These are the greatest adventure series you're not playing0 Comments
There are game series that start out strong only to lean on what made them great until we all agree that a Call of Duty game every year might be too much, and then there are games like Steve Jackson's Sorcery! that no only manages to create a great first game, but manages to successfully experiment with the formula in its next two episodes. And what's remarkable about all of this is that the game manages to do all of this with source material older than most people reading this article. From weathered page to virtual hit, Steve Jackson's Sorcery! is probably the most important game series that you are not playing right now.
And before you even ask, this isn't the Steve Jackson you know from the Munchkin card game. Think Queens and Dukes and not the land Kardashians. Steve along with a couple of his friends founded Games Workshop back in the 70's which should sound familiar to you if you have ever painted a miniature or know where space marines really come from. If that wasn't quite enough to seal his nerd cred, Steve also helped to bring Dungeons & Dragons to the UK and help setup Lionshead Studios with Peter Molyneux.
Now as you shuffle your feet around thinking about your own nerdy accomplishments which may include your gamer score and something you stuck up on YouTube, let's not forget that Steven also wrote a number of gamebook series including a four-part set called Sorcery! You probably know them as "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, but if you have never been to an 80's dance ironically, gamebooks combine the tough choices you typically take in an RPG and put them down on paper. For an example, you may be reading a passage about wandering into a clearing in the forest and it would say something like –
"If you want to call on your pet eagle to survey the area, turn to page 38."
"If you want to stay in the brush and watch from a distance, turn to page 12."
"If you want to find a different book, turn to page 58."
You get the idea. With video games taking over the same space, the need to flip through pages to find out about your fate was replaced by the electronic version of dice rolls and characters sheets.
Oddly enough, we've started to see the resurgence in these types of games with Telltale's The Walking Dead series where you have to make quick decisions that branch out from each episode. There's also a rise of iPad games that seem perfect for bringing print back to the forefront. What you get is inkle Studios resurrecting the series in a virtual version with the same story beats and monsters you have to face. Instead of simply cutting and pasting the story onto the virtual screen, the studio beings to experiment with what it means to interact with a story, develop characters, and launch a new way to play with the written word.
The first Sorcery! game takes the story out of the book and on to the board as you move around a miniature of your character (a clever nod to Games Workshop) around a map of the land that you're exploring. There are no more pages to turn, but only places to go as you make your choice by taking the places you want to visit. Moving forward locks down your choice. Each space gives you even more choices to make within it as you figure out where to move next. You play as a mage-warrior hybrid with spells at your disposal at the cost of health and a sword at your side. Combat comes down to something like an auction where the highest bidder wins the round but loses stamina to what you bid. It's a dance between blocking to regain stamina and keeping an eye on your enemy's attack pattern. What you get is a world that feels more like a game but reads like a novel as you find characters to help out or hinder you on your quest to find the Crown of Kings.
And that could have been the story for inkle Studios. The first part of Sorcery! came out to rave reviews for their creative use of visuals while maintaining the meat of the story. What they managed to do was to make reading palatable to gamers, not an easy feat. Your choices still go back to those page turns, but now you feel like your choices move the story, both in plot and physically on the map. The second game goes far beyond the scope of the first as you work your way through a town of liars and traps. Visiting particular points zooms the acting in even closer as you manage to work through smaller sections outside of the bigger map. These smaller sections unfold to create their own stories with characters and puzzles for you to unravel.
For each of these engrossing stories, you know there might have been one equally complex if you simply made a left instead of a right at the fork in the road. On top of all of that, there's a mystery to solve as you catch wind of the political climate of the city and of the slave trader looking to take everything as his own. With the travel, focus on choice and resources; then you can start to see how some of the lessons learned from Sorcery! 2 made their way to inkle's other big title, 80 Days.
Pack your bags; you are heading around the world in search of adventure and path that leads you back faster than anyone else. 80 Days, one of the best games you didn't play last year, takes on the Jules Verne with a steampunk twist and plenty of adventures to keep your fingers moving. Moving around the map, you'll see shades of the Sorcery! board map being implemented as well as the bits of story scrolling up like pages from a journal. The pacing, those little stories that can mean so much, really shine in this iOS game as you try to speed your way through the continent, but you'll be more than happy to make a detour to run off with students to protest automatons in India or ride on the Nautilus.
More than just an amazing experience, Sorcery! is a testing ground for future games coming from inkle Studios. Where we see so many games rest on the same traditions, it's both refreshing to see a series take risks with the gameplay while not alienating the audience by doing so. Not to pander to a larger crowd, these changes often make the games tougher for the player and rewarding once you master them.
The third game reflects that by creating an open world system with day and night cycles, enemies with their own patterns of roaming the land, and you need to figure out the weakness of the seven serpents chasing you down in order to defeat them. Where you were once set on a singular path of fate, you can now move back to previous location and more than likely need to in order to come out with the best possible ending.
Open world, RPG-elements, giant bosses; the elements in the new Sorcery! game read like something in the next Dragon Age. If anything, inkle Studios has managed to blur the line between text and adventure where gamers you don't mind a little reading can be pulled in by the action. Now imagine apply this to something like a Bioshock or War of the Worlds where you could focus more on the story and less on the action. Anyone interested in where the future of storytelling in games needs to keep an eye on the Sorcery! series, not just for what it is doing now, but it's also planning on doing in the future.