Saturday, 7 October 2017

Lure of the Temptress: Nothing Means Anything: A Treatise on Adventure Game Protagonists Disguised as a Gameplay Post

by Alex



Lure of the Temptress is like a food that you want to like, but every time you eat it, you get indigestion. Or a song you know should be up your alley, but in the middle of what should be a good part an obnoxious squealing sound ruins everything. Or that person you date time and time again, only for them to completely ruin the moment with an inappropriate comment or some ill-timed flatulence.

You get the idea.


The thing is, Lure of the Temptress has the bones of a good adventure game, but doing anything in it feels like such a chore. Navigating Turnvale (those damn interstitial alleys!), talking to people (the pathfinding sucks and sometimes just doesn’t work), getting from Point A to Point B (Virtual Theater causes NPC logjams) just is not fun. These are things that aren’t even puzzle-solving, just basic adventure game mechanics. Firing up this game fills me with the strong desire to be doing something else, like my taxes.


Compared to playing Lure of the Temptress, filling these out seems like fun!

I spent two hours in my last session and yet accomplished very little. I sincerely hope I’m near the end of this game; I don’t know how much more I can take. I am actively unhappy while playing it.

First, the good, what little there is: Inside the Weregate were a series of puzzles that were actually kind of fun, and made good use of the mechanics the game established during the first sequence, where Diermot had to order Ratpouch to push the wall and open the secret passage out of the castle.



As you can see from the screenshot above, there is a closed door to the right and two skulls on poles in the back of the room. The skulls are too heavy to take, but each can be pushed or pulled, making them face in a different direction. By turning the right skull to face left, so both skulls were facing the center of the room, I was able to get the left door to slide open.



The next room is much the same, except that it’s green. And manipulating the skulls doesn’t open the door to the left, though I am able to close the door that Diermot came through.


The green room.

After a few futile minutes trying various combinations, I realize that the game had Goewin accompany Diermot into the caves for a reason: The skulls in the first room must open this door! By experimenting with asking Goewin to turn the skulls in the first room in various combinations, I was able to open the door to the left, although the right-side door was closed, cutting Diermot off from Goewin.

Of course, when you ask Goewin to help you do something, the game’s uneven tone and, quite frankly, bad approach to characterization rears its ugly head:







Where the hell did all of this come from? When the hell did Goewin become a stock, “independent” female character? It’s not even as if Diermot is being a jerk or anything, or that Goewin has any helpful suggestions on how to get through these caves. The whole thing come from out of left-field and is the mark of lazy writing. Of course in the 1990s a female character has to be tough, sarcastic, and cutting towards the hapless male protagonist. It’s so stupid. Do people who write like this actually know women? Have they ever been in an actual relationship, or even observed one?

I know, I know: “Alex, it’s just a computer game. And an old one at that.” But it’s still stupid.

Also stupid is the fact that, even though Goewin had been cut off from Diermot, she somehow appears in the room after the green room, the blue room.


Somehow, even though Goewin is in the room to the right . . .


. . . she ends up in here with Diermot.

Well geez, if she could phase through walls or whatever, why do I have to bother mucking around with the skulls?

Anyway, after this room comes a connecting room with nothing of note, before Goewin comes face-to-face with the monster Ultar warned him about! But uh-oh, I don’t have a sword, even though the game a) explicitly told me I needed one, b) showed me one in Luthern’s forge, and c) did not let me get it.

Whatever shall I do!

Nothing, as it turns out. This is the message that flashes on the screen as you enter the room:

“The smell of death hits you and you struggle to hold back a feeling of nausea. You decide that you have gone too far to turn back now. Picking up an axe that has been carelessly discarded—presuambly by a warrior for whom it no longer holds any use—you prepare for battle.”


Bam! Here’s an axe!
That’s right: The game just . . . gives you a weapon. It’s yet another example of where there could have been a puzzle—find a weapon—but nah, screw it, here’s an axe from out of nowhere.

So now we get to experience the game’s combat interface, hinted at in the manual. Depending on where the cursor is—high, medium, or low—Diermot can defend or attack by holding the mouse button. I remember Ultar telling Diermot to let the monster come to him and attack high, so that’s what I do, and after a few blows . . .











. . . the dread beast is no more. It’s pretty good, as far as adventure-game combat interfaces go, but I never got the sense that Diermot was in any danger. As with most things in Lure of the Temptress, it’s anti-climactic.


Kinda like this guy . . .

But hey, I found the dragon!



So I have this potion that Gowein made that’s supposed to enchant the dragon, but how do I use it? What do I do? Does Diermot drink it? Do I have to force the dragon to drink it? Do I splash it on the dragon? On Diermot?



