Monday, 13 August 2018

Inherit The Earth: Quest for the Orb (MS-DOS) - Guest Post

This year on Super Adventures, things are still pretty dead and that's not changing any time soon. Sorry about that. But I do have a surprise guest post by my cat-obsessed associate game critic mecha-neko for you to enjoy!

Hello! I'm mecha-neko and I'm back for another Obscure-As-All-Hell Animated Cat Game August!

Say hello to Inherit The Earth: Quest For The Orb, also known as Erben der Erde: Die Grosse Suche (Inherit The Earth: The Great Search) in German.

Inherit The Earth: Quest for the Orb MS-DOS title screen
Developer:The Dreamers Guild|Release Date:1994|Systems:DOS, Macintosh, Amiga, PC-98, Windows, Linux

This is an adventure game that's been on the super Super Adventures adventure game wishlist for a long time, but it's only now that a copy has arrived in my paws. It's all about walking, talking animal-folk, so I'm certain I'll bump into a cat at some point.

I'm playing the original MS-DOS CD-ROM version as it makes producing these wonderful .gifs for you much easier, but the Steam version is identical, pixel-for-pixel, as far as I can tell.



We begin with old-man-voice introducing us to the world...

We see the sky, we see the land, we see the water,
And we wonder, are we the only ones?

Long before we came to exist, the Humans ruled the Earth.
They made marvelous things, and moved whole mountains.
They knew the secret of Flight, the secret of Happiness,
And other secrets beyond our imagining.

The Humans also knew the secret of Life,
And they used it to give us the four great Gifts:
Thinking minds, feeling hearts, speaking mouths, and reaching hands.
We are their children.

They taught us how to use our hands, and how to speak.
They showed us the joy of using our minds.
They loved us, and when we were ready,
They surely would have given us the secret of Happiness.

Now we see the sky, the land, and the water we are heirs to,
And we wonder, why did they leave?
Do they live still, in the stars? In the ocean depths? In the wind?
We wonder, Was their fate good, or evil?
And will we also share the same fate one day?

That pretty much wraps it up. I thought the origins of the animal-folk would be left a little vaguer than that, and the game would be about the ongoing relationship between the Humans and animal-folk, but nope. The humans developed sufficient technology or magic to give their animal chums sapience, the animals were pretty chuffed about it, and everybody had a gay old time until the humans were chased away by giant freaky bacteria and tapeworms (apparently) and left the animals to ponder their fate.

I love the fellow in the second image who has been immortalised, depicted in a state of shock, entering his house and fumbling with a couple of grocery bags only to find his wife giving a racoon, a rabbit, a deer and a lemur the Secret of Life.

So let's leave the non-mystery of the origins of the animal-folk to one side as the bold, colourful opening titles begin...

As a proud fanfare (which would probably sound pretty cracking coming out of a proper Roland system) invites us to enjoy the world of Inherit The Earth...

And the credits roll over a series of nicely illustrated scenes...

Leading us to a medieval faire, where the main attraction is...

A chess competition between a fox and a rat.

That's not bad. I think that kind of spectacle would still bring in the crowds today if you could arrange it.

"What? Why... how did you...?"
"While your pawn was still searching in the Cave of Tears, my Paladin made it through the forest to home base! You were taken totally by surprise!"
Hey, high-quality voice acting! Awesome!

But I see now why Hardgrit isn't playing this game. The rat's voice actor is putting on a sort-of mushy, high, excitable rat-guy voice. The kind of voice that'd send Ray flailing across the room in agony like his eyes and ears had just been dunked in acid.

The rat takes a moment to rub in his victory before a second elderly rat enters the tent and announces it's time to award the prizes, and Rif's lady friend arrives to congratulate him on his almost-victory.

"Oh, Rif! You won! You got the silver medallion for second place."
"It's not first place. I should have won FIRST place. I was too busy thinking about the prize instead of the Puzzle."
This character establishing moment is interrupted by an elk with terrible news. Somebody has stolen the Orb of Storms!

Boars and elk pile onto the screen from either side, crushing poor Rif in the centre. What started as a simple puzzle competition may become a very real war between the Elk Tribe and the Boar Tribe! Oh no! The Orb of Storms has the power to predict the weather and informs the animal-folk when to plant the crops. Without it, life is going to get nasty. The crowd seems pretty indifferent to all this foolishness though; they must just want the puzzles back.

