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Loom (video game)

Loom is a graphical adventure game originally released in 1990. It was both developed and published by Lucasfilm Games (now called LucasArts) and was the fourth game to use the SCUMM adventure game engine. The project was led by Brian Moriarty, a former Infocom employee and author of the classic text adventures Wishbringer (1985), Trinity (1986) and Beyond Zork (1987).

Gameplay

A departure from other LucasArts adventure games in many senses, Loom is based on a serious and complex fantasy story. With its experimental interface, it eschewed the traditional paradigm of graphical adventures, where puzzles usually involve interactions between the game character, the environment, and multiple items the character can take into their possession.

Loom's gameplay centers instead around magical four-note tunes (drafts) that the protagonist, Bobbin Threadbare, can play on his distaff. Each draft is a spell that has an effect of a certain type, such as "Opening" or "Night Vision". Drafts can be learned by observing an object that possess the qualities of the relevant draft; for example, examining a blade while it is being sharpened gives the player the "Sharpening" draft.

Some drafts can be reversed by playing their notes backwards, so the "Dye" draft played backwards becomes "Bleach", while others, such as "Terror", are palindromes and can not be reversed in this manner. The player's abilities increase over the course of the game, with more and more powerful drafts. At first, only the notes C, D and E are playable, but by the end of the game F, G, A, B and C' (high C) are also available.

Loom was also the first game to follow the LucasArts Game Design Philosophy, which states that the player will never be killed or forced to restart the game and won't have to "spend hours typing in synonyms until [they] stumble on the computer's word for a certain object" (see guess-the-verb).

The game can be played at three difficulty levels, each with slightly different hints. For example; the "Expert" level does not mark the distaff and is played solely by ear. In the original version, the expert player is rewarded with a graphic sequence that does not appear in the two other levels. The DOS CD-ROM version, however, shows a much shorter version of this sequence to all players.

Story

Prologue

It was long after the passing of the second shadow, when dragons ruled the twilight sky, and the stars were bright and numerous...

The events of the game are preceded by a 30 minute audio drama, included with the original versions of the game on audiocassette tape. It is established that the Age of the Great Guilds arose when humans once again tried to establish dominion over nature. The world of "Loom" is not defined in relation to ours, but many hold that it happens on Earth in a greatly distant future, since the game takes place in the date 8004.

People banded together to form city-states of a common trade "devoted to the absolute control of knowledge, held together by stern traditions of pride, and of fear". The humble guild of Weavers established themselves as masters of woven fabric, though they eventually transcended the limits of cloth and began to weave "subtle patterns of influence into the very fabric of reality". They were persecuted for these acts of "witchcraft", and purchased an island far off the mainland coast, which they called Loom, after the great loom that was the symbol of their Guild.

Lady Cygna Threadbare is introduced as a bereaved mother who begs the Elders of the Guild of Weavers to use the power of the Loom to end the suffering of the Weavers. Their numbers are failing and their seed is barren. The Elders, Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis, who are named after Greek mythology's three Fates, reprimand Cygna, telling her that it is not their place to play gods.

Cygna, despite their warnings, secretly assumes control of the Loom and plants one gray thread. She inadvertently draws an (unforeseen) infant out of the Loom, incurring the wrath of the Elders. She surrenders the child to Dame Hetchel, the old serving woman, and accepts her fate. The Elders cast the "Transcendence" draft on her, transforming her into a swan and banishing her from the pattern (the name Cygna is the feminine form of swan in Latin). Hetchel names the child Bobbin, and cares for him as her own.

Bobbin grows up ostracized from the rest of the Guild. The Elders note that the presence of his gray thread has thrown the pattern into chaos, and the Loom foresees the very unraveling of the pattern. For these reasons, the Elders ban him from learning the ways of the Guild until a decision can be made on Bobbin's sixteenth birthday (the dawn of his seventeenth year, as it is described in the game). Hetchel, however, defies the Elders and secretly teaches him a few basics of weaving. This is where the game begins.

Plot

On his birthday, Bobbin is summoned by the Elders in order to determine his fate. But after they punish Hetchel with the "Transcendence" draft for educating Bobbin, a swan comes. She casts the "Transcendence" draft on all the villagers, transforming all the Weavers except Bobbin into swans who leave through a rift in the sky.

