[Mr Creosote] The "Höhlenweltsaga" (roughly: "Saga of Cave World") is the first Point & Click Adventure made by the Bavarian development studio "Weltenschmiede". Before this, they were known for their three illustrated Text Adventures: Das Stundenglas, Die Kathedrale and Hexuma. For these three games, there had been accompanying novels or at least short stories already. The same happened with Höhlenwelt: Main author Harald Evers wrote eight novels based on this world later.
[Anchantia] Apart from that, the game's box contained a 60 page booklet full of illustrations and background information about the world. This is what I would love to see in current games. Harald Evers was born on September 22nd, 1957 in Munich and he died suddenly of a stroke on November 30th, 2006. Harald Evers wasn't just working as an author, but he was also involved in the translation of Adventures like Dreamfall and The Longest Journey. There was even a novel of "Die Kathedrale". Quite a heavy tome, which is not surprising since even the Adventure itself already contained more than 200 pages.
[Mr Creosote] The text adventures from Weltenschmiede were considered some of the best in the genre in German language. I've got them lined up on my shelf, too. But let's see how this talent translates into the world of graphical Adventures. Let's begin with the story: It all revolves around Eric, nicknamed "Speedy", a spaceship captain who stumbles into a fantasy world.
[Anchantia] Actually, Eric was just searching for his old flame Maomi. She left him without a word of explanation and since then, Eric (a classic anti hero) has been looking high and low for her. He then learns that Maomi originally came from the cave world which has been ruled with an iron fist by the Drakes for 1000 years.
[Mr Creosote] It is in this cave world that the actual game begins: Eric has only just arrived when he first bumps into these evil reptiles and subsequently, he joins the resistence movement of the oppressed humans.
[Anchantia] That is because Eric has got the mission to find the shining crystal which has got the power to put an end of the saurian tyrrany.
[Mr Creosote] In the course of the game, you'll meet quite a few characters, of course, including Maomi. What did you think of the story on the whole?
[Anchantia] The story is one of the strongest aspects of the game. It is full of twists and quite funny. Since the game ends with some questions unanswered, I presume it was planned to produce a sequel.
[Mr Creosote] Interesting. I, on the other hand, bumped my head into the table a couple of times because of the sheer stupidity presented to me by the game. Maybe we should go into the details here?
[Anchantia] Could you name a few examples for this "stupidity"?
[Mr Creosote] The protagonist is a bad joke. Anti hero, my ass, I've rarely been forced to play such a one-dimensional and unsypathetic character. The worst thing about this, though, is that he's not meant to be unsympathetic. It's unintentional.
[Anchantia] I have to give you this one, Speedy doesn't have any distinguishable character traits here, quite on the contrary to the later books.
[Mr Creosote] The best way to show this is the dialogues: Speedy exclusively uses the most air-headed macho lines imaginable. So he just met this woman and the first thing coming out of his mouth is (all quotes translated from the originals): "Hey, bird? What's up?" Later, he meets her again in prison. She asks him how he managed to escape and the player can choose between the following options:
"I smashed the wall. With my bare hands!"
"Trade secret, sweety!"
"No bars can stop me, baby!"
Seriously, I don't want to say any of that. It would be alright if there were the slightest bit of irony about the character, but there is none.
[Anchantia] This is how it continues all through the game. What's so bad about it is that sometimes, very similar sounding reply choices will lead the conversation into completely different paths. For example, when I talked to the pub's landlord, I couldn't sell him the beer recipe because I had said something "wrong". Then, of course, I was lacking the money I was supposed to earn there, so I couldn't buy all the items needed to continue. There are countless occurences like this in the game. If, just if at least the dialogues had been worked out decently! My initial praise about the story was more about the overall impression. The ideas are very good and something is happening all the time. For example, I first thought I'd only meet Maomi at the very end. This wasn't the case, but the main plot was about the rebels' fight against the Drakes. Also, for some odd reason, what the other characters are saying isn't nearly as stupid as Speedy's dialogue.
[Mr Creosote] Oh well. "Help! This guy pricked me!" won't get anyone the nobel prize, either. The plot in general is, in my opinion, just an agglomeration of old and stale clichés: Evil humanoid reptiles are oppressing poor humans. Seriously? Yawn, seen this thousands of times.
[Anchantia] This is basically exactly what I expect from classic "Science Fantasy". Maybe it is a homage to the SF stories of the 50s to 70s? At that time, such stories were the norm in SF literature.
What bothered me much more were the scientific inaccuracies. Why is there gravity on the planet's surface at the beginning?
[Mr Creosote] Gravity mostly depends on the planet's mass, so that is perfectly possible. I still think your criticism goes into the right direction, though: Inside the (sub-terran) cave world, we find blue sky, lots of light and even clouds! Not to mention the fact that the planet's athmosphere apparantely is identical to earth's.
[Anchantia] True, this world would have to be dark, damp, cold and dry - like in "Journey to the Centre of the Earth". Maybe this is where the Fantasy elements take their toll. Terry Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork is located on the back on a giant turtle flying through space. There is still a day/night cycle.
