Saturday, November 9, 2013

Olav & the Lute - Inspired by Loom

I had planned to write about Loom when I played through it. I had planned to write through all the games I played along with Trickster. I had planned to do all this right after I finished up Star Saga Two. Of course, you'll notice a lack of doing said things up to this point. Instead I offer a review of an adventure game inspired by Loom. Welcome Olav & the Lute.
Trickster offered up an interview with the developer Shelly Alon, and with it a challenge to blog the game as he would. I think the main reason I've not yet blogged an adventure game is Trickster already extensively covers each game that there's no need for a second voice. I feel that I need to have another angle to present; otherwise, I'd find myself repeating the same experience and ideas in a less eloquent prose.
A silent introduction.
With this challenge, many of the regular readers have already come up with reviews that I once again feel I'd needlessly repeat. Do we really need this much coverage for such a short game? Well for the possibility of CAPs, and if it's what Trickster wants, then I'll do so. Yet, to shorten things up, and fill a potential gap (I don't see anyone else doing this in their blog posts), I'm going to skip straight to the final PISSED rating. (Even though I'm using Trickster's rating, this in no way encapsulates his view.)
What does it all mean?
Puzzles and Solvability
Much like Loom (actually, exactly like Loom) Olav manipulates the world through his lute (well, the lute he found). By playing tunes learned through looking at objects, Olav can cause objects to change state. The selection six of tunes (open, fill, heat, poison, destroy, and sleep) limit the possibilities. Reversing the tunes doubles those possibilities, and reverse each effect; however, puzzles and interactions come in such a small number that close, empty, poison, destroy, and sleep never come into play. It may have been my recent experience with Loom, but everything was extremely simple. It's made even easier with the included tune tome which names each one and its reversal, so there's no guessing, no experimentation.
Rating: 3
Is it your short stubby legs or the moral uncertainty because the latter didn't stop you from swiping a lute?
Interface and Inventory
The mouse is the sole device to control Olav. I would prefer a way to enter notes on a keypad or number keys. The cursor changes to indicate an object to examine, a path to follow, or a small triangle over superfluous items (or over the lute). There are five notes to play, and four create a tune. Everything is available right from the start, you can play a tune without learning it and end the game even before you've left the starting cave since each tune is static across multiple plays. The only inventory is the book of tunes (and lute), which unfortunately needs to be closed in order to play the lute. I'd often have to refer to the book multiple times to use a new tune. The notes aren't marked with chords or letters either, similar to Expert in Loom. This makes it more difficult to memorize the notes used in a tune; the only indication is their color. One last pain point to highlight before I move on is that Olav needs to pull out his lute in order to play a tune, but puts it away while walking or changing the object of interest. It lengthens the time spent watching rather than playing the game, even if it's a couple of seconds. Compare this with Loom where Bobbin always wields his staff.
Rating: 4
Luckily tunes are automatically noted in the tome.
Story and Setting
Olav is a mystical being literally dropped into the world after a couple of large nondescript beings are saddened by what they see. The Loom has fallen into disrepair, and according to some runic drawings, must be repaired by learning four abilities: fill, heat, repair, and wake. The world outside is also in a sorry state: part post-apocalyptic, part dystopian society. As we unfold different puzzles we learn very little about the inhabitants. Who is Buki? What's this ghost of Jigglypuff doing here? Is that Misty's bike? These and many more questions are left unanswered. In the end we repair the Loom, and are delighted to see an ending where nothing makes sense. I'll avoid spoiling anything, but I really am lost for words on how to interpret what this game is truly about.
Rating: 3
Okay, I'll spoil it. Olav dies.
Sound and Graphics
I'm notoriously bad at judging graphics and sound. As long as everything is pleasant enough I'm fairly immune to monotonous music, jarring sounds, and blocky graphics. I mean how could I not be when playing NES RPGs. The graphics are pleasant, and adequately portray various objects. The sound is good. Yeah, I'm just not going to try to describe them anymore. See the pretty graphics, and enjoy the soothing sounds by playing the game. Notes are distinct, and with enough of an ear can probably be played without the color indicators. It would have been nice to have the tunes play themselves from the book when selected (maybe not for their effect, but in case a player wanted to listen to them without playing them).
Rating: 6
This is why I lump exploration in with graphics and sound when I rate games.
Environment and Atmosphere
For a game based on Loom, the world is decidedly lacking in both scope and interactivity. There are a total of six screens outside the cave, and only one puzzle per screen. Objects are haphazardly littered about that lack a response to any tune. In Loom I enjoyed the witty dialogue when trying to scare the sheep and turning the great tapestries green. In this world we're only offered the bare essentials to completing the game. The seemingly disjointed areas of the snowy mountains, the haunted poisonous forest, and ramshackle home are merely a stones throw away from each other. This small area lends itself to an inconsistent feel; although I do prefer it over say, a large area devoid of interesting objects.
Rating: 4
asdaf, Of course!
Dialogue and Acting
The dialogue revolves around Olav's thoughts. Everyone else speaks a language he doesn't understand, and is transcribed in strange symbols. Quips are about all we get; that, and hints to the obvious solutions already staring us in the face. Olav is immobile while telling us how a barrel of radioactive waste is from Fukushima, or how Jesus could walk across a raging river. Neither of these gave me any insight into the world or added to the story. Instead it was a reminder that I was playing a game rather than immersing myself in another world. There's no voice acting, although I wasn't expecting any; however, Olav does have a voice that offers little chirps and chips that match the syllables of the displayed text.
Rating: 3
Enter witty dialogue here.
That puts the game squarely at 38% when considering the total of 23 is on a 60 point scale. For such a short game, and a first effort, it's an admirable accomplishment; when I try my hand at creating a game, I hope my first is at least half as good. I hope the team learns from this experience and continues to expand on it.

