Figment – Linux, Mac OS X 10.12, and Windows 10 Game Compatibility

Figment Title Screen
Figment Title Screen

System Requirements

Linux
Operating System: Ubuntu 16.04 or greater
Processor: Intel Core i5 2500 at 3.3 GHz, AMD FX 6120 at 3.6 GHz, or greater
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Video: Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti, Nvidia GeForce GT 750M, Radeon HD5850, or greater
Hard Disk: 3 GB

Mac OS X
Operating System: Mac OS X 10.2 or greater
Processor: Intel Core i5 at 3.3 GHz or greater
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Video: Radeon R9 M290X or greater
Hard Disk: 3 GB

Windows
Operating System: Windows 10 or greater
Processor: Intel Core i5 2500 at 3.3 GHz, AMD FX 6120 at 3.6 GHz, or greater
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Video: Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti, Nvidia GeForce GT 750M, Radeon HD5850, or greater
Hard Disk: 3 GB
Sound: DirectX 11 compatible sound card

Playstation 3, Playstation 4, XBox 360, Logitech F710, and Logitech F310 game controllers are supported.

Figment – Linux, Mac OS X 10.12, and Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Figment Title Screen
Figment Title Screen

Figment is an action adventure game with puzzles, released in 2017. It was developed and published by Bedtime Digital Games. In Figment you play as Dusty who is on an epic quest to restore the health of the mind he inhabits.

Figment begins with a family in a car driving through a stormy night. It sounds like a daughter in the back of the car is taunting her dad while he’s trying to focus on the road. Then out of nowhere the father yells, “Oh crap!” foreshadowing the impending crash that takes place immediately thereafter.

But my scrapbook!
But my scrapbook!

After the crash scene fades out, another scene fades in where Piper, a friendly flying companion, comes to wake Dusty up and get him ready. It seems Dusty is a protector and adventurer that has gotten rusty with disuse. He holds on to his scrapbook, likely filled with memories of adventures past, and is preparing to make himself an intoxicating beverage to enjoy.

While Dusty is away collecting ice for his beverage, a nightmare comes to steal his scrapbook. He begins to wake up to the fact that things are not all right with the mind, as Piper had been trying to tell him. Dusty then begins his quest to get his scrapbook back.

Consume Endurance Neurons to replenish health.
Consume Endurance Neurons to replenish health.

I’m not doing appropriate justice by my description of the narrative. Playing Figment made me realistically feel and experience emotions that few games ever have. With many games I sympathize with the characters as they make their way through the story, but with Figment the voice acting and body language of the characters combined with the musical score stirred serious empathy within me.

I felt genuinely hurt that Dusty had his scrapbook stolen and was treated unfairly. I felt genuinely bad for the nightmare who stole the scrapbook telling Dusty, “Eventually, we all lose everything!” to justify his actions. Piper makes me want to do what I can to help fix things when she nervously states, “Something’s totally messed up in the mind!”

Collect Endorphins to level up your hit points.
Collect Endorphins to level up your hit points.

My wife’s aunt suffered a terrible car wreck a few years ago that left her with a traumatic brain injury. For many months after the accident it was frustrating to sit by her bed side and see her reliving nightmares and grasping at incomplete overwhelming thoughts while we could do little to help. Figment puts you right there inside a mind, struggling for survival, and makes you feel determined to set things right.

The combat is typical hack and slash. Dusty has a life bar, and he can take only so many hits before he must respawn at the nearest checkpoint. The life bar may be replenished using Endurance Neurons, green glowing balls that spin around trees throughout Figment’s game world. Picking up enough Endorphins will extend your life bar, providing you an extra hit point.

Dusty must fight some diseased creatures like these Barf Rodents here.
Dusty must fight some diseased creatures like these Barf Rodents here.

Dusty and Piper travel together through the mind to fight fear and sickness, stoke creativity, and recontain the nightmares into their proper place. As they journey they find memories they can use to piece together and recollect the person of the mind they inhabit. Dusty starts off as an uncaring jerk, but as he picks up more endorphins he begins to turn back into his former heroic self.