I throw it on the dragon, getting the message that it has no apparent effect. But I decide to roll with it. And what do you know, it worked. Because Lure of the Temptress seems to take the “Whatever” approach to inventory-based puzzles.


I did?

Upon being commanded by Diermot to help, thanks to the potion, the dragon recounts the story of an evil demon that feeds on human greed. The great Gethryn had driven the demon away, but Selena’s magical meddling had revived the foul beast, which now controls the enchantress! So everything is not her fault, except it kind of is, because she brought this demon back in the first place.

Luckily, the dragon provides a way to stop the monster: An object of power left behind by Gethryn, a small orb called the Eye of Gethryn. It’s a stone imbued with a spell of banishing that can drive away the demon . . . but the dragon warns Diermot not to look at it. Diermot wisely sticks the thing in his pocket and leaves the caverns with Goewin, who suggest that Luthern might have an idea how Diermot can infiltrate the castle.

Yeah, that Luthern. The guy who had a sword but wouldn’t give it to Diermot. The guy whose idea of fighting back against Selena is graffiti. The guy who’s only useful function has been to drink a flask of liquor so Diermot can use the empty flask for a magic potion of transformation.


A little more backstory.

Diermot’s mission, then, is to find a way into the castle. You know what this means: another round of talking to everyone!


You and me both, Larry. You and me both.

I’ll cut to the chase: Everyone’s useless. This is what Luthern has to say:


No kidding . . .

And that’s it. Other than Goewin expressing her love for Diermot in a way that once again underscores this game’s tone deafness . . .












Is this supposed to be cute? Funny? It comes from out of nowhere, and the characters are so thin, and Goewin was super-bitchy to Diermot in the caverns, that it all has the emotional impact of a feather beating against a battleship.

. . . the only one who offers any useful advice is Mallin, telling Diermot to keep an eye on one Skorl in particular whose behavior is kind of strange.



This is where I got hung up, and had to put out a call for help. Luckily, my man Voltgloss stepped up and provided just enough of a nudge for me to move on. You see, I was on the right track, I had just missed one key thing.

I took Mallin’s advice and followed around the odd Skorl patrol. Which one? Damned if I know—I always figured that there was just one Skorl wandering around town, so I followed him to try to figure out what Mallin was getting at.

First, the Skorl went to the Magpie and demanded a barrel of beer from Nellie. Then he went to Ewan and shook him down for food. Finally, he’d go to the castle gates, pace around a bit, and then repeat the process.

I followed the Skorl around like a dummy for 20 or so minutes, talking to Nellie, talking to Ewan, trying to do what the Skorl did, all to no avail, before Voltgloss’ hints clued me in to an option that I was not previously aware I could avail myself of. You see, Diermot can “look through” the window to Ewan’s shop.



I honestly don’t recall this being an option before. Maybe it was and I just forgot. Either way, here are two things that piss me off about this puzzle:
  1. The conversation that Diermot snoops in on is the same as if he is standing in the store . . . except that it continues to the good stuff. There’s no indication, if Diermot is in the store, that the Skorl abruptly cuts himself off or whatever, giving a slight nod to the player that they’ll have to listen in on the pow-wow unseen. You know, the way a good game would; and
  2. There is nothing fun about puzzles where the player has to just wait somewhere for an NPC to do something. Virtual Theater was not utilized to the fullest of its potential.


What Diermot learns is that the Skorl are getting sick of Selena too and want Ewan to hide into a barrel that will be delivered to the castle, pop out, and murder Selena when she’s not looking. Of course, Ewan is a coward, but this gives Diermot an idea.


I just get a kick out of the fact that the giant, mean,
heavily muscled, flesh-eating Skorl is named “Wayne.”



Our “intrepid” “hero” (I can’t use both terms about Diermot sincerely) decides to make a deal with Ewan, offering to be smuggled into the castle instead. Ewan is only too happy go get out of this, urging Diermot into the barrel before the Skorl returned.


This picture only lasted for about three seconds, and nothing happened. I wonder if pushing buttons to take the screenshot skipped an animation sequence, but I really don’t care enough to go back and check.

So in the castle’s wine cellar, Diermot is embarking on what is hopefully the last mission of his quest to rid Turnvale of the wicked Selena. Except he’s not going to murder her. Oh know, he’s going to banish the demon that’s taken control of her.

As an aside, though, Lure of the Temptress’ whole main quest feels like an accident. If you remember the intro, Diermot kind of accidentally ended up in the king’s hunting party, he accidentally survived, and he accidentally found himself involved in Turnvale’s struggle for freedom. I know that he at least decides to do the right thing, but even in the 1990s, when the trope of the “accidental hero” was prevalent, it felt really old. Playing this game some twenty-five years later makes it feel doubly so.

