Touché!: Accidental Cruelty?

It’s been nearly two weeks since my last post. Time seems to be passing at a faster than normal rate these days. But also, when we last left Geoffroi le Brun, I was resorting to stuff like “try everything in your inventory on every environmental feature that you can use inventory items on”, and still not really getting anywhere, and that didn’t really make me feel like continuing. Today, I went so far as to browse the strings in TOUCHE.DAT — something I don’t like to do, because it’s nigh impossible to avoid spoilers. I didn’t need to look very deeply, though, before I had an inkling about what my problem was. An inkling that I didn’t like, but which seems to bear out so far.

As you may recall, I was trying to recover William de Peuple’s will from a highwayman. Consulting with the Musketeer captain back at base, I found reason to suspect that the highwayman had gone to Le Mans. The problem, then, is that my travel pass didn’t cover Le Mans, and the captain refused to extend it until I got certified in marksmanship. “Just talk to Atoff”, he said. Atoff is the Musketeer in charge of training. Just one problem: he wasn’t around. Everyone except the captain and D’Artagnan had left to throw rotten fruit at a suspected witch pilloried in the town square, although they weren’t to be seen there either.

I had been assuming that I could get him back somehow, probably by freeing the witch. What my cursory examination of the data showed was a lack of any obvious text about this among the interactions with the witch. And that got me thinking.

See, the thing is, the appearance of the pillory is linked to your visits to Juliette. The game makes you find three different ways up to her tower by changing what’s in the area after each visit. The pillory is the final step in this process, giving you access to rotten fruit that leads, in a roundabout way involving several other puzzles and a trip to Paris, to Juliette’s father leaving the house so you don’t have to sneak in through the window any more. I had put the game into this state some time back, and as a result, Atoff was no longer where I needed him. But what if I just didn’t make the witch appear in the first place? Juliette is pretty much optional until somewhat later in the story. Going back to an earlier save, I can just leave her alone until after I’ve had a chance to talk to Atoff about the marksmanship test.

The thing that bothers me is that this is so very much a game in the mold of Monkey Island, but it seems to be violating one of its core design principles here: that no matter what the player does, the game should never cut off the possibility of victory. Certainly the rest of the game has followed this principle, so it really looks like this one moment of Cruelty is a mistake. And yet, it’s a mistake that would have been inevitably found by adequate playtesting! A player who doesn’t already know what they’re supposed to be doing will very likely drive Atoff away before encountering the highwayman, even if they only visit Juliette when given a concrete reason.

I could still be wrong about this. Maybe there really is a way to get Atoff back after he leaves. But if so, I can say with confidence that this constitutes an optional puzzle, one that some players will skip without knowing they skipped anything. In effect, reverse cruelty. And that still doesn’t seem like it’s in this game’s style, or Monkey Island‘s.

Geoffroi cheats on the test, by the way. This is one of the few moments where he really seems like he’s doing what Guybrush would do.

Touché!: How to Hide a Church

Finally, some movement in the main plot! I’ve recovered de Peuple’s will (only to have it stolen by a highwayman almost immediately), and I’ve actually met Cardinal de Guise, who’s definitely a baddie and definitely behind the murder. De Peuple’s castle, it seems, is crucial to his plans to wipe out the Protestants once and for all. Geoffroi himself is displaying signs of dramatic irony at this point, reverting to almost willful idiocy as he fails to put two and two together, lest the knowledge threaten his sense of loyalty to power.

I think it’s worth describing the sticking-point I just passed and how I came unstuck. It was, of course, a matter of a missed clickable — in this case, an entire church. It was nestled into the background of the sole exterior view of St. Quentin, where it blended into the skyline so well that I didn’t even think to check it for interactivity. A conversation inside the tavern, however, yields the tidbit “Did you know that the famous Cardinal de Guise is here in St. Quentin?”, in response to which you can ask where you can find him and be told that he was last seen heading to the church. I had heard that dialogue before, but didn’t think it was immediately useful, because (a) I had no real reason to be looking for the Cardinal yet, and (b) it seemed like I’d have to do something about the roadblock before I could really explore the city. It was only after seeing the information again after noting on this blog that I had been to places of worship in only three of the four cities I had visited that it stood out for me enough to remain on my mind when I left the tavern and noticed the steeple in the background. Maybe I shouldn’t be criticizing Geoffroi’s intelligence.

