Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ask me about LOOM

Title Screen
LOOM came in a large box with six 5.25" floppy disks or three 3.5" floppy disks, the User's Manual, the Book of Patterns, a red transparent filter to read the copy protection symbols, and an audio cassette containing the audio drama, a trade in offer for the opposite type of floppy disks and an upgrade offer for the Roland MT-32 sound upgrade.  Also, you probably got a catalog or even The Adventurer #1 with your copy, depending on when you bought it.

Full Box Contents (courtesy of TheFloppyDisk.com)
So LOOM is an example of "the whole package" presentation of PC games.  The boxes were often stuffed with disks and manuals and other "stuff", making those big boxes somewhat justifiable.  To experience LOOM "whole" requires you to go through those items, one by one, until you get to the disks themselves and install the game.

Loom Island
As has been mentioned before in this blog, there are three major versions of LOOM, the PC disk version with 16-color graphics, the FM Towns CD version with 256-color graphics, and the PC CD version with 256-color graphics.  Of all the versions you could play, I would recommend the PC disk version.

Loom Sanctuary
The PC disk version has several advantages over the other versions.  First, it can be played with just about any computer and graphics adapter except Hercules (unofficially Hercules can play the game with the SimCGA program). Second, the game supports all the common sound device options of its day, the PC Speaker, Tandy, Ad Lib MSC, CMS Game Blaster and Roland MT-32.  Third, even with the Roland MT-32 upgrade, the whole game will take up no more than 2.15MB.  Fourth, if your vintage computer lacks a hard drive, you can swap floppies.  Fifth, loading times are non-existent with the disk version in most systems with a hard drive, but if you have to play with a CD, you will have the frequent short wait while the CD seeks a track or section within a track.  Lastly, the singular vision of Brian Moriarty is completely encompassed here.

Crystalguard
The floppy disks are well arranged for disk swapping, even for the 5.25" floppy disks.  Disk 1 contains the main executable and the introductory screens.  Disk 2 is primarily for Loom Island, Disk 3 is for the Glassmakers, Disk 4 for the Shepherds and the Dragon's Cave, Disk 5 for the Blacksmiths and Disk 6 for the Clerics and end-game.  The 3.5" disks combine Disks 1 & 2, Disks 3 & 4 and Disks 5 & 6, further reducing the need for swapping.   However, it was not intended that you swap disks if you wanted to use the Roland MT-32 music on the upgrade disk, which came in both sizes.  You were supposed to install the game to a hard drive to enjoy the MT-32 music.  I suppose LucasArts probably thought that if you were rich enough to afford an MT-32, you were rich enough to have a hard drive in your PC.  Savegames with the Roland MT-32 patch cannot use another sound option.

Shepherd's Meadow
The audio drama is on a compact cassette and can be found on both sides in stereo.  The drama runs 29 minutes, 9 seconds.  Side One is encoded in Dolby B NR (noise reduction).  Side Two is encoded with Dolby S.  Dolby B was prominent from the 1970s as a noise reduction system and widely supported, while Dolby S was a much newer (1989) noise reduction encoding system that required special support with high end cassette playback devices.  Dolby S recordings could be played back on Dolby B-supporting devices, but there would be less benefit.  Dolby B could be played back on low-end cassette playback devices that did not support any Dolby encoding, but there would be less benefit.

Dragon's Cave
LOOM is not unique in containing a cassette with spoken audio for adding value to the game.  Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer had a tape of Yeager talking about his career and giving aviation advice. Corruption had a tape where you could hear two versions of a conversation, the full conversation and a conversation edited to frame you.  The President is Missing contained audio supplements to the game.  None of these games had a full-cast audio drama to give the background for the story.  LOOM used professional voice actors and recorded them at Skywalker Ranch.  They also recorded them reading their lines together instead of separately as is the more common practice.  The script for the audio drama can be found on pages 32-38 of the LOOM Hint Book.