When I finished recording my first impressions play through, my wife asked me if I had fun playing. I sat for a second and thought about it and then answered honestly, no. Thus far Figment has been a dramatic, poetic, artistic, incredible game steeped in symbolism, but not really fun.

Fighting the first nightmare.
Fighting the first nightmare.

I plan to continue playing Figment till I complete it. There seems to be so much depth to the story that I want to see how it turns out. The character development, musical score, and vivid artistry combine to make an epic such that it feels I have a duty to see the story through to its conclusion. While it may not be “fun,” there’s no game that has grabbed so much of my attention lately as Figment has. In many ways Figment goes beyond fun to provide a moving experience very unique from any other game I have played thus far.

A Story About My Uncle – Linux, Mac OS X 10.9, and Windows 8 Game Compatibility

A Story About My Uncle Title Screen
A Story About My Uncle Title Screen

System Requirements

Linux
Operating System: Ubuntu 12.04 or greater
Processor: 2.0 GHz Quad Core or greater
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: Graphics Accelerator with 512 MB VRAM
Hard Disk: 2 GB
Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

Mac OS X
Operating System: Mac OS X 10.8 or greater
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Hard Disk: 2 GB

Windows
Operating System: Windows 7 or greater
Processor: 2.0 GHz Quad Core or greater
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: DirectX 9.0c compatible graphics card with 1024MB VRAM
Hard Disk: 2 GB
Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

A Story About My Uncle – Linux, Mac OS X 10.9, and Windows 8 Game First Impressions

A Story About My Uncle Title Screen

It has been some time since you saw your uncle Fred. He is the adventuring type, and once again he has gone off on an adventure, but this time for longer than usual. Because you are curious, you sneak into his house and see if you can find clues about where he’s gone. While there you find an adventure suit, just like the one he takes with him on all his adventures, but this is a special one sized just for you.

You try it on and play with the contraptions you find in his observatory. You find an interesting switch and flick it on. The dome of the observatory opens and you find yourself slingshotted out into the stars.

The Adventure Suit is waiting.
The Adventure Suit is waiting.

A Story About My Uncle is a first person action adventure game. It was developed by Gone North Games and published by Coffee Stain Studios. It was released in 2014.

I have seen reviews say A Story About My Uncle is a parkour simulator, but I think that is selling it short given its rich story that I’ll get to in a moment. The player can run and jump by holding down the shift key or hitting the space bar key respectively. The player’s adventure suit can do much more, such as an increased jump when holding down on the right mouse button.

This is what a save beacon looks like.
This is what a save beacon looks like.

The suit also has a powered grappling hook that can be used as a tractor beam to pull the player toward an object that is relatively close to their current position. Those who have used the grappling hook in Team Fortress mods or other first person shooters will likely understand the mechanic. If you haven’t, just think Spiderman.

An obstacle course of floating islands is provided for the player to cut their teeth on in their quest to finding their uncle Fred. It was great fun jumping from platform to platform in the strange jungle cave. I am typically afraid of heights, and I struggled with that fear when first playing A Story About My Uncle. But the game is very forgiving.

Just hook and weeeee!
Just hook and weeeee!

Your suit will protect you from all falls. The only thing dangerous concerning falling is falling into liquid since the suit is apparently too heavy to float. At least at the beginning of the game there are quick save beacons on nearly every surface. Just get in close proximity to one of these brightly lit beacons and your game will quick save. It’s easy to start over whenever you fail. In no time you’ll be able to bound around the game world handily enough to keep up with the story.

I had originally thought based on the vast empty world and the quiet and secluded ambiance that A Story About My Uncle would be a game in which I would find myself alone. The same adventure formulas used by classic adventures like the Myst and The Journeyman Project series seemed to be in play here.

Nice to meet you, Maddie.
Nice to meet you, Maddie.

I was playing in a dark room late at night with headphones on and out of no where I heard a voice say, “Hello, who are you? You’re not from here.” I just about jumped out of my seat. But as it turned out this friendly voice appeared to be attached to a friendly creature who knew my Uncle Fred. Maddie was her name and she gave me a tour around her village once I got there.

