Saturday, 10 September 2016

EcoQuest - Final Rating

Written by Reiko

As it was targeted at a younger age group, EcoQuest was a very straightforward underwater romp, aside from a few minor issues. I generally had fun playing it (and gently poking fun at it) and was never really stuck on what to do next, although I did miss a few things and didn't get full points.


Puzzles and Solvability

The puzzles were all very straightforward. Most were logical inventory puzzles, like setting up the transmitter to broadcast the location of the chemical poison. Only two were classic puzzles, like the tile puzzle and the rotating pedestal puzzle. The tile puzzle could even be bypassed, if you wanted to cheat. So it's kind of odd that there were any classic puzzles at all. Neither one was all that fun. At least the finished mosaic was used for the riddles afterward. The rotating pedestal puzzle was unnecessarily tedious because I had to find the right order for the pieces, not just get everything matched up. It's awfully gratuitous anyway: the pictures are of a whale, a dolphin, and a boy in a mask. Hmm. These things just *happen* to be carved on columns in an ancient human ruin?


The instructions make it clear this is a brute-force sort of puzzle.
Note the clear picture of a boy in a mask on the far left.

I was never stuck on what to do next. There were no dead ends and no deaths. However, while the game was fun, it was really a bit too simple. It's probably pitched well for the target audience, but I'm not a ten-year-old, so it's not going to compare well in terms of challenge.

But there were a few places to lose points that were not obvious at all, especially the oxygen tank disappearing and the bit about hiding from the octopus rather than just swimming to the next screen. But those didn't impact the plot or game progression at all; I merely failed to gain the points from doing it "correctly."

Score: 5

Interface and Inventory

The interface is the classic and well-tested Sierra interface, with an extra button for the Recycle action. The inventory is also classic, with clear, bright icons representing each object, with the option to look at an object to get a text description of it. No problems here.


Can you easily tell how many exits this screen has?
 (The answer's five, and three are near the top edge.)

On the other hand, many of the screens look cluttered (and not just by trash!), and it's often hard to tell which ways are exits. Sometimes this is deliberate, as in the seaweed maze, but sometimes it seems like the game's just being a bit obtuse, as on the main Eluria screen. At first I couldn't find the Royal Gardens and had to do some trial and error off every edge to find the right exit. There's something on the main screen that looks like it might be the tail of the coral whale in the gardens, but other than that, it isn't visible at all. Some kind of cursor change over valid exits would have been helpful here, but I know that's not part of the usual Sierra experience.

I think this is more of a problem in this game because of the 3D environment of being underwater. The graphics are only 2D, of course, so it's harder to represent where all the exits are when going up has to literally mean up as well as forward or into the scene. I think the designers tried to keep it simple by setting most of the story close to the ocean floor with mostly horizontal motion, but the Eluria screen was just too complex and not designed clearly enough.

I also had trouble with the sequence involving entering the whale's mouth to remove the harpoon. Trying to move into the mouth directly didn't work; I had to click on the harpoon and then ended up with an inset closeup of the inside of the mouth, so it really wasn't an exit in the sense of moving to a different screen.

Score: 6

Story and Setting

As a story for younger players, it's reasonably engaging, with lots of bright, cartoony animal characters. But the juxtaposition of realistic environmental issues with fantastic elements like talking animals and a prophecy-based quest is rather jarring at times. For instance, Gregarious the manatee keeps getting injured from unshielded boat propellers, so he wears bandages and just decides he's not going to go breathe until Adam convinces the boat captain to let him put a cage on the propellers. Nevermind that he'd suffocate in less than half an hour. Nevermind that there could be other boats in the area; once Adam solves the problem with that particular boat, he's fine. It's just an excuse to make the point about the propellers.

Similarly, most of the other citizens in the Fish Apartments seem to exist only to illustrate the various dangers of human trash. If Adam hadn't happened to show up on that particular day, there'd be almost nobody left alive in the city because they'd have choked on a balloon or suffocated in plastic or succumbed to chlorine poisoning, etc. Nevermind the real threats of the manta and the dumped chemicals.


Adam's already awesome!

I also find the story less compelling because Adam himself, as the player character, has no particular character growth. He's already a precocious kid and knows a lot about the ocean and sea animals and the related environmental issues. By solving puzzles and disposing of trash and such, the player might be learning more about these things, but Adam already knows them. As such, the Elurians learn to trust him as a human who's going to help them rather than make things worse for them. If Adam weren't already this kind of person, he could never have fulfilled the prophecy. But it means the player is being encouraged to become more like Adam, so he's a role model rather than an avatar. He's a bit too perfect.

A more interesting story might have focused on a character that had a lot of raw knowledge about ocean creatures but not a lot of experience or empathy for the problems that environmental issues can cause, and then shown him becoming the right kind of empathetic person who could fulfill the prophecy. Even a few comments from Adam about "wow, I had no idea [that issue] could cause that much damage" would have helped. Instead, he lectures the lionfish about bleach, and the fisherman about his boat's propellers and dumping garbage, etc.

