My name is Bobbin Threadbare…
When we released a selection of our classic adventure games a month ago, there was a huge wave of fanboy love thrown towards them. On Twitter we were hit with many who screamed in joy about Fate of Atlantis being downloadable, and how The Dig was a personal favorite – but only a handful grabbed onto a game that has a spot in my heart thanks to the incredibly simple interface, creative interaction with the world, and new-agey-sci-fi-fantasy storyline. That’s right, I admit it – I loved Loom.
When adventure games were growing as a genre, the point-and-click style LucasArts began using in titles such as the Monkey Island series or in Maniac Mansion was pretty much the cutting edge. Other games did not give you that level of interaction that really allowed you to fully craft the characters’ actions. But there was a problem with the interface, and it is one that plagued point-and-click games for years; for new players, this interface was incredibly daunting. So much to click on, so much to do. The learning curve for some was too much.
So, the team at Lucasfilm Games (now Lucasarts) sat back to try and figure out how to make this easier and less intimidating. The first thing they did was strip out the entire verb menu we had grown to love, and replaced it with a giant stick. Now, when you click in the world, the main character would have only one action that was pre-set. He would simply ‘interact’.
In the first moments of the game, this became very apparent as you see a lone leaf about to fall from a tree. As the player mouses over it and clicks, the leaf simply falls. There was a beautiful simplicity in these actions, and simply moving the main character around the screen and interacting with the world became less an adventure and more of ‘interactive art’.
The main character himself and his story were also drastically different than other adventure games LucasArts had done up to that point. Whether it was Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion or Zak McKracken, LucasArts had kept away from strict fantasy as a setting. Pirates, evil scientists and martians were all things still grounded somewhat in our reality and pop culture. Loom introduced the world of the Guilds, one in which different guilds each wielded power specific to their trade.
Our hero, Bobbin Threadbare, was naturally a weaver. He and his guild created great tapestries which told stories. You also have the Glassmakers, Blacksmiths and the like who all wield some amazing form of power related to their craft. While you visit and adventure into this world you learn of these powers and take some version of them as your own. But it’s not as simple as clicking a button or choosing ‘open’ from a verb menu.
As the main character, the giant stick that takes up the lower portion of the screen is your ‘Distaff’. This stick wields a very cool feature – it plays notes. At the time, this naturally meant it played different MIDI tones as the different areas were clicked. Up front you have no spells – the Distaff only plays notes, naturally. But as you adventure further into the world and see things happening in front of you, the Distaff will react. The first example of this is in the form of an egg.
The hatchling within wants out quite badly, and once you click to interact your Distaff will play a few notes which you then repeat back. The notes make the egg open. The idea behind all this is that the Distaff gets to learn the essential properties of the world around you through music. You quickly learn to dye objects, then illuminate objects, sharpen weapons and more. So the entire world is interacted through one click or a few notes.
This new-way-of-interacting was incredibly influential on the rest of the adventure games yet to come from our studio. Shortly following the original release of Loom and Monkey Island 2, the verb table started to disappear. The ‘simply click’ option became popular, with even a contextual menu for the games that needed it – kicking or using your mouth in Full Throttle or the Squeezey Doll in Sam and Max. But nothing – to me, at least – has the beautiful simplicity of playing a few notes to effect the world around you.
It’s a very ethereal experience from both a story perspective and an interactive experience. One of a kind, Loom stands in my memories as one of the better (and odder) games I’ve played in my entire life.
Now it’s your turn – I want to know your thoughts on this masterpiece of a game that still lives in the shadows of the greats like Fate of Atlantis and Monkey Island. If you ahven’t played it, you can pick it up right here.