In a blatant, even comical (except to the poor fox in question) display of cartoon animal speciesism, Rif is blamed for the theft based entirely on the evidence that he's a stranger and he's a fox. He's given until the next New Moon to find it, or else.

"I'm afraid I'll have to hold the two of you in custody until this puzzle is solved."
"Puzzle? You say, this is a puzzle? Then I'm the last person you want to arrest. You see this medallion? This for is second place in the Puzzle-Solving Contest. If anyone can find the Orb of Storms and can bring it back to you, it's me!"
Apparently even second place faireground awards are held in pretty high regard around these parts, so the Elk puts Rif in charge of the situation. But just when the fox thinks he's talked his way out of it...

"However, just to make sure that you return, I will send one of my warriors with you. Lieutenant Eeah, you will accompany them on their quest. Aid them wherever and whenever you can. But if they try to escape, or refuse to return, your orders are to use whatever force is necessary to return them to us to stand trial."
Oh no.

"Okk! Go with them. Find this Orb. If they are lying, kill them. If they try to escape, kill them. If you suspect treachery, kill them. If they do not find the Orb... KILL THEM."
Oh nooooo.

"To make sure you come back, we will keep your little friend! Remember. If you return by the next New Moon, your friend will be released unharmed. If you don't return by then, why I'll just have me a new pelt for my wall! Mwahahahahahaha!"
Ohhhh nooooooooo.

Surely the Elk Captain will have something to say about this?!

"I suggest you concentrate on completing your task."
What a dick. Doesn't even raise his voice. Kidnapping and summary execution must be commonplace in the animal kingdom, which I suppose is actually true when you think about it.

And that's it! We're on!

It's a SCUMM-'em-up (some people call them adventure games, but I'm planning on starting a trend here). The last one I played, Tequila & Boom-Boom, went the SVGA big scaled sprites and cartoony look, like The Curse of Monkey Island. Inherit The Earth stays with the tiny VGA 320x200 chunky style like The Secret of Monkey Island.

It's time for me to Look At, Pick Up, Talk to, Open, Close, Use and Give everything on the screen, as that's how these games go (unlike Guybrush, Rif never learned to Push or Pull). The item in Rif's inventory is the silver Puzzle Contest medallion. I tried offering it to Okk and Eeah, but they each replied "We already have that." Which is true, but strange.

Let's talk to my bodyguards instead, maybe they have some advice for me.

Here's a secret mecha-neko fun fact for you, I had to write my own exporter for ITE files in order to extract this portrait of Okk because I'm fairly certain that it's -never used in game-. The only way I found out about it was by reading one of the news posts on the Inherit The Earth webcomic website and seeing him included in the grid."I have my orders to help you. Lead on as you wish, but I'll be watching everything you do."
"I'm here to assist you, not intimidate you. I'll do as you wish."
They seem like cool gents. I can't control them and I can't access their inventories. Simple is good. Simple works.

There's unique voiced dialogue for inspecting and attempting to take the bunting, the hay bales, the table and the board. Very nice! The crowd, on the other hand, doesn't exist in Rif's eyes. They're content to just sit there for now, possibly dumbstruck at the way Rif's unlucky streak went from coming second in a puzzle contest to a bonafide Kafka nightmare.

Nothing here, let's Walk to outside.

And the world is isometric? I did not expect that one bit. And ugh, is it ever nasty. The screen doesn't scroll when the cursor goes to the edge, so you're stuck seeing what you can see around Rif, which isn't much. And these tiles are rather lame if I'm being honest. They're plain and functional and very prone to repeating endlessly in every direction. It has some nice sprite trees scattered across the sea of horrible speckly dithered grass tiles, but they're spoiled by a lack of variation. It looks closer to something like UFO: Enemy Unknown than a happy adventure game.

Enough of my griping about the tiles. I'm just in a bad mood because Rif walks so slow. Let's go talk to somebody!

My objective for the moment is to investigate the disappearance of the Orb of Storms, and Rif has packed a comprehensive deck of questions he's ready to spring on anyone unlucky enough to cross the path of Orb Squad.

