Monday, 26 June 2017

Hook - Won!, Final Rating, and More

Written by Joe Pranevich

The final battle begins!

Last week, Peter Pan got his groove back: we were able to recapture his old memories and remind him of his happy thoughts, his family. This allowed Peter to reclaim the leadership of the Lost Boys from Rufio and he reclaimed his sword before flying off to Pirate Town to rescue his kids and confront Captain Hook.

Before we start, I mentioned last week that I had read Peter and Wendy, the original 1911 novel, and was considering watching either Disney’s animated Peter Pan or the actual Hook film. Since this post won the game, I skipped the cartoon and went straight for Steven Spielberg’s Hook. I did not watch the film until after playing and writing down my rating so I promise that it didn’t interfere with the score. I’m going to conclude playing the game, talk about the movie briefly, and then finish up with the score.

The same scene from the film. (Notice Peter’s son Jack is now a pirate.)

The final sequence isn’t what I expected-- I didn’t even expect it to be the final sequence. When Peter flew off to face Hook at the conclusion of the previous part, I suspected we’d have another brief story section in Pirate Town (or perhaps elsewhere) before the conclusion. Instead, we are immediately locked into the end-game. This final part is not a traditional adventure game ending as we cannot use items or control Peter in any way. All we can do is engage Hook in a swordfight which is done entirely through dialog options. Pick the right insults and Peter gains ground on Hook; pick wrongly and it’s Peter that falls back. Since the insults do not change, it’s easy to keep track of which insults worked so that you can advance to try a different one next time. It’s anti-climactic and easy. For example, the first choice I have is between telling Hook that he is larger than I remember, asking him to return my kids, or just crowing, “Peter Pan the Avenger!” at him. (The latter is a call-back to the original book and Peter’s final battle there.) Only by picking the “Avenger” line do we advance. We then repeat slightly deeper in the ship with three new possible insults to pick from.

The next victory line is “Good form, James”, a reminder of Hook’s dedication to “good form” in the original novel (although that seems to include poisoning kids so I’m not sure how good his form ever was). The next line is to remind Hook of his fear of the crocodile, then say that he deserves to die for kidnapping Peter’s kids (er… probably not technically). That pushes him back far enough that we Peter’s children are visible and they toss some insults at Hook as well. The scene changes to and Peter is now fighting Hook off the end of the plank.

Like Prince of Persia without any of the actual gameplay.

The next line is “It’s Hook or me this time”, another callback to the original story where Peter finally has enough after the pirates capture succeed in taking the Lost Boys captive and nearly killing both Peter and Tinkerbell. The final line is once again “Peter Pan the Avenger” and Hook falls into the water below. The scene deliberately echoes the Hook “death” scene from the book, but without the crocodile waiting below it is missing a bit of its punch. Peter has his victory, the rest of the pirates are very friendly all of a sudden, and the game is over! The credits roll.

Peter Pan the Avenger!

Time played: 5 min
Total time: 7 hr 50 min


Hook vs Monkey Island

Before we get into the film, a few commenters brought up a second possible inspiration for this game: Monkey Island. It’s not exactly a secret as Bobby Earl mentions it as an inspiration in an interview he did around 2011. Both games offer a humorous look at pirate culture through an adventure game lens. That said, almost everything that happens in this game, including the sequences that seem to be borrowed from Monkey Island, comes directly from the film. Even so, the Lucasarts classic had a tremendous influence on how the game unfolded and the puzzles and sequences that the designers incorporated. I think it’s better to say that this game was developed by someone seeing the world through a Monkey Island lens and that influenced the final product. This may have been in part because the game was produced well before the movie and the designers did not have access (according to the interview) to the final film until shortly before launch.

From left to right, the film, the game, and Secret of Monkey Island.

Let’s take an easy example: the mermaid sequence. In Secret of Monkey Island, Guybrush ends up underwater and has to solve a puzzle (amusingly) while holding his breath. In the Hook film, Peter ends up underwater after mistakenly being pushed off the plank by a pirate (after Captain Hook had agreed to let him go). A series of multi-colored mermaids help him to their elevator-shell while kissing him to give him air. It’s a confusing and stupid scene, but it’s in the film. The producers of the game could have interpreted that scene in several ways, for example by adding time pressure to prevent him from drowning, forcing him to interact with the mermaids in some way, etc. Instead, they told that scene using the same “we’re underwater but it doesn’t matter” joke from the Monkey Island game. They didn’t even bother remembering that Peter’s hands are supposed to be tied at this point.

