clearly dead set on making some random person he barely knew in Sweden happy with it. And if he did! It might just be a pack of cereal, but the fact that someone would care enough even though they know basically nothing about me just blows my mind, and probably will for a long time to come. I doubt my own father would be so nice to me, and he's a half-decent person.

The funny, or maybe tragic, thing about this is that pretty much anyone I told this to - colleagues, family, friends - said the same thing: Be careful. Like, how jaded are we in this world to assume that it's practically impossible for a stranger to want to be nice to another without some other, evil!, ulterior motive? People seriously think it's more likely someone would go through all this effort to poison (?) some random person in Sweden than just do a very nice gesture?

Well I can tell anyone who is still on the cynical side, I've tried the cereal and I am still alive and well. And for anyone out there scoffing that they're only basically Lucky Charms, well we don't have that cereal in Sweden either. This was honestly the first time I had a cereal with what seems to be some sort of meringues (?) in them, and it was cool. And it was Mario. And definitely the most expensive cereal I've ever eaten. The first thing my 4 yo wanted to do after tasting them was play Mario Odyssey.

I have no way of thanking @Snozell except saying it, because pretty much everything worth having, food wise, they already have over there hundred-fold. Except if he's into surströmming, in which case I'll send a pack over immediately! (Although I'm not sure you're allowed to send that, it might count as a bio-weapon). We also have soft-cheese in tubes and caviar in tubes. So yeah...

So thank you so much @Snozell for a gesture we don't see often nowadays - wanting to make someone happy just because they can. You are the kind of people the world needs more of.