Loom (video game)
Cover art by Mark Ferrari
|Composer(s)||Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Loom is a 1990 fantasy-themed graphic adventure game by Lucasfilm Games. The project was led by Brian Moriarty, a former Infocom employee and author of classic text adventures Wishbringer (1985), Trinity (1986), and Beyond Zork (1987). It was the fourth game to use the SCUMM adventure game engine, and the first of those to avoid the verb–object interface introduced in Maniac Mansion.
A departure from other LucasArts adventure games in many senses, Loom is based on a serious and complex fantasy story. With its experimental interface, it eschewed the traditional paradigm of graphical adventures, where puzzles usually involve interactions between the game character, the environment, and multiple items the character can take into their possession.
Loom 's gameplay centers instead around magical four-note tunes known as "drafts" that the protagonist, Bobbin Threadbare, can play on his distaff. Each draft is a spell that has an effect of a certain type, such as "Opening" or "Night Vision." Drafts can be learned by observing an object that possess the qualities of the relevant draft; for example, examining a blade while it is being sharpened gives the player the "Sharpening" draft.
Some drafts can be reversed by playing their notes backwards, so the "Dye" draft played backwards becomes "Bleach," while others, such as the "Terror" draft, are palindromes and can not be reversed in this manner. The player's abilities increase over the course of the game, with more and more powerful drafts. At first, only the notes C, D and E are playable, but by the end of the game F, G, A, B, and C ' are also available.
Loom was the first game to follow the LucasArts Game Design Philosophy, which states that the player will never be killed or forced to restart the game and won't have to "spend hours typing in synonyms until [they] stumble on the computer's word for a certain object" (see guess-the-verb).
The game can be played at three difficulty levels, each with slightly different hints. For example, the "Expert" level does not mark the distaff and is played solely by ear. In the original version, the expert player is rewarded with a graphic sequence that does not appear in the two other levels. The DOS CD-ROM version, however, shows a much shorter version of this sequence to all players.
Drafts functioned in much the same way magic spells do in traditional adventure games, but with the caveat that Bobbin can use them as often as he pleases, so long as he is in possession of his distaff (for spinning the threads that make up the draft) and the object or creature being affected by the draft is susceptible to it.
Drafts take the form of musical note sequences on the C major scale. The note sequences of most drafts change each time the game is played, and thus have to be learned as part of the game. Bobbin is initially capable of spinning drafts with the notes C, D and E. Often, drafts can be heard by Bobbin, but he cannot repeat them as he lacks the necessary notes. As the game progresses, further notes are added in order, finally reaching C D E F G A B C'.
Bobbin learns the note sequences for drafts in several different ways, for example by reading books or listening to others spin. The sequence of notes used in some drafts can be played in reverse, which often provides the opposite effect of the original draft. There are drafts that are palindromes (e.g. C–E–E–C) and thus playing them backwards is the same as playing them forwards thus rendering the spell permanent, or at least not able to be undone by reversing the spell.
The great Loom on Loom Island is capable of echoing the last draft spun in its presence, with the sole exception of any drafts Bobbin spins himself, which was a necessary game device in order to ensure the player does not become stuck by forgetting a recently heard draft. There are quite a few drafts Bobbin can learn.
It was long after the passing of the second shadow, when dragons ruled the twilight sky, and the stars were bright and numerous...—Clothos, Loom: The Audio Drama
The events of the game are preceded by a 30-minute audio drama, included with the original versions of the game on audio-cassette tape. It is established that the Age of the Great Guilds arose when humans once again tried to establish dominion over nature. The world of "Loom" is not defined in relation to ours, but many hold that it happens on Earth in a greatly distant future, since the game takes place in the date 8021.
People banded together to form city-states of a common trade "devoted to the absolute control of knowledge, held together by stern traditions of pride, and of fear." The humble guild of Weavers established themselves as masters of woven fabric, though they eventually transcended the limits of cloth and began to weave "subtle patterns of influence into the very fabric of reality." They were persecuted for these acts of "witchcraft," and purchased an island far off the mainland coast, which they called Loom, after the great loom that was the symbol of their Guild.
