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

[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.

18 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    ErraticGamer says:

    Loved this game as a kid so much. I had forgotten about the intro and the way it mimics a staged performance – a local theatre actually put on a live show this year where audience members went through the objects of a recently deceased (or is she?) person at an estate sale while intrigue happened all around them that was – by its own description – heavily inspired by Gone Home and The Colonel’s Bequest. It was pretty awesome.

    Thanks for doing this one, and yes, would definitely be into a longer video / series on this.

  2. InnerPartisan says:

    This is completely OT, but something I’ve been meaning to say for a long time: Leigh, I’d listen to you reading out an effing telephone book. Your voice is incredibly soothing.
    Seriously, you should do audiobooks, or something.

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      Well… my good friend Ann Scantlebury recently recorded me reading a chapter excerpt from my new book, Clipping Through, out loud: link to dl.dropboxusercontent.com

      If you like, I also did a recording for Shut Up & Sit Down of the time I participated in a live watergun assassination game: link to shutupandsitdown.com

      Thank you for the kind words! I kind of hate the sound of my own voice, but doing more recorded stuff has been a way for me to work on it :D

      • Premium User Badge

        neffo says:

        Such range. Leigh is amazing. She said in one of her LFLPs that she had vocal training, that clip really shows it. The barbs sting. The way she pauses is almost like the back swing of a verbal punch.

    • Premium User Badge

      Cyphran says:

      I absolutely agree, sometimes I put these on when I just need to relax and chill. = )

  3. RQH says:

    It IS where I learned the word “bequest.” And they say video games have no value.

    Also, yes I would definitely be interested in watching a longform stream of this game. Now, excuse me while I check out the rest of the Lo-Fi Let’s Play catalog ….

  4. jodi says:

    The sequel, The Dagger of Amon Ra, is also excellent, and has aged a little better, as it was a VGA game in their slightly flashier SCI engine.

  5. Artiforg says:

    I watched this yesterday as I’ve subscribed to your channel. I think I mentioned in the comments of the Neuromancer lo-fi that I could watch you play through the entirety of that, so I’d be interested in watching you stream a game. In one of your previous lo-fi’s you mention having people play along with you and be you being able to ask for help of other’s who had maybe got a bit further. That would work quite well with streaming as the chat could be used for that. What would concern me about streaming though is the abuse that most streamers get (especially on twitch) and the huge amounts of spam. Especially given the recent screams from the more vocal members of the internet about perceived games journalism bias.

    Also, I love the lo-fi let’s plays and look forward to them every week. if you run out of games on the Apple then there are many text adventures on the ZX Spectrum/Commodore 64 that could be worthy of a look. Dracula by CRL was a particularly scary. Hampstead was at the more amusing end of the adventure game spectrum and had one of those illogical mazes that Bob Redrup explains how to solve (I solved it by being lucky and writing down the directions I went in!).

  6. acheron says:

    Loved Dagger of Amon Ra, though I never played this one. Amon Ra has more traditional adventurey inventory puzzles from what I understand, though there’s still a lot of listening and sleuthing.

  7. babymoses says:

    These Lo-Fi Let’s Plays make me happy, thank you for making them!

  8. Kefren says:

    I remember wanting to play this back in the day. I ended up with the also-good (in my memory) Killed Until Dead: link to lemon64.com
    (apart from the slow load times!)

  9. KevinLew says:

    If you do extended Let’s Plays for any of these games, then I promise to watch them. I like watching them and seeing how the story ends.

  10. GeorgeB says:

    This game gave me the willies as a kid – and still holds a dear place in my heart for that. Add me to the list of people who would like to see you do a full playthrough if time allows it.

  11. Hahaha says:

    “In a time when young men shout over new action games”

    Only young men hey…….

  12. cai says:

    This video series is excellent, Leigh. I would super enjoy a full LP of this game, which is one of the most intriguing you’ve covered so far.

  13. Zyvo says:

    I hope you decide to do an extended LP of this game. It’s one of my favorites. :D