Hetchel, who is now a cygnet, tells Bobbin that the swan (who visits him every year on his birthday) came to save the Weavers from the Third Shadow that is about to cover the world. Bobbin then moves on to find the flock. On his way, he meets other guilds and has several adventures. Eventually he encounters a Cleric who is after the Scrying Sphere of the Glassmakers, the swords of the Ironsmiths and the products of the Shepherds. The Cleric claims the Weaver's distaff to rule the world with an army of the undead, thus fulfilling the prophecies. But things do not go according to the Cleric's plan...

Sequels

Originally, Loom was to be the first game of a trilogy. Aside from the "cliffhanger" ending, the game contained several other hints pointing toward a sequel - for example, one of the "scrying spheres" the player can find shows a scene of a volcanic eruption, which does not occur in the game, but can be caused by Temblor, one of the several unused spells listed in The Book of Patterns. The two sequels planned were titled Forge and The Fold, starring Bobbin's friends Rusty Nailbender and Fleece Firmflanks. These sequels would wrap up open plot-threads and bring closure to the open ending of the original game, with Chaos eventually being defeated. However, Loom's original development team were now all working on other projects, and as Lucasfilm Games was a small company at that time, no one else could be found to do it; and so, they were cancelled. In a letter to the fan-made Loom sequel Chaos, Brian Moriarty detailed the following regarding his intended sequels:

Loom was conceived as the first game of a fantasy trilogy. The second game, Forge, would follow the adventures of Rusty Nailbender as he tried to regain control of the Forge, which was hijacked by Chaos in the first game. Bobbin was going to appear every now and then (as a swan) to offer help and advice, kind of like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Empire [The Empire Strikes Back] and Jedi [Return of the Jedi]. At the end of Forge, Rusty drives Chaos out of the Forge, but not before the gentle land of the Shepherds is conquered and nearly destroyed in a terrible battle. (The floating Forge ends up falling directly onto the Shepherds' pastures.)

The third game, The Fold, followed the adventures of Fleece Firmflanks, who teams up with Rusty to resist the evil forces that are camping in the Shepherds' territory. Bobbin again offers occasional help and advice. At the climax of the game, Bobbin, Bobbin's mother and Hetchel return to Earth along with the entire Guild of Weavers, and all of the other Guilds join for a final challenge to Chaos. Working together for the first time, their combined magic banishes Chaos back into the Void, and the healing of the world can begin. Rusty and Fleece get married, and Bobbin becomes the head of the Guild of Weavers.

Contrary to popular belief, the Loom sequels were not abandoned because Loom didn't sell well. Loom has sold more than half a million copies in various formats since it was published in 1990. The reason the sequels weren't made is because I decided I wanted to work on other things, and nobody else wanted to do them, either.

It should be noted that Brian Moriarty gave a somewhat different account of potential sequels in the 2006 ACG interview

Loom wasn’t actually written with a trilogy in mind. But after it was finished, there was vague interest in continuing the story. In discussing this possibility, I imagined two sequels.

The first was tentatively called Forge. It tells the story of Bobbin's friend Rusty Nailbender, whose home city (the Forge of the Blacksmiths) was enslaved by Chaos near the end of Loom. Rusty becomes the leader of an underground movement to overthrow Chaos, together with Fleece Firmflanks of the Shepherds and new characters from the other Guilds. Bobbin appears every now and then as a ghostly swan dispensing mystical advice, an obvious nod to Obi-Wan Kanobi of Star Wars. The story climaxes in a terrible battle that nearly destroys the world.

The third game, The Fold, is about Fleece Firmflanks and her attempt to unite the shattered Guilds in a final, desperate effort to banish Chaos. Near the end of the game, when the cause appears hopeless, Bobbin and the Weavers swoop in like the proverbial cavalry to save the day. The Loom of the Weavers is remade, reality is healed, and peace is restored to the Guilds.

But this was all just talk. I was busy with other projects, and nobody else felt strongly enough about the games to make a commitment. So Forge and The Fold never got made.

Technical overview

Loom was originally published for DOS on floppy disk with EGA graphics and was later ported to the Amiga, Atari ST, Macintosh and TurboGrafx 16 systems. It was re-released on CD-ROM for the FM Towns computer in 1991 with VGA graphics and an enhanced digital soundtrack. The final version of Loom was released on CD-ROM for DOS in 1992. It used the FM-Towns version's graphics and had a full voiceover soundtrack; this was the first "Talkie" SCUMM game made. All of these versions of Loom, with the exception of the TG16 version, can now be played on a variety of different platforms using ScummVM, although the FM-Towns version currently suffers from a few audio-related problems and has several graphical glitches.

