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Loom

“I’m Bobbin. Are you my mother?” – Guybrush Threepwood, Secret of Monkey Island

Bobbin Threadbare is an outsider, kept away from the guild for as long as possible, due to the mysterious nature of how he came to join the weavers. The guild centers their activities upon fate, as decided by the loom. At the time of Bobbin’s seemingly immaculate conception, there were signs of a future ravaged by an evil force known as “Chaos,“ of the loom’s pattern being broken and an evil power overtaking the world in one fell swoop. With that in mind, their reluctance to allow Bobbin to utilize the loom’s powers shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. As the story continues, we find out that his mother was turned into a swan after picking him up out of the loom. A lady named Hetchel takes exception to the boy and raises Bobbin as her own, training him to use the loom before his coming of age. Thus, the weavers guild similarly turns her into a swan.

Bobbin watches from afar as the fates try to decide his. One thing they hadn’t predicted happens, when evil forces turn them into swans as well. One of them drops their distaff, the tool with which Bobbin will be performing 4-note musical pieces called drafts throughout the game. These drafts interact with the loom, where the piece reverberates, then effect casts the spell on the target.

The distaff is the basis for Loom’s simplistic interface. Notes are arranged from high to low, just as they’re arranged on the staff. With the three difficulties, Bobbin’s reception of the notes are presented differently. Gone are the days of switching between a long list of verbs in order to find the proper one. Instead, all of the control is designated to distaff notes and examining whatever Bobbin is able to interact with.

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Bobbin tends to walk very slowly as he navigates through segments of themed areas, often leading to gameplay that’s a lot more frustrating than it needs to be. There are definitely times when trying to get him to look at something can be a chore as well, where you’ll continuously click on an animal and Bobbin wanders away, seemingly pretending to ignore your clicks. It’s not always clear where an area ends, due to limited fixed camera angles. Some areas are linear 2D pathways, whereas others can be explored a little more fully. It would’ve been nice to have some consistency in the level designs, so as to make it a little more clear exactly where each area will take you, rather than wandering either toward the black abyss, which the edge of the screen so often represents.

“There are no pressing matters in the adventure; you’ve got all the time in the world to stop it from ending.”With this stuttering pace, it soon becomes clear that Loom does little to appeal to our inner adrenaline junkies. There are no pressing matters in the adventure; you’ve got all the time in the world to stop it from ending. Thus, it’s a little difficult to constantly stay on your toes and to sit on edge throughout the game with any sort of willingness to record each draft to paper. It just gets old and is a little irritating, once you realize you’ve spent the time writing out some which will only be used once, and others that are never used at all. It’s hard to fault the game for this, because it was never intended to be the kind of game you can lose. I suppose the closest you can come to that is losing your notes on whatever the drafts are. Those are kind of important. Without them, or without the knowledge of what each one does and the appropriate time to use them, it probably would be impossible to move forward in Loom. Although this was one of the original games in the LucasArts standard of creating games where you never have to see a game over screen or go back to the beginning, the developers sort of forgot to pressure the player and convince them that Bobbin’s journey is one worth taking.

There are the puzzles. They do a pretty decent job of leading into one another and opening new areas to explore. For instance, the king had ordered thousands of sheep (“enough to feed an army”), but the Sheppard was having some difficulty collecting that many because the dragon kept eating them. So Bobbin must go out to the fields and use the dye draft on their fleece to blend them with the grass. As soon as this is done, Bobbin is, himself, picked up by the dragon, and flown off to its lair where he must escape. It’s all pieced together in the way adventure games are meant to be. You know, where you’re always in the right place, at the right time, or in the wrong place, at the wrong time? That’s how Loom tends to feel.

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Loom has lots of quality in the audio department, possibly the best of its time, in that sense. All of Bobbin’s humorous one-liners and other vocal quips sound amazingly clear. And because the game’s sort of based around the peculiar ability of the distaff, the audio presentation is of the highest quality. This is really the game’s strongest point, aside from the story.

Loom‘s look could be one of the few factors stopping some from investigating any further. To put it plainly, the game has aged considerably. With that said, it can be frustrating trying to get Bobbin around objects due to visual constraints. LucasArts has also tried to animate each character as though they’re talking by illustrating their movements, but sometimes it can fall a little flat, with characters continuing out the animations for far too long after they should be still. It’s a little jarring in contrast to the crystal clear voice over work. The obvious note for visuals has to be the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) adaptation to using the distaff in place of listing a number of verbs at the bottom portion of the screen. Overall a pretty huge improvement for the game engine. It has some clarity with the objectives and what you’re meant to do with the distaff, which is also a fairly innovative music based gameplay mechanic.

Loom sort of deviates from the kinds of things LucasArts had made themselves known for both with the absence of the trademark verb paradigm and the lack of any real items to pick up beyond the distaff. It does have one thing in common with many of their other games though: a lot of personality fleshing out each character. While those in Loom may not have been quite strong enough to establish a series around as the plan had previously gone, this was in a time when the company was still trying to get noticed, which happened with their next effort, Secret of Monkey Island. With that series, they’ve accomplished just about everything they ever would’ve with Loom, if it were extended. Oh, and they sold a couple copies, too.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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