After her quick tour she went on ahead to talk to the village elder, Samuel, for me while I went to take a look around the village and Uncle Fred’s tent. There in the tent I saw that Maddie had drawn a picture for Uncle Fred. After finishing looking around the village I am supposed to meet Maddie and elder Samuel at his dwelling.

The village people.
The village people.

At this point I’m not sure what to expect next from A Story About My Uncle. It is following the predictable formulas I have come to expect from good adventure games while simultaneously throwing me quite a few curve balls thus far. The characters I have encountered seem charming and it feels so good to be swinging like Spiderman through a world of peaceful amphibious creatures. However there has to be some dark mysterious conflict somewhere. The story would not ultimately be compelling without it. Thus far the story telling has been too rich and the tension is building too great for there not to be some impending drama.

Awwww.

The player’s character is narrating in the future as a bedtime story to his daughter, so perhaps the story won’t get too out of hand. I’m really excited to see where it goes. In real life, I got sick with some kind of winter crud. Whenever this happens I usually pick out a simple turn-based Japanese role-playing game with a heavy but linear plot that I can mindlessly mash buttons to. It was refreshing to pick up A Story About My Uncle as it gave me the perfect mixture of fun non-complex action with a heavy dose of engaging story. I’m looking forward to reviewing this one once I have completed it soon. It would be great if there were some grappling hook universe out there I could escape to just to play video games in.

Epistory: Typing Chronicles – Linux, Mac OS X 10.11, and Windows 10 Game Compatibility

Epistory: Typing Chronicles Title Screen
Epistory: Typing Chronicles Title Screen

System Requirements

Linux
Operating System: Ubuntu 14.04 or greater
Processor: Intel Core i5 2400 or greater
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: ATI Radeon HD4850, GeForce GTX 295 or greater
Hard Disk: 1 GB

Mac OS X
Operating System: Mac OS X 10.9 or greater
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Hard Disk: 1 GB

Windows
Operating System: Windows XP or greater
Processor: Intel Core i5 2400 or greater
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: ATI Radeon HD4850, GeForce GTX 295 or greater
Hard Disk: 1 GB

Epistory: Typing Chronicles – Linux, Mac OS X 10.11, and Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Epistory: Typing Chronicles Title Screen
Epistory: Typing Chronicles Title Screen

Epistory: Typing Chronicles is a hack and slash role-playing typing (yes, role-playing and typing) game released in 2016. Epistory was developed by Fishing Cactus and published on the Steam platform by Plug In Digital. It was also published DRM free to Humble Bundle and is featured in their Humble Bundle Trove for Humble Bundle Monthly subscribers.

Excited about starting a new engaging adventure, I browsed through a list of games I had not yet played and saw the title Epistory.

“Epistory, like epic story?” I thought. “I should give this a try.”

I loaded up the game and saw the complete title, Epistory: Typing Chronicles.

“What? This is a typing game? Like Mario Teaches Typing or Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing? This is going to suck.”

I resolved to give it a chance and started the game. The game begins with narration.

Once upon a time. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

My head was in my hands. They took a line from a classic Charles Dickens novel without directly alluding to the meaning of that line in its context. This is going to be painful.

There was a girl. And she rode on the back of a great fox.

Ok, that’s better, could we have just started the story with that? Please tell me more.

Don't tell me what to do, I'll use the W, A, S, D keys if I want.
Don’t tell me what to do. I’ll use the W, A, S, D keys if I want.

Epistory begins with a young blonde girl mounted on a very red fox. It is recommended from the start to use the E, F, J, I keys for movement in lieu of the W, A, S, D keys typically used for movement in most PC games since they are closer to the center of the keyboard for quicker typing speed. I spent over an hour trying to get used to navigating with the E, F, J, and I keys. My biggest issue was that while the E, F, J, and I keys are recommended, the W, A, S, D keys are still mapped, so accidentally touching the D key (which is beneath the E key) sends you in the wrong direction. When I finally switched back to using W, A, S, and D for all of my movement, Epistory became so much easier to play, so I recommend using W, A, S, and D from the beginning.

First combat, first blood.
First combat, first blood.

