Back In The USSR: KGB / Conspiracy

By Quintin Smith on October 29th, 2010 at 12:27 pm.

Ah, you would.

(Those are actually the only two options I ever see when talking to real girls.)

A wonderful thing about the PC is that we’ve got a back catalogue of games that dwarfs every other platform. That’s a technical term, meaning the PC has more games featuring dwarves than other platforms have games.

A consequence of this is that, unless you’re some kind of frantic cyber-librarian (read: Kieron), there are always old curios to dig up. This week, after a recommendation from RPS reader Ed Evans, I’ve been playing sinister 1992 adventure game KGB. It’s wonderful. And it’s really got me thinking.

So, KGB pits you as a new KGB agent in the final days of the Soviet Union. The game is simply one of survival- don’t screw up and get reassigned to a miserable desk job, don’t get killed, don’t get beaten up, don’t get sent to a gulag, don’t get beaten up and sent to a gulag, don’t get beaten up and killed.

Spicing things up is the toxic bureaucracy of the Soviet Union. You’ve got to obey orders, except when you shouldn’t. You get the job done, except when that’s a terrible idea. You quickly fall into the habit of lying to everybody, all the time, except on the occasions where lying will get you killed or beaten up or sent to a gulag.

KGB’s tone is set by your first five minutes with it. You’re given strict instructions to wait in your shared office until your superior, Major Vovlov, asks to see you. How do you kill time? Well, there’s another KGB officer at his desk. So you talk to him, cherry-picking your way through a range of dialogue options.

Maybe you cheerily ask him if he’s “typing up another successful report”. He replies saying that it’s “No concern of yours, comrade”. Ooh! He’s prickly, isn’t he? So you try again, forging into a conversation about politics, whereupon he starts dropping pro-Soviet opinions that sound more like slogans. You decide against arguing with him, and parrot some enthusiasms back.

All this gets you worrying. Have you just made the worst first impression on this guy? Is he going to report you for foot-draggerism? So you try and patch things up with other dialogue options; you start wittering about girls and the weather, you ask him for a cigarette, and you comment on the well-equipped office, but only sink lower in his esteem.

Just as you’re running out of things to say, the intercom buzzes. Major Vovlov would like to see you. Have you fucked up? If you have, you wouldn’t know. It’s one of KGB’s more recognisably antiquated features that game-ending fuck-ups will often let you relax and breathe easily for a few minutes (or even hours) before revealing themselves and breaking your kneecaps.

Mistakes not being immediately apparent might sound like a bit of a pain in the arse. Well, it is. Playing KGB and finding out it’s game over because you screwed up half an hour ago? That’s awful. But it’s also an intrinsic part of what makes KGB a great game.

See, most modern RPGs and immersive sims are very careful to lay out the rules of the world. They tell you where you’re safe, how fights work, how to win those fights, and they even try and telegraph which of the decisions you face are important and which are incidental. KGB? This game keeps you in the dark, like a rat in a bag, and then it beats that bag across the kitchen counter of adversity and duplicity. A good example is that you can fight just about anybody in the game through an ATTACK menu command. Will you win? Fuck knows. You just have to weigh up the guy’s size and whether his friends will help him out. If you think you’re in with a chance, select ATTACK and see what happens next. That’s the kind of game we’ve got here.

The result of all this is that KGB breathes life into the most mundane conversations and seemingly still scenes, because you don’t know who anybody really is, what they’re doing, what you’ll find or what you should be doing. You can ask everybody in this game for either a cigarette, a drink or some money, which is brilliant, but I only did it a couple of times. I was too scared it would toggle some kind of OMG WHAT A BUM state in the character I was talking to, and I’d have trouble getting anything else out of them.

I feel like KGB (and other comparatively adult adventure games from the same era) let you peer down the shady path that games could have travelled if they hadn’t separated so starkly into RPGs where you control murderous heroes with brains like calculators, and achingly gentle, linear adventure games.

