Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (MS-DOS)

Gabriel Knight Sins of the Fathers Title screen
Crap, I just realised that it's been almost two months since I've written about a classic DOS game for my site (if you can even call Charly the Clown a classic). In fact I've been letting the '90s down in general lately, so I've decided to do something about that right now... by playing an adventure game from 1993.

The first Gabriel Knight game was released during the golden age of point and click adventures, slotting in between games like Day of the Tentacle and Beneath a Steel Sky, which meant that it came on a whole lot of floppy disks. It was the dawn of the CD-ROM era as well though, so I have a CD version to play instead, filled with voices and video sequences and such like. The music's definitely still midi though, judging from the theme: youtube link.

I've already mentioned about spoilers in the box over on the right hand side of the site, but seeing as this is a very story and puzzle driven kind of game I'll say it again: I'm gonna be spoilin' the shit out of the first hour or so of gameplay and any plot developments contained within.


The game begins with a cryptic nightmare cutscene with the tiniest resolution video I've ever seen. I've presented it here in actual-size clips so you can appreciate the full magnitude of its microscopic nature.

Taken as it is the dream doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I imagine I'll eventually discover the significance of each element as the game progresses.

Or I could just read the graphic novel that comes with the game and learn everything immediately!

It turns out that 300 years ago in South Carolina, our protagonist's ancestor was working as a witch hunter, investigating a series of ritual murders. Unfortunately for everyone involved he soon found that he had fallen in love with the enemy, and on the day that she was caught and burned at the stake he had an attack of conscience and combined his witch hunter talisman powers with her evil god powers to save her.

What happened next leads me to believe that this move was likely one of those 'sins of the fathers' mentioned in the subtitle.


300 YEARS LATER, NEW ORLEANS.


Great, now I have to look this quote up and see if it's from a famous poem.

And it turns out that it is... not. I am actually surprised.

Here, have a better look at that digitised painted background without DAY 1 scrawled all over it. This is a short cutscene showing a woman walking up to the door on the left, picking up the newspaper, and going inside.

Alright, here I am in the game at last... waiting for another cutscene to finish.

The woman is revealed to be an employee of Gabriel Knight's rare book shop called Grace Nakimura, who is responsible for doing his accounting, minding the shop, and telling women that phone up after him that he's a lout and that they could do better. The two have a friendly antagonism going where he continually hits on her and she continually points out his flaws.

Aside from the low-fi sound quality Grace's voice acting is very good, but Gabriel is performed by Tim Curry putting on a New Orleans accent and he comes off sounding like he's either Bill or Ted. I mean for all I know his accent could be a dead on perfect imitation of one of the dialects from the area, but his 'Californian surfer dude' tone feels a little off target to me.

The narrator on the other hand sounds very legit, as she reads out the description of the items I click on around the room.

I've got a whole lot of commands in this, accessible either by cycling through them with the right mouse button, or clicking the icons on this drop down menu, but I'm not really seeing this abundance of choice as a good thing. Especially as cycling through eight icons takes long enough to be a pain in the ass. At least they had the sense to stop before adding things like 'wear' and 'insert'.

Like in an old cartoon I can tell immediately what objects I can interact with as they're drawn differently to the background. The cup, coat, newspaper, magnifying glass etc. are all twice the resolution of the rest of the art... well if you're playing in VESA 'high res' mode anyway, otherwise it ends up looking like the image on the right.

You might have noticed the two pictures don't quite line up right; that's because the high res version stretches the backgrounds to a little further than double their height, throwing in extra lines to compensate. It gives the art a jittery look, which is a little off-putting.

I guess I'll start in the traditional adventure game fashion, by grabbing everything I can.

After bleeding the room dry of every item I could see I figured it'd be a good idea to exhaust Grace's dialogue tree as well. Gabriel has been researching a series of gruesome 'Voodoo Murders' for his next novel lately, so most of the choices relate to that, though Grace has also been taking phone messages for him.