● "Where were you last night?"
● "Who might have stolen the Orb?"
● "Why would someone steal the Orb?"
● "What do you know about the Orb?"
● "Could you offer me any advice on my search?"
● "Well, I must be off."
It's not exactly gripping, dynamic, improvisational gameplay, but that's investigating for you. As Rif, you must simply exhaust all the dialogue options available in the hope that something will happen. Some folks are happy to help, some aren't. I've yet to find anybody who's deliberately withholding anything and requires a bit of item- or dialogue-based persuasion to loosen their lips, so the grey matter remains unused for the time being while I listen to the top-notch voice work.

"Well, I must be off. Thank you for your time and wisdom, my good woman. It has truly been a pleasure talking to you!"
Gosh, what a polite young man.

Aha! I've come across an unmarked tent that's completely indistinguishable from every other tent! That's exactly what I was looking for. Let's have a snoop.

I've never seen this before in an adventure game: interior rooms as inset scenes.

Oooh... it's a room full of treasure. None of it is interactable though, so Rif is cruelly denied the opportunity to joke about stealing any of it.

"This little sneak can't be trusted. Believe me."
Okk is mean! And he's not taking his eye off the mole for a second.

Let's see what the busy bastard can tell us.

"We are seeking information. We are investigating the disappearance of the Orb of Storms."
"So! You are the ones who have ruined the faire! Begone! I have nothing to say to you!"
Rats! Uh, I mean Moles! I mean... I mean he's not being very cooperative. He's not going to answer any of my questions, and the unique dialogue option that's appeared, Accuse him of Stealing the Orb, probably isn't going to work without any evidence. Sort of makes me wonder exactly why Rif distrusts this guy specifically. Did I turn over two pages at once here?

He's testing even Rif's patience. I'll make a note of this guy and come back later.

Here's a nice, very neat-looking isometric house, surely full of wonderful everyday items for my Reaching Hands to pilfer in my quest to save the kingdom.

Another inset house scene. These are good if you want to impress the unimportance of the location, as well as make any useful items especially difficult to find, and make the presentation cramped and ugly, and perhaps it isn't so good after all. Hmm...

Perhaps I just don't like how many straight lines there are in here. And how absolutely damned useless the entire room is. In this one screen, there is a wooden bed, a window, curtains, a table, a chair, an oil lamp and a door, and there's unique dialogue for when I try to inspect, take or use them, but nothing I do here has any effect. It's nice. But it's just not right.

New adventure game players are going to wonder if the room is a puzzle and there's something to be achieved in here before they ought to move on. Experienced adventure game players are going to know there's something to do in here. Drawing, painting, scripting and voicing a room that does nothing and has no indication that anything ought to happen at a later point makes no sense. If there was a sign outside saying 'Jeff of the Wolf Tribe - Out enjoying the Faire', then I'd know that I might have to return here after finding the Dog Biscuits.

Walking, walking, walking. The faire never ends.

I thought the isometric graphics were a bit nasty on the wide-open paths, but the design of some of these screens is atrocious. This combination of roofs and walls obscures the entrances, the passable routes and often the characters themselves. There's no sense of depth and the whole mess is aesthetically displeasing. The backgrounds of an adventure game are what the player will be staring at throughout the game, so you've got to put in the effort; isometric repeating tiles just won't cut it!

Hey, it's a friendly-looking otter with a jaunty stride! Do otters walk on two legs? Do otters walk at all? I just realised I know next to nothing about otters, but this one standing like this seems rather strange.

"Excuse me, friend. Could we ask you some questions?"
"Time is money, my friend. If you want one, it will cost you the other."
Hmm, I've found one of these rascally puzzles then. (At last.) I need to find some money so I can gain the otter's favour and ask him about the theft of the Orb of Storms, but all I have right now is the Puzzle Contest medallion. Perhaps I could sell it? But to whom?

Or I could just watch them we could just lead him around the back of the houses so that Okk can threaten him automatically as part of the conversation and ruin everything. Alright.

We've got the same set of questions here as before when I met the hedgehog woman, except the otter's full of information. Nameless Otter knows a bunch of petty criminals, but nobody with grand designs for the Orb. After all, it's much easier to fence a bundle of jewellery than it is a one-of-a-kind artefact that's known to everybody in the kingdom.