KGB is just some developers doing their best to make something mercilessly tense, and real, and interesting, and despite the finished product demanding a mass of trial and error, it just about works. Cryo made a game where the conversations are as tense and dangerous as the fights. That’s amazing.

I’m fond of mentioning this, but Warren Spector once commented in an interview that he’d love to make a whole AAA game set in a really small, massively detailed environment, like an apartment block. Just as I wonder about once a week where on Earth the games are with that kind of minimalist attitude towards setting, KGB makes me wonder where the games are with this game’s subdued sense of drama. I mean, we might have David Cage doing his best to bring theatrics and emotions to videogames, but his works are still overblown tales of murder and darkness (and ethereal panthers and robot grannies).

And, to get more realistic for a second, where are the action games that only give you a perfectly ordinary pistol, but that make that pistol the best fucking pistol that videogames have ever seen?

I think we might have gotten a little lost in our chase for length and girth. More annoyingly, I think we’re still many, many years away from realising that.

If you feel up to having the necessary punchup with DosBox, KGB is well worth visiting yourself. Noble Kieron sends word that Floor 13 is similarly worth a look. I suspect I’ll be doing just that this weekend.

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83 Comments »

  1. Ashen says:

    KGB was really avenging and difficult game (mostly since you not only have to do the right thing at the right place, but also at the right time), but it was awesome.

  2. Risingson says:

    KGB is unfair: has lots of dead ends, and it’s not very clear what you must do in each part of the game. Anyway, the graphics, the music (Stephane Picq!) , and the uniqueness of it all makes it a very special kind of adventure. And after all, it’s one of those few Cryo games that can be considered as good.

  3. Bobiroka says:

    Yeah. Awesome game. I remember checking this out off the back of Cryo’s Dune game, which was similarly unique. Don’t think I ever finished KGB, or the Donald Sutherland starring redux, Conspiracy.

  4. LionsPhil says:

    Well, it has a backtrack button on failure, at least…

    Are screwups at least constrained to chapter boundaries, or is this full-on SierrrrrrraaaaAAAAAAAAAAAA mode?

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Chapter boundaries. There’s also a fair bit of play in some of the conversations, so replaying chapters tends to let you see a few different responses.

    • jeremypeel says:

      I’d like to see a similar game which makes the leap of calling your failures valid endings, rather than telling you to start from the beginning of the last chapter.

      Surely the only thing that makes KGB so brutal is the idea of true endings vs false endings?

    • LionsPhil says:

      Good grief, it has rewind and fast-forward buttons. The interface is amazingly good for something of this age.

      Although it’s kind of disappointing that trying to shoot my superior and his guard simply gives me a generic you-can’t-use-those-things-together.

    • Dominic White says:

      “I’d like to see a similar game which makes the leap of calling your failures valid endings, rather than telling you to start from the beginning of the last chapter”

      The Way of the Samurai series (PS2/PS3) does this very well. They’re basically third-person action games spliced with a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Dozens of possible ‘good’ endings, but the game will consider the story just as complete if you begin the game by immediately turning around and leaving the village you arrived in.

  5. Nny says:

    Awesome game, remember it back from Amiga times. Had to resort to a solution in a magazine since it was too difficult for me at the time though…

    • BritishTexan says:

      Had to resort to a solution in a magazine since it was too difficult for me at the time though…

      That was me! *grins* I distinctly remember finding out it’d gotten printed too, I was in WH Smith’s at the time on a Sunday and practically bellowed halfway across the store to my parents that my name was in Amiga Format. Ah, days….

      (*has sudden urge to break out WinUAE later*)

  6. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    Nice article, sounds like a really interesting game. Can it be downloaded legally somewhere?

    :Incline of RPS:
    ;)

  7. bitbot says:

    This reminds me of The Last Express, a really great *real-time* adventure game set on a train. It seemed like the future of games at the time I played it but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Express

    • Ragnar says:

      The Last Express really is one of the greatest games of all time.