The DOS CD-ROM version has retouched graphics, greatly shortened dialogue, and lacks a number of features found in the floppy version, such as alternate solutions to puzzles. The game is also missing close-ups during dialogues; however, these portraits are present in the game's resource file. According to the designers, the dialogue was edited for lack of space — a single CD-ROM can only hold about 74 minutes of uncompressed audio data.

A rather persistent and common misconception about the game is that Orson Scott Card helped make the original version, based on the fact that his name appears in the credits. Card says on his website that this is untrue, and that Moriarty put his name into the credits based on a brief conversation they had prior to the release. Card did, however, help Sara Reeder shorten the game's dialogue for the 1992 CD-ROM re-release.

Due to a licensing agreement with (now defunct) Mindscape, the DOS CD-ROM version is no longer available; until 2006, the floppy disk version could be bought from LucasArts and then patched with a download from Home of the Underdogs, an abandonware website. Unfortunately there are currently known issues with the Underdogs' patch and audio synchronization.

The FM-Towns version of Loom has been redrawn in 256-colour colour graphics, including character portraits, and uses the original dialogue from the floppy version with no scenes cut short (in contrast to the DOS CD-ROM version). In addition it features a digital audio soundtrack with alternate versions of tracks played (and looped) after the regular versions have finished. The game unfortunately does not feature speech.

The TG16 version features a combination of both the original 16-colour and higher quality 64-colour graphics. It also uses the regular music from the FM-Towns version and has all sound effects stored on the disc as audio tracks.

Music

The in-game music consists of excerpts from the Swan Lake ballet by Tchaikovsky, as arranged for MIDI by The Fat Man. These are played from the disc on CD versions; other versions having sequenced music. While supporting the PC speaker and AdLib, the original EGA game originally lacked built-in Roland MT-32 support. A form included in the package could be mailed to LucasFilm Games as an order for an extra game disk providing MT-32 support which was later also released as a downloadable patch. This disk also came with an additional overture which was played prior to the opening cutscene.

Package contents

The original package offered an audio tape with a 30 minute audio drama that explained the nature and history of the Loom world, and the circumstances of Bobbin's birth. The game is a direct continuation of the story. The drama was enriched by original music composed by Jerry Gerber. Most of the actors of the audio drama reprised their roles for the "Talkie" version of the game. It was the first commercial cassette to employ Dolby-S noise reduction. Side A of the tape was encoded for standard Dolby-B playback; side B had the identical program encoded for Dolby-S.

The package also offered an illustrated notebook, The Book of Patterns, supposedly belonging to apprentice weavers in the game world. Its purpose was to optionally note there the drafts that could be learned, as well as describing some that were not seen in the game, with interesting tales related for each draft. Each description also included a staff and four spaces in which to record the four respective notes of the draft. Due to the random nature of the drafts, however, it is highly advised that any noted drafts be written in pencil, since their exact threads changed from game to game.

Drafts

Drafts functioned in much the same way magic spells do in traditional adventure games, but with the caveat that Bobbin can use them as often as he pleases, so long as he is in possession of his distaff (for spinning the threads that make up the draft) and the object or creature being affected by the draft is susceptible to it.

Drafts take the form of musical note sequences on the C major scale. With the exception of "transcendence" and "open", the actual note sequences of drafts change each time the game is played, and thus have to be learned as part of the game. Bobbin is initially capable of spinning drafts with the notes C, D and E (called "level 3" in this section). Often, drafts can be heard by Bobbin, but he cannot repeat them as he lacks the necessary notes. As the game progresses, further notes are added in order, finally reaching C D E F G A B C' (called "level 8").

Bobbin learns the note sequences for drafts in several different ways, for example by reading books or listening to others spin. The sequence of notes used in the draft can be played in reverse, which often provides the opposite effect of the original draft.

The great Loom on Loom Island is capable of echoing the last draft spun in its presence, with the sole exception of any drafts Bobbin spins himself, which was a necessary game device in order to ensure the player does not become stuck by forgetting a recently heard draft. There are quite a few drafts Bobbin can learn.