Therefore, using the W, A, S, and D keys, the player navigates through the world as the story is told. Despite the rocky start, things only got better and more impressive from there. Epistory feels like any other role-playing game where you’re navigating through and exploring a fascinating, colorful world. When an obstacle is encountered, the player must type out a word to remove it. Whenever a word is typed, the player receives experience points. Chaining words in rapid succession, the player can score combos to get a greater number of experience points. Once experience points have been sufficiently accumulated, the player levels up and can choose how to spend skill points to unlock new player skills.

You will encounter real enemies on your quest with real words. Large words.
You will encounter real enemies on your quest with real words. Large words.

Pressing the space bar will show the player all of the words in their immediate area they can type for points. Whenever a word is successfully typed, a magic bolt is fired by the girl and her fox at the object that had the word. As the game progresses enemies will approach the player and can be defeated by successfully typing words to eliminate the deadly creatures.

Epistory reminds me of Diablo.
Epistory reminds me of Diablo.

One direct hit from a creature will kill the player, and Epistory does not start at the lowest vocabulary like other typing games do. The words employed have meaning in relation to their objects. All are real dictionary words and rarely repeated as the game progresses, keeping play fresh. This is not Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing or Mario Teaches Typing. No one is going to help you find home row in this world where evil roams. Playing Epistory is more like playing Diablo as a Ranger class, but instead of clicking the mouse button to shoot your bow, you are typing to do so. I am a software developer by trade and have been told I am an excellent typist, and I still find Epistory to be challenging. This is a good title for adults and those who feel their typing skills are up to the task.

Puzzles are well integrated and increase in difficulty.
Puzzles are well integrated and increase in difficulty.

I have played through the first two boss fights thus far and have actually really enjoyed myself. The story, though a little scattered, has gotten better and more engrossing. The music is superb, but not overwhelming. It sits in the background and supports the story, helping engross the player while not drawing too much attention to itself. I was pleased to find increasingly difficult puzzles to solve and in game art items to collect throughout the world. At times while playing I caught myself saying, “Wow!

Epistory Level Up screen.
Epistory Level Up screen.

Epistory is now on my shortlist of games I hope to complete in the near future because I want to see what happens next. It has thus far done a phenomenal job striking a balance between challenge and fun to compel me into wanting to continue to play. I don’t recall ever having played an edutainment title as enjoyable as Epistory: Typing Chronicles.

Deponia – Linux, Mac OS X 10.7, Windows 7 Game Compatibility

Deponia Title Screen
Deponia Title Screen

System Requirements

Linux
Operating System: Ubuntu 14.04 or greater (64-bit only)
Processor: 2.5 GHz single core or 2 GHz dual core
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Video: Open GL 2.0 compatible graphics card with 256 MB RAM
Hard Drive: 1.8 GB
Sound: OpenAL compatible sound card

Mac OS X
Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7 or greater
Processor: 2 GHz dual core
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Hard Drive: 3.5 GB

Windows
Operating System: Windows Vista or greater
Processor: 2.5 GHz single core or 2 GHz dual core
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: Open GL compatible graphics card with 512 MB RAM
Hard Drive: 5 GB
Sound: DirectX compatible sound card
DirectX 9.0c or greater required.

Deponia – Linux, Mac OS X 10.7, Windows 7 Game First Impressions

Deponia Title Screen
Deponia Title Screen

Deponia is a point and click graphical adventure game developed and published by Daedalic Entertainment. It was released in 2012 first in Germany then translated into English from German later. According to Wikipedia where I researched the game, “Deponie” means “landfill site” in German, which is where the game gets its name.

In Deponia, the player plays the role of Rufus, an adventurous rogue who wishes to leave the junk pile town of Kuvaq he finds himself in to start life anew in the glamorous city of Elysium. He has everything all planned out; nothing could possibly go wrong. The game begins with a brief tutorial on the game mechanics, but those familiar with graphical adventure games from the past several decades will have no issue getting up to speed quickly.