[Mr Creosote] Just that Pratchett makes it completely clear that this is a conscious absurdity. This cave world, however, is presented in a very serious way which just doesn't go along with such "details". For me, this was already a huge disappointment.
[Anchantia] Even in Perry Rhodan stories which are dead serious, too, there are such planets. On the surface, they are rocky deserts, inside they're full of life. Even LucasArts' The Dig uses this stylistic device. But let's move on.
[Anchantia] What did you think about the gameplay and the puzzle design?
[Mr Creosote] Regarding the puzzles, I lost faith in the game in the very first room: I tried pushing a button to leave the spaceship, but Speedy told me: "Before I push this, I should do something else...!" This is inexcusable! Either, he should tell me what I'm supposed to do first, or he should just let me do what I want - even if this could mean instant death. Game replies like this are simply stupid and a sign of bad design.
[Anchantia] This is where my main criticism hooks to as well. Many things in the game seemed to happen completely arbitrarily. For example, there is a nut tree on a lake's shore. You need such a nut to throw it at the dragon "Susi" to knock it out (from being hit by a nut!). Sometimes, the nut is lying on the ground, sometimes, it isn't. Likewise, the dialogue puzzles are a catastrophe because of the similar choices.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, as the game goes by, it centres more and more around the dialogues. Which is dire due to their bad quality anyway, but it also has its negative effects on the puzzles. You already explained one example very well (the one about the beer). Of course, the same thing happened to me and about one hour after this dialogue, I realised I was stuck in a dead end the game hadn't told me about. This happened to me several times. The biggest joke is that the game even behaves inconsistently: Although in most cases, selecting the "wrong" answer will lead you right into a dead end, sometimes, the game will loop your conversation around until you select whatever is expected of you. This way, you can never depend on anything. About the randomly appearing objects: At some point, I gave up and consulted a walkthrough. It turned out I needed a root - which hadn't been in the respective location when I had been there.
[Anchantia] Such things just mustn't happen in a game. Especially in an Adventure which virtually depends on being able to go through all the dialogue branches.
[Mr Creosote] I've got more: The game has got labyrinths! Sometimes, you have to try the same action several times subsequently for it to work, although there was absolutely no hint the first time that repetition could be worth it. And, of course, the timeless classic of searching the screen for pixel-sized objects. The worst offender of the latter: There is one screen completely full of small rocks. You have to turn each one over until you find an object hidden under one!
[Anchantia] Or what about putting the battery into the moon buggy at the beginning? You have to point to exactly the right pixel for it to work. This is just annoying.
[Mr Creosote] Completing the picture was an issue of annoying resource management when the game 'opened up' later: You could freely travel between cities, the travelling itself being free of charge. However, at each airport, you have to pay someone to keep an eye on your dragon. Money is a limited resource. So what do you do? Save, travel somewhere to see if it's worth it, and if it isn't, restore. Great fun!
[Anchantia] This would have been alright if there had been some sort of mini game in each city to earn more money. The whole game design is extremely appaling. You would have thought all those instant deaths à la Sierra were the lowest point imaginable, but then, you run across something half-baked as this.
[Anchantia] At least, Weltenschmiede put some effort into the graphics. Just as it is common today. Even if nothing else is working, the graphics have to be good at least. Especially the background pictures are full of creative fantasy.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, the panorama drawings were very good. The insides of houses and rooms were "just" good. My only complaint about graphical issues concerns the animation: "Speedy" crawls along the screen in paralising Sierra tradition.
[Anchantia] It is a pity there are no animations in the background, like waterfalls or passing clouds. This would have prevented the relatively static impression. Some thoughts about the sound? Some musical pieces seemed very vanguard, quite good. Most of the music was just mediocre, though.
[Mr Creosote] It was alright. The music didn't bother me, but it also didn't strike me as particularly positive. What did you think of the controls?
[Anchantia] Alright as well. Right-click to open a contextual menu in which you can select symbols for "examine", "talk" or "take". The inventory is openened by moving the cursor to the top of the screen.
[Mr Creosote] To me, Die Höhlenwelt belongs in the bottom drawer. I literally had to force myself to spend more than ten minutes of my life playing this game. Even that would have been too much in retrospect. The story is featherbrained and irony impaired, the characters couldn't be more shallow and the gameplay looked like a very dry satire combining all the worst aspects of the genre in a closed space. Hands off!
[Anchantia] As a big fan of the books, I wanted to rate this game positively. From my memory alone, I considered it relatively good. Playing it again now, I was brought back down to earth. I don't consider the game quite as horrible as you do, but there are far too many mistakes in the gameplay for it to actually be fun. All I can say is: Rather play the Text Adventures listed at the beginning of this review and read the eight Höhlenwelt books. Those have been written very well and they present a rich fantasy world which we only got an occasional glance of in the game. 2 points.
[Mr Creosote] Not having read them (and not planning to), I can only hope the books are really better. Otherwise, this would cast a damning light on the publisher which actually printed this drivel. Well, I guess that was it for today.
[Anchantia] Bye, till next time.