Also, maybe I should take notes more. Note-taking and mapping used to be a crucial part of the adventure-game experience, back in the early days, but today’s sensibility is that they shouldn’t be necessary. Monkey Island was a huge step in that direction, putting overland maps into the game and making sure all crucial dialogue was repeatable. Touché! is definitely post-Monkey Island, and has much the same approach, but it’s also large and complicated enough that I find myself forgetting stuff unless I reflect on it here.


If I keep comparing these games to Monkey Island, it’s because it’s really striking how pervasive its stylistic influence is, especially compared to other popular point-and-click adventure franchises like King’s Quest. Touché! The Adventures of the Fifth Musketeer is possibly the most obvious Monkey Island wannabe I’ve ever seen. The opening scenes of Rouen at night are a dead ringer for the town on Mêlée Island, and I swear that the player character has the same walk animation as Guybrush in Monkey Island 2.

And yet I dropped it, back in the day, because I was finding it dull. What few puzzles I saw were prosaic, and the humor, which is mainly based around pointing out foibles, seemed relatively soft and safe. Much like “dad jokes”, it seems to exist more to fill a social function than to actually provoke laughter.

And, when you come down to it, the whole musketeer fantasy is a lot more… square than the pirate fantasy. Pirates are criminals. Guybrush, in the first game, is basically a nerd who wants to join a dangerous gang. Sure, his first challenges are all about proving himself to some older authority figures (the Pirate Leaders), but he never actually finishes that. When he completes the tasks necessary for his pirate certification, the Leaders are nowhere to be found. He goes and starts being a pirate anyway. The musketeers, meanwhile, are supporters of monarchy. Geoffroi Le Brun, Touché‘s player character, is already an ensign in the musketeers when the game starts (unlike d’Artagnan in the novel, whose introduction is a lot more like Guybrush’s). His first main goal is to hunt down an assassin who killed a nobleman. So he’s basically a cop. Before long, he hires a manservant! Guybrush also hired some help, a crew for his ship, but they never really accepted his authority or obeyed his orders. Whereas Henri slides firmly into the role of comical sidekick, like Sancho Panza, complaining a lot and openly expressing an inordinate desire for food and wine but always staying by his master’s side and never really questioning his rule.

So, my first impression is that this is the conservative authoritarian reply to the Monkey Island games. But I’m still only a little way in, and that could change.

Ankh: One Last Thought

Now, I’ve compared the Assil/Thara relationship in Ankh to both Guybrush/Elaine and Prince/Farah. But on reflection, there’s one component of both of those that’s missing: male incompetence. In Secret of Monkey Island, Elaine has the whole LeChuck situation in hand until Guybrush shows up and, in his eagerness to rescue her when she doesn’t really need it, inadvertently wrecks her plan. In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the Prince unleashes the power of the Sands without meaning to, creating the conditions that he and Farah spend the entire rest of the game trying to reverse.

Nothing like that happens in Ankh. Yes, Assil sets his own misfortunes in motion through a moment of clumsiness, but this doesn’t affect Thara directly, and happens before he even meets her. If anything, Thara is the one who steps into this role, attracting the attention of the Pharaoh’s guards at one point by defacing some statuary while Assil is otherwise occupied.

The point is one of forgiveness. In Monkey Island, the male hero is forgiven instantly, once he’s cleared up the mess he caused. In Prince of Persia, he’s never really forgiven — once he rewrites history, his transgressions are forgotten, but that’s not the same thing. But in Ankh, there’s nothing for Thara to forgive. From her point of view, he’s been a perfect angel, and if her hostility toward him drops a few notches from when they first meet, it’s because that hostility was never warranted in the first place. It was just her lashing out because of her situation.