Packing List for Rufus' Escape
Packing List for Rufus’ Escape

Following the tutorial and some intro music and game credits, the first task the player must accomplish requires helping Rufus pack his suitcase for his trip to Elysium. Perhaps this was the actual tutorial since you cannot leave the house Rufus is in until you collect all of the things that are on the packing list. Game introductions like this leave me feeling claustrophobic and are off putting. It served to reinforce how the game is played and what general puzzles I could expect, but seriously failed to scratch that world exploration adventure itch I typically play adventure games for. This beginning packing scene is worse than the one in the beginning of Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

Rufus is an unsavory character. He’s pompous, arrogant, gross, and seems to care little for those around him. During the tutorial I found myself rolling my eyes thinking this would be another mediocre graphical adventure that would receive a mediocre first impression. As the game progresses, however, I came to realize that Rufus’ character was calculatedly created by the game developers and meshes extremely well with the other characters throughout the story. The voice acting turns out to be quite superb and the characters feel like they have a depth I would not have expected from just a few short hours of gameplay.

How Not to Talk to Your Most Recent Girlfriend
How Not to Talk to Your Most Recent Girlfriend

It was initially frustrating to play as Rufus because next to nothing Rufus feels compelled to do in Deponia is something I would ever do myself in real life. While playing as a despicable character it makes sense that you would be required to do despicable things and think in despicable ways. Thankfully, plucky comedic karma is in full array in Deponia and it is satisfying to see Rufus get paid back in full for his negligent and ridiculous actions.

Deponia does not appear to be a good title for those who enjoy seeing linear progress across a clearly defined story line. The plans Rufus makes fail, catastrophically, which changes the direction of the game at every turn and keeps the player on their toes not knowing what will happen next. Very frequently I’ll feel like I’ve done something unsavory that messes things up for a character in the game that I wish I could undo, but clearly the game was designed to be this way. It appears it will be a bumpy roller coaster ride from start to finish and it’s meant to be enjoyed for what it is.

Chess Knight Movement Puzzle Mini-game
Chess Knight Movement Puzzle Mini-game

Once Rufus has packed his suitcase, he must load his belongings into his escape pod and configure the escape pod in such a way as to make his escape. Once this has been accomplished, there is a mini-game puzzle that must be completed in order to aim the pod at the track for when the regal carrier from Elysium goes by. This particular mini-game is similar to chess puzzles using the knight piece where certain moves of the knight are restricted in the player’s objective to move the knight toward a desired position on the chess board. It appears difficult mini-game puzzles can be skipped by those who would rather not spend too much time thinking through them and are eager to progress the story instead.

After solving or skipping this first mini-game puzzle, Rufus has a run in with his ex girlfriend Toni, lights the fuse of the rockets that will propel his escape pod and does his best to make his escape. His plans don’t turn out as expected, of course, but he finds himself on the Elysium craft. There he sees a fair lady from Elysium named Goal distraught about a conspiracy and being threatened by some unsavory figures among the Organon. Rufus does his best to rescue her, which includes dumping garbage on her head and pushing her out of the garbage chute. In response to his tragic blunder, the villains kick him overboard as well and he falls back into the town of Kuvaq from which he had been attempting to escape.

Kuvaq Town Center
Kuvaq Town Center

It is at this point that the game finally opens up to more thorough exploration. It turns out Goal was picked up by the town’s people and is being attended to by the local doctor, Gizmo. When Rufus goes to visit her, he finds her asleep and unable to awake. Gizmo sends Rufus to go get some extra strong coffee to get her to wake up. When Rufus brings up his dilemma with Lonzo the local bartender, Lonzo reveals his secret project to build a massive machine from ancient documents he has scavenged called an espresso maker. At this point it is revealed that Rufus needs to collect all of the items in Kuvaq needed to make espresso to use to wake up Goal.

Thus far Deponia plays very similarly to classic point and click adventure games from the 1990s. If I had to place it on a spectrum I would say it is funny like The Secret of Monkey Island, but more crude like the movie Spaceballs. It appears to be around the same difficulty as Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers thus far.

I have experienced many of the same nostalgic feelings playing Deponia as I had playing adventure games growing up, both entertaining and frustrating. While thus far I have always been rewarded when I progress in the game, there are places where the game seems to drag on and on in getting to the next pleasurable scene. I have found myself hovering my mouse pointer over every pixel I can to see if I missed any secret item I can use to progress just like I did with the most frustrating adventure titles when I was younger.

