Have You Played… Discworld Noir?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

The daft fantasy world of Terry Pratchett saw only a few videogame adaptations, most of them forgettable adventure games following cowardly wizard Rincewind. But with Discworld Noir (again a point and click adventure) the source material got something worthy – a parody of hard-boiled detective fiction within a parody of fantasy.

It has its share of point and click faults, of course, as any game in the dying days of 1999 would have. Instead of puzzles the game was mostly made up of interviewing suspects or witnesses, and the game would jot down clues for you in your notebook. You could then apply these notes to others as a kind of cross-examination, which led to more notebook clues but also prompted other things to occur, events or changes in scenery often unrelated to what you were doing, in areas half the city away. I remember having to jaunt around the gloom of Ankh-Morpork, going from scene to scene in a search for an unsaid line, an overlooked question in a packed notebook. It could be a slog, and I still remember the moment I discovered you could skip straight out of a scene by double-clicking the exit. I was elated. I hadn’t played many adventure games before.

But what redeemed the plodding pace and incessant backtracking was the writing, funny and quick, throwing a stack of Chandlerisms into the grubby world of magical universities and hard-nosed city watchmen, like this line John previously pointed out in a Eurogamer retrospective: “The river Ankh – probably the only river in the universe on which you could chalk the outline of a corpse.”

32 Comments

  1. OpT1mUs says:

    Hahah yeah I had the same moment with double click on the doors. I loved this game, played it multiple times when I was younger, but I don’t think I ever beat it. Always got stuck somewhere and gave up.
    Seems it’s not on GOG, so I don’t know is it available anywhere, or if would even work if it was. I’ll beat it one day. Good memories of this one.

  2. dangermouse76 says:

    Discworld is top of my make an open world RPG.

    I love the idea of breaking into the unseen uni and stealing a potion that lets me inhabit my favourite characters.

    Go on an adventure as vimes or cut me own throat dibbler.

  3. BobbyDylan says:

    Loved the 2 Discworld games, with playable Rincewind. Never played Noir though.

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    Ericusson says:

    It’s really too bad the video games were so restricted to Rincewind when the books with this character were the first and least interesting of the Discworld universe.

    The evolution in the writing, themes and storytelling all the way to the Vimes/Vetinari idealistic policy solving and some audacious and pertinent items in the building of civilization through the post office utilitarian construct, are so many light years beyond the oh so basic first books with Rincewind that the evocation of this world only through its simplistic fantasy beginnings makes me cringe a little.

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      Ericusson says:

      I just realized I may have forgotten enough through sheer beer ingestion to be able to read some books again.
      Oh joy.

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        Andy_Panthro says:

        I recently re-read my way through all of the discworld books, in the space of about 6 months or so. So wonderful, and I had forgotten so many amazing little details too.

        I think the Witches ones have become my favourites now, whereas previously I’d have said the Sam Vimes ones.

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          Ericusson says:

          Funny I was enjoying the perspective to read those one again.

          But the ones with Vimes in Uberwald or the one in the valley of Koom are kind of masterpieces to me, along with the Postal ones.

  5. FLoJ says:

    link to theguardian.com

    Also published today. RIP Sir Terry

  6. frakswe says:

    since i’ve read the city watch series already i’m currently listening to them via audiobooks instead.Nigel Planer does an excellent job of breathing life to the characters,i recommend them wholeheartedly if you’ve read the books already but still want more.

    • Duke of ankh says:

      Yep, by this point i have probably relistened the Discworld series more times than i have read it. (although i much prefer stephen briggs to planer)

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    Oakreef says:

    I think I played this before I started reading the Discworld books themselves. I definitely played Discworld 2 before I’d started reading them.

    I remember I was stuck for ages though at one point going around and asking everyone everything from my notebook and not making progress because it didn’t occur to me that I needed to ask someone (I think it was Leonard da Quirm) about a note that I had gotten from them originally and it didn’t occur to me that that could possibly generate new information.

  8. geldonyetich says:

    I tried. I tried so hard to play Discworld Noir. Alas, it had massive compatibility issues and I couldn’t get it to run on my system. I knew my way around an autoexec.bat and config.sys, too.

  9. hemmer says:

    I did and the dialogues are gloriously perfect. Death especially. It’s hard to play on a modern system sadly, there are some fan-fixes and the like but it’s still problematic. The ps1 version is easy to emulate but no mouse in that case.

    There are lots of votes on gog.com’s wishlist, so I hope it’ll land there eventually.

  10. Oasx says:

    I really wish they would make an update to this game, so we could play it on modern computers.

  11. DrMcCoy says:

    One of my favourite games, yes.

    Unfortunately, it really doesn’t run well on modern systems. Not on Windows machines and there’s also issues with Wine of Linux.

    There is a start of a ResidualVM (ScummVM sister project) engine for it, but nobody has worked on it for years. If anybody is interested in working on it, feel free to contact the ResidualVM people.

    Discworld Noir is still based on the same codebase that runs Discworld 1 and 2 (albeit with changes), and we do have working ScummVM engines for that. So reimplementing Discworld Noir in ResidualVM won’t be a completely fresh reversing job. It’s still not a walk in the park, but might be easier than starting with a totally new engine.