Instead, Assil’s ending reconciliation is with the Pharaoh — one of the story’s villains, whose dislike of Assil was basically a matter of whim, not based on anything Assil actually did. The more I think about this, the more I feel like the story is lacking something. Assil is just a little too abrasive for no one to ever be legitimately angry with him.

Ankh: Thara

OK, I’ll admit it: I’ve been using hints. Steam has an excellent walkthrough for this game, by user GratefulDead94, that’s organized into short sections, each devoted to a single puzzle. Here’s the thing: I’ve really been finding that I don’t need help with the puzzles. The puzzles are pretty clear. When I get stuck, it’s invariably because I missed some small, difficult-to-notice object. Using the walkthrough is basically equivalent to the feature some adventure games have where you can press a button to highlight clickables. This is in contrast to my recent experiences with The Watchmaker, which had both hard-to-notice objects and unclear puzzles.

Actually, in some ways I wish this game were a little more like The Watchmaker. The ability to zoom into first-person mode would be welcome in some places, store shelves and the like where there are lots of little things in a small area. And in one respect, the game becomes a lot more like The Watchmaker in Chapter 3, where you rescue the captive damsel I mentioned in the previous post and she joins you as a second playable character. But already I’m liking what Ankh is doing with two-person puzzles better than anything The Watchmaker did. It quickly finds a way to separate the two of them, but keep them in different parts of the same environment, where their actions can affect each other. It reminds me a lot of the sections involving Farah and the Prince working together in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m noticing that the female lead has a lot in common with Farah. For starters, her name is Thara, which is pretty blatant. Both are members of important families from lands to the east: Farah is a princess from India, Thara is the daughter of an ambassador from Arabia. Both are captives, yet both are strong-willed and argumentative and willing to insult the hero to his face. Both, against their will, wear skimpy red outfits — Farah because it’s what her captors gave her, Thara because it’s all that Assil could find to replace her prison clothes. It seems likely that Thara is not just a deliberate homage to Farah, but that this was supposed to be obvious to the player. PoP:TSoT was just two years old when Ankh was originally released, so it would have been fairly fresh in people’s minds. It only took me as long as it did to notice the similarity because it’s been so long since I’ve played it.

And what of their male counterparts? I suppose there’s some similarity of personality: Assil and the Prince are both a little self-centered and annoying to people around them. Also, over the course of PoP:TSoT, the Prince gradually loses pieces of clothing, ultimately ending up shirtless. Assil is already shirtless. But Assil doesn’t have the Prince’s acrobatic ability to back up his arrogance. He’s basically Egyptian Guybrush, his successes based more on a willingness to embrace absurdity than on any kind of skill or virtue. (Indeed, multiple puzzles have emphasized his lack of skills: he can’t swim, can’t play the flute, is no good at handicrafts.) Now, when Guybrush first meets Elaine in Secret of Monkey Island, she’s instantly and bafflingly attracted to him for no apparent reason. This is an accurate depiction of how romantic relationships seem from the male perspective, but it clashes with everything else that’s established about Elaine’s personality so much as to be jarring, as if Guybrush is unwittingly exerting some kind of creepy voodoo mind control or something. Farah, meanwhile, despite a definite and believable undercurrent of sexual tension, sees the Prince first and foremost as the source of her misfortunes, and never completely comes to trust him. So what do you get when Guybrush meets Farah? I’ll be returning to this vital question later.

Jolly Rover

Just like last post, we have here a game that I purchased in a bundle deal some time back but didn’t get around to trying until it was made part of the current summer promotion on Steam, and which I finished in less than a day after I finally started it. It probably won’t be the last.