Forge Interior
In the standalone PC disk versions, the copy protection requires you to look for the correct guild symbol and then click on the four notes given for one of the four patterns.  There are twelve guild symbols and four patterns for each guild (throw, beat treadle and rest).  Unlike most games that will boot you to DOS if you fail the copy protection, LOOM will allow you to play the game in Demo mode, at least to a certain point, and you cannot save or restore a game.  If you have the version of the game contained in the LucasArts Classic Adventures collection, the copy protection has been removed and you will never see the copy protection screens.

Cathedral Balcony
Much of the visual attraction of LOOM can be attributed to one man, Mark Ferrari.  Ferrari did the front cover box art as well as all the backgrounds for the game and contributed to the animation.  LOOM has some of the most beautiful backgrounds ever done for a 16-color PC game.  The work of this one man was redone by four artists in the CD versions, with varying results.

Shore of Wonder
The musical inspiration for LOOM goes to an unimpeachable source, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  Moriarty loved the ballet Swan Lake and incorporated certain movements of it wholesale into LOOM.  Even the little music which is not directly taken from Tchaikovsky's work is adapted from it.  While I cannot see LOOM as being a computer game adaptation of the ballet, the ballet's idea of humans turning into swans is an influence on the game, which features the same thing.  Every guild has its own theme taken from the music to the ballet.  Here is a chart of showing the themes in LOOM and their corresponding place in Tchaikovsky's ballet :

Loom Theme Swan Lake Name Location in Swan Lake Notes
Overture Scène: Moderato Act II, Numbers 10 & 14 Roland MT-32 Only
Opening/Loom Island Pas de Trois: Intrada/Allegro Act I, Number 4, Movement 1
The Elders/Closing Danse des Petit Cygnes: Moderato Act IV, Number 27
Crystalguard/Glassmakers Danse des Cygnets: Allegro Moderato Act II, Number 13, Movement 4
Meadow/Shepherds Pas D'action Act I, Number 6
Forge/Blacksmiths Pas de Trois: Moderato Act I, Number 4, Movement 4
Cathedral/Clerics Pas de Trois: Andante Sostenuto Act I, Number 4, Movement 2
Final Confrontation/Dead Ones Scène: Moderato Act II, Numbers 10 & 14 More of an arrangement

LOOM may have been intended (depending on when Moriarty commented on the matter) to be the first part of a trilogy of games or the trilogy was left open as an option.  The second game was going to be called Forge and feature the adventures of Rusty Nailbender to try and save his guild.  The third game was going to be called The Fold and follows the adventures of Fleece Firmflanks to try to restore the world.  However, Moriarty and his team were busy working on other projects and the  drive was not there at LucasArts to complete the trilogy and eventually the moment had passed.  However, there were guilds and drafts mentioned in the written materials and the game which were not used in LOOM, perhaps the sequels may have used some of these ideas.

Guilds mentioned in the Book of Patterns or in the game and not featured include :

Seismologists
Embalmers
Undertakers
Florists
Career Politicians
Assassins
Miners
Umbrella Openers
Dancers
Psychotherapists
Shepherds
Organists
Nannies
Conductors
Firefighters
Statisticians
Bookbinders
Woodcutters
Vintners
Mages

There are twelve guild symbols used for the copy protection :a quill pen in an inkpot, a crook with a sheep, a spinning loom, a pair of scissors, a drinking goblet, a toy horse, a T-square, a three-pronged staff, an abacus, a hammer and anvil, a wavy line and a magnifying glass.  I would suggest these represent Career Politicians, Shepherds, Weavers, Tailors, Vintners, Toymakers, Architects, Clerics, Statisticians, Blacksmiths, Seismologists (or Mages) and Psychotherapists.

Drafts mentioned in the Book of Patterns but not used in the game include :

Summoning
Tongues
Tremblor
Shrinkage
Desire
Waterproofing
Folding
Confusion
Warmth
Aphrodesia
Extinguishing
Blessing
Rending

The drafts use the musical notes across a scale from C-C'.  You can use sixteen drafts in the game.  Two drafts, Opening and Transcendence, do not change from game to game, but the rest do.  All the other drafts have three possible note combinations.   However, you only need to write down only eight drafts to get to the end of the game.