Level 3 or less

  • Opening: either forces an existing gateway between two spaces (opens a locked door, for example, or moves a rock out of a cave entrance it's blocking), or more incredibly, creates a portal through a space in which none existed before (as when Bobbin "opens" the sky early in the game). Can be reversed into the "Closing" draft.
  • Dyeing: changes the color of wool (according to the "Book of Patterns" manual available with some versions of the game, Dyeing was not always so limited but now works only on wool.) This draft is as powerful as the Weaver's current skill level. In the game, Bobbin hasn't yet mastered this draft, and is only able to change objects to be a green color he greatly dislikes. Can be reversed into the "Bleaching"/"Color Reverting" draft.
  • Night Vision: allows the Weaver spinning it to see in the dark. This is not permanent, and needs to be recast in other dark places the weaver visits. Irreversible.
  • Straw into Gold: transforms common straw into gold, just like the popular Rumplestiltskin fairy tale. Can be reversed into the "Gold into Straw" draft.

Level 4

  • Twisting: causes an object to become twisted like a corkscrew. Can be reversed into the "Untwisting" draft, which is its primary use in the game.
  • Terror: Bobbin becomes the targets greatest fear, it's not just an illusion. When Bobbin takes the form of fire, he can burn things that he touches. Irreversible, though quite brief in duration.

Level 5

  • Emptying: totally removes a substance from within its parent vessel. Works between something as small as a chalice to as large as a pool of water, or even a lake or river ... possibly even an ocean if the Weaver was skilled enough, although this is only theory. Can be reversed into the "Filling" draft, which refills an empty container with whatever it last held.
  • Invisibility: causes Bobbin to become invisible when in the presence of the target. Can be reversed to make him visible to the target again.

Level 6

  • Sleep: puts a target to sleep. Can be reversed into the "waking" draft.
  • Healing: completely restores its target to perfect health, to the point that resurrection (if the soul of the person is still connected with his body) itself is possible. However, it cannot be cast on the spellweaver himself. Irreversible.
  • Sharpening: enhances an edged weapon's blade. Can be reversed into the "Blunting" draft.
  • Reflection: causes the caster and the target to exchange appearance. The Draft fails if one of the subjects is killed.

Level 7

  • Silence: makes a target unable to produce any sound and speak. Can be reversed into the "Silence Dispel" draft.
  • Shaping: transforms the target. Can be reversed into the "Shape Restoring" draft.
  • Unmaking: completely destroys and annihilates its target. Irreversible, even by the Healing draft.

Level 8

  • Transcendence: dissolves the ties that bind the target's threads to the Pattern, elevating mind and body into an undefined state of existence. Transcended beings are said to assume the forms of birds, constellations, or even sunspots. In the game, people are only turned into swans. Irreversible.

The Book of Patterns contains a number of drafts and descriptions for them which never appear in the game. Presumably these were there just for enriching the game's world, or planned for one of Loom's sequels.

Appearance in other media

As was typical for LucasArts, several other games referenced the Loom characters and storyline. A character from Loom (Bishop Mandible's assistant, Cob, spelled Cobb in Monkey Island) is inside the "Scumm Bar" in The Secret of Monkey Island, dressed as a pirate with a badge on his shirt that says "Ask me about Loom", and will happily divulge marketing information when so asked. An identical seagull appears in both games (as well as LeChuck's Revenge), and Guybrush can say "I'm Bobbin. Are you my mother?" on two occasions. This seagull also makes an appearance in Day of the Tentacle. In the third Monkey Island game, The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush can mention Loom's supposed unpopularity after being captured by LeChuck.

In the VGA remake of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, a painting in the vault of the Brunwald castle features a beach that appears as scenery in Loom.

A broken record found in the fan remake Maniac Mansion Deluxe is labeled as the "Loom Soundtrack". When the player puts it on, the Weavers' theme music is played, although it "skips" constantly. The NES version of Maniac Mansion also has this record in it.

Space Quest IV features a computer store where Roger Wilco can browse many real-life game parodies. One of them is "Boom", "The latest bomb from master storyteller Morrie Brianarty, Boom is a post-holocaust adventure set in post-holocaust America after the holocaust. Neutron bombs have eradicated all life, leaving only YOU to wander through the wreckage. No other characters, no conflict, no puzzles, no chance of dying, and no interface make this the easiest-to-finish game yet! Just boot it up and watch it explode!

References

External links

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