Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels are ideal for conversion to humorous fantasy adventure games and the good news is that you don't need to have read them, much less be able to quote whole passages verbatim, to play and enjoy this title. Teeny Weeny Games, and everyone associated with this project, have done a remarkable job in putting it all together but, unfortunately, it is not without its problems.
This first release of Discworld has been let down by the fairly substantial bug at the end (in the CD ROM version) and it is to be hoped that the patch will soon be available. Because of the bug, Act IV, which is fairly short anyway, can be completed in a single action. Clearly not what the makers intended and what is worse, performing the action (no, I am not going to tell you what it is) reveals that you are holding an item that you haven't picked up as yet and so tends to further spoil the ending.
***Note: Since this review was published a new version of Discworld has been released which, I believe, has fixed this problem.
Now that I have that off my chest I feel I can concentrate whole-heartedly on the rest of the game which was, for me, a sheer delight. For three long acts I was totally enthralled and entertained by the antics and humorous conversations of Rincewind and the other twisted inhabitants of this suitably bizarre, pizza-shaped world that floats through space supported by four elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle. The graphics - and I don't usually go into raptures over graphics - were warm and friendly and beautifully drawn, and perfectly evocative of a medieval fairytale village. Altogether they were reminiscent of a gentler, slower-paced time.
The characters, too, were lovingly drawn and the close-ups of Rincewind's expressions of fear or surprise only endeared him to me all the more. No doubt, the voice characterisations played a major part here with Monty Python's, Eric Idle, perfectly cast as Rincewind and ably supported by Tony Robinson (Baldric from Blackadder) and Jon Pertwee (Wurzel Gummidge and the third Dr Who). Though I did think too many of the minor characters sounded like Baldric, after a time even this, in itself, became funny.
At least, I had a few chuckles, but humour is a funny thing (Ouch! Sorry about that) and not everyone will laugh at the same joke. Whilst much of the humour is Pratchett's the writers of this game have drawn heavily on Monty Python, perhaps too heavily for some. A few old jokes fell flat and there was a tendency to resort to British seaside postcard humour with its fetish for items of women's underwear and references to 'fat women'. It may be a case of trying too hard to be funny. Perversely, I found the game to be enjoyable both because of, and despite, the humour. I guess I am saying that some bits work and some bits don't and you can decide for yourself which is which.
On the whole, though, I found it entertaining to just sit back and watch and listen, which is not really what interactive games are supposed to be about. However, in this case I think Discworld can be forgiven because it was hugely enjoyable and provided two important features; on-screen text and the ability to click rapidly through drawn out or repeated conversations. It did have one other vital ingredient going for it as well, and that was gameplay in the form of puzzles that were absorbing and, at times, exquisitely frustrating. These included horribly confusing manipulations of past and present in Act II, as well as clever variations on the 'get-item-for-person-to-receive-new-item' theme, although, few of these problems were really that simple.
Discworld is a game played in four acts, well three and a bit really, and the excellent introduction suitably sets the scene. A group of shadowy figures in robes have summoned a dragon which, as everyone knows, can't exist unless you actually believe in it, and it is now causing havoc in the pestilent twin city of Ankh-Morpork. The Arch Chancellor of Unseen University, a school for wizards, has two reasons for wanting Rincewind to track down the dragon. The first is the legitimate concern that some yokel with a sword may come along and slay it thus causing the people to question the value of having wizards at all. The second is simply that Rincewind is expendable.
The first Act sees you, as Rincewind, exploring the city trying to find the five items needed to make a dragon detector. In Act II you must find out who are the six members of the secret Brotherhood who summoned the dragon, and steal a gold item from each. In Act III six more items are needed for you to become a hero, but the odds against this must be at least a million to one. Finally, in Act IV, bug permitting, it's just you against the dragon - and all of the Discworld inhabitants are betting that you are going to end up as toast.
To say that a certain amount of lateral thinking is necessary would be an understatement. Twisted thinking is frequently required to solve some of the puzzles in this game. As you can see, there are many items to find and it is not simply a question of just picking them up. You need to be inventive in your approach to locating and acquiring items and equally inventive in your use of many of them. Now may be a good time to dig out that book on Chaos Theory that you have always been meaning to read, but haven't quite got around to yet.
Be prepared for an awful lot of wandering around - fortunately the city map makes travelling a bit easier - and an awful lot of often humorous, often obscure, often confusing, but sometimes helpful, conversations. Talk to everyone, they will have different things to say to you at different times in the game, largely depending on what progress you have made.
One difficulty with this game, I found, was that you can have so much fun just wandering around and talking that it is possible to lose sight of what you are actually supposed to be doing, especially while trying to solve the more convoluted puzzles. If only more games had this problem. A more serious difficulty I had was in overlooking a particular location which meant that I missed several conversations. Then later on, in a totally confusing situation, I managed to solve what I thought was an obscure puzzle only to find, subsequently, that the puzzle was obscure only because of what I had missed. There is something to be said for games that won't let you move on until you have done everything in the correct sequence.
The interface is simplicity itself. Anything you can interact with on the screen will be named, or 'tagged' as they say in the manual, as your cursor moves over the 'hot spots'. Click the right mouse button to look at the highlighted object and Rincewind will describe it for you. Double click with the left mouse button to pick up the object or to initiate a conversation if you are pointing at a character. Double clicking on an item whilst holding another will cause Rincewind to attempt to operate or use the two in some way. A single left click will move him to where the cursor is pointing or if you left click on him or the luggage it will open up your selected inventory.
That's right, two inventories. Rincewind's luggage is an all-purpose trunk on legs, many legs, that will hold anything you care to pick up. Usefully, the luggage's inventory 'window' can be resized by dragging its sides so that it is possible to view all the items it is holding without scrolling. Rincewind's pocket, however, is not very deep but he can usually manage to hold one extra item along with his money pouch. Any skills he may learn are also kept here as an icon. This 'ability' to hold an item in his personal inventory is important as there are one or two places where the luggage cannot follow.
Discworld is a thoroughly enjoyable game. The first three acts are very strong, providing a good combination of entertainment and challenge, and I particularly liked the gentle parody of the fantasy adventure genre throughout the game. Great fun for all the family, but younger players may need some help with the puzzles. I can't wait for the sequel.
See the metzomagic.com Discworld walkthrough.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995.
All rights reserved.
386 or higher, 4MB RAM, CD-ROM, VGA, mouse recommended.