Lady Cygna Threadbare is introduced as a bereaved mother who begs the Elders of the Guild of Weavers to use the power of the Loom to end the suffering of the Weavers. Their numbers are failing and their seed is barren. The Elders Atropos, Clothos, and Lachesis, who are named after Greek mythology's three Fates, reprimand Cygna, telling her that it is not their place to play gods.
Cygna, despite their warnings, secretly assumes control of the Loom and plants one gray thread. She inadvertently draws an (unforeseen) infant out of the Loom, incurring the wrath of the Elders. She surrenders the child to Dame Hetchel, the old serving woman, and accepts her fate. The Elders cast the "Transcendence" draft on her, transforming her into a swan and banishing her from the pattern (the name Cygna is the feminine form of swan in Latin). Hetchel names the child Bobbin, and cares for him as her own.
Bobbin grows up ostracized from the rest of the Guild. The Elders note that the presence of his gray thread has thrown the pattern into chaos, and the Loom foresees the very unraveling of the pattern. For these reasons, the Elders ban him from learning the ways of the Guild until a decision can be made on Bobbin's seventeenth birthday ("until his coming of age seventeen years hence," as it is described in the game's audio drama). Hetchel, however, defies the Elders and secretly teaches him a few basics of weaving. This is where the game begins.
On his birthday, Bobbin is summoned by the Elders in order to determine his fate. He arrives at the Sanctuary in time to witness the Elders punish Hetchel with the "Transcendence" draft for educating Bobbin, but Hetchel reverts to a swan's egg, which puzzles and frightens the Elders. As they contemplate this turn of events a swan comes down from the sky and crashes through a window in the Sanctuary. She casts the "Transcendence" draft on the Elders, as well as the rest of the villagers, transforming all the Weavers except Bobbin into swans who leave through a rift in the sky. Bobbin, who is left all alone, finds Elder Atropos' distaff, and uses it to free Hetchel from her egg.
Hetchel, who is now a cygnet, tells Bobbin that the swan who visits him every year on his birthday came to save the Weavers from the Third Shadow that is about to cover the world. Bobbin then moves on to find the flock. On his way, he meets other guilds and has several adventures. Eventually, he encounters a Cleric, Bishop Mandible, who is after the Scrying Sphere of the Glassmakers, the swords of the Blacksmiths, and the products of the Shepherds. Mandible claims the Weaver's distaff to rule the world with an army of the undead, thus fulfilling the prophecies. By playing the draft of "Opening" on a nearby graveyard, he tears the fabric of the universe apart and allows an entity called "Chaos" to enter. Chaos kills Mandible and summons an army of undead to destroy the earth. Bobbin reclaims the distaff from the dead Bishop and heals many of the tears in the pattern, along the way helping many of his previous acquaintances, who were hurt or killed by Chaos's army. Finally, he battles Chaos, who is striving to take control of the great Loom on his native island. The battle ends as Chaos kills his stepmother using the draft of "Unmaking." It is hinted, however, that it is still possible to save Hetchel, as "one feather still remained intact."
Bobbin then destroys the great Loom using the same draft. He is joined by his mother and the other Weavers and is told that one half of the world will be ruled by Chaos while the Weavers will stay in the other half, and that with time, they may gain enough power to challenge Chaos again. Bobbin casts "Transcendence" upon himself, and with the aid of his mother and the other villagers in their swan forms, he flies away, carrying the ripple across the world. His friends watch the flock of the swans fly away; it remains unclear whether Bobbin has left them in Chaos' realm or has saved them.
A common misconception about Loom is that author Orson Scott Card contributed to its development, based on the fact that his name appears in the credits. Card mentions in his review for Loom that this is untrue, and that Moriarty put his name into the credits based on a brief conversation they had prior to the release. Card did, however, help Sara Reeder shorten and revise the game's dialogue for the 1992 CD-ROM release.