I selected 'Messages' and learned that some guy from Germany wants Gabriel to call him back, Detective Mosely has some photos for him to pick up from the police station, and his grandmother wants him to look through his dead father's things. Lots of stuff to do.

There's actually two dialogue commands in this: ASK, which brings up this list of topics, and TALK, which makes the characters chat between each other for a second. I'm not really sure what the point of the second one is, except to give me one extra cursor to cycle past whenever I want to look at something.

Hey his bedroom is just next door to the shop floor. I love how there's a unique message for virtually every combination of dumb things I try to do in this, all voiced by the smart-assed narrator. I'm less impressed though by how Gabriel takes forever to walk anywhere. It's taking me a good 7 seconds to cross the screen here!

Okay so my goals right now are:
  1. Research gruesome Voodoo Murders.
  2. Talk to some guy in Germany.
  3. Look through Gabriel's father's things.
  4. Pick up photos from the police station.
I tried using the phone on Gabriel's desk to phone Germany, but it turns out that he doesn't know the number, and wouldn't want to pay for for an international call anyway. If it's that important he'll call back he figures.

Leaving the book shop brought me to this map screen where I get to visit all kinds of random locations. Plus there's the police station, a Voodoo drug store and a Voodoo museum. Grace mentioned them earlier so that must be why they've shown up. No clue what Napoleon or the park bench are about.

Hey it's just occurred to me that this is a real map of New Orleans, so I could go to Google Maps right now and virtually drive down Gabriel's road in Street View. I can't help but notice that his grandmother's house isn't marked here though.

Oh there you go, I just had to zoom out. I'll go there and get that out of the way first then.

Live action bike in front of an obviously painted background, nice. I can't decide about that leather coat though. I mean it looks a whole lot like they drew it onto the video later, but why would anyone do that when they could just give the actor a real coat?


LATER, AT GRANDMA'S HOUSE.


Well this trip was a total waste of time then. I can't find anything of his father's stuff that he wants anything to do with (not even the lederhosen). Grandma Knight did mention that I should go visit the family tomb though, so at least I can I'll add that to my list of things to do now.
  1. Research Voodoo Murders.
  2. Talk to guy in Germany. FAILED.
  3. Look through his father's things. POINTLESS.
  4. Pick up photos. 
  5. Visit family tomb.
By the way, I'm pretty impressed by the way Gabriel has extra animations for things like walking around a railing or hugging his grandmother on the way out. He feels like a person inside this world rather than a sprite overlaid on top of a digitized painting.


SOON, AT LOUIS CEMETARY #1.


I couldn't find much at the family tomb either, but this is interesting: it turns out that Gabriel has been taping every conversation he's had so far on a microcassette recorder, even the ones with his Grandma! I thought he was just joking when he said he was looking forward to violating human rights in the intro.

Still, it's very handy to be able to go back through the dialogue and remind myself what was said. This is a cool feature, I like it. Though it's making me nostalgic for tapes now, which is crazy because cassettes were terrible.

It's also got me wondering if they'll update his tech in the 20th Anniversary remake they're working on. I mean Google Glass was practically invented for this kind of privacy invasion.

Right, next I'll trying collecting the photos from the station.


POLICE STATION.


It's cool that they went to the effort of redrawing Gabriel with his coat on when he's chatting to people outside the shop. Good attention to detail there.

I'm here at the station to pick up the photos from Gabriel's friend, but there's been another murder so Detective Mosely isn't around right now and no amount of begging will get the desk sergeant to break his sacred oath to the department and tell me where he's gone.

Fortunately Mosely left the photos here for me to pick up so that's one of my goals completed!

Right now I have a photo of a dead guy and a photo of Mosely taken during his graduation from the police academy in my inventory. I'm not sure how this helps me much to be honest.

The game could really use more of a definite goal to work towards, because 'research Voodoo Murders' is way too vague and it's not exactly the kind of thing I can be excited to be working towards. I mean look at The Secret of Monkey Island, it starts out by giving you one very specific goal (become a pirate) and then immediately tells you what three tasks you need to complete to achieve this goal.