Apparently that is an espresso machine.
Apparently that is an espresso machine.

As far as adventure games go, Deponia appears to be of moderate difficulty, which might make it more difficult to approach for younger or less experienced adventure game players. I also wouldn’t recommend this game be played by younger children if for no other reason than Rufus is a horrific role model and I would be tempted to whack my son if he ever started acting like him. It’s all a joke in the game; Rufus and the world he inhabits is so bizarre and strange it works well in fantasy, but would just be annoying in real life.

It surprises me how much I have really warmed up to playing Deponia. I think this one will be on my list of games to attempt to complete this year because I really want to see how it all turns out. With all of its flaws, it’s still proving to be quite addictive and supremely entertaining. I think I would recommend Deponia to any hardcore adventure game fan, and anyone else who is very laid-back, patient, and loves what is thus far a well crafted story.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders, FM Towns version – Compatibility

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

GOG.com Download System Requirements

Linux

Operating System: Ubuntu 14.04 or greater, Linux Mint 17 or greater
Processor: 2.0 GHz or greater
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Video: 256 MB VRAM, OpenGL compatible video card

Mac OS X

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7.0 or greater
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz or greater
Memory: 1GB of RAM
Video: 64MB VRAM

Two-button mouse, or Apple mouse with Secondary Button / Secondary Click enabled recommended.

Windows

Operating System: Windows XP or greater
Processor: 1.4 GHz or greater
Memory: 512MB RAM
Video: DirectX 7 compatible 3D graphics card or greater

Ubuntu 16.04

The FM Towns version of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders offered by GOG.com works flawlessly from within ScummVM on my Ubuntu 16.04 machine.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders – FM Towns Game First Impressions

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders is a graphical adventure game initially released in 1988 for MS-DOS and later released to the FM Towns system in 1990. Developed and published by Lucasfilm Games, it is the second game after Maniac Mansion to use the SCUMM engine developed by Lucasfilm for use in most of their adventure games during the late 1980s and throughout the end of the 1990s. This makes Zak McKracken an interesting adventure title. While it has many of the elements and style of future adventure game classics such as Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series, it’s also a little rough around the edges and lends itself to brute force trial and error gameplay on the part of the player, a feature of most adventure games of its time.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was one of those games that fans of LucasArts adventures had in their collection generally solely because it was a LucasArts adventure game. The LucasArts catalog would be provided in any retail boxed copy of LucasArts games such as The Dig or Maniac Mansion II: Day of the Tentacle. Flipping through the catalog, knowing how much fun it was to play the other titles, gamers would see an ad for Zak McKracken and couldn’t resist given that it was, “From the makers of The Secret to Monkey Island!”. That’s how I wound up playing this game as a child.

While the word that sums up my memories of The Secret of Monkey Island was, “Amazing,” the word that sums up my recollections of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was, “Fun.” I remembered it wasn’t as colorful, having been developed in EGA 16 color mode, but it had that Lucasfilm/LucasArts feel to it that made it charming and the aliens were funny. I saw the game on sale on GOG.com a while ago. I had to get it to complete my collection of these graphical adventure games from this era.

I don't want to work here, please fire me already and get this game over with.

I don’t want to work here, please fire me already and get this game over with.

I have been on a Linux kick recently given that my Windows computer has been occupied with running my business software that hogs all of its system resources. Closing all of my business applications to run a game and then opening them back up again when I’m done playing is cumbersome. Plus, I have always been a fan of the underdog operating system since I first used Caldera OpenLinux in 2001 when I installed it on one of the first computers I built. I’d like to spread the word of which games work and how well they work so other would be Linux gamers can be informed.

The SCUMM engine lent itself to being easily ported across multiple system architectures back when Lucasfilm was releasing their games on Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, IBM PC, FM Towns, and other systems. Today an application called ScummVM, which can be found at www.scummvm.org, offers a virtual machine environment to play these games across multiple modern platforms: Windows 10, macOS, Linux, and many others. ScrummVM is used by GOG.com as the basis for running Lucasfilm/LucasArts adventure games downloaded from their site.