    • Insectecutor says:

      Agreed, one of Jordan Mechner’s best and not available to buy anywhere except maybe ebay. I have a dim recollection of playing KGB when I was quite young and finding it totally impenetrable. Last Express has a similar style, you sort of infer what to do by osmosis and a seemingly innocuous misstep like tidily popping the whistle in the case with the egg can have punishing ramifications later when both the whistle, the case, and half of the train have disappeared.

      Looking at them now the linearity of both games is stark. The railway setting of the Last Express is wryly deliberate since any opportunity to steer the story away from its predetermined path results in death or failure. If you ever wondered what it’s like to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, Last Express and KGB are pretty good approximations.

  8. Cooper says:

    Floor13 is excellent – one of my favourite games ever. I’m not a big conspiracy theory fan, but there’s something wonderful about Floor13.

    And it feels oh so cold. Delivering warrants for ‘accidental’ death from behind a non descript civil servant’s desk… Reading the interrogation transcripts on printed notepaper as the prisoners slip out of sanity and then declare “Respondent irresponisve” because said respondent has died from the torture…

    I’ve got a design document I’m working on and may get around to creating a remake. It’s totally ripe for re-imagining in the increasing surveillance-reliance state the UK is heading towards…

    • terry says:

      It is terrifically chilling aesthetically. The constant shredding of reports, the big “ELIMINATED” stamps across files, the frequently hilarious death accident reports, the white outline on the pavement when it all goes horribly wrong, just brilliantly done. Unfortunately, that game needs an advice system badly – at least one of the missions is downright impossible to complete unless you have enough resources to immediately apprehend the right people as soon as it comes up (it’s the body hanging under the bridge case, if memory serves).

  9. Helm says:

    This is one of my favorites. The walking deads are really harsh, but if you approach this like a series of self-contained scenes to play over and over until some quantum success is finally achieved, they’re amazingly interesting (not fun, not a good time, but interesting and impactful).

    This is a game that teaches you that being a secret agent isn’t like in the movies/fps games. It takes real cunning, excellent information dissemination and foremost, *luck* to survive in the cold war climate. I played through it a few years ago side by side with one of my friends online and it was very fulfilling when I finally made it through.

    Even where I used a walkthrough, the game was still more difficult than almost anything else I’ve played.

    I haven’t tried Floor 13, though, I will!

    If you want more recommendations of old adventure games worth your time, try Legend’s stuff. Specifically Gateway 1, 2 and Mission Critical. ESPECIALLY Mission Critical. It’s the squarest hard sci-fi game I’ve played. Not a stupid puzzle to be found, and its scope, gosh, the scope of the game. It touches on things almost no other game has, though the mechanisms it uses to get there are public domain, almost. (Get the 3-CD version as well)

    You should definitely play Quest for Glory 4 for the best adventure game that tries to break apart the ‘achingly gentle, linear adventure game’ thread of them. As it is effectively, a d&d module simulator. Dynamic, interconnected quests, yet adventure game conceit. Worth your time if you haven’t played it. Works fine under dosbox, definitely get CD version.

    Oh man, there’s so many more I could suggest. Dreamweb. A Mind Forever Voyaging. Circuit’s Edge. Man, Circuit’s Edge is amazing.

    • DaggleC says:

      Dreamweb was fantastic. Buggy though, never finished it :(

    • Maxheadroom says:

      Cor Dreamweb! that was great!

      Remember the original, full price version came with a hand written diary with entries that got progressively more shaky and bizarre (to show the main characters decent into madness)?

      and the last, barely legible entry just said “Today was not a good day”

      you dont get stuff like that in games these days. It’s all art book and sound track CD tosh*

      *oh ok that book that came with the special edition of Alan Wake was pretty neat too

    • Helm says:

      I certainly do remember. Best manual I’ve read since the Ultima days. And there was a clever bit of copy protection integrated in it as well.

      Sad thing about Dreamweb is that it meanders. The first ‘mission’ is perfectly paced, amazing. But a few of the other ones are a bit ‘uh’. Adventure games are difficult to pace!