SCUMM and VillainyJolly Rover is one of those games that’s easy to sum up in a single sentence: it’s Monkey Island with anthropomorphic dogs. Seriously, the MI influence here is so strong that I think I have to call it homage in order to avoid calling it rip-off. You’ve got the nerdish hero who becomes a pirate over the course of the game, the damsel in distress who’s more competent than the hero, the voodoo, the ghost pirate, the cannibals who turn out to not really be cannibals, the occasional mentions of circuses, the jungle maze that you can only navigate with cryptic instructions and the cavern maze that you can only navigate with aid from the dead. There’s an opening chapter at a settled island with a pirate bar (where the locals complain about how bad business is lately), which you return to in the end, just before a wedding takes place. It even reuses a couple of MI‘s jokes.

The details are shuffled around, of course. The ghost pirate isn’t your enemy. The wedding doesn’t involve the damsel in distress at all. The circus is part of the player character’s backstory and device for “Son, I’m proud of you” material. The voodoo is primarily a magic system used by the player, with puzzle-solving effects like heating iron and making trees drop their fruit.

The biggest difference is that Jolly Rover is just a much gentler game. I mean that both in the sense that it has a more relaxed ambience, and that it gives the player a lot more help. You get a parrot companion early on who dispenses hints in exchange for crackers (a collectible scattered throughout the game), but outright hints are just the beginning of the help you get. The game highlights clickable objects when you hold down the space bar. It also keeps track of what you’ve done, so you don’t have to: any action with a result you’ve already seen will have its highlight text in white, while any action that yields something new has blue text. This rule holds even when clicking on an item multiple times yields different results: it’ll highlight in blue until it runs out of reactions.

And it’s only polite that it gives you this much help in finding things you haven’t clicked yet, because this is a game that really wants you to click on everything. There are three distinct sets of collectibles — the aforementioned crackers, pieces of eight, and fragments of pirate flags — that can turn up pretty much anywhere. Click a wooden statue, and it might turn out to have crackers stuck in its teeth. Sometimes crackers can be collected from a single barrel multiple times. I haven’t achieved 100% completion in this stuff yet, but this is exactly the kind of thoroughness challenge that obsessed me as a child hunting for all the points in the Sierra games, and so I may come back to Jolly Rover the next time I’m in the mood for mechanically working my way through all the objects in a room until all the text turns white. (It’ll be an opportunity to listen to the Developer Commentary, which unlocks after winning the game once.)

There are two features that I felt worth singling out. First, this is a game with a status line, containing the player’s current score, an old-fashioned rank title determined by that score, and a brief statement of your current Quest: “Join a crew”, for example, or “Find Treasure”, or “Make Salamagundi”. It reminds me a bit of the use of the status line in The Blind House, but here, it’s used for humor: sometimes the Quest line changes several times over the course of a cutscene as the player character’s assessment of the situation changes. For example, at one point it goes from “Make friends with the nice pirate ladies” to “Hide from the scary killer pirate ladies” over the course of an overheard conversation. This particular mechanism obviously isn’t a Monkey Island imitation, but the playful treatment of the user interface struck me as being much more in the spirit of Monkey Island than a lot of the things that imitated it quite closely.

Secondly, there are a couple of items that are too large to carry, but which go into the player’s inventory when clicked anyway, with the explanation that the PC is just remembering where it is so he can move it when he needs it. The inventory item in these cases is just a memory, a token that lets you signify your desire to use a distant object. This is an approach to inventory that I’ve contemplated using before, and not just for exceptional cases, but for everything in the game. Really, all it requires is a slight change of concept: consider inventory not as what you’re carrying on your person, but as the set of tools at your disposal, including anything that you can get at easily. But is such a reconception really even necessary? The way inventory is treated in adventures is typically pretty abstract already. Text adventures sometimes make a nod at realism by putting a limit on how much you can carry and forcing you to drop stuff, but graphic adventures frequently don’t even allow you to drop stuff. We have no problem accepting this, which is a pretty good indication that we’re already thinking of the inventory as composed of puzzle tokens rather than physical objects. Whether this is a good thing probably depends on the story you’re trying to tell.