Eeah keeps pitching in during the conversation, sometimes stealing Rif's lines when I select them from the interface as if the trio have merged into a hive mind.

"This thing is big. It's much too big a job for one person. One person might have stolen it, but it would take a whole syndicate to either use it or get rid of it. Whoever made off with it is bound to have some really powerful contacts."
That's some good thinking. Thanks for the insight, otter-chum!

Just below the dud house is ferret merchant. She sells sculptures of skinny dancing fox-folks, which I can't Look At or Pick Up because...? Because furniture and oil lamps in useless houses are more important than unique items referred to in conversation.

"Is there anyone who could vouch for your whereabouts?"
That's a provocative question to ask a stranger (or every stranger), but I suppose you do project a little authority when you're flanked by high-ranking soldiers from two opposing tribes. My goons seem to have wandered off behind the awning to the south-east for the time being though. They automatically try to position themselves behind Rif wherever you put him, in a reassuring 'any quick moves and we'll rip your arms off' formation.

This fancy ferret likes making sculptures, and if she says that if she found the Orb she'd try to discover how it worked! I wonder why it hadn't occurred to any of the other animal-folk to try that. Maybe it is just a formless magic ball? Nobody said it couldn't be actual magic.

"Can you tell me who might have stolen the Orb?"
"Someone very clever. I understand the Orbs are heavily guarded. In order for someone to steal one, he would have to be very clever indeed - or be someone that even the guards would not suspect."
Important information! We're making progress, maybe!

Look at ferret

"I don't trust this ferret."
Rif! Don't say that!

A mysterious feline fortune teller awaits within one of the tents! Don't ask which one, it was probably the one next to the green squares.

She's putting on a little bit of a cat voice, but she's not purring and meowing all over the place.

"Perhaps you could look into your crystal and tell us who did this deed."
And she does!

But it's not very helpful. She sees "Forms... many forms." and senses "Great power". That's not very useful information, but I get the impression she's telling me everything she can rather than being smugly evasive, which has to be against fortune teller union rules.

"What advice can you give me on my quest?"
"I suggest you examine the scene of the crime. You may find other pieces to your puzzle there."
That, on the other hand, is very useful information.

I have to travel to the Sanctuary of the Orb of Storms and find 'The Old One, Elara'. My heart fills with elation as I have received An Objective.

"Then I shall be on my way. Thank you for your help and counsel."
Rif is so damn niiiiiice.

Let's talk to Eeah about this new development...

"This was one of the best faires we've ever had. Well, for most of us, anyway."
Nope, he hasn't changed.

I am sensing hostility.

"Who do you think might have stolen the Orb?"
"I think it was the Rats. No, no. On second thought, I think it was the Bears. However, it could have been the Dogs. My vote, however, is with one of those crafty foxes. A-a-a-a-all the fingers seem to be pointing to them, and to one in particular, and I have seen no evidence to the contrary. Have you?"
The voice actor is putting on the voice of a voice actor putting on a ram voice putting on a Southern accent. It's possible that there's just one male voice actor doing the entire male cast, but if he is he's got some range. He's a professional, without question, and he's very ably reading lines in a very clear 'reading lines' kind of way.

As I try each of the dialogue options, they disappear from the list forever: it's not a game for the short of memory or attention span. Goblins 3 may be wall-to-wall demented, but it has those reminder screens too so you can read about your motivations and intentions. Plus that game has single screen levels where everything you need is right in front of you. Unlike this.

The isometric engine is really testing my nuts now. The characters within the faire are walking about (weren't they supposed to be confined to their homes?), and everybody walks as fast as Rif does so if you see somebody you want to talk to, they've probably already walked away.

And then when you talk to them you get unhelpful goofballs like this irritating bear. I don't like you, irritating bear.

I've found the map screen. Ooooh.

Even the outside world is strangely regular, like it was made in Transport Tycoon.

Where to first? From the top, anticlockwise, we can visit: the cave (the two-by-three pixel black rectangle in the upper left), forest (the dead-end path that leads towards the trees), the village (the one with the muted brown colours that looks like it's either disabled or hasn't been fully constructed yet), the market faire (where we are now), the castle (the spiky stack of pyramids in the bottom left) and the sanctuary (in the upper right with the stone wall surrounding it).

Let's go to the village first.