I like heroes to have agency. To go back to Quest for Glory I, the hero there wanted to be great. He actively chose to go to Spielburg and put things right. The same way Guybrush Threepwood travels to Melee Island because he wants to be a pirate and Sir Graham embarks on his various quests because he wants to save the kingdom and then later find a wife. Even Leisure Suit Larry had agency: the dude wanted to get laid!

Diermot, by contrast, is a nonentity, a dork, a feeble cardboard cutout. None of his feats of derring-do feel believable because he has not been established as anything other than a bumbling schmuck. You wouldn’t care much for a character like this in a novel or a movie, unless there was some heavy character development. There is none of that in Lure of the Temptress, which does not make for engaging adventure gaming.


Derp.

Anyway, wish me luck as our stupid protagonist comes to the likely stupid end of his stupid quest.

Inventory: Broken glass, knife, tinderbox, flask of water, diary, statue, Eye of Gethryn, sprig, axe, 4 groats

Session Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 6 hours, 55 minutes

14 comments:

  1. You're very close to the end!

    Yep, there was an animation sequence of of the skorl carrying the barrel: https://youtu.be/qCajL9SgvC0?t=1h32m47s

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    1. @Laukku

      Re: the animation: oh well. Thanks for the link. I am just glad I'm near the end of this.

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  2. I think the cave was when I started to simply rely on a walkthrough. The busywork to give the commands to figure out the skull combinations in rooms you can't even see? I decided that was not worth the effort. It's just trial and error. Up to that point I had patiently done the find-out-where-everyone-is-and-talk-to-them routine over and over again.

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    1. @Laukku

      "Busywork" is the perfect word for this game. Everything just feels so cumbersome.

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  3. Regarding heroes with agency vs. accidental heroes, I think one classic adventure game protagonist falls into the latter group. Roger Wilco mostly just happened to be in the wrong place in the wrong time and rarely was actively seeking for adventures.

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    1. @Ilmari

      That's a good point. Roger is definitely on the "accidental" hero side of things. Some differences I can think of, though, are:

      1) Better writing: the tone of the Space Quest series is established early and it makes the game world and it's denizens hang together far better than here.
      2) Roger has a personality. He's a bit snarky himself, he IS brave despite everything, kind of handsome, and has a heart of gold. Diermot is just an indistinct lump.
      3) Roger has clear objectives: Games I through IV involve him trying to get home. He stops the bad guys on the way in game I and spends the next three games dealing with the consequences of that.

      In game V, he's the freaking captain of a starship! And in VI...let's not talk about VI right now.

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    2. I am looking forward to reviewing SQ5 and 6 when the time comes! I know I played both but honestly I couldn't tell you one thing about them plot-wise.

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    3. Another difference between Roger and Diermot, is that Roger's adventures are played for comedy. That makes the 'accidental hero' thing much more acceptable, as it adds to the comedic 'in way over his head' situations.

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    4. @Joe

      I am jealous that you get to play those! I may be in the minority, but I think SQ V is an excellent adventure game--the pacing and the puzzle designs are great. And while it does miss Scott Murphy's acerbic wit, the tonal shift isn't too jarring and it ultimately works.

      Regarding VI, I have been disappointed more with fewer games. It should have been so much better--it has all the makings of a classic, and some laugh-out-loud hilarious parts--but you can just feel the rushed, chaotic nature of Sierra at the time. Similar to Quest for Glory V, but QfG V worked better. Still, SQ VI is a worthy entry in the series, though it may be the "worst" one.

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    5. @Laukku

      Right! It's a testament to how good Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe were as writers, as well as the rest of their crew. Space Quest has that Hitchhiker's Guide feel to it.

      The Monkey Island series also gets away with "comedic hero" because of the quality writing. This seems like it's stuck between being a serious fantasy or a silly comedy. In my opinion, it should have gone the serious route with just a few puns and gags played straight, less Space Quest/Monkey Island and more Quest for Glory. But that's just me.

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    6. Personally, all the action minigames and a long maze took my joy out of playing SQV.

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  4. "Diermot - I will take your place in the barrel"

    Did anyone else think of an old crude joke punchline when they read that... just me then... okay, I'll move along quietly.

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  5. @TBD

    No . . . but please elaborate!

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    1. Oh.. alright... there's a lot of versions with slight differences. The joke's the same though. And on searching for it now I realised it's also become a saying.

      Just check the first and "Best Answer" on this page. https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081220221930AAwyryj

      Enjoy...

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