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|13 OCT 2004 at 7:24pm|
Posts : 132
Joined: 20 NOV 2003
Status : Online
|First, let's backfill just a bit...|
AGON (Ancient Games of Nations), for those who are unfamiliar with the game, is a proposed 14-episode adventure game that is being release through a website out of Hungary by a company called Private Moon Studios (I would love to anagrammatize this but it comes out PMS - obviously not the best choice). The episodes are downloaded from their website at a cost of about $10 USD per episode.
They released the first two episodes late last year. Episode One, 'The London Scene', kicked off the story of Professer Samuel Hunt who, in the early 1900's, embarks on a journey to twelve remote locations around the globe in search of ancient board games. He decides to attempt this trek in order to understand and solve a larger mystery that was uncovered at his London museum (this larger mystery would be resolved in the final 14th episode which was going to be free to those who made it that far). The second episode was the first of the twelve locations: 'The Lapland Adventure'. At the end of each of the middle twelve episodes, Prof. Hunt must play the indigenous board game against the game's protector, thus completing the episode and collecting the requisite rune describing the next location. Each of these board games can then be replayed against the protector, at varying skill levels, or can even be played online against other AGON players.
Private Moon's grand goal was to release the episodes at about an every-other-month clip. Unfortunately, the response to the first two episodes was not as enthusiastic as they had hoped, so they had to scale back on resources and stretch out the timelines. It's amazing that the project is even still alive. The third episode arrives at least ten months after the second. Regardless, the overall quality of the gaming is actually quite good. The graphics and sound are all first rate and the voice actors are all very professional. On top of that, the premise of the whole story is very unique and quite intriguing.
The biggest complaint against the game has been the cost-to-length-of-episode ratio. Some people thought that 10 bucks was too steep a price for such short episodes (each estimated to take four to six hours to complete). Also, the episodes were more than 200MB each and were a challenge to download even with a broadband connection, much less a dialup connection which was nearly impossible. With the third episode being "bigger and longer", the episode size has increased to a whopping 316MB. There is an option to download the episode in smaller increments of sixteen files of about 20MB each. Plus, you are allowed to do the actual download from a different site from where you actually play the game. Thus, if have dialup at home, but you have access to high-speed internet outside the home, you can download the file or files to a portable storage device and take it back home to play from there.
Back on topic...
Overall, our impressions of the latest episode are fairly positive. Some of this could probably be attributed to the fact that we never thought we'd see a third episode to begin with. But, mostly it is because they put a little more effort into the development of this episode.
First, a quick warning about the pricing. The website claims that the episode costs $9.80 USD with a very small disclaimer that this is estimated based upon a currency conversion from 2100 Hungarian Forints. (First of all, why is it still in Hungarian Forints?? Wasn't Hungary one of the first countries to join the Euro? Wouldn't a Euro price make much more sense for international marketing? That really confuses me.) Anyway, their estimated exchange is no longer accurate. The almighty dollar is still tanking against most European currencies and the cost of the episode, with credit card fees tacked on, will more likely be $10.50 to $11.00. You should factor this into your cost-to-game-value ratio when deciding to buy or not.
We had absolutely no problems with the download and installation. Like I said earlier, I used a high-speed internet connection away from home to do the actual download of the episode. My USB Flash key can only hold 256MB, so I went the CD burning route this time to get the file back home. Once at home, the installation and "registration" of the episode went very smoothly and we were up and going in no time. The registration step is pretty simple. When you purchase the episode, they send you an email with a registration key. Once you start the episode for the first time, you need to have a current internet session going and then enter your username and registration key to validate on which machine the episode will actually be played. If you upgrade your PC hardware in between episodes (like we had done between episodes 1 and 2), you would probably get a validation error, but it is easily rectified with a quick email to their support staff (actually one guy, I believe).