    • terry says:

      Jesus, this thread continues to dredge up overlooked gems. Dreamweb had a level of detail that I think only Ultima 7 came close to – I remember being amazed that when I put the shades on my guy his paperdoll changed, and just the process of loading the cartridges into the computer and turning the monitor on in game gave a feeling of the gameworld being really authentic.

      The only problems are the weak ending (although the epilogue somewhat makes up for that), the shortness and the limited interactions with other characters. But it still has for me the best game soundtrack bar none (youtube has all the tracks plus the cd extras).

    • Igor Hardy says:

      Dreamweb is one of my favorite adventure game titles of all time. I thought it was excellently paced actually. Mission Critical on the other hand meanders horribly already during its cheesy intro cutscene.

    • Ozzie says:

      Mission Critical is good, except that for the fact that I never cared for the mission. I didn’t know the people who sacrificed their lives so that I as a sole survivior could save the world(?, if I remember correctly).
      There was nothing personal about it, I didn’t feel any connection to these people, I didn’t know them. And the only one you get to know a bit better afterwards and you’ll empathize the most with is actually the traitor who got you in this situation.
      The whole spaceship feels so sterile, because you don’t find many traces that people actually lived and worked there.
      It gets better though when you go down to the planet’s surface.
      And yes, all the puzzles are logical, many of them even fun. And there’s also a well designed strategy game in there! Overall, well worth a play, but the first half left me cold.

  10. Susan says:

    God damn, I love this game. And yes, I would pay money for it from somewhere like GOG. Again. I know there’s the abandonware link up top but… oy.

  11. Incompleteness says:

    There was an easy mode in the ConspiRacy edition where Donald Sutherland would basically tell you what to do.

  12. Alex Bakke says:

    Loving it so far, confined to admin within 10 minutes of play. Go me!

  13. Inigo says:

    There’s a Mr. Garcia to see you.

  14. Nikolaj says:

    Judging from the screenshots, you played the floppy disc version. You really should have tracked down the cd version, featuring Donald Sutherland. :)

    Floor 13 is ok, although as far as I can tell, there’s usually just one way of solving a mission. Still, it’s fun for a while.

    • chiefnewo says:

      Donald Sutherland definitely made the game a lot more fun for me. And actually completable seeing as he functions as a built-in walkthrough. I quickly found out that doing anything other than what the memory of your dear old dad suggests is suicide!

  15. bill says:

    Cryo made awesome – yet horribly flawed games. Bought lots. Not sure I ever finished one.

  16. MKharris says:

    Ah I remember KGB from my Amiga days. My overall memory seems to be mostly accidently getting into nasty situations and being kicked to death (for example, go to the cafe toilet, accidently find a big cache of drugs, get beaten to death by drug dealers who think I know too much).

    Floor 13 is also great.
    For those who don’t know it, you are in charge of a ultra-secret intelligence service with the express and sole purpose to keep the current government in power and keep the opinion polls in their favour.
    You’re allowed to use all your tools against anyone whose profile comes across your desk; from potential terrorists, to MPs, to anyone who questions or embarrases the goverment.
    Do you ignore that academic who criticised a policy and may have extremist contacts? Bug him? Have him smeared in the papers? Drag him in for “interogation” or outright killed?
    Too heavy-handed and you’ll draw too much attention and get government into even more trouble.
    Wait too long or miss something important and you could let a political calamity or terrorist attack occur.
    And if at the end of each week the PM doesn’t like the opinion polls you’re going to “accidently” fall from your 13th Floor office window.
    -Oh did I mention you’re also a member of a very secret and very sinister cult whose unexplained but strict instructions may or may not conflict entirely with your government masters wishes?

  17. asdf says:

    This sounds interesting. Also, I’m a little obsessed with the Soviet era: what other good games use that setting?