Alright, they forgot to put the village in. Like I said, it sort of looked ghosted out.

Let's walk to the lower right and enjoy this sea shanty music and eventually maybe the village will appear.

Here's a .gif of me walking to the village, and a fine example of how the background was constructed so regularly that it almost perfectly loops. I've found that, mercifully, I can hold the mouse button down to walk on an isometric scene, which will save me a couple hundred clicks.

I have to say that this place is so much easier on the eye than the faire. Maybe it's just that the grass doesn't look so dead, or so covered in yellow speckles.

Hey, a ferret! And another ferret! I'm spoiled for ferrets. Let's talk to a ferret.

"Okk, please try not to intimidate the ferrets."
"Who, me?"
With everybody wandering about doing their own thing, finding any specific character is kind of difficult. But worse than that, it means that conversations don't have the deliberate, theatrical appearance they do in Monkey Island, where everybody reluctantly shuffles into the correct position before any talking may begin. Instead, Rif and company get as close as they can and I end up with rubbish, cramped screenshots like this.

The only thing I can ask the ferret is about the village. It's apparently the ferret village. Also home to the Tinkers' lodge. (Like the feller says.)

Ah, an empty house. I suspect I know where this is leading.

I'm beginning to believe that Rif might've been deliberately designed as a sort-of inverse adventure game hero. He starts off accused of stealing something that he hadn't, and then travels the world refusing to steal any of the hundreds of obvious items lying around in order to clear his name.

But the fact remains that you still have to search every house and attempt to acquire every item, because that is simply The Way of adventure games. If you miss The Person with The Clue, the entire game comes to a halt, and there will be No More Funny.

This must be the Tinkers' lodge. Let's see... paint, bucket, plank, wheelbarrow, bricks... another house of... absolutely nothing. Let's go.

I can't pick up the paint bucket, but if I try to use it Rif says "I have nothing to paint now." So I should come back here when I have something to paint, later.

All these ferrets say the same thing in the same voice... And here's another copy of the paint house, another copy of the sofa house...

This is getting silly now. Gotta say I don't think I'll be holidaying here any time soon. As pretty as the ferret village is, there's not much in the way of attractions and half of it is still under construction.

Perhaps this is the result of the developers being fans of games like Ultima: big towns and repeated houses are satisfying features to them, and they think it's better to have an intricate, plausible world than useless backgrounds. It doesn't quite work like that in practice for us lesser folks. I'm not a fan of adventure games in general and even as a kid I couldn't stand Monkey Island 'because of all that walking around'.

I must have seen at least six copies of the paint house. But if there are multiple copies of it, it mustn't be the Tinkers' lodge, right? If that's the case the Tinkers' lodge eludes me for the time being.

Come on, lads. It might a while but I'm sure between the three of us we'll be able to find our way back to the world map. It has to be along this edge somewhere.

Heavens. What an ordeal. Let us never go there again.

ALSO. Notice how the ferret village is blatantly not surrounded by a forest on the world map. What's with that, huh?

Next, the sanctuary. As in the Sanctuary of the Orb of Storms. Probably should've gone there first. My investigative curiosity was not appreciated by the game.

"Wow! Look at the size of those knockers!"
Riiiiiiiiiiiif...! Way to lower the tone.

"I'll bet I could jump this gate if I really wanted to."
Or we could even... walk up the small hill to the left?

Let's assume that we won't be welcome inside if we exploit the small but possibly crucial weakness of their fortifications. How are we going to get past this gate? Step one, try the obvious: Use the knockers.

It worked. We're in!

...to another isometric town scene. Oh no.

In this town all of the doors are locked and all of the robed animal-folk are too busy to talk. Is this entire place the sanctuary? Where is Elara? Are any of you folks Elara? Why can't I ask anybody about Elara?

There's something about that gradient that puts me off. It looks a little too much like a computer-generated dither. Grumble-grumble.

Voila! Yes! I like this. This is progress-shaped.

I really like Rif's voice. He sounds like such a nice young man. I'd play a game all about Rif talking to folks and being polite. I feel like he's wasted in this game somehow, despite this being exactly the right tone and genre of game he ought to be in.

"There are rumours that the Orb was stolen by a fox. How do I know that you are not the thief himself?"
"There is no evidence of my guilt... only the prejudice of small minds."
Ooof.

