Nightfall: An Idiot's Guide
Gary: Well, we certainly patted ourselves on the back in last week's column.
Randy: Hell, yeah! We came up the idea of the Fusion game engine, and then Altor Systems announces their new game Nightfall, which is a step toward our vision. We are freakin' geniuses!
Gary: Okay. Last week, we talked about the implications of the Fusion engine and how it promises to revitalize the adventure gaming market. Many people believe that the adventure game is fading away to make room for the higher-tech first-person shooter. The Idiots believe that technologies like our Fusion engine and Nightfall's 3D engine will keep the adventure game genre around for a long time.
Randy: So let's get down to a little Nightfall!
Gary: The premise of the game is that you are an archeologist who has rebelled against the authorities, and has snuck down into a pyramid full of untold secrets. Of course, the first thing that happens is that an earthquake crumbles the entrance and there you are, stuck in a scary tomb. It is your job to figure out the puzzles of the pyramid.
Randy: I liked the fact that part of the game is to figure out what you are supposed to do. Figuring out the exposition is part of the game, much like MYST was designed. As soon as the game starts you begin finding clues that reveal the story. You also have a journal in the inventory that you can refer to at any time during the game. The journal serves as a general guide for your mission objectives throughout the game. The game plot follows the Egyptian myth of the twelve hours of Ra and his asscention into the afterworld. Each hour that is detailed in the journal is a mission for the player to complete. As the game progresses the puzzles get more and more complex. While we found the idea of the story interesting, we sometimes found the game a bit slow. Perhaps some character driven plot points would have made the story line more compelling. However, as we got deeper into the game we became very intrigued by the clever puzzles the designers at Altor dreamed up.
Gary: The main difference between Nightfall and other adventure games is that in Nightfall you have a free range of motion, much like you do in Quake. There are no static screens that you move between to simulate your surroundings. Like in MYST, though, you are alone exploring a strange world.
Randy: You move about by placing your cursor over different areas of the screen and holding the mouse button down. Click in the middle of the screen, and you walk forward. Click on the bottom and you look down.
Gary: It really works, but I wish there was more customization for the controls. I had a little difficulty using the mouse to walk forward and also to look around. I would have preferred to set up my controls like when I am playing Quake or Unreal. I walk with the keyboard and use the mouse like a virtual head, looking in every direction.
Randy: But Gary, you have trouble walking in real life. Trust me, no keyboard setup in the world is going to make you more coordinated.
Gary: You can use the keyboard arrow keys to navigate as well, but the mouse button must be pressed to look around, and if you roll the mouse over the center of the screen, you take off when all you want to do is look around a new room. To give credit to Altor Systems, though, this is a quibble, and for version 1.0 of this engine, it works well.
Randy: Another cool feature is that you can interact with your environment like you can't in other games. If you find a brick jutting out of a wall, you can grab it and by moving the mouse, hoist yourself up. Pretty neat!
Gary: There are many things to push, open and pick up. You can even pick up the rats you encounter (like the one in the picture above), and put them in your backpack. You can only carry one thing at a time, so make sure you get the right thing.
Randy: Which brings us to the inventory. It is minimal (just the way we like it), and implemented very well. There four items across the bottom of the screen as you play. The first is your backpack, then your journal where you keep your notes from your underground journey. Make sure to check it often because, as we were surpirsed to learn, apparently you take a lot of notes.
Gary: Then you have a disk-like icon which is where you accumulate throwing disks. You can flip a switch that you can't otherwise reach with these. And, finally you have a compass icon that activates your map. The map is one of the best implementations we have seen. It is color-coded, so you can tell water from stone, and it is transparent, so you can see where passages pass over one another. You can zoom in and out and you can navigate in map mode, which is a nice touch.
Randy: Using the map in Nightfall is a must. Until we started using it regularly it was impossible to complete even the first mission.
As with all adventure games there is a lot of just wandering around exploring. Often times, we progressed in the game only after we exausted all the areas that the map showed us were unexplored.
Gary: What Randy is trying to day in his verbose and rambling way is that this game is expansive. Considering that today's games ship in five and seven CD sets, Nightfall's one disc package holds a huge game that should provide gamers weeks of adventuring fun.
We have been playing it for two weeks and we haven't even solved the third hour yet.
Randy: But then again, we are Idiots.
Gary: Boy, I know I sure am.
Randy: But those kids at Altor are sharp as tacks. After a week or two in their world, we take our hats off to them. They are very imaginative game makers and wonderful puzzle builders. More than once we found ourselves suprised at Altor's innovative ideas. Nightfall allows new freedom to its players by letting them pick up or use just about anything in the game in just about any way they could imagine. This game forces players to think outside the traditional box of interactive brain-twisters and look for much more real-world solutions.
Gary: See, I told you that rat in your bag was going to come in handy later!
Randy: Yes, Gary, we did use the rat. But don't make me tell them how.
Gary: Er, uh. I agree with you completely. While some rough edges are apparent on the game engine, they do not hamper enjoyment of the game at all. In the future we hope to see some of the refinments we talked about here incorporated into the engine. But over all, outstanding!
Randy: And the same for the game design. We could have used a little more driven plot to raise the stakes, but none the less we found ourselves sucked into Nightfall until the wee hours of the morning on more than one occassion. What Nightfall lacks in emotional motivation they make up for in ambiance and techinal innovation. Nightfall's new game engine allows more player freedom than any adventure game before it, and we hope to see a lot more games using Altor System's engine in the future. Nice job, guys!
Nightfall gets Fusion is here.
The Idiots use a four stick rating system to rank the games we play. Here's how it works: