Sunday, 12 October 2008

Simon the Sorcerer and other reminiscences

I woke up with this tune in my head this morning. It's the theme from Simon the Sorcerer, by Adventuresoft, as remastered by James Woodcock for the ScummVM project.

Simon was originally released in 1993. I'd played a demo on a magazine coverdisc and completely fell in love with it. At the time I was 12, and lived in a surrealist-humoured world of hobbits and elves and goblins* so to see a very similar world in a computer game was wonderful.

[Midly context-establishing but mainly just wistful digression: the same year saw the release of Return to Zork, with its full-motion video (but only if you had an MPEG decoder card.. I find it amusing to consider the same hardware is now inside pretty much any mid-range mobile phone..). Another big adventure release was Myst, although I didn't play it at the time. Simcity 2000 also appeared, which I remember thinking was brilliant purely because it had aliens in it, and of course 1993 also saw the release of Doom.]

And back to Simon. The graphics were (and still are) a delight, they're very low-res by today's standards but you can still see the care and detail that went into the "real world" versions. I wonder if the originals still exist somewhere.. Similarly the music really captures the spirit of the game, kinda cute, often atmospheric, very rarely annoying (I never did like the village shop tune, but then the two-headed shop owner was annoying too so I guess it fits).

Simon was one of a lot of games at the time that came in floppy or CD "talkie" versions, which had recorded dialogue instead of text. Adventuresoft had enough money to get Chris Barrie to do Simon's voice on the talkie version, and the end result is quite good. The quality of the supporting voice talent varies wildly, but overall it works. (As a side rant, the proliferation of CD-ROM meant bad scripts and worse voice acting exploded in the mid-nineties as the games industry became obsessed with "interactive movies". This is still happening - Free Radical claim to have hired RSC actors to do the voice acting for Haze, but the dialogue was still widely panned)

The game's plot is fairly simple: Simon is summoned to a fantasy world - via a spellbook in the attic - to rescue the wizard Calypso from the evil sorcerer Sordid. The details of the plot are then basically made up of parodies of famous fantasy references strung together with occasionally elaborate (but always sensible) puzzles. I suppose the thing that really sticks out though, and the reason I still love the game today, is that a lot of the characters are very well developed. Simon is a master of sarcasm and one-liners, and who could forget the entirely adorable Swampling. As demonstrated in that video, a fair amount of breaking-the-fourth-wall happens, which I'm generally a fan of (Robert Rankin, probably my favourite author, does the literary equivalent throughout his books).

Ahhh, I think the urge to reminisce is leaving me now. Still there's no harm in listening to the remastered music for the rest of the afternoon though..

Maybe I'll talk about Grim Fandango next time :)

*I still have the schoolwork to prove it - including the entirely perplexed comments by my teachers :)

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