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      with that question the first game i will always think about is perestroika, which is about navigating a frog over some waterlilies but it had a startscreen with gorbatchov and the kremlin. But what i’d recommend is the comic winter men (it’s about soviet “superheroes” after the fall of the soviet union), which of course is not what you asked about, but i just like to plug it any chance i get

  18. Premium User Badge

    Fede says:

    Floor 13 is nice, maybe you could also try Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator. It’s very different, but was made by one of the two authors of Floor 13.

  19. Shazbut says:

    Wooo! Glad you liked it and thanks for the shoutout.

    I replayed it myself to completion this week. What struck me again was, as you mentioned, the sense of importance and the sheer pleasure in doing tasks that could be considered mundane, simply because you don’t know the repercussions of anything you’re doing. I love how the game tests your comprehension, via characters like Cut-throat (hardly a spoiler), who shoots you if you put a single foot wrong when you talk to him. I also think the plot progresses wonderfully and some of the characters, like Savinkov, are brilliant.

    The very start of Chapter 2 has one of the most insane puzzles I can remember in any game. Did you complete it, Quinns? You know the one I mean. Without a walkthrough?

    Will try Floor 13

    -Ed

    • Shazbut says:

      Oh yeah, did you view the snuff videos in the apartment? Jesus Christ. Those are the most terrifying words in a video game since the child abduction sequence in Alter Ego.

      Just descriptive words. But the kind of thing you haven’t seen in a game for at least 10 years.

  20. Sunjammer says:

    I was working forever on an Unreal Tournament 2003 mod that would be a multiplayer shooter about gunmen with a huge emphasis on the single gun. Every handgun would exquisitely modelled, aiming would be “free” from the camera, almost System Shock style but tighter, but only with iron sights or no sights at all. You couldn’t just line up the center of the screen and land a hit. Guns were heavy, took time to reload, were hard to aim, but did devastating damage on impact. Getting shot in the legs would slow you down or make you crawl. Getting shot in the arms would impact your accuracy, and every wound would cause you to bleed, until you finally died. The idea was that getting hit was BAD NEWS, and landing a hit was really really difficult. It should inspire ambushes and judicious use of cover, and lots of spray and pray.

    I wanted to make a game where the pistol was the scariest fucking thing ever to be shot at with, and if you got hit you were likely to die. Just bleak horrible violence.

    • Danda says:

      I’d love to play that mod. Why don’t you finish it?

    • Sunjammer says:

      I have a day job… It’s tough modding alone, and it’s tougher building a team with a unified vision. I just got bummed out after a while; I’m no artist, i’m a programmer, and there was so much art to do

    • Premium User Badge

      Sunjumper says:

      For what it’s worth, it sounds like brilliant mod.

      It is actually quite strange that despite the industries obsession with fire-arms no one seems to take them seriously. There are exceptions like ArmA but the focus of that game is completely different.
      The more I think of it the more I like the idea of your mod. For some reason I imagine it in a noir 1930s backdrop but that is probably just because it would fit the rather bleak gameplay.

    • sinister agent says:

      The original UT had a mod called Infiltration that had an aiming system somewhat like the one you describe (though not the other bits – a couple of shots with anything were fatal, but nothing as advanced as the wounding and such). I actually prefer (and still re-install every couple of years) an older version of the mod, as it eventually became bogged down in being a counterstrike clone. But anyway.

      I remain disappointed that the ‘vectorised aiming’, as I believe they called it, hasn’t been done since. Rather than your gun firing at a fixed point in the centre of the screen, your aim moved around when you moved the mouse, and your ‘camera’ only turned when you went past a certain threshold. It felt more naturalistic, and even the now-standard iron sight option felt much more like you were holding the gun up, with all that entails, rather than simply having a visual effect superimposed on the screen.

      Oh, and your gun had a meaningful physical presence, too – if you were trying to look round a corner and shoot, you had to face and turn the right way or your gun would just hit the wall. Small thing, but a big difference, and after 10+ years, I’ve still not seen it repeated.

  21. Rinox says:

    The first sentence of the article made me spew coffee all over my keyboard. Well done Mr. Smith.