Bobbin Threadbare
The first game was designed to be completed.  It was not made so difficult as to require an obligatory hint book purchase or be left on the shelf and forgotten in frustration.  This may explain why LOOM's hint book is rather more difficult to find than other LucasArts' hint books.  The puzzles in this game have solutions that make sense and the clues are easy to grasp if you pay attention.  At times the game will give you hints if you are not doing something quite right.

Mother Hetchel
LOOM's can be put in an unwinnable state if you forget to transcribe a draft or transcribe it incorrectly and cannot go back to the point where you can hear it again. Backtracking is limited in this game.  Some puzzles have more than one solution as well.  The Expert mode will really test your note identification abilities, there are no visual cues usually present.  It does reward you with a neat scene toward the end of the game.

Elder Atropos
Did you know that the end credits change depending on the hardware you are started a game on the disk version with?  You will see one of the following lines in the end credits, depending on the sound hardware you used :

Roland Stereo Soundtrack by George Alistair Sanger and David Warhol
AdLib Soundtrack by Eric Hammond
CMS Stereo Soundtrack by Eric Hammond
Tandy Soundtrack by Dave Hayes and David Warhol
IBM PC Soundtrack by Dave Hayes and David Warhol

Hetchel as a Swan
And a little later in the credits :

Tandy Edition by Aric Wilmunder (if running the game on a Tandy 1000 computer), otherwise
IBM PC Edition by Aric Wilmunder

Master Goodmold
LOOM is one of the first PC games where a player can really feel that he is driving the plot.  Earlier games were content to let you go off and explore with the general plot making an appearance from time to time, but LOOM is a game that is squarely focused on its plot.  As the protagonist, you drive the story and your actions have consequences.  The game is rather intimate in that you have fairly frequent interaction with the other characters in the game.  The more important characters have animated portraits and distinctive dialogue to give them personality.

Fleece Firmflanks
LOOM can be seen as something of a Greek tragedy.  Bobbin has been destined from birth to cause chaos to erupt in the Pattern.  No matter what he does, he inevitably is the spark that causes the Pattern to be torn open and allow for Chaos and the Dead Ones to invade the world of the living.  The Elders tried to stop chaos by trying to banish Bobbin to the Shore of Wonder, but were thwarted before they could act.  Ironically, Bobbin's mother, who brought Bobbin into the world to forestall the coming of chaos, prevented the Elders from possibly forestalling chaos.  Finally, no one really wins in LOOM, Bobbin and the Weavers fight Chaos to a draw at best or make a retreat.  Bobbin, who is still a seventeen year old "child" has to pay the price for his destiny by Transcending well before his time.

It is no accident that the Elders are named Atropos, Clothos and Lachesis, which are the names of the three Fates of Greek Mythology.  Like the Greek Fates, who dictate the destiny of every mortal from birth to death, the Elders control access to the Loom, which contains the pattern of all life and death in its threads. The Greek Clotho uses a Distaff and Spindle to spin the thread of life.  The Loom Clothos is the least hostile of the Elders to Hetchel.  The Greek Lachesis measures the thread of life with a rod, while the Loom Lachesis is the one to denounce Hetchel, implying her thread has reached its end  Finally, the Greek Atropos cuts the thread of life, indicating the doom of the person.  Elder Atropos from Loom is the the one who casts the draft of Transcendence on Hetchel, symbolically ending her physical life.

The Dragon
As everybody knows, the PC CD version added fully spoken dialogue to the game.  They put all the voice acting, music and sound effects on one large CD audio track following the game data.  The CD audio track is 54 minutes and 39 seconds long.  Everything was lumped into one CD track because the CD standard only supports 99 tracks, which is insufficient for all the cues in this game.