The first thing that strikes you about this episode is the graphics. Episode 2 - 'The Lapland Adventure' had some pretty decent graphics but you can only do so much with shades of gray (Lapland is a pretty wintery locale). Well, Madagascar is a much sunnier and more colorful locale. Professor Hunt is dumped off on a secluded beach of the island near a small native settlement surrounded by jungle. Private Moon Studios has done a very good job of incorporating "movement" into their locations. The emerald green water lapping onto the beach is extremely well done. You have birds flying around and fronds swaying on the palms. Character animation is improving, as well. Professor Hunt's movements in cut scenes are much more natural looking. NPC's are the same way. One NPC you meet fairly early on is an animal who is glad to help you for a price, of course.
|13 OCT 2004 at 7:25pm|
Posts : 132
Joined: 20 NOV 2003
Status : Online
|In the jungle, the mighty jungle...|
This brings us conveniently to the puzzles of the episode. Let's see...this episode has a jungle area in it so, (YEP!) there's a gratuitous jungle maze puzzle right off the bat! Not only that, it's a "irectional Sound" puzzle to boot. Yikes - who came up with that idea?! We're getting just a little beyond weary with the old and tired "let's put a maze through this dense jungle" idea (even 'Myst 4 - Revelation' is guilty of this infraction). Beyond that, the rest of the puzzles seemed relatively varied in type and difficulty but they too just weren't that particularly...inspired. It's like the developers sat in their design meetings and kept saying, "Remember in <so-and-so> game with the <such-and-such> puzzle? We can do something like that right here in our game." Not exactly direct rip-offs, but still similar enough to trigger the deja-vu, been-there-done-that feelings on more than one occasion.
Once you get through the preliminary puzzles, you of course have the final task of playing the board game of this episode: Fanorona, a board game native to Madagascar. I would wager that just about every single player of AGON will opt to play the board games on the easiest setting first just to complete the episodes, with the whole-hearted intention of then playing the games again at a higher difficulty. That was our initial intent, but I just realized that this game was so unmemorable that we never did bother to go back and replay it. I will give them credit, though: like the game at the end of Episode Two, this board game is definitely unique and unknown to the general public domain. But, unless you are an affectionado of board games, most adventure gamers will probably just treat it as one final puzzle to conquer to get through the episode and move on in the story. I'm not sure what kind of replay value they were expecting with the board games (they've even developed an entire game portal to accomodate internet playing), but we haven't been interested enough in the board games to play more than once.
And the verdict is...?
Okay, yes, the episode follows through on the "bigger and longer" promise. It seemed like it took us significantly longer to reach the final step of playing the board game. And, yes, the graphics are much move vibrant and "alive". But, did they follow through on their promise to improve communication and interaction with characters? Not really. In the first three quarters of the episode, we ran into only three NPC's and one of them, the aforementioned critter, does not verbally talk. With the ones that do talk, you basically exhaust your conversation tree; at which point the character just ignores you or Prof. Hunt makes a comment like, "I shouldn't bother him any more. He needs his rest." So, no, character interaction is still not one of this game's strong suits.
We were never really pulled into this particular episode. And, in the end, nothing really stood out as being memorable (or at least distinguishable from countless other games and their environs). Maybe the whole continuity thing was shattered by the 10+ month interlude since the last episode. We contemplated re-playing the first two episodes prior to embarking on this one, but we simply didn't have the time to backtrack that much, although, in hind sight, that probably would have helped significantly. Private Moon did have an initial ambition of helping the continuity of the story along by posting bits of backstory and filler on their website in between episodes. Cutbacks seem to have caused these to disappear as well. That's a shame because, especially with the longer spans between episodes, the story filler is needed even more now to keep people interested in the overall quest.
My wife and I liked it enough to promise to continue on with any more episodes they manage to make. Do we recommend others, who have played the first two episodes, to continue the journey? Absolutely, especially if you have the time to go back and refresh your memory by revisiting the first two episodes. Do we recommend that those who have not yet played any of AGON to finally jump in and get caught up? Not quite. Apparently, Private Moon is in discussions with publishers in hopes of releasing blocks of the episodes in boxed, CD-format for retail consumption. If that does indeed happen, it sounds as if the first "set" will be available after the next (fourth) episode is completed. (Incidently, we're off to Toledo, Spain for that episode but it could be at least another six months away.) With a combined set of all of the episodes to date available at retail along with a renewed commitment to continue the story to its full 14-episode length in a timely fashion, only then would I be confident enough to encourage newbies to jump on board. Of course, die-hard adventure fans looking for anything to satisfy their cravings, should feel free to jump in at any time and help keep this dream alive!
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