  22. Danda says:

    French games were so original and challenging back then… Yes, Cryo’s games could be annoying at times, but they were always unique. What happened to all the people behind them? Rémi Herbulot, Didier Bouchon, Philippe Ulrich, Johan Robson… We need them back!

    • Ozzie says:

      I don’t think so. Cryo made mostly shit after KGB. Yeah, there was the occasional, if deeply flawed exception (Dreams to Reality, Ubik, Devil Inside, Salammbo), but basically they just spewed out one prerendered adventure nightmare/boredom after another. It all started with Commander Blood…
      …they never recovered.

  23. realmenhuntinpacks says:

    I was 10 when I bought this. You can imagine how well that worked out.

  24. Robert says:

    Oh yes, this was an awesome game. Still have fond memories of it, even replayed it some time ago.

    I will certainly check out Floor 13, cheers!

  25. MadTinkerer says:

    “That’s a technical term, meaning the PC has more games featuring dwarves than other platforms have games.”

    Actually, if we are counting every commercial game ever made for any version of an IBM-PC compatible machine (obviously discounting free/indie/shareware demos), I would not be surprised if this was the case. The NES only had a little over one thousand games released for it, including the unlicensed knockoffs. The PS3 and XB360 are in the hundreds. Exactly how many PC games with dwarves in them have been made since the early 80s? I bet it is more than a thousand.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Hit reply too soon. Let’s see:

      The entire Wizardry series,
      All D&D licensed games
      Every Warcraft and fantasy-themed-Warcraft-knockoff (and WoW of course)
      Dungeon Seige series
      Dungeon Keeper series
      Dwarf For- um, maybe we should include Roguelikes in the list even though most aren’t commercial? That’s a few hundred right there.
      At least a few dozen commercial MMOs
      Early Ultimas & Underworld I
      Delve Deeper (recently released indie game that’s a bit like a cross between Tetris and Worms)
      Blood Bowl and some of the Warhammer licensed games
      Dragon Age

    • RQH says:

      @MadTinkerer:

      The Witcher
      The King’s Bounty games

  26. terry says:

    Cracking game, except for the awful time-sensitive aspects. The first chapter was really strong and gritty atmosphere wise, setting the tone with two skinheads who follow you around freaking you out, just like real Moscow. I remember the bit where you had to take lots of photos as evidence in that weird snuff movie film studio drove me insane though.

    Also it came in a box the size of a couch.

  27. Marlowe says:

    Warren Spector once commented in an interview that he’d love to make a whole AAA game set in a really small, massively detailed environment, like an apartment block.

    I played Deus Ex: Invisible War thanks.

  28. Nallen says:

    PC GAMES WITH DWARVES, GO:

    Eye of the Beholder

  29. terry says:

    By the way Quinns, if you’re yearning for more retro espionage, Covert Action may be worth a shot. It’s basically a series of spy-themed minigames around a randomized plot generator, but is still really playable and an interesting mix of shooting and wiretapping and uncovering dangerous foreigners and their nefarious schemes.

    • Wilson says:

      @terry – Yeah, Covert Action is great. I’d love to see a remake of that. With coop :)

    • sinister agent says:

      Thirded. I missed it at the time, but played it loads during my HOTU days. It’s an excellent game, positively gagging for a remake.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jp1138 says:

      Fantastic game, like nearly everything Microprose made back then. Still waiting for a Covert Action Gold o something being made today. And what about Sword of the Samurai? Firaxis, take a look at your old catalog besides Civilization!

  30. phuzz says:

    Ah, I remember the Amiga demo of this, I liked the music so much I recorded it onto cassette along with a bunch of other games tracks (although I can’t remember what the others were except for Cannon Fodder. Any other memories of Amiga games with great music readers?)