In this on the other hand Gabriel's goal is to write a novel, with the Voodoo Murders just being something he's using for inspiration, and 'get inspiration' ain't exactly a task I can break into logical steps.


DIXIELAND DRUG STORE.


I can go to the Voodoo shop and show the crime scene photo around at least, see if the owner knows what the murder ritual is about.

It doesn't help me at all, but I can do it.


HISTORICAL VOODOO MUSEUM.


The Voodoo museum turned out to be equally useless, as the owner is out until tomorrow and the person watching the store knows even less about this stuff than I do. Hey I've got an idea Gabriel, why don't you add a library to the map so we can go hit the books? Or I suppose we could always wait a couple of years for the internet to catch on.

I tried doing my adventure game thing here and went messing around with everything in the room, but all that got me was a telling off. I came really close to agitating a snake enough to make it break out of its glass box though. I've no idea how that would help me at all, but it's something to do at least.

Well I'm stuck. Wait, there's still one last person I can go pay a visit to.

Not actually a screenshot from Gabriel Knight, just so you know.
Voodoo Lady you're my only hope! Shame you're actually stuck in an entirely unrelated Voodoo-themed point and click adventure game franchise and can be no help to me right now.

I suppose I should go visit the other places on my map and see if there's any puzzles to solve. Maybe using the tweezers at St. Louis Cathedral or showing Detective Mosely's graduation photo to everyone in the park will give me the missing clue I need.


JACKSON SQUARE.


Well I found a mime at least.

The game made damn sure I was aware of his presence by forcing me to watch him following people around, so I'm pretty sure he's actually important, but so far all I've managed to do is lure him over to those rotoscoped musicians to annoy them instead.

In fact looking at this image I stitched together from four screenshots, it seems that there's at least one musician at every corner of this square, which has me thinking that there's a puzzle here.

Okay, the musicians lure the mime away from following me, so logically that means that the challenge here is to get him to follow me past all of them, which would leave me standing next to that bike cop on the far end of the park. The only reason I'd want to bring a mime to the cop is to lure him away from his bike, so from that I deduce that my goal here must be to do something with his motorcycle while he's not around.

You know, I'm not sure an adventure game is working right when I can only identify puzzles by figuring out solutions first and then working backwards.


LATER, AT THE SCENE OF THE CRIME.


The bike had a cop radio on it, so I used it to find the crime scene that Mosely is hiding out at! I admit that probably should've occurred to me sooner.

Just as I begin to chat with Mosely about the murder we're both distracted by mysterious woman in an expensive looking car. Is she just a curious passerby, or does she know something about these killings? Gabriel's certainly willing to consider her a possible lead if just as an excuse to harass her with creepy chat-up lines and a tape recorder.

And just like that the cops all pack up and go home, leaving me standing here all alone. I suppose this is my cue to find the one clue they overlooked then.


LATER.


Well so far I've discovered that this is definitely blood. Man, forensics is way harder than I thought it would be.

I guess I've exhausted all my options here then, for now anyway. I guess I could always go back to the museum and harass the snake again. Actually I'll go see if Mosely's back in his office at the station now.


SOON, AT THE STATION.


Who sticks a post-it note on their monitor screen?

Well I'm here in an office, chatting to Detective Mosely, surrounded by stuff that may or may not be part of some puzzle. I managed to trick him into leaving the room once but I couldn't find anything to do before he came back, so... I don't know

I'm not getting too much out of this conversation either. He doesn't know what the deal with the murders is, I don't know what the deal is, and between us we can't figure out shit.

Here's one thing I've learned though: Mosely is voiced by prolific voice actor Mark Hamill, in his first ever video game appearance.

There's an amazingly low res 'making of' video hidden on the CD which features interviews with the actors, and it turns out that the managed to assemble a pretty impressive cast for the game, including Minsc from Baldur's Gate, Alfred from Batman: The Animated Series, Sheila Broflovski from South Park, and Worf (son of Mogh).

The Hollywood Reporter claimed that this is "the first time an all-Hollywood cast of name actors has been assembled for an interactive movie" which might be stretching it, but they're certainly up to the task. Interactive movie though? C'mon, this is an interactive graphic novel at best.

