Some more notes on more LucasArts adventure games! Two very different kinds of games today.
1989-1992: Indiana Jones 1: Indian Jones and the Last Crusade
Picking up where Zak left off, gameplay-wise, you play as Indy, meaning no character choice yet again. It’s looking like Maniac Mansion is unique in this regard. The six-item inventory also carried over from the 1990 Zak game, as does the overall way of dealing with the “action” mode. Verbs have changed yet again, this time with “read” being replaced with the more generic “look,” and “Put on” and “Take off” have been scratched (they were new experiments in Zak, who apparently needed to dress and undress a lot) and replaced with “Talk” and “Travel,” which are unique in a number of ways.
To start, they grey out when not relevant, which lowers the regular verb count to 12, which is kind of a bummer, but it’s worth it. When lit up, selecting “Talk” actually begins building the phrase, “Talk to,” which is a subtle but nice lesson in word context.
“Talking” is sometimes just canned conversation, which we’ve seen in the older games, but new for this game is that you must occasionally decide what you are going to say based on a list of options. This is has much more potential as an active reading activity than simply watching cutscenes, and it reinforces proper English instead of simple command-grammar.
“Travel” in Indy is more like “New kid” in Maniac Mansion than anything else. It’s not used like the other verbs; rather; the next screen offers some choices that complete the phrase, and then you get a change in location. This phrase-building is better for sentence construction skills than “New kid,” which simply presented a list of names.
Not to mention that a little geography never hurt anyone. Actually, in addition to maps as a cool part of the cutscenes, Indy actually adds even more game controls on top of the “action” mode and the new “talk” mode. I haven’t gotten very far into the game, but from what I’ve read, the game occasionally takes breaks and allows you to control Indy in a fistfight (throwing punches instead of words), as a pilot of a plane, or even in an overhead maze challenge. It also keeps track of points for doing these things, which adds a nice math element to the game. I can’t comment on the specifics of all these sections, but a little variety sounds good to me.
In many ways Indy supersedes its predecessors… lots of little improvements make this a very good English reinforcing tool.
Wow, this games is a complete departure from the momentum behind Indy. There are no verbs whatsoever, and no inventory list. When clicking an item, a version appears as an icon with text (“leaf” example at right), but that’s it. Text also appears during conversations and similar events, but there are no conversation trees, as there were in Indy.
On the surface, this game would seem more accessible to non-readers, because of the icon representation of the items. Seemingly the game does not depend on reading skills. It is good that the icon also has text for reinforcement; however, there seems to be little repetition in this game, so this is likely no not be that valuable.
The game’s puzzles are all music-oriented, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to the Deaf. This is because each note is also conveyed visually in two ways: a segment of the magic stick lights up, and the note appears in written letter form. The songs are also short, maybe four notes or so. I am playing the note “d” in the picture at right. Over the course of the game, I learn new songs, each of which seems to correspond more or less to a verb, although this is not explicit (see examples here). For instance, the seagulls taught me (visually, without text) a song for “Open,” which I used to open a clam, and then a clue (written) later suggested that I “open the sky,” so I knew to use my Open Song.
I give this example because it shows that this game, potentially, demands even better reading comprehension of its players. In previous games, as an early reader I might recognize a word in a written clue as being in my inventory, and then try it. In this case, I need to see it in writing, and then make the connection to the concept I learned earlier. It is hard to say if early readers will enjoy this game as a result; however, this is moot, there is little to be learned here that isn’t done better in the other games.
There are two good things, though.
I like the icon with text, which makes is more clear what has been clicked on. In previous games, if something was not visually clear, it could be clarified only through text. “What is that little black thing under the door mat? Oh, a key” (Example from Maniac Mansion). This could be done better for the early readers who may not know the word key, so the clarification is lost on them. An extra close-up visual is very good. The other positive about this game is that it teaches rudimentary C-cleft music reading, although that is of dubious value to the Deaf.
1990-1992: Monkey’s Island 1: The Secret of Monkey Island
Now we’re back on track. Monkey’s Island is in most ways like Indy. Verbs changed only a little, with “What is” completely removed (finally, “What is bushes” really irritated me) and “Travel” (which was new for Indy) is gone also, although there are maps in this game, too. ““Look” is now “Look at,” “Talk” is now “Talk to,” but otherwise things are the same. Inventory is still six items, and the conversation trees are present, and are actually pretty funny.
Improvements are present; however, and one of them is significant from my perspective. In previous games, items needed to be clicked in order to see their text equivalents, but in this game, hovering the mouse accomplishes the same thing. This make the game more playable, but more interestingly, it means that a player will experience more text repetition just by moving the mouse around.
A few minor changes that also involve text: a right-click behavior is now highlighted in yellow by default when hovering the mouse. In the pictures above, you can see that it is “Talk to” for the storekeeper and “Look at” for the chickens. This will help guide early readers in getting around, although solving puzzles still requires using the gamut of verbs. Subtitles are also now more involving, with the text appearing near the speaker’s head instead of in the top letterboxed area. It is sometimes used stylistically, as with the three laughing pirates above. This is a small improvement, I think, in the level of engagement with younger readers.
This game is also significant in that when it was released for CD-ROM, the interface was revamped with icons for the inventory items, similar to Loom. The differences is that in Loom, every item you interact with has in icon. In Monkey Island, only your inventory items do. Of course, Loom had no inventory, so it’s apples-and-oranges, but Monkey Island is still a step behind in that regard. Also, text equivalents of items only appear when you hover the mouse over the item (like “Look at sword,” above), whereas Loom always showed the picture and the text.
Monkey Island CD-ROM also drops the “Turn On” and “Turn Off” verbs, which is too bad, and the “Walk to” verb gets a special default status, so it doesn’t appear with the other nine; rather, it appears when you click anywhere on the screen that doesn’t trigger another verb, which is think is better for gameplay and doesn’t really hurt learning, as it still appears on screen a lot.
All in all, it’s difficult to say whether the CD-ROM is better or worse for the kids, mostly because of the inventory icons. On one hand, there is far less text exposure, but on the other hand, seeing the word and the picture together makes for more meaningful learning when it does happen. I am very happy with this game, so using one of each version in the library may be a good experiment… perhaps CD for younger kids and floppy for older ones?
But that all depends on the the round of games…