The ScummVM Menu for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders

The ScummVM Menu for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders

Running the installation script from GOG.com for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was as easy as running a game setup program on Windows. Make sure you run the installation script without root permissions though or it will lock you out of being able to access your game once installed. A convenient link was added to my games menu that I was able to click on to run the game. ScummVM popped up and offered me two versions of Zak McKracken to play.

I blindly chose the first option and started the game. This was not the Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders I remembered. The colors were way richer. Zak looked much different, and the title theme music was incredible! It was like discovering a whole new game I had never played before. Were my memories of the past so faded? How did this happen?

It's the Two-Headed Squirrel!

It’s the Two-Headed Squirrel!

In Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders, the player assumes the role of Zak, a tabloid news reporter who hates his job and would rather be writing novels. The game begins with Zak whining to his boss that he’ll never get a Pulitzer prize writing “sleazy” tabloid articles when he is assigned to go to Seattle to investigate rumors of a two-headed squirrel attacking park goers in Washington State. Meanwhile, the aliens in a secret room are using a machine sending pulses through the global telephone network that are slowly making the population of Earth stupider so they can take over the world. Gameplay begins after the initial cutscene with Zak McKracken complaining to his boss. The player is then in control of Zak McKracken in his apartment preparing for his plane trip from San Francisco to Seattle.

Once again, the game looked far different from what I remembered. Not only were the graphics crisper and more vivid in color, but the expressions on Zak’s face and that of his boss were different from what I recalled. When I played the MS-DOS version I remembered it playing out like more of a sitcom, whereas this new Zak seemed way too serious and incredibly obnoxious to me. I seriously wanted to see him get fired by his boss, “Oh, you don’t want to write my ‘stupid’ tabloid articles? Fine, get out!” It was at this point that I noted something was certainly not right.

The aliens and their stupid machine. It has an effect on them too.

The aliens and their stupid machine. It has an effect on them too.

The two options of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders offered via the ScrummVM from the GOG.com download are for two different ports of the game. The second option was the MS-DOS version that came out in 1988 that I fondly remembered, while the first option was the FM Towns remake with 256-color redrawn graphics along with new and improved sound. It is amazing how a change in the graphics and sound of a game will influence my opinion of a game.

One would generally expect that better graphics and sound would lead to better gameplay. While the intro theme is indeed better and objects are easier to see and interact with in the FM Towns version, there are so many aesthetic design mistakes that make Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders fall from being a classic to simply bearable retro graphic adventure. After playing it for ten minutes, the first thing you will want to do is kill the sound. Anywhere you go while in San Francisco, which is where you will be for the first 30 minutes of the game if you haven’t played it before, you’ll hear obnoxious white-noise traffic sounds with a random police siren mixed in constantly at the same volume whether you are out on the street or in your own apartment. Be careful if you pick up the phone in your apartment. Make sure you have any phone number you wish to call ready to dial, and don’t dial it incorrectly. Leaving the phone off of the receiver makes the most irritating beeping noise until you figure out how to pick up the receiver and get it hung up again. Getting to the airport to fly out to Seattle is a welcome, quiet change until you hear the airplane noises from being in the airplane.

I wonder how much clean water this plane has.

I wonder how much clean water this plane has.

While spending time in the airplane was actually the most fun I had while playing in preparation for this first impressions article, it takes way too long to fly from place to place. To pass the time I would go to the plane’s lavatory and turn on the sink, press the flight attendant’s call button, and open the overhead carry-on compartments while in flight. I never noticed the little annoying details when I played Zak McKracken as a kid. Maybe games today do a better job of quickly getting to the important gameplay.

Playing through the first portion of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders is like reading through the beginning of a novel that is slow to ramp up. People tell you its a good story if you stick with it. There are a few humorous spots that keep you somewhat engaged, the aliens seem like they would be plucky adversaries, and there is the potential love interest named Melissa that haunts Zak’s dreams. All of these things lead up to a potentially good adventure if the player can keep the desire to see it through. With so many other graphical adventure games to play, and with this one’s sounds and artwork being so abrasive, it might be awhile before I come back and complete this one.