It's not as bad as the tag-line on the box though, which describes the game as being "A Supernatural Psycho-Thriller". Sorry box art text guy, but this is actually a pretty goofy game. Check out the music for this police station for instance: YouTube link.

Aha, I've found a way to lure the officer working outside into Mosely's office and a plausible excuse for me to slip out myself and go snooping while she's gone.

Of course it turned out that there's nothing out there, nothing I can find anyway. So that was a waste of time.

I managed to talk Mosely into letting me peek at the case files in the end, but Officer Franks refuses to let me walk off with them! She won't even let me photocopy a couple of sheets, which is a shame as there's a handy photocopier just over by Mosely's office door.

If only there was some way I could lure her away long enough to get those files and make a copy for myself...

Yep again I've managed to accidentally solve a puzzle before getting up to it, and got another item I don't know what to do with as a reward. I guess I could go back and pester the Voodoo shop guy again. Actually wait, there is something I forgot to do... look up that address of that rich woman who drove past the crime scene.

Uh, so that's the end of this chapter then? I guess that asking Grace to research Malia Gedde for me was the last secret task I needed to complete to move onto Day 2. First though, more nightmares!


Actually I think I'll turn this off now, as I think I have a fairly good idea of what kind of game it is now.


CONCLUSION

As point and click adventure games go, Gabriel Knight doesn't seem all that bad at all. It hasn't thrown any batshit crazy "glue cat hair to your upper lip so you can pretend you have a moustache" puzzles at me yet at least, but then it hasn't really given me much to work out at all so far. Half my time in the game has been spent going through all my dialogue options and the other half has been spent walking painfully slowly across each room and then pressing right mouse button seven times to look at something because I'm too lazy to move the mouse up to the bar at the top and click on a command instead. The areas don't even scroll across like in most adventure games, you're locked to just the screen you're in unless you find an exit to another area, or more likely the map. Makes the game feel kind of small really.

Visually it's aged really well for a game released 21 years ago, it's just a shame that the art is in such a low resolution. Especially the videos, which could almost fit on a Game Boy screen. Plus the voice work rivals LucasArts games of the era, even if the sound quality isn't all that awesome. I liked the music too for the most part, though it goes to some weird places tonally for a game that claims to be a 'psycho-thriller'. Like most point and click adventures of the time, the game leans more towards comedy overall, with the narrator coming up with smart-assed comments about everything you click on and Tim Curry doing his best to make sure you can never take a thing Gabriel says seriously.

Do I want to keep playing it though? Nah, not really. I'm curious about where the story's going, but as a game it's missing a hook to get me invested and I was rarely left with a clear idea where I had to go next after solving a puzzle. So I might as well go off to some other game instead.


Well I'm done inflicting my opinion of Gabriel Knight on you, so now it's your turn to tell the world what you think about the game, my humble article, my equally humble website and so on using the comment box below.

11 comments:

  1. Gabriel Knight looks like the child of Morten Harket and Conan O'Brien. I wish I had more to say about the game than that but I don't.

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  2. > full magnitude of its microscopic nature
    chuckled

    > with the game and learn everything immediately!
    That's kind of cheating

    I played without voices because I didn't liked them. The narrator sounds to me like she's about die from boredom.

    > but this is actually a pretty goofy game
    It gets a bit more creepy later.

    In general I liked GK (despite detail hunt puzzles).

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    1. I thought the narrator sounded bored too at first (and who wouldn't while reading out a million item descriptions one after another), but she soon started joking around more and I got the tone they were going for there.

      Also the manual does say to read the graphic novel right away (and they HIGHLY RECOMMEND reading it before day 3), so it totally wasn't cheating! The player's apparently supposed to know all the secret backstory upfront for whatever reason.

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  3. I so friggin love this game. It's "got some points" sound effect is still my sms notification sound.
    I think this is the best of the series when it comes to old school point and click adventure thing, but the easiest for newer players is the 3rd one.