It's a rather short adventure, not unreasonable for the time period, especially given the target audience, but it just feels too simplistic (especially since my previous game was the intricate and twisty Timequest, which took more than three times as long to play). Okay, the "floating orb" turning out to be a toilet float was rather funny, but since mostly we were just fulfilling a prophecy, there really weren't any surprises or twists to the plot. The length was extended somewhat by having to help each Elurian citizen individually, but it still boils down to "accept quest, help citizens, gather prophecy items, fulfill the prophecy". So the plot really doesn't go much beyond cliche.


Are there more mutated mantas around somewhere?

The ending seemed a little unclear. So Adam stunned the manta with the lionfish spine poison, allowing Cetus to knock it out and presumably take it somewhere away from the city. Cetus says specifically that he didn't kill the manta; it's only stunned. He even says the manta may return to normal given some time, but no real explanation about how that's supposed to happen, just that he might "recover from the toxins that caused his mutation." Presumably with the poison cleaned up, it won't be getting any more exposure, anyway, but if the cause is really a mutation, I don't think it's likely to just revert with time.

Score: 5

Sound and Graphics

Sound is atmospheric but mostly unmemorable for me. It turned ominous every time the manta showed up, for instance, and was generally appropriate and unobtrusive. I was honestly a bit creeped out that first time when the manta's shadow darkened the city and the sound went ominous and Delphineus abruptly flung Adam into a hiding place. Later, before we encounter Cetus, we hear whale calls, and there are other appropriate sound effects, but nothing annoying.


Isn't Adam cute??

Graphics are bright and colorful, with nearly cartoony characters. Adam is very cute and bubbly. Character portraits are animated to represent speech movements and are surprisingly expressive, given that most portraits are of sea creatures and for most of the game, Adam is wearing a breathing mask. All the characters swim smoothly through the water. Adam swims surprisingly well given the amount of inventory he's been gathering by the end of the game (especially that recycling bag).

Every room is expressively drawn in detail, maybe too much detail (you can click on individual books in the lab!). Each of the characters' rooms in the Fish Apartments is uniquely decorated. The screens with poisoned and dying plants are appropriately more muted. The oceanic colors are brilliant, and the variety of plants and animals is done very well, from seaweed, to anemones, to brain coral, to various kinds of fish.


Okay, Adam looks almost dead with fright here or something. Not his best moment.

Score: 7

Environment and Atmosphere


A ruined city on top of a ruined city.


The vivid underwater setting is fantastic in every sense. Eluria is built on submerged human ruins, with fallen pillars and broken statues as background decor. Even more than that, it's a ruined aquatic city on top of a ruined human city, in the sense that the chemical poison and other troubles have nearly destroyed the gardens and driven many citizens elsewhere. There's a real air of neglect and futility that turns to outright destruction the closer to the poison that Adam travels. But there are moments of beauty, too: the occasional bright flower or coral that's somehow surviving, a random group of fish swimming by, the thick seaweed that hides the entrance to the city.


Bat-manta!

I mentioned above that the manta's appearance is quite creepy. Actually, having it show up reminds me of fighting mantrays in Quest for Glory, although Adam doesn't really fight the manta except for stabbing it with the lionfish spine at the end. Its lair is also creepy, with bones strewn around and even a human skull in the corner.

Also, in the cave with the poison, when Adam pulls one stone at a time out of the wall, the eerie greenish light from the poison room gradually illuminates the entrance area, a little brighter each time. I thought the process of having to remove one stone at a time was pointless and repetitive, but it does give that eerie visual before the reveal of what the poison is.

Score: 7

Dialog and Acting

The game provides a description for nearly everything you look at, from individual decorations in the Fish Apartments, to individual books in Adam's father's lab. The plot is short, but there's a lot of text. And I saw no grammatical errors, aside from deliberate affectations of some of the characters' accents. One fish has a terrible French accent, for instance.


One of Adam's many excited lectures.

There's no voice-acting, but the characters are written so well that the game doesn't need it. Adam is a cheerful and knowledgeable boy who likes to give lectures about environmental issues. Delphineus is a worried dolphin. The crab seems depressed, or at least has no self-esteem. And then there's the Oracle, who nearly always speaks in rhyme and provides the various pieces of the prophecy, which is nearly an instruction manual, if a bit of an opaque one, for how to fix the problems the city has.

Clearly a lot of research was done into environmental issues and what causes them. Every issue seemed realistic and well-described, even if it's usually Adam or Delphineus giving a bit of an info-dump each time.

Score: 6

That adds up to a final score of 5+6+5+7+7+6 = 36/60*100 = 60. That's on the high end of the guessing range, but I think it captures well the balance between straightforwardly easy but mostly fun puzzles, a cliche-ridden, prophecy-dependent plot, beautiful and atmospheric visuals, memorable characters, and detailed but sometimes preachy text.

Fourteen people made guesses ranging from 33 to 63, but Ilmari and Aperama both guessed exactly 60.



So that’s it for Ecoquest. Next up for me will be Legend’s Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, which I am very much looking forward to!

