"Find your dog, solve some puzzles, save the world". So exhorts the game box. If you add "point and click" and "have a first person good time", you will have pretty neatly encapsulated another fine one-person production.
Michael B Clark (i.e. MBC Enterprise) is the man responsible for making Harvest, and like Darkfall and RHEM before it, Harvest shows that independent "backyard" production need not be the poor relation of more commercial development as far as producing good solid adventuring is concerned.
Harvest is the most modest of the three games mentioned, but is nonetheless well worth the price of entry. Point and click slide show traditionalists (think Myst) should be particularly satisfied. Graphically it is fairly rudimentary, but eye candy will only take a game so far. My 10-year-old daughter Clare and I played the entire game together, and we were fairly engrossed for the whole week over which we played. It is a good sign when your game playing partner pleads to play just a little bit more before bed.
Losing your dog is how it all starts, a-la Alice and the rabbit. You will not soon find your dog, but you will quickly find yourself a participant in a sad family saga still being played out from beyond the grave. The resulting bitterness and self-loathing have now put the world at risk, and the whereabouts of your dog will become the least of your concerns.
The deeper detail of the story line is revealed through letters and diaries, and is strung between numerous puzzles. None are particularly difficult but most involve a thoughtful challenge that will have you referring back to your notes or plotting options and strategies. Quite a few require attention to (earlier) detail, but never so that you can't review the critical information. Others require finding and using the right inventory item, but pixel hunting is never an issue. The mechanics of many of the puzzles - what am I supposed to do here? - often provides a challenge as great or greater than the solution itself.
All up, I thought the puzzles were a nice mix of type and difficulty. Clare was able to nut out a few by herself, and the game would be suitable for a wide range of experience, taste and age. There are no timed or music puzzles, but there is a slider (which 13-year-old Emily had to complete) and a small cornfield maze, as well as a variant on a maze involving the need to open and close the right doors. I thought this latter puzzle was quite a good example of how to make a maze fun, so much so that it didn't strike me as being a maze at all.
Whilst there is a definite forward progression in the game, your initial exploration is quite open. Clare and I explored all the accessible areas of the house in which we found ourselves, gathering intelligence and taking note of the lay of the land. As we went the items and information we found would now and then lend themselves to the solution to a particular puzzle we had encountered. Some we solved and some we didn't, at least not then, but there was plenty to move on to. It would be wrong to suggest you can do everything in any order, but I didn't feel we were constrained to solve only a single puzzle at every step of the game.
I did think this was less the case in the second half of the game, but I personally only find this tiresome when the game does not progress sufficiently between puzzles. I do not like being stuck with only one thing to do, and then not really getting anywhere much once the solution is found. If the game flows along, I am less concerned about the way in which it is progressing. This was the case here.
Not only did Michael write and produce the game he also wrote and arranged the musical accompaniment. It is a bit midi-ish, but melodic enough not to be annoying. There are limited sound effects but they are all the more effective because of their sparing use. There are some animations which are pretty much in keeping with the nature of the graphics.
You will come across a couple of other characters, one of which I found a little difficult to understand, so you'll have to listen carefully. The lack of subtitles made this more imperative. You will advance a small amount of dialog with this character rather than have detailed conversations.
Harvest plays full screen and will resize and restore your desktop resolution automatically in order to do so, a characteristic that should be compulsory in all games. The inventory will appear at the top of the screen by moving your cursor over the inventory button at top left. Just drag items to use them in the game or to combine them in the inventory. You also have a magnifying glass in the inventory to examine the items in more detail. Hot spots and a minimal number of active cursors will aid your quest, and directional arrows will indicate where you can go and whether you can look up or down. You won't die, but game saves are unlimited.
The game is on one CD and played flawlessly. Whilst there is no "full install" option, there was no discernible read lag at all. Perhaps the game fully installs in any event.
What did Clare think? "I thought it was fun, and I liked solving the bridge puzzle before Dad. I didn't like all the reading but Dad read the books and things to me so I didn't have to. It was a sad story".
I agree with Clare that the story is a sad one, but it also contains moments of hope and redemption and reconciliation. The game itself hums along, and offers solid gaming fun of the point and click variety. You will eventually find your dog, and you get to save the world. It played to its strengths and Michael should be both pleased and proud.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey with Emily 2003.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95/98/ME/XP, 400 Mb disc space, CD ROM, Soundcard