The in-game music consists of excerpts from the Swan Lake ballet by Tchaikovsky, arranged for MIDI by George "The Fat Man" Sanger. While supporting basic PC speaker sound and AdLib, the EGA version originally lacked built-in Roland MT-32 support. A form included in the package could be mailed to Lucasfilm Games as an order for an extra game disk providing MT-32 support which was later also released as a downloadable patch. This disk also came with an additional overture which was played prior to the opening cutscene.
The original package offered an audio tape with a 30-minute audio drama that explained the nature and history of the Loom world, and the circumstances of Bobbin's birth. The game is a direct continuation of the story. The drama was enriched by original music composed by Jerry Gerber. It was the first commercial cassette to employ Dolby-S noise reduction. Side A of the tape was encoded for standard Dolby-B playback; side B had the identical program encoded for Dolby-S.
The package also offered an illustrated notebook, The Book of Patterns, supposedly belonging to apprentice weavers in the game world. Its purpose was to optionally note there the drafts that could be learned, as well as describing some that were not seen in the game, with interesting tales related to each draft. Each description also included a staff and four spaces in which to record the four respective notes of the draft. The book contained a warning saying that wise spellweavers write in pencil; this is because many of the spells in the game have randomized threads (musical notes). In the original disk versions, it also acted as a form of copy protection; the game would ask players for the notes of a particular draft in the book at start-up. If the player doesn't enter the correct notes, the game would exit back to the operating system (in the PC version, it would enter demo mode).
Loom was redeveloped for the Japanese FM Towns computer and released on CD-ROM in 1991 with enhanced 256-color VGA graphics and a new digital soundtrack. The dialogue and story elements remained largely unchanged from the original version, though at least one scene was partially censored of blood, and some elements of the visual design were lost. A similar version was later released for the TurboGrafx-CD.
The third and final version of Loom was released for DOS on CD in 1992. It featured an entirely re-recorded digital soundtrack, a separate CD for the audio drama, and fully voiced dialogue, with many of the actors reprising their roles from the audio drama. However, due to the technical constraints on how much uncompressed audio could fit on a CD, much of the original dialogue had to be revised or abridged. The graphics were a continuation of those used in the FM Towns version but with some minor enhancements and additional censorship. Some features were also cut from the FM Towns version, such as multiple solutions to puzzles, many conversation close-ups, and parts of cutscenes. Brian Moriarty has stated that he believes the FM Towns version to be the best 256-color version of Loom.
Due to a licensing agreement with (now defunct) Mindscape, the DOS CD-ROM version became commercially unavailable, and until 2006, the DOS floppy-disk version was the only one purchasable from LucasArts. All of these versions of Loom can now be played on a variety of different platforms using the ScummVM virtual machine.
The PC CD-ROM version of Loom was released through the Steam digital distribution platform for Windows on July 8, 2009, with Mac support following on May 12, 2010. Steam community members have since provided a method to play the FM Towns version with a Steam copy of Loom.
Orson Scott Card praised Loom. He wrote in Compute! that it was "like nothing you've ever seen (or done) before ... a work of storytelling art," and cited the game's flexibility in adapting to playstyles, whether using action or puzzles. In 1990, Dragon gave the game 5 out of 5 stars. Scorpia of Computer Gaming World approved of the game's graphics and gameplay, but said that "as an adventure game, it is just too lightweight." She stated that the game was impossible to fail, with very easy puzzles, but that the linear gameplay resulted in no freedom of movement. While praising the story, Scorpia wished that Lucasfilm would have given it an "epic treatment" instead of Loom 's simplicity. Game Rankings gives Loom a combined rating of 75% based on six professional reviews. The most repeated criticism of Loom is the short length of approximately two and a half hours of game-play.
In 1990 Computer Gaming World gave it a Special Award for Artistic Achievement as part of the magazine's Game of the Year Awards, stating that Loom 's colors, "mesmerizing special effects," audio, and user interface combined into "a work of art."