Rusty Nailbender
Why didn't LucasArts just digitize the speech like it did with Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Day of the Tentacle?  That would have allowed them to include a great deal more speech, but this would have come at the loss of quality.  Indy and Day's speech is encoded in 8-bit and no greater than 22.050KHz. LOOM's speech is at 16-bit and 44.1KHz.  Moreover, Indy and Day require a Sound Blaster for speech playback while LOOM only requires a CD-ROM drive.  In 1992, CD-ROM drives and Sound Cards were still expensive, and it was not guaranteed that someone would own both.  Moreover, at this point LucasArts' voice acted games were still using MT-32 and General MIDI for music.  On LOOM, while the music is not always distinct from the dialogue, it sounds much better than the MT-32 of the disk version.

Master Stoke
Despite the loss of much of the more humorous dialogue, the CD voice acting is professionally done.  In addition, LucasArts managed to obtain most of the voice actors who had done the audio drama for cassette.  This was during a time when much of the voice work and acting for CD-ROM games was done on the cheap by the programming team and the company staffers instead of professionals.  To its credit, LucasArts never really went down that route.

Bishop Mandible
The redone artwork for the portraits is exceptionally well-done.  Unfortunately, you will almost never see it in the PC CD version.  Because the dialogue was shortened, those portraits would have gone by too quickly.  They are seen normally in the FM Towns version.  There are a pair of animated cutscenes unique to the PC CD version, but they look rather ugly and out of place compared to the rest of the game.

Cob
The PC CD version has an unfinished feel to it.  No one bothered to recolor the distaff to bring it up to 256 color standards, even though a recolored distaff was in the FM Towns version.  Less defensible is the fact that the item closeups have not been redone either.  Neither the FM Towns nor the PC CD corrected this leftover from the PC disk version.  Nor did they update the graphics when you look into the crystal spheres in these versions.

Rusty Nailbender as a Ghost
What about the FM Towns version?  The FM Towns computers are very rare and expensive, even the FM Towns Marty consoles are hardly common, even in Japan.  Obtaining an authentic FM Towns hardware experience will be very expensive.  While UNZ does a serviceable job emulating the system, emulation only gets you so far.  I abhor SCUMMVM, so I have no idea how well it really emulates the game.

Lady Cygna Threadbare
One better known issue with the FM Towns version is that there are two sets of music tracks.  While both tracks were composed with synthesizers, the first set of tracks sound a lot more orchestral than the second set.  Yet it is the second set that loops after both sets are played.  They should have axed the second set altogether, it is totally inferior when it comes to reproducing the music of Swan Lake.

Chaos
One lesser-known issue with the FM Towns version is that the aspect ratio is not correct.  The FM Towns version takes the artwork designed for a vertically stretched 320x200 resolution and adds 40 lines of black on the bottom of the screen without adjusting the graphics themselves.  On a PC, most people stretch their monitor's height so that the visible edges of the screen come close to touching the monitor bezel.  The end result makes the "spheres" in the game have a nearly spherical ratio in either the PC disk or PC CD versions. Without aspect ratio correction, the crystal spheres in the FM Towns version look like ovals.

Loom FM Towns
Loom PC CD (Aspect Ratio Corrected)
The last  issue with the FM Towns version is that they did not convert the item closeups to 256 colors, just like with the PC CD version.  It rather takes away from the fantasy when you see a symptom of "get it out by Christmas".

Anything else you want to know?

6 comments:

John Smith said...

My favorite games of all time!

Hubz said...

Love the blog, read it at least weekly. The detail you go into is great!

Why do abhor SCUMMVM? Just curious. Is it not accurate emulation?

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, has anyone ever figured out if any of the music/sound related command line parameters of the CD version (5.1.42) have any effect at all?

The video and input mode related parameters do in fact work to some degree. EGA ("e") sets the video output to 640x400x16 (not exactly standard EGA which is curious, so its really just setting a 16 color VGA mode). "j" sets joystick mode "k" sets keyboard mode, etc

But audio/music output parameters (i, ts, g, a) don't seem to have any effect at all.

Granted, its the CD version and uses Redbook Audio by default, but if the audio parameters have no effect, why include them in the modified-developed for-CD executable at all? And for that matter, if they are including audio/sound parameters, why is there no Roland parameter at all, considering it was obviously developed after/from the EGA version which had a roland update years prior?

