Conventionally, games that feature joystick control and animated graphics have been labelled "arcade" games, and those that depend on textual input and display have been called "adventures". Melbourne House has been one of the most persistent dabblers in that well-practised art of trying to blend the two together and come up with a true "animated adventure", and Arkham Manor is the latest attempt.
Melbourne House started, as some older readers may recall, with a game called Zim Sala Bim on the Commodore. This little jujube had a horizontal picture window and a text input area below. Whenever you entered, for example, "Look", the character on the screen would turn his head and look around him, after which the prog would display a brief message below telling you what he could see.
Other games that have pursued this ideal include Gargoyle's Tir Na Nog, Heavy On The Magick and (in some respects) some of the Infogrames titles. What's Arkham Manor like?
Well, it certainly looks nice. There are four windows, the largest of which shows you a graphic representation of the location. Central to this is the character you control, a local news reporter charged with investigating a series of odd goings-on in the vicinity of the aforesaid manor.
To the right of the location pic is a menu of options. You select an option using the arrow keys; on hitting the spacebar a further sub-menu is presented. For example, if you select "Examine", a little window will open with names of objects available for examination (either because they're in the location or in your inventory). Having entered a command in this fashion, the program then prints a brief response in the text window below.
There's also another multi-purpose window at the bottom of the screen which serves variously as a notepad (on which you can type notes referring to your investigation and recall them later) and a photograph album that holds three pictures captured by the "Camera" command (see below).
Arkham Manor has some very original and well-thought-out touches in it. To start with, as a news reporter you must earn your keep by submitting reports to your local paper. To help you in this task there are two options Report and Camera. Selecting Camera gives you the option of capturing a small area of the location pic as a "photograph" - a little square cursor flashes onto the screen, which you then move to the desired subject before pressing the spacebar.
Selecting Report gives you the front page of a newspaper -blank on which you can (in true desktop-publishing style) enter directly your news story and then select a photo to accompany it. By moving the cursor and the photos about the page you can actually design the front page of your local as you see fit. A very nice touch, I thought. You can even save or print it!
As far as the display goes, the graphics are attractive (if you've got a colour display they look a bit muted on a green screen) and of course commands like "Move" make the central character walk (rather slowly and unevenly) off the screen and into the next location. Other characters occasionally come and go in a similar manner, and these can m some instances be communicated with using the "Say" command.
The problem with all these attempts to give us adventure game atmosphere and parsing with arcade visuals is that they are inevitably a compromise. Redhawk had an appalling parser, Heavy On The Magick very few commands (though it was one of the better attempts) and Zim Sala Bim the briefest of text responses. Arkham Manor suffers similarly - its textual responses are very short and hence have little power to conjure up vivid atmosphere or convey anything other than the barest of facts. The graphics are pretty, but the animation is very slow. The gameplay is promising, but (in the pre-production version at any rate) the pace of the game was extremely tedious since the program was trying to do so many things at once.
However, some these drawbacks may be overcome in the final production version - I do hope so because this game has some fresh ideas and, at the right price, could be most attractive.