Elara won't let us proceed without a token of authority from the Forest King himself. She shoo's us out of the room and then the cutscene ends.

Hmm... well we haven't been kicked out of the room exactly, so maybe there's still something in here to snoop at. I can smell the incense bowls, inspect the pedestal and ask my friends about Elara, but there's nothing else that needs doing in here.

Now if you were a Forest King, where would you be? Because you're a Forest King, you might be in the Forest. But since you're a Forest King, you'd live in the Castle and simply rule over the forest, right? This would be easier if there was a castle in the forest, but I can't see one, so let's stick with the castle we have, for now.

"This strikes me as being most unwise."
Ah.

This is the castle of the Boar King, not the Forest King. I'm a dumb cat.

Hold on, something really weird is happening: Eeah and Okk are talking to one another.

I just assumed they were just going to float around throughout the whole game, watching over me and not doing much of anything, just like they've done for the past few hours. Perhaps very, very occasionally speaking for Rif as if they were my good and evil consciences (or at least my snooty and bolshie consciences).

"You are an honored Boar warrior, specially chosen for this mission by the Captain of the Boar Guard. I should think you'd be expecting a hero's welcome."
"Bah! This assignment is not an honor. It is... a punishment. I was on guard duty. A great celebration was going on inside, and a fellow guard managed to slip me a tankard of ale. Then another, and another. The next thing I remember, the Captain of the Guard was throwing a bucket of water in my face. It happened over a year ago. Since then, whenever a disagreeable task comes along, it's given to me."
"Then we will see to it that the success of this quest restores your honor."
Damn it, Rif. So far today, you've been accused of theft, arrested, threatened with execution, had your girlfriend kidnapped and threatened with being skinned alive, charged with an impossible quest while being watched over by two warriors with orders to kill you at the first sign of insubordination... and you managed to find the one nice thing to say to your would-be killer and say it with honesty.

"Walking into the enemy camp and risking capture ourselves is the last thing we need."
I know how to take a hint. And Eeah is nice so let's do as he suggests.

"Ah! Home at last! Every time I stand at this hallowed gate, I am in awe of what lies within. Trees, flowers, streams, fish, an abundance of food - what more could anyone ask?"
"Mud, of course!"
We've arrived at the forest. Let's explore. This screen doesn't scroll, surprisingly.

There's a conspicuous rocky outcropping in the distance on the right, so I'll walk over to the background and check it out.

"Nothing special about it."

They bothered to program in some sprite scaling perspective on this scene just for that?

-

If you leave and re-enter the screen again, you get this dialogue instead...

"I don't see how this is going to do any good. The King was pretty insistent about our finding the Orb."
"But I must see him. If we don't find the Orb before the New Moon, I'm dead and so is Rhene. I must appeal to his mercy."
"So! You go to the Forest King and grovel for your life!"
"Precisely. I had considered crawling. Then I thought, no, perhaps begging would be more appropriate. However, more and more, I find that grovelling is my abasement of choice. Shall we go?"
...which is funny, spontaneous, well-delivered, welcome but damningly missable and difficult to trigger. There's Inherit The Earth's dialogue in microcosm for you.

To the left of the forest entrance, we travel...

... directly into an audience with the Forest King.

Hi, King.

Now how am I going to convince him to give me a token of his authority? By asking him directly, of course! That was pretty straightforward. I receive a golden apple, and my work here is done.

The Elk King sounds more tired than anything. I can plead for mercy, but the Elks are more concerned about avoiding a war with the Boar over the missing Orb than they are with the lives of Rif or his foxy girlfriend. We're expendable, because politics is hard.

"The whole court is very impressive... certainly better dressed than the Fox Tribe."
"How can you stand to live among so much green? Ecch, what a color."
I wonder how they keep their robes so colourful and clean if they don't have houses. Or do they have houses? We were shown a huge damn isometric maze with dozens of red herring houses for the ferrets, and for the Sanctuary grounds, so I can only assume that if the Elks had the same we'd be allowed to wander around it. Right? Surely the Elk settlement consists of more than these two screens? Can't we visit Eeah's folks? Or the barracks? How does the Elk civilisation work? I want to know!

Back to the Sancutary!

