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Lo-Fi Let's Play: The Colonel's Bequest

Flappers And Mystery

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[I’ve been doing a series of Let’s Play videos exploring old adventures, text games and lost design forms from the 1980s Apple IIe and Commodore 64 era. In a time when young men shout over new action games, I will talk softly over strange old ones. Come along on a visitation of a different era that’s one part meditations on my childhood, one part adventure game criticism, and one part preservation effort. Bonus: Everyone says the quiet talk, lo-fi handmade feel and keyboard tapping triggers ASMR responses. Please enjoy!]

I know I said no hits, but I’m often surprised to find this classic 1989 Sierra title from Roberta Williams is usually considered niche, especially relative to the classic King’s Quest and other “quest”-themed series. Of course, The Colonel’s Bequest, about the inheritance to be left by a mysterious, cranky old bayou patriarch, also has the word “quest” in the title. Cute.

This detailed, deeply-engrossing and often genuinely-spooky adventure game is one of my all-time favorites. Although a couple of the stereotypes in the game’s ‘wacky’ cast definitely strike an off note, in general the game has the combination of whimsy and sincerity that feels like Roberta Williams’ hallmark.

You’ll see in the video a bit of the game’s passing time mechanic — the game’s characters go about their movements and conversations whether you witness them or not, and it’s important to be able to follow the right characters and snoop on the right conversations if you hope to unravel the mysteries of a large, cynical and underhanded family all scrabbling for priority consideration in the Colonel’s will.

Unlike a lot of the games we’ve been looking at, Colonel’s Bequest had admirably few parser problems, let alone the sort that usually break a game experience. So long as you know in general how to ‘talk to’ these things, it unfolds without friction, accounting for an impressive array of player wishes and observations and in fact rewarding the hyper-observant, interrogative sort who wants to ‘look at’, ‘take’, or ‘talk about’ anything.

The conversation system is also fairly sophisticated relative to contemporaries — being able to talk with characters about their relatives at various points throughout the game is key to the full experience, and you’ll get different answers as the story progresses and as the body count goes up. Oh, yeah. It’s a murder mystery.

Remember primitive Mystery House, by the same creator? Consider it a prototype of sorts for this experience. It’s satisfying to see a vision survive the ages, and go from a stick-figure house with huge parser problems blossom eventually into something like this. Games are just so beautiful, aren’t they?

Seriously considering revisiting Colonel’s Bequest in a longer video, or one of those marathon streams over Halloween or something.

The entire Lo-Fi Let’s Play series is available and regularly updated at my YouTube channel if you’d like to subscribe, but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on, with some additional written analysis and commentary.

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Leigh Alexander

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