Originally, Loom was to be the first game of a trilogy. Aside from the "cliffhanger" ending, the game contained several other hints pointing toward a sequel — for example, one of the "scrying spheres" the player can find shows a scene of a volcanic eruption, which does not occur in the game, but can be caused by Temblor, one of the several unused spells listed in The Book of Patterns. The two sequels planned were titled Forge and The Fold, starring Bobbin's friends Rusty Nailbender and Fleece Firmflanks. These sequels would wrap up open plot-threads and bring closure to the open ending of the original game, with Chaos eventually being defeated. However, Loom's original development team were now all working on other projects, and as Lucasfilm Games was a small company at that time, no one else could be found to do it; and so, they were cancelled. In a letter to the abandoned fan-made Loom sequel Chaos, Brian Moriarty detailed the following regarding his intended sequels:
Loom was conceived as the first game of a fantasy trilogy. The second game, Forge, would follow the adventures of Rusty Nailbender as he tried to regain control of the Forge, which was hijacked by Chaos in the first game. Bobbin was going to appear every now and then (as a swan) to offer help and advice, kind of like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Empire and Jedi. At the end of Forge, Rusty drives Chaos out of the Forge, but not before the gentle land of the Shepherds is conquered and nearly destroyed in a terrible battle. (The floating Forge ends up falling directly onto the Shepherds' pastures.)
The third game, The Fold, followed the adventures of Fleece Firmflanks, who teams up with Rusty to resist the evil forces that are camping in the Shepherds' territory. Bobbin again offers occasional help and advice. At the climax of the game, Bobbin, Bobbin's mother and Hetchel return to Earth along with the entire Guild of Weavers, and all of the other Guilds join for a final challenge to Chaos. Working together for the first time, their combined magic banishes Chaos back into the Void, and the healing of the world can begin. Rusty and Fleece get married, and Bobbin becomes the head of the Guild of Weavers.
Contrary to popular belief, the Loom sequels were not abandoned because Loom didn't sell well. Loom has sold more than half a million copies in various formats since it was published in 1990. The reason the sequels weren't made is because I decided I wanted to work on other things, and nobody else wanted to do them, either.
Moriarty gave another, somewhat different account of potential sequels in a 2006 interview:
Loom wasn't actually written with a trilogy in mind. But after it was finished, there was vague interest in continuing the story. In discussing this possibility, I imagined two sequels.
The first was tentatively called Forge. It tells the story of Bobbin's friend Rusty Nailbender, whose home city (the Forge of the Blacksmiths) was enslaved by Chaos near the end of Loom. Rusty becomes the leader of an underground movement to overthrow Chaos, together with Fleece Firmflanks of the Shepherds and new characters from the other Guilds. Bobbin appears every now and then as a ghostly swan dispensing mystical advice, an obvious nod to Obi-Wan Kenobi of Star Wars. The story climaxes in a terrible battle that nearly destroys the world.
The third game, The Fold, is about Fleece Firmflanks and her attempt to unite the shattered Guilds in a final, desperate effort to banish Chaos. Near the end of the game, when the cause appears hopeless, Bobbin and the Weavers swoop in like the proverbial cavalry to save the day. The Loom of the Weavers is remade, reality is healed, and peace is restored to the Guilds.
But this was all just talk. I was busy with other projects, and nobody else felt strongly enough about the games to make a commitment. So Forge and The Fold never got made.
Appearance in other media
As was typical for LucasArts, several other games referenced the Loom characters and storyline. A likeness of Bishop Mandible's assistant Cob can be found inside the "Scumm Bar" in The Secret of Monkey Island, dressed as a pirate with a badge on his shirt that says "Ask me about Loom," and will happily divulge marketing information when so asked. An identical seagull appears in both games, and Guybrush can say "I'm Bobbin. Are you my mother?" on two occasions. This seagull also makes an appearance in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge and Day of the Tentacle. In the third Monkey Island game, The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush can mention Loom's supposed unpopularity after being captured by LeChuck.
In the VGA remake of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, a painting in the vault of the Brunwald castle features a beach that appears as scenery in Loom. The NES version of Maniac Mansion features a broken record titled The Soundtrack of Loom.
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