Loom is a game that has stuck with me, for all the right reasons. It has charm, an involving yet simple story and some wonderful visuals. It is also from 1990. That doesn’t seem that long ago to me, but the rapid approach of old age and senility tell a different story.
LucasArts had made several other adventure games before Loom, Maniac Mansion most notably. Historically Loom is a clear stepping stone between the earlier, more basic adventure games and the big hits that followed it like Monkey Island, right through to Grim Fandango. For a stepping stone, it has much love put into it!
Like Turrican II, this was bought late in the day of the Amiga. Games were being cleared from department stores and Loom was no different. I don’t remember why I bought it. I’m not sure if I had read anything about it before, but it soon found its way into my hands and then the car on the way home. The box was interesting, featuring a coloured visor needed to read the copy protection in the manual and a cassette tape. We played the cassette on the way home and it surprised us by playing the game’s prologue. The format was an audio play, outlining the background and a prologue to the game’s events. The play certainly added to the richness of the story.
Loom was different from LucasArts adventures before and after it. A minimalist UI only showed the protagonist’s (Bobbin Threadbare) magical distaff. Using this (and almost only this) you interact with the world. There is no use, take or look options as these actions are all situation dependent. I felt it made for a cleaner and quicker method of puzzle solving.
During the game, Bobbin meets two other young people, one from the blacksmith’s guild, the other a shepherd. I found out sometime after finishing the game that these two were to have games of their own. It was never really planned, as mentioned by the developer Brian Moriarty, but the idea was considered. Unfortunately Loom was not a hit for LucasArts so this would have further reduced the chances of a sequel. The games were tentatively titled ‘The Forge’ and ‘The Fold’.
It would have been great to follow-up with those games, but I don’t feel the same level of disappointment that I used to feel about similar things, even compared to my mid 20’s. I would get so frustrated that programmes like Firefly got cancelled or even that the Dreamcast’s life was cut short. It took a few years, but such trivialities don’t rile me nearly as much, but I would donate to a kickstarter if someone wanted to make those sequels.
Loom is a gentle, funny game that isn’t particularly long or hard. I was well written, funny when it needs to be, but turns very dark at parts. You can’t die in the game, or ever get stuck which is why I always preferred LucasArts adventures to what Sierra was offering at that time. If I wrote negative pieces, there’d be a lot of Kings Quest hate!
2. Video game piracy.
Being an ‘illegal’ in the world of video games is a fairly common practice. I’d be surprised if anyone out there hasn’t played a pirated game in fact any of my Chinese readers would be hard pressed to FIND a non pirated game in their homeland. But I’m not really focussing on the manufacture and sale of illegitimate copies of video games, but the making a copy for a friend type deal.
By the late 80s the method in which many people acquired their Amiga games was through simple copying. Much like burning a CD or DVD, the process of copying a floppy disk was simple, but somewhat time consuming. The copying programme would be booted up, be it Marauder or X-Copy and the disks both source and destination would be inserted into the drives.
The whole process usually took about three or four minutes per disk. Doesn’t seem too long, but remember kids, this was copying over less than a single megabyte. While the method of copying games hasn’t changed much over the years, there is one part that has.
To combat the ease of copying games, many had a form of copy protection like today. However in the past game publishers often tried to make this protection feel like a part of the game, such as your character completing his training or asking trivia that the character would know. The most common method of protection though was asking you to find a word in a particular part of the manual.
The RPG Pool of Radiance (1987) had a wheel, which allowed you to translate the runes presented on the screen into an English word. You then typed it in allow you access to the game.
Other games produced systems that had you matching pictures with certain words on the screen, and you had to enter the correct picture. This was done in Loom, an early adventure game by LucasArts, came with a booklet that was difficult to read, because of obscuring patterns. That is, unless you looked at it through a red tinted visor that was with the game.
One of my favourites was Covert Action, by Sid Meyer of Civilization fame. You had to match the name of a certain criminal organisation to a picture on the screen of their leader. These leader portraits were in the back of the manual like so many other forms of protection from that era.
To overcome such protection, crackers would copy and sell their own versions of the game at little or no cost, with such protection removed and often replaced with their logo or a shout out to their friends in the industry. It is telling that many of the Amiga ROMS found online today are of these cracked versions of games, and not the originals that had been bought in a shop.
Today video game piracy remains an arms race. With the trend of registry keys, online validation and digital rights management the war is perhaps a little less creatively waged on the parts of the publishes than once was. As a collector of video games, I can never really justify piracy, if you can’t afford it now, just wait until you can. Do this to avoid an inferior experience, rather than out of any loyalty to a particular company.
Trying to draw the player into the game’s universe with their piracy protection was a noble goal and I hope it makes a comeback.