The Chronicles of Jaruu Tenk
Chronicles Of Jaruu Tenk isn't exactly a game, nor is it exactly a screen saver. It's an interesting and unique combination of the two that results in a program that's part life simulation and part free-form exploration that the creators (of Flight of the Amazon Queen fame, Ed.) have dubbed as a "revolutionary screen entertainment package". There are no direct goals to achieve, just to explore your surroundings and discover things about the world you have dropped into.
Set on the fantasy island of Bloofen Jut, Chronicles casts you as a guest in Jaruu Tenk's home. Jaruu is a fox-like creature with the suspiciously named occupation "observer". This involves monitoring a small volcano island for activity, and writing daily reports. He lives with a pet animal that looks disturbingly like a mutated hand, with his Grandpa and Cousin dropping in occasionally who you can also interact with. Jaruu spends his time wandering about his home doing pretty much whatever pops into his mind which he casually announces to anyone nearby, whether it be cooking a meal or constructing a robot.
Well that's how Jaruu spends his time around the home, but what about you, the mild-mannered guest?
When you first start Chronicles, you're dropped into the bedroom with Jaruu himself. He'll introduce himself and give you a brief tour of his home, after which you're left to your own devices. Fortunately, the interface is quite straight forward making movement a breeze. Viewed from a first-person perspective, the arrow keys allow you to walk around the environment, and turn left and right. Right click and dragging the mouse lets you free look and the left button lets you interact with objects. Adding to the simplicity, the mouse arrow changes colour and names an object if it's interactive. While the graphics engine can't be compared to the latest Quake engine, it creates a pretty world that moves fast and creates a cartoon like environment that one would expect on a console platform game. The game is small on the sound side, due to its screen saver nature and the music is a soft new age/ambient tune.
Once you move about, there are a few things to do. There are plants which must be watered to keep a healthy green and there are many books strewn about the home which reveal more about Jaruu and his world, as well as his journal which he updates each day. Apparently we can go ahead and read his private thoughts but luckily for him, he never says anything particularly incriminating anyway.
You can play a game with Jaruu called "Mokuu Hunt". In this you compete with Jaruu to find all the coloured gems around the house before he does. Once you win, you have to find one more gem next time and he has to find one less and so on and vice versa. It won't beat the latest epic adventure in popularity, but it's still mildly fun. Unfortunately, the game crashes after I win a game where Jaruu only has to find one gem. My guess is that Jaruu is a very sore loser, and uses all his fury to crash the game in spite. Whatever the reason, it makes me feel a little cheated.
To try and keep things interesting, every now and then something new will be introduced to the house. For instance, one day Jaruu was waiting for me and told me that he has finished building his robot. Additionally, new books are added regularly as well as other items such as a teddy bear, toy models and a lava lamp. Even a Christmas tree is added during the festive season. Most items get a tale about them told by Jaruu when they are first added. It was planned that many patches would be released to add items to the game not originally included, but unfortunately, only one ever was.
The main draw of the program is the "AI Language Parser", at least according to the creators. It allows players to communicate with the inhabitants of the game world through a text parser, allowing you to say anything to Jaruu and the other creatures who will remember things you've told them (such as your name). The main use for this is to ask Jaruu about his world and things you read in books, and his knowledge would grow along with your own. I was rather excited about this feature, as I'm a fan of Artificial Intelligence text driven engines which act as virtual therapists such as Dr. Sbaitso, a program that shipped with early incarnations of the Sound Blaster. I was hoping this would be some sort of modern update of those programs, or the Commodore 64 classic "Little Computer People" which obviously inspired this product.
Unfortunately, I didn't find it worked too well. It was difficult going into detail about anything and finding things that Jaruu and his pals would actually give a real reply to proved difficult enough for me, let alone a child. Furthermore, they only seem to talk about their own interests. Having a regular conversation about the weather usually ends up in them making a rather rude remark, and begins a downward spiral of insults. Every conversation is logged in an external text file, and I found the following example:
Me: "I'm bored"
Jaruu: "Why should I care if you're bored?"
The rest of the conversation will not be posted due to Rosemary reminding me that younger players also visit this website. Not every conversation was like this, but far too many were.
Where Chronicles really shines, however, is when it acts as a screen saver. It installs as any other normal screen saver and can be set up as any other one. It then chooses one of the inhabitants who happen to be present, and then follows them around from various angles as they go about their business, talking to themselves and to each other as the day goes by. The world is in real time, so if you visit at night, it will be night in the game and you may wake up Jaruu. There is even some subtle humour thrown in... such as when grandpa leaves the bathroom, stops in his tracks, then returns to the bathroom after deciding he wasn't quite finished yet. I found watching them entertaining and the fact that I could drop in and catch up on things adds a lot to this.
Unfortunately, there isn't enough to hold peoples interest within the interactive part of the product for an extended amount of time. While the interesting concept will pull you in for a few days or perhaps even weeks, the novelty wears off prematurely due to the fact that this simply isn't a game and it should not be taken as one. Despite the new items that are occasionally added, most of them just sit there and do nothing ever again, failing to add much interest to the program. If the conversation system was improved, more games and amusements were added and the new objects were more interactive, even just small things such as a short animation or an amusing sound, this could have been a vastly better product possibly even up there with Cyan's classic "The Manhole" in children's entertainment.
As it stands however, Chronicles is not something that will keep your attention for extended periods of time. It's best taken in short bursts, similar to the way a screen saver isn't supposed to run constantly on a screen. Chronicles is an above average screen saver but a below average interactive product. If you are looking for a game that will capture your interest for a long time, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a good screen saver or an interesting concept to play with occasionally, you may want to check this out ... just not in extended bursts.
Note: This title is now available as a free download from Passfield Games.
Copyright © Andrew Gray 2003.
All rights reserved.
P166 Mhz or faster, Win 95/98, 32 MB RAM