Makes you wonder if it was yet another mid-course correction of the PC CD version which was planned to allow either the CD soundtrack and/or soundcard/MIDI output, but at some late(r) stage the planned soundcard/MIDI support was hastily removed/disabled.





Great Hierophant said...

Hubz,

I have some philosophical differences with SCUMMVM. The audio emulation is not particularly accurate in every instance.

Anonymous,

I believe the audio parameters are leftovers from the interpreter's parameters listing. These parameters are typically shared across a wide variety of interpreters for many SCUMM games. They do nothing, the CD audio does everything. Adding sound card support means adding work and more things to debug.

EGA in this instance is really 640x200x16, which is true EGA. It appears as 640x400 because DOSBox and real VGA cards double scan the image vertically. Otherwise, it would appear ridiculously squashed. 200 lines on a real EGA card and monitor will have no difficulty filling up the screen. It is really a 240p mode.

Anonymous said...

It makes little sense to tweak/change significant parts of the interpreter code but leave obvious unused command line parameters throughout the entire development cycle (especially since it was already working fine in the non-CD release), which heavily implies/suggests the removal/disabling of the sound card functionality was very near the end of development for the Loom PC CD version.

They clearly were editing and revising the interpreter functionality for all games as they were being developed and were adding/removing sound/video/etc support as needed and weren't leaving unused command line parameters in every title as released.

DOTT and Same & Max CD (released a year later or so) use all their command line parameters, etc (they also use compressed digitized file formatted audio).

What's the list of all the other LucasArts/LucasFilm games with leftover/unused command line parameters for the release version? Right.

And while its true that most people did not have both a sound card and a CDROM, if they had just one of either, it was a sound card, not a CD-ROM, as virtually all CD-ROM drives sold were part of "multimedia upgrade kits" which included both, almost always in the form of a sound card with a proprietary CDROM interface. And since getting CDROM audio almost always involved the analog output connected to/through the sound card (unless you were using the 3.5mm drive jack) you had to account for a sound card anyway. So it was pretty much guaranteed that if you had a CDROM drive, you had a sound card.

I saw thousands of PCs during this era that had sound cards but no CD-ROM, but I can think of only one or two, both in a dedicated-task corporate environment, that had CDROM drives but no sound card.

CDROM drives without sound cards were far more likely in the ATAPI era (94/95 onward), but at that point sound cards and/or motherboard integrated audio were baseline configurations.

Clearly, there was a much larger intalled base of sound cards than of CDROM drives (especially in 1992 - and ever for that matter).

Perhaps the compressed digitized "monster.sou" file technique, while clearly in development, was not going to be ready to, as you pointed out, "get it out by Christmas" and so sound/audio timing/iMuse editing/QAing for the slight difference of the CD version compared to the original floppy was abandoned very near release with a "dirty quick edit/rip".

What other LucasArts CD title uses CD Audio this way?

There is no way they were designing the CDROM version of the game without sound card support as a backup/enhancement from the beginning, especially considering all the support and content already existed. Of course they were. Which is why that support was there to begin with (and never properly removed).

You said it yourself: "The PC CD version has an unfinished feel to it." and "get it out by Christmas" - that's because it WAS unfinished - and one of the features that was clearly deep-sixed near the very end of the development cycle was sound card audio/music support - and they simply didn't have time to fully remove interpreter support.

-----------------

DOSBox double-scanning 640x200 in VGA mode might make compatibility sense - but what explains DOSBox double-scanning 640x200 in EGA mode? (aside from bug/flaw/design oversight)? This probably argues for why DOSBox needs a CRT Mode setting (once again).

macdeath69 said...

I remember my EGA to sport huge scanlines in 200pix vertical modes. I guess it was because the monitor would spread 200 lines into a 350 lines suface, does anyone remember this visual thing ? was it on all EGA + colour EGA screens or just some of them ?
Otherwise in real 640x350x16 mode there would be no visible scanlines and picture was awesome, but yeah, close to no games used that.

LOOM was one of the best looking EGA games and a real pleasure to play.