Insult combat x2!

Insult combat is a second clear inspiration from Monkey Island. Twice in this game, we had to face off against an opponent primarily by using our wits: against Rufio to gain the trust of the Lost Boys and against Hook at the end. Witty banter was a part of the Hook film and Peter insulting Rufio was a big part of him rediscovering his childhood. It was when Peter got angry and started acting on the kids level that he started to remember what it was like to be a kid, so that he could use his imagination to beat Rufio in the food and insult fight. Given the Monkey Island lens, the insult aspect of the sequence was emphasized even though it was far from the only way to bring that scene to life in an adventure. Given that collecting insults seems to happen magically while you explore and there is no tension or way to lose the Hook battle, I feel that highlighting the insults may have been a poor choice. I would gladly have played another adventure/puzzle segment before the final battle.

Save the clock tower!

Some readers have commented that the art looks like Monkey Island’s style, but I have to largely disagree there. It has some similarities, but the former game is heads and shoulders above what this game could do in terms of its location and character design. There are similarities in a few locations and if you squint (and ignore his pants) Peter might look a bit like Guybrush. It’s a good attempt by a small team, but Monkey Island’s artists surpassed the medium.


Let’s Talk About Hook

Where’s the gift shop?

I didn’t plan to talk much about the movie, but having just had this three-part Peter Pan experience (the game, the original novel, and the film), I can’t quite help myself. Hook is, without a doubt, a movie that divides opinions. Aspects of it are absolutely beautiful with special effects that make you believe a middle-aged lawyer can fly. Other parts are cringe-worthy, especially the awful green screen work done with Tinkerbell. That said, having just read the book, I can tell you that this movie is a love letter to Peter Pan. It is exceptionally faithful to the original (except aspects of the book’s epilogue) and seems to understand the source material. But, that’s actually also it’s biggest drawback.

Throughout the film, characters act strange for no explained reason: Jack gradually forgets his father and cozies up to Hook, Peter briefly forgets his kids and becomes a man-child, even his daughter Maggie starts to get confused. Except for one throwaway line, this is not explained. I have to imagine this infuriated the original audience. And yet… it’s exactly as in the book. Neverland in the original work screws with your head. Characters there struggle to keep long-term memories. Peter kept forgetting about Wendy at first and gradually most of the kids came to think that Wendy was their mother, even Peter to some extent. More violently, the book tells us that Lost Boys, pirates, and Indians die all the time. No one stops to mourn because the dead are forgotten almost immediately-- just as Rufio was at the end of the film. When he returned to visit Wendy in her middle-age after their adventures, Peter had already forgotten all about Hook and Tinkerbell (who had, by that point, died of old age) and Wendy needed to tell him his own stories all over again. So while the film was quite attached to the source material, it may have assumed too much and did not explain things that needed to be explained.

Incidentally, there are no Indians in Hook, probably to avoid the offensive stereotypes associated with them in the book and Disney’s animated film. But it’s implied at least, in the book, that Indians and pirates represented a child’s vision of what those antagonists would be rather than a real-to-life depiction. They are playing cowboys-and-Indians but with real people. When the Lost Boys stole the Jolly Roger and dressed up in pirate clothes at the end of the book, they really might have forgotten themselves and become pirates, closing the circle, if not for Wendy. The Hook film ignores all this, of course but it would have been an interesting aspect to explore.

You can walk down this road but you just come right back.

Now that I understand the film, I can comment a bit more on where the game shortened or skipped sections. From the interview I linked to earlier, we know that the developers were first working from the script and design notes and only saw the completed film very late in the development process.

The game that we have is in four sections:
  • The opening sequence where Peter and Tinkerbell search for pirate clothes. 
  • The Neverforest maze. 
  • The sequence with the Lost Boys where Peter has to prove himself and regain his memories. 
  • The final battle 

Compared to the movie, the first segment is quite expanded. In the film, Tinkerbell has no difficulty finding Peter clothes and getting him onto the Jolly Roger. There is a hint of a brothel in the town, but barely a hint, and none of the other locations seem to be from the film. It’s possible that some of the shops are there in the background but I didn’t see them. The second segment is completely absent in the film, but it’s probably a cut scene because it explains a large plot hole: in the film, Peter is saved by the mermaids and is immediately taken to the Lost Boys hideout with no time passing, but when he gets there Tinkerbell is not only all the way back from the ship, she’s also asleep. Having a section where Peter is lost in the woods would have explained the lost time. The game accelerates the third portion the most. In the film, this is a sequence where Peter has to get into shape, followed by Peter returning to Pirate Town to attempt to steal Hook’s hook at a baseball game, and then returning to recapture his memories. We never had that second run through Pirate Town. The final section could also have been divided into two with Peter first saving his kids and trying to leave, then the final battle in the town square. The game moves that battle to the ship for no obvious reason and doesn’t have the ending where Hook is apparently killed when the crocodile falls on him.