There were a few bugs I found in the version I played that while not a hindrance to completion showed the game wasn't as polished as a commercial release. Since the game is free I didn't take any points away for them, but knowing they're there hopefully the developer will fix them. Here's the list I have:
  • From the screenshot above that "asdaf" occurs when examining the flowers. Most likely not intentional (unless I'm missing an in-joke).
  • It's possible to open and close Buki's door. If it's open when you heal Buki from his stupor, then it'll still play the sound and animation for him opening it.
  • If you play through the game, watch the ending, and start a new game then you'll find the graphic for the lute is already there when first starting.
What's this lute?
  • Starting the game like this, you'll find the lute isn't brought out when selecting the graphic. This is the case even after picking up the lute on the next screen, and makes a second playthrough unplayable unless the game is exited and restarted.
  • I had a small glitch occur while clicking madly to get across the loom room the first time. The game seemed to have trouble resolving Olav's location as he simultaneously attempted to move towards the loom and across the room flickering between both paths.
  • Olav's dialogue appears directly over his head, and can sometimes get cut off when he's near the left, right, or top of the screen.
  • It's possible to close the cave door from the outside; however, there's no graphic to indicate it's fully closed.
Closing a closed door, and it still looks open.
The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of interaction with mundane objects. The only one that's possible outside the main quest puzzles is the pink bike. There's a plate just asking to be destroyed, a gasoline can waiting to be filled and burned, and flowers to be poisoned. If the developers make a sequel I hope they'll work towards a truly full world.
This is just a missed opportunity. A big, mushroom cloud sized, opportunity.
Thank you for joining me for this review, and if you'd like more please speak up; otherwise, I may just wrap up Star Saga Two and let this blog languish until another challenge is presented by Trickster (or Chet). In the meantime I'm blogging about console RPGs over at my other blog as the RPG Consoler. If you have a spare 20 minutes, do check out the game. For such a short experience, I enjoyed exploring what was available.


  1. I agree with almost all you've said: sound and graphics were great, but plot was a bit non-existent and environment had no consistent feel. I might have been a bit more positive about the puzzles - at least there are no unfair puzzles. And I might penalize the interface for the use of colours in the spell system, because I had trouble distinguishing the two bluish shades.

    1. I suppose a score of 4 would have been better for puzzles. I'm not a good judge of them, but they seem sparse and devoid of challenge here. I would have liked to see more variety and usefulness for each tune. Stealing a point from another category would give the score though, so I'm glad I wasn't completely of the mark.