By the way, nobody got the reference I made in the Anemone and Octopus post: "Good work, Mr. Greene, you've found cause of death!" It's what Dr. Brennan from Bones says to her techs. For instance, in The Dude in the Dam, it was Wendell Bray who found the cause of death. Finding cause of death based on miniscule patterns of damage in the bones is the usual goal in each episode.

EcoQuest CAP Distribution

100 points to Reiko

  • Blogger award - 100 CAPs - for blogging through this game for our enjoyment

15 points to Aperama

  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating
  • Greek History Award - 5 CAPs - for noticing the Greek goddess/constellation naming

10 points to Ilmari

  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating

13 points to Niklas

  • Pop Culture Award - 10 CAPs - for referencing the Simpsons episode about dolphins taking over Springfield and the Ducktales episode about cleaning up Atlantis
  • Nostalgia Award - 3 CAPs - for referencing the Skies of Arcadia Delphinus and finally getting the points (plus interest) 10 days later
5 points to TBD

  • Flushed Away Award - 3 CAPs - for being environmentally concerned about the toilet
  • Pedantry Award - 2 CAPs - for correcting my fifteen-puzzle terminology

5 points to Paul Franzen

  • Genre Lover Award - 5 CAPs - for mentioning the Steam/Humble Bundle Sierra sale

2 points to Voltgloss

  • Nostalgia Award - 2 CAPs - for referencing the Skies of Arcadia Delphinus
  • Giving Me Fits Award - 0 CAPs - for losing the bet on a not-so-tricky puzzle

Missed Classics CAP Distribution

50 points to Ilmari

  • Classic Blogger award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through Mewilo for our enjoyment

100 points to Joe Pranevich

  • Classic Blogger award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through Dragon's Keep for our enjoyment
  • Interviewer Award - 25 CAPs - for interviewing Mike Woodroffe
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating of Antheads
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating of Robin of Sherwood
  • Improving the Blog Award - 5 CAPS -For suggesting to use first published release year for multiple platform games

65 points to TBD

  • Classic Blogger award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through Antheads for our enjoyment
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating of Mewilo
  • Riddle Me This Award - 5 CAPs - For good riddle solutions in Mewilo

75 points to Alex

  • Classic Blogger award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through Robin of Sherwood for our enjoyment
  • Interviewer award - 25 CAPs - for interviewing Christy Marx

10 points to Reiko

  • Keen Eyes Award - 5 CAPs - For spotting the connection between Mewilo and Lost in Time
  • Riddle Me That Award - 5 CAPs - For good riddle solutions in Mewilo

10 points to Aperama

  • Those Darned French Games Award - 10 CAPs - For a great solution to Mewilo

10 points to Fry

  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating of Antheads

16 comments:

  1. And with this out of the way, Consulting Detective is the only 1991 game left. We're counting on you, Joe!

    ReplyDelete
  2. CAPs Leaderboard updated! Some minor changes, but nothing radical.

    ReplyDelete
  3. With only one game to go, EcoQuest took the sixth position of year's games. Quite high, I'd say! Let's see what that means for Full House:

    1) Joe Pranevich and Corey Cole are still tied in race for Top 5. I am pretty sure the two of them are already clear winners in this category.
    2) Charles is still holding the lead on Bottom 5, but it will come down how Consulting Detective fares. Will it be one of the worst games of the year?
    3) Reiko is approaching me in Full House because she managed to nail the position of Ecoquest (what a coincidence!). Aperama is also close to us, but since he and I picked the same position for Consulting Detective, Aperama will take the second place at best.

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1mtXUQwQkDVPkRzbpsRQzuqyxyfw8lRtb_h6m796750A

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should've guessed EcoQuest instead of Dr. Brain for 4th spot. :-(

      Delete
    2. You'll soon have a chance to make better choices.

      Delete
    3. I'm glad it did as well as it did! I was surprised how good this one turned out. I suppose it has an excellent pedigree. That an EDUCATIONAL game came as close as it did to our Top 10 is quite striking.

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    4. By the way, I didn't look at my Full House guesses when I was deciding the score, nor had I thought about individual scores when I made my Full House guesses. I just had a good sense of the relative quality of Ecoquest, I suppose.

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  4. They should've had voice acting for this game on the condition that all actors are recorded actually speaking underwater.

    And I was way off on what I thought the 'cause of death' reference would be. I still maintain I've seen something like that before

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There does exist a voiced version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h229pDV2W_c

      Delete
  5. Oh, the pop culture award, feels like I'm back in sociology class at the university.

    With that in mind, and I really hate to be that guy, but I would like to point out that I was the one that referenced Delphinus from Skies of Arcadia, even though I spelled it wrong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right, sorry! TBD or Ilmari should be able to correct that in the post and fix the CAP assignments.

      Delete
    2. Better late than never.

      Fixed!

      Delete
    3. Thanks, TBD. My fault for not double-checking that.

      Delete
  6. Man, how could I have missed that Bones reference. I now have it looping in my head. In Brennan's voice of course.

    I'm intrigued by the third screenie. Is "Felicitations" a real word?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Teehee, I'm glad someone appreciates the reference.

      Yes. It's not as common, but it's basically a synonym for "congratulations."

      Delete