Do you have a moment to talk about Loom?
Loom is an 1990
Lucasarts Lucasfilm Games point-and-click adventure game made for DOS. Despite this incredibly specific genre category, it’s almost nothing like Maniac Mansion or The Secret of Monkey Island.
I’ll spare the summary, since it’s more worthwhile for you to play the extremely short game than for you to read me talking about it. I recommend getting a hold of the original EGA version and playing in ScummVM; despite the lack of voiced dialogue and worse colors, there was some censorship in subsequent releases and who cares about voiced dialogue? This article will probably spoil some gameplay and story elements, so just play the damn game it takes like 2 hours.
Some jaded video game losers (like me) would normally criticize games like Heavy Rain or Uncharted as “movie games”, games whose developers care more about the story and cinematics rather than the gameplay itself. Boring scripts, long cutscenes with dumb QTEs, uninspired mechanics, and suicide contemplation are a guarantee for these games. And some jaded video game losers (like me) might write off Loom as just that sort of game. Even in the manual, it says, “Unlike conventional computer adventures, you won’t find yourself accidentally stepping off a path, or dying because you’ve picked up a sharp object” and, “spend your time involved in the story, not typing in synonyms until you stumble upon the computer’s word for a certain object.” Reading this should set off warning sirens and a bright red light that says “CINEMATIC NON-GAME”.
But Loom isn’t that sort of game, at least not conventionally. The main drafting mechanic replaces the standard use of keys in adventure games of the time, and it’s beautiful. Puzzles aren’t solved by basic interaction, but by applying the knowledge learned through the game. Spells are learned by observation, and are kept by the player’s own means (writing them down on a piece of paper). Progress through the game, then, is determined by how attentive the player is to the things happening on-screen.
The premise of the game implies the player, Bobbin, needs to learn in order to succeed. Exploration grants some pieces of the puzzle, but others are assumed, and require some logic. For example, the whirlwind near the beginning of the game prevents you from leaving Loom. Listening to the whirlwind grants the notes to the “Twisting” draft. Casting this doesn’t have any effect, since the whirlwind needs to untwist. It’s up to the player to deduce casting the reverse causes a reverse effect. This same logic is applied to every spell in the game, further revealing how all the irreversible weaves are palindromes. Not surprisingly, the final battle is actually a final battle, an application of skills learned, not just a series of gay cutscenes. New weaves are spun, except without the notes to tell the player. When it comes time to use that spell, the player must figure out which notes had played, and what exactly the weave can do. This is exactly how final bosses should be handled, as a challenge.
Included with the game is a “Book of Patterns”, which contains descriptions for all the spells in the game, and empty spaces for the player to use for notes. I just used a sheet of paper, but the descriptions are still useful. For example, “Invisibility” must be used on a person or group, which causes the player to appear invisible to them. Also, “Reflection” allows the player to assume an appearance, which might be described with a better word (like “mimic”). There are other instances of worldbuilding in the descriptions, which help the player to piece together the history of Loom.
Guilds in Loom are an intriguing element of the story, each having their own magic-like powers and professions. After leaving a culture based off weaving, the player finds the other guilds based on glass, shepherds, and smiths. Each is a relatively basic profession, taken to its extreme, providing a very unique setting. Just like the gameplay applies rules to weaving, so does the world apply rules to its story, so everything eventually makes sense, and there doesn’t need to be much heavy exposition. I understand this is just good writing, but it meshes with the gameplay in a way that only games can.
As it stands, the game is pretty amazing, and I wholeheartedly recommend. However, there’s a few nitpicks I have, or suggestions on how to make the game better. First, Bobbin can’t spin weaves on himself, until the very end where he can. Thinking it over, I’m not sure of any instances where this could be used to solve a puzzle, but it’s a problem of consistency. Maybe they just didn’t want to animate Bobbin shitting his pants from casting Fear on himself. If this were implemented, I’m sure there would be some extra puzzles, alternate solutions, and new weaves, which would expand the size of the game significantly. Sequel material right here get on this shit Lucasarts. Second, the story does that stupid thing where natural progression of events end up helping the villain and it’s all your fault. It’s the same bullshit Metal Gear Solid and Bioshock pull and those games don’t get a free pass for it either. Third, drafts have to be observed before Bobbin can weave them. This makes replaying the game kind of pointless, forcing the player to re-explore. It wouldn’t break things (probably), since the player gains higher notes as the game progresses, locking some spells until a later time. Then again I’d also like it if the higher notes are able to be played from the start so I’m just being greedy.
Anyways, Loom is pretty great.
I keep clicking on the Lucasarts logo and typing CAAC but nothing happens
Also published on Medium.