Saturday, August 1, 2009

Yoomurjak's Ring

To quote the game's website:

The municipality of Eger, a picturesque town in Hungary, was looking for alternative ideas for promoting their town in order to present its treasures and to attract tourists in an unconventional way, making also use of Gárdonyi’s popular book, ’The Eclipse of the Crescent Moon’, which won the Hungarian version of the Big Read competition.
And Private Moon Studios did just that. 600 panoramic views and 30 actors make this one of the largest -- and longest -- FMV games I've ever seen. The game is in Hungarian, with English subtitles that get progressively less spell-checked as the game proceeds, but are always good enough to allow solving the (sometimes very cryptic) puzzles.

A moment ago, I wrote actors, and, as far as I can tell, nearly all the people involved in this game are professional actors. There's none of the things that reveal amateur actors that I noticed. One pet peeve of mine is the unfinished sentence pause: Actor A begins a sentence, and Actor B is to talk over them; but A finishes his half-sentence, there's a pause, and only then does B begin to speak. A classic mistake, and I was delighted not to find it in this game (although the subtitles inform me that Hungarians say "Bye" when greeting each other and "Hi" when taking leave).

The only person sticking out is the villain's goon: apparently, rappers are as talented actors in Hungary as everywhere else. But seriously, he's supposed to be threatening, and he's physically imposing and in-your-face enough to make up for the lack of acting chops. Not really a problem.

The game is as much an advertisement for the city of Eger as it is a mystery game: the protagonist, grandson of the AGON series' main character, arrives in the city with mysterious clues and is quickly drawn into an epic quest for the titular Ring of Yoomurjak, which means following hints all across the city, solving puzzles, getting help from the world's most patient tourist information lady/love interest, and making what is apparently the only taxi driver in the city filthy rich.

There are about 45 minutes of video in the game, and the rest is filled with gorgeous 3D panoramas of almost the entire historical city center of Eger, as well as several other locations. Things that can be clicked on are sparse and only available in the main areas, of course; but it is also refreshing that the game does not force you to wade through 500 pages of "interesting" historical information at a time in order to locate puzzle hints and Educate the PlayerTM. There is history to be imparted, but it happens gradually, and infodumps are rare (and usually happen in conversations with others instead via static text). It does the job well -- It made me want to go and see the city for myself, at least.

The puzzles you encounter are similar to the ones found in the AGON series: expect decryption, locating clues, and putting them together to further the story. The game eases you into this, then gradually ramps up the difficulty until you're visiting multiple locations to put together a single clue, dabbling in heraldry, and taking copious notes for cross-reference with other things you've seen. The penultimate clue-gathering section is massive, and was unfinishable for me without resorting to a walkthrough.

The story is nicely plotted out, and is a bit reminiscent of the "historical fiction" genre made popular by, inexplicably, Dan Brown; it weaves the real history of Eger and Gárdonyi’s book with the story the development studio came up with, and does so well (also, the writing is better). I don't really want to go into any detail -- the game is best enjoyed unspoilered.

The list of recommended FMV adventures was short before the second wave came about: Gabriel Knight 2 is pretty much the only pure-FMV entry, and then there's a few games that use FMV, but not exclusively, like Zork: Nemesis and Zork Grand Inquisitor.

Yoomurjak's Ring is more of an FMV/First-Person hybrid, similar to the two Zorks, but having a protagonist with a face and a voice makes interaction more believable, and grounding the puzzles in the real world makes for a more cohesive story.

Also, you get to learn Hungarian! Kössönöm!

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