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  4. Yes, yes! More '90s!!! Frankly, I don't come to this website to read about new-ish videogames. I come here for things like this!! :)

    I was thinking you might review Darkseed to honour the tragic death of the awesome artist, Giger.

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    1. I appreciate the feedback. No seriously, it's a lot easier for me to gauge what people actually think about my site when they just straight up spell it out for me!

      You are of course right, I should be focusing more on 90s titles instead of just playing though all the Steam games I grabbed last Christmas sale. Though when games are gifted to me (like Eldritch, Dust and Crusader Kings II were) I do feel obligated to give them priority.

      But I also feel obligated to see this stupid alphabetical gimmick through to the end, seeing as I'm seven letters in now, and even I can't figure out a way to cheat and fit a title like 'Dark Seed' in with the 'G' games. I suppose I could pick any classic run and gun and his alien would likely show up at some point, but it's not the same really. To be honest though, the way I often whine about games it'd probably be more respectful of me to save it for later.

      Whatever I decide to do, I've added Dark Seed to the game request list.

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    2. Thing is, when it comes to new-ish videogames, plenty of websites cover those already.
      When it comes to oldies, this is my website of reference!

      Of course I can't speak for other readers of this site. Neither am I suggesting you ignore recent videogames altogether: it's good to have some new games reviewed now and then.

      Personally, though, I'm a nostalgic and I love reading about the oldies. Sometimes I even discover of a title I didn't know at the time, and feel like playing it. :P

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    3. > Thing is, when it comes to new-ish videogames, plenty of websites cover those already. When it comes to oldies, this is my website of reference!

      Seconded.

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    4. Yeah, I'm reminded of how I saw someone advertising a new video game blog a few weeks back and I decided to see what they were doing with it. Their very first post as was a review of Hotline Miami and after just a glance at the text I was immediately struck with two revelations:

      1. No matter how good the writing might be or how great the game is to play, the world does not need another review of Hotline Miami. Everything's been said, everyone who cares already knows everything about it, everyone who doesn't care doesn't care, and it certainly doesn't need any more promotion at this point from folks like us.
      2. I'd written an article about Hotline Miami. Oops.

      I can't resist writing about the newer games I play, so I know I'll keep on making that same mistake over and over again, but I PROMISE YOU that the site will be getting more old-school from now on this year.

      Well except for the 'S' games that is. The games I've picked for October are going to be a great disappointment for everyone and it's too late to change 'em as they've already been played. But all the other letters... aside from maybe M and P, are going to be packed full of 90s! Probably.

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  5. This was a game that definitely got me to both love and hate it at the same time...

    I loved the story as it progressed, I liked the details, and (hailing from Germany) I got a huge chuckle out of the residence of Gabriel's german relative, which is... well, so cliché-ridingly backwards even by 19th century standards. I loved it! (and part 2 was just awesome, with all those american actors mangling the german language, and taking place in and around Munich - a city I lived in for five years. They actually shot on location, so the setting is relatively authentic and completely bonkers at the same time; it made the game feel like taking playce in some weird mirror universe. :p)

    On the other hand, some of the puzzles irritated the heck out of me. But worst of all, the game managed to commit one of the cardinal sins of adventure games: There are one or two key events that, if you happen to miss them once the day is over, then that's it: You can't progress any more! When I played the game for the forst time, I accidentally hung up on my german relative the first time we talked, failing to get some key information out of him. But the game let me progress another two in-game days before I suddenly couldn't advance any more - without giving me any hint what I did wrong. It was only after consulting a walkthrough printed in a magazin that I learned what I had missed - which meant that I had to restart the entire game and re-play the four of five days again! I was very close to quitting the game altoghether at that point...

    Hey, um, since I mentioned it: Is there any chance of you playing Gabriel Knight 2 at some point? Like I said, the acting in that game is simply... something else.

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    1. I can't promise anything, as I've got a list of games to play a mile long and all my plans tend to go awry.

      Though on the other hand, I did buy the game already, so I really should give it a try some time. (Gabriel Knight 3 as well.)

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