There was plenty of space to add more puzzles and adventures and it’s pretty clear that they rushed the ending. There’s even some clues in the Pirate Town art that implies more was planned: the alley into the area behind the laundromat looks like it should be a main road and there’s another road near the Jolly Roger that we can see but the game turns you around if you try to go down it. Could that be where the baseball stadium would have gone? All in all, the film doesn’t seem to help the game in any way. Few of the game’s fetch-quests have anything to do with the film at all.


Final Rating

Like pulling teeth?

Puzzles and Solvability

Hook’s puzzles are standard adventure fare and almost entirely limited to fetch-quests. Some of them were somewhat clever but none of them were exceptionally noteworthy or difficult. Looking back now, I was most frustrated by the cocoa puzzle because we didn’t even get feedback that the “Lazy Pirate” was starting to fall asleep. It also took me too long to realize that I could get another tooth pulled. Tinkerbell’s assistance, once I figured it out, was a nice positive for the first half of the game, ensuring that I always had a clue what I needed to work on next. While that is a plus, the final endgame that consisted solely of dialog options was a major letdown and caused the game to end on a bit of a sour note. Not great but also not bad.

My Score: 4

I swung across by accident.

Interface and Inventory

On the face of it, the interface isn’t terrible. We have five verbs, a serviceable inventory that can display four items at a time, and we find out our exits by mousing over them. It clearly is adapting good things from other engines. Where it falls down is just in how clunky it is. Verbs toggle on and off in inconsistent ways, the right-click dialog menus make it exceptionally easy to say the wrong thing (because you think you need to push the left button to advance the conversation, not realizing you have a selection), and basic things like being able to “look” at something or “talk” to a person is sometimes just not implemented. Finally, the save interface is tremendously weak with five slots you cannot name. (And technically it seems to save directly into the .exe file which is utter lunacy and made backing up saves to get more slots nearly impossible.) I am also disappointed that if they went through all the trouble to make the “save” disk an inventory object, they should at least have found a way to play off that joke in the game. They took a bunch of different ingredients and made an okay interface but not a good one.

One more minor nit: we started the game with three items (the checkbook, phone, and letter), all of which used up a full screen of items and were never once used or referenced later. That just seems wasteful. (In the film, there was no letter and Peter’s phone got tossed into a snowbank before he was flown to Neverland.)

My Score: 3

Bowties are cool.

Story and Setting

I scored this category before watching the film because the game we are playing is inconsistent. When you can tell what is going on, it’s nice, but there’s so little dialog that the story is hardly fleshed out at all. We never get a feel for any of the characters except Tinkerbell. The sequence where Peter discovers the burned out husk of his old stomping grounds was the most affecting part of the game and the flashback (other than the art) was the closest the game came to a sustained narrative. Neverland as a setting is not bad, but I wish we had seen more of it. The game showed us so many places that we could visit and never visited any of them. If you show a map that has a bunch of cool things on it, you’re expected to actually visit those cool things. Chekhov’s map? (Hook the film had the same sin.).

Another nitpick: in the game, Peter says that he wants to kill Hook for kidnapping his children. I even called that out as not being exactly fair. In the film, Peter wants to kill Hook because Hook killed Rufio; Peter even tries very hard in the end not to kill Hook.

My Score: 4

The less said about this, the better.

Sound and Graphics

As you can see from my comparison above, the game does poorly when compared with the games it most seems to idolize. I found the art almost uniformly pedestrian: it was enough to work but nothing was inspired. The mud pit, the crocodile clock, and so many other locations are vividly and uniquely depicted in the film but little of that creativity entered the game. The extended flashback where Peter remembered his childhood has art that is somehow even worse than the rest of the game. As we know from the interview, much of the game was completed before the developers could see how these scenes were depicted in the film; if they had worked directly from Steven Spielberg’s lush visuals, it may have been a different game.

Music is serviceable with a few basic sound effects and background music over many scenes, but I did not pay attention much to the music overall. I’m fairly certain there was at least two pieces (because I remember Round Pond having its own theme), but it does not pass the hum test.