    IIRC, you won’t even need much OpenGL/3D knowledge for Discworld Noir. The backgrounds are 2D (like Grim Fandango and Monkey Island 4) and also most actors are prerendered sprites. Only a few animations, like idle and walk, of Lewton, the main character, are using realtime 3D geometry. If you look closely, that’s quite obvious too: the sprite-based animations have a low framerate (15 or 12 or something like that), while the realtime 3D animation runs more smoothly.

    • smcv says:

      I enjoyed this game at the time, and it’s one of my partner’s favourite games ever, so I’ve had many attempts at getting it running again. I got it working about a year ago by running Windows 98 in a virtual machine, if that’s any help:

      link to smcv.pseudorandom.co.uk

      Instructions given assume a Linux host, but it’s pure CPU emulation (no Linux-specific “KVM” virtualization, because that broke the Windows 98 installer) so in principle there’s nothing to stop a Windows user from doing the same things with a copy of qemu compiled for Windows.

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    pertusaria says:

    Thrilled to see this getting some love. My boyfriend and I have played through it twice together, and the first time was a particular treat in terms of “aha!” moments between play sessions. The music’s good, the voice acting is mostly good, and Samael is brilliant.

    It played fairly nicely on Win7 for us, but hopefully it will get a bit of a polish at some point and a home on GOG.

  13. Risingson says:

    What’s up with 1999, Brendan? Why do you say that a game in that era has some generic defects you don’t care to even explain?

    I played it. Back then it felt too slow. If only I knew that a few years later I would not be able to play it again…

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    syllopsium says:

    I remember it being slow, too, and not entirely engaging.

    However, I still have a legit PC copy, so I should probably give it a go again. The only way to get it at the moment without resorting to abandonware is ebay.

    On the other hand, I’ve replayed the first Discworld game more than once, even if the endgame is a bit buggy (hopefully fixed if SCUMMVM is used, but I’ve played it in DOS).

    It’s also a crying shame that there’s precious few book/tv/film adventure spin offs these days. Discworld and Star Trek were damned amazing, and in the latter case voiced by the cast.

  15. Haldurson says:

    For much of my life, I’ve avoided reading fantasy, mostly because far too much of the stuff that I was told by friends was great, and that I HAD to read, I just didn’t like. But then I started discovering that there was more fantasy that really wasn’t as awful as all the so-called great fantasy books that I was supposed to like. I just fell in love with Neil Gaiman, and consequently, read his collaboration with Terry Pratchett “Good Omens”. I loved that book so much. Eventually, it got me to try Discworld. And now I’m less than halfway through the series and have no desire to stop. I still think that “Good Omens” is one of the funniest books I have ever read. But Discworld has hooked me, and I look forward to reading more over the years.

    That said, I dislike adventure games. I haven’t played one that I liked since Infocom’s “Planetfall” (that was a text adventure).

  16. klownk says:

    This game is a masterpiece.

  17. Umberto Bongo says:

    I never finished the game, but I remember it had this gorgeous piece of music which has been my go-to piano playing bit ever since: link to youtube.com

  18. Nerdy Suit says:

    “The daft fantasy world of Terry Pratchett saw only a few videogame adaptations, most of them forgettable adventure games following cowardly wizard Rincewind.”

    Wow. That’s a pretty crappy opinion you have there. Discworld 1 and 2 are two of the best point-and-click adventure games ever made. Bad opinion is bad.

  19. TheSplund says:

    I replayed it recently. I run Win10 64bit but I recall it was a mare to get to work and I think I had to resort to playing it with a virtual PC of sorts – I’ve just searched my entire PC for traces of it but I’m sorry to say that I cannot find anything. I do recall that it was great to finish the game that I started it back in 2005 or 2006 (I backup all my ave games!).

  20. noodlecake says:

    I used to own this years ago. The main protagonist would convulse repeatedly as part of his walking animation. I always thought it was just because it was a bad low budget game but the fact that nobody else talks about the terrifying convulsing protagonist makes me think that was an issue unique to my version of the game. :S

    I still played it quite far because it was a Discworld game and I love Terry Pratchett.

  21. death_au says:

    I was given a copy of this game as a gift, but I could never get it to run, so I never did play this game.
    I did play the other two Discworld point and clicks, although I’d somehow lost the second disc of Discworld 2 by the time I’d gotten to it, so I never finished it. There was a time I could recite a walkthrough to the first act of Discworld 2 from memory (without having looked up a walkthrough myself, I’d just memorized the game).

    I’d love to see an open-world Discworld, as dangermouse76 mentioned in another comment. Something Elder Scrolls-esque I think would suit the world really well. Hell, I’d settle for a Skyrim total conversion with Discworld locales.

  22. dashausdiefrau says:

    I cannot mention this enough, but the savior of old PC games is out there: it is called PCem, and it emulates everything, from Model 5150 to MMX266+your favorite VGA+VoodooI level. It uses original BIOS files and It runs Win98 and all software like on original hardware. You can use your old CDs with it as well, and install games like it is 1998. Also with version 11, VoodooII support is expected, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pentium II support would be available soon.

  23. zipdrive says:

    Years ago, I’d bought a copy from a store’s bargain bin. I was never able to get it to work, though, on any version of Windows I’ve had since.

    Thoughts?