    • Premium User Badge

      Στέλιος says:

      Agony. Turrican II (I confess I have Hulsbeck’s soundtrack CD). The Lotus Challenge series. Super Stardust was bloody fantastic, too. Many more…

    • BritishTexan says:

      Go seek out the Amiga Immortal albums, the guy behind them sought out several well-known game musicians from back in the day and had them do new arrangements of some of their classic pieces. Some of them are note for note identical, but others are a little different. They are all good and it appears that there is a new volume coming out shortly too.

  31. mod the world says:

    Is casual sex the same as casual gaming?

    • Rinox says:

      Depending on how casual you may end up with viruses in both cases. So yes, yes they are.

  32. _Jackalope_ says:

    I remember playing this and making him get drunk on Vodka and then use his service issue Makarov to blow his Communist brains out all over my office!

  33. Igor Hardy says:

    Sound like this is the kind of adventure game I want to play and in many ways try to make. I can’t believe I bought a copy of it several years ago and never tried it out yet.

  34. Premium User Badge

    Στέλιος says:

    Wow. I had this on my miggy years ago. Completely forgot about it. Definitely a merciless, brutal game.

  35. W Main says:

    The article made me want to try it! Sooooo

    *downloads DosBox*

    It’ll probably laugh at me since i’m running Windows 7 x64.

  36. Shadrach says:

    Oooh thanks for the nostalgia, I do remember this, but also remember it being really hard and me not really getting very far… :)

  37. sinister agent says:

    I’ll have to give this a go, it sounds like a good laugh.

    I’m fond of mentioning this, but Warren Spector once commented in an interview that he’d love to make a whole AAA game set in a really small, massively detailed environment, like an apartment block.

    If I ever get round to writing for videogames, high on my list is an adventure-y drama-y thing set entirely within a small housing estate. It’d be a bit like It Came From the Desert mixed with something like this. A small, but detailed world and characters, with loads of permutations and timed plot events so that you can miss out on things without even knowing about it if you were somewhere else at the time. You could get stabbed by the nutter or inadvertantly walk in on an affair, uncover a sinister plot, or become a criminal, or just wander about being a neighbourhood busybody, never really doing anything of consequence, but seeing what unfolds without you.

    It’d be a total pain in the arse to account for all the possibilities, I’m sure, but the idea fascinates me.

  38. MD says:

    Excellent article. I’ll almost certainly get frustrated and give up, but I can’t not try the game.

  39. ET says:

    KGB was the one game that cemented my undying love for realistic Cold War spy stories, partly because the late!USSR it paints is so vivid a setting. My brain seems to measure everything up to it. Even Le Carre sometimes, so yes. I remember how terrifying it was the first time I thought I screwed up and Major Volvov caught me! Or how trying to find your way through the tenements was not easy, that although you’re a KGB agent, you really have nothing to protect you against death but common sense and lots and lots of luck…

    I’ve never seen another game that lets you be a spy and then allows you to be beaten up and have your corpse thrown into the river by street thugs. That was a pretty memorable death for a girl of ten. (Luckily I’ve always been reading books meant for people older than me, so the themes in there were not traumatizing. It was *interesting*, and that meant more to me as a child than all the protection in the world.)

  40. Wizlah says:

    just found a copy of this on ebay cheap. and I’m about to buy the void, finally. It’s like a Quinns motherlode.

  41. Michael says:

    Every time I hear about “a game set in a really small, massively detailed environment” I think – immediately – of The Last Express.

  42. Chiller says:

    “Cryo made a game where the conversations are as tense and dangerous as the fights.”

    In Dragon Age, they are even more dangerous! (seriously, so much can go wrong during conversations there, I was shit-scared whenever I had to use my mouth instead of my sword – and no, I don’t think that was a good feature)

  43. Hippo says:

    I wish they’d release this on GOG. They even have a deal with the publisher that owns it.

    Also, good article. There are so many forgotten games that were just enormously progressive in a bunch of different ways, and I wish the games industry would start looking more seriously at what they did and how it worked. Oh well.

  44. tim says:

    ” KGB makes me wonder where the games are with this game’s subdued sense of drama.”

    Have you played Trouble in Terrorist Town? Dramatic perfection in a completely different way.