My Score: 4

Treebeard?

Environment and Atmosphere

For this question, I am asking myself how I feel and how well the game captured the spirit of Neverland and honestly… it didn’t. Some specific environments were fun and the extended forest sequence was spooky, even if it didn’t add up to much in the end. It’s difficult to put my finger on it, but I didn’t feel like the game really became more than the sum of its parts. I did have fun working out some specific puzzles, but they didn’t create a mood. While this was scored before I watched the film, I also do not think the designers captured much of the whimsy and wonder of the film either. The film made great use of color and locale to build an atmosphere which is absent here.

My Score: 3


Dialog and Acting

Another way that Hook loses out when we allow it to be compared to Monkey Island is with dialog. In short, there isn’t enough story here and often I felt like you needed to have seen the movie to understand why you were doing something. When we did have text, it was either a direct quote from the film (which isn’t a negative necessarily) or didn’t quite have that literary quality we hope for. The only sequence which managed to elicit a real emotional response from the writing was in Pan’s flashback and so I have to give some credit here. Shame that the rest feels more skeletal than textual.

My Score: 4

Final Tally

That was harder than it seemed. I hope I’m not being too harsh on this game, but I feel comfortable with those scores. Let’s add them up and see what we have: (4+3+4+4+3+4)/.6 = 37!


That seems low somehow, but works out to be better than Cruise for a Corpse (which it certainly was) and worse than Altered Destiny and Codename: Iceman (which also feels about right). It’s not that the game did anything dramatic wrong, but it just didn’t soar in any category at all. It’s not a terrible freshman effort from Mr. Earl and Mr. Oxland and it is a shame that they did not return to adventures after this.

As for our readers, Paul Franzen wins our prize for guessing 36! Paul, drop us an email and let us know if you want the game design book. The average guess from all of our readers was 44 (or 41 if you ignore Niklas’s spiteful dice) and so most of you thought this game would do better than it did. I think a longer or more complete game would have made up that difference easily. As for me, I’m glad this game inspired me to check out Peter and Wendy and the Hook film. Both are quite good and well worth your time, even if you don’t plan on taking an excursion to Pirate Town for some inexpensive dental work. I’ll be back soon with the next Zork game, Enchanter. My next main-line game will be the Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes in a few months. I can’t wait!


CAP Distribution

105 CAPs to Joe Pranevich
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - for playing Hook
  • By Hook or by Book Award - 5 CAPs for providing an additional prize for the score guessing game
50 CAPs to Ilmari
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - for playing Lords of Time
14 CAPs to Voltgloss
  • Leonard Maltin Award - 10 CAPs - for pointing out the connections between the game and movie
  • A Scythe for Sore Eyes Award - 4 CAPs - for pointing out why Father Time has a sickle (LOT)
10 CAPs to Paul Franzen
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPS - for correctly guessing the score for Hook - 10 CAPs
10 CAPs to Alfred
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPS - for correctly guessing the score for Lords of Time
5 CAPS to Alex Romanov
  • Config.sys Award - 5 CAPs - for some trivia on what happens when you start Hook without enough memory
5 CAPs to Dehumanizer
  • Levelling Up Award - 5 CAPs - for information on the different Lords of Time versions
3 CAPs to Greg T:
  • Shelf-Worth Award - 3 CAPs - for pointing out Hook's hope for an Oscar rather than an Emmy
3 CAPs to Torch
  • Gotta Move on Now Award - 3 CAPs - for pointing out Joe's pseudo-obscure title reference

6 comments:

  1. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to get either of the developers to comment which is too bad. Despite the lower score, this is not a bad game. It may have played better on the Amiga. I would love to have had the chance to understand better the design process against the movie and what they learned from this experience. Perhaps another day.

    PLUS can we give 3 CAPs to Torch for working out the obvious title reference in the second post?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CAPs added, also CAPs section changed to normal format as I for some reason formatted it differently this time

      Delete
    2. Yes! Let's give CAPs to Torch
      Then we'll talk about it, talk about it, talk about it..

      Delete
  2. Nice notes, the 2 Sherlock Holmes games from Mythos (and EA !) are some of my favorite games ever, hope you enjoy them !

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    Replies
    1. The Lost Files series? Yeah, they're great, and especially the first one is highly likely to get to the top ten and stay there for a long time.

      Delete
  3. Lucky for the average result we will soon reach the games I've actually played so I can make qualified guesses on the score instead of trusting the rather erratic dice.

    ReplyDelete