Elara accepts the apple as proof of our cause and tells me a short story about how the King was once a noble warrior. That's... basically the whole story. She tells me she shall open the gates and walks off-screen to the left.

But there aren't any gates in here... so...

Where'd she go? I assumed that the secret Sanctuary gates she was protecting would be near the Orb pedestal. Was I supposed to follow her? She's not standing outside the temple either.

Maybe there's some gates in the... isometric Sanctuary town. Ugh.

I've found a large farm! I think? Just flowers, perhaps? Herbs? Whatever it is, it's conspicuously well-tended and dozens of screens tall and a few screens wide.

Bonus points if you can spot the bucket. There's a half-dozen of these enclosures, by the way.

And that handy bucket will let me scoop up some of this interactable (but not Pick Up-able) fertilizer!

"I don't think putting that in the bucket will be of any use."
Bluh.

I've found a water fountain. Not to be mixed up with the completely different round, grey, filled-with-water, fountain-like bird bath on the screen northeast of this one. There's a little wooden bird box beside it.

I've seen birds in the background of some other scenes. Not bird-people, just birds. That's somewhat strange to think about.

The houses are still all locked, so I can't search these now.

Hold the phone! I've found... a small cup. Right there, bottom right. This is surely the vital clue that will crack this case wide open! Surely! Surely?

"Be careful, Rif. Overlook nothing!"
"We're on the right track! I can feel it."
Alright, let's get back in the garden and have another look.

"WAIT!"
If you head riiiight back to the corner of the garden, and demonstrate the serenity and patience of a graceful goose, you might be able to move Eeah and Okk out of the way long enough to find the small clump of slightly darker pixels that leads to this footprint! Or a handprint!

Eeah, experienced Forest Guy, has absolutely no idea what kind of animal or animal-person would leave a footprint like this. The crew settles on finding somebody who might be experienced in tracking and bringing them to the footprint. After all, they can't move it, can they.....?

Beside the footprint was a bunch of sourberries, a type that Rif has never seen before, and I can't show them to Eeah or Okk because the game simply isn't set up for asking the characters that follow the player around about inventory items. They mustn't have thought of that. Somehow?!?

I'm running out of places to go, and trying to show the berries to the King was a total waste of time.

Let's see how well the party fares in the Boar Castle.

We don't fare at all! These Boar guards show no respect for Orb Squad and refuse to let us in. How are we going to get past?

● Try to trick them.
● Try to bribe them.
● "Come on, Okk, we've got better things to do."
I suppose the second place medallion could be a good bribe. I don't know if they'll appreciate it fully, but it is solid silver. Might as well try it.

"Well! I see our presence here is not appreciated. We shall have to take our truffle news elsewhere."
"Wait! Truffle news?"
You've got 'em, Rif! Reel 'em in!

"That's right. In our journey, a field rich with truffles was discovered by the eagle nose of our friend Okk."
"Eagle nose?"
"Whatever!"
Hehehe.

"We thought that we would share this news with the Boar King. After all, there are more than enough truffles in this field to provide everyone in the castle with a sumptuous repast. But, with the reception we've received, I don't think I care to share that information."
"Oh you must forgive me I've had a very bad day. I'm sure the King will want to hear of this immediately."
Well done, Rif! You did it!

I didn't, though. I had absolutely no idea he was going to say any of that stuff. There were no dialogue choices given to me beyond the first.

Let me know if you ever need my help, Rif. You seem to have this dialogue thing all worked out already.

Uh oh.

A labyrinth section. Except there's no labyrinth here, it's just a bunch of linear corridors that I have to walk through one by one. This means that there's definitely going to be labyrinth sections in other castles later on. I'll suspend my judgement, but if there's more of this flick-screen maze traversal, they'd better have an incredibly compelling gimmick to go along with it.

Okk and Eeah are waiting outside as Okk doesn't think it would be safe for an Elk to enter the castle.

It's the Boar King! And he's got Rhene!

But to even be allowed to speak to the Boar King, Rif has to swallow his pride and join him in the mud.

""Rhene! Rhene! I'll be back!" Hahahaha! I will see that she is kept safe until either you fail, or you do not return. Then, I give you my word that she will suffer mightily. Now go! You have ceased to amuse me. Leave while you still have your life."
"... but I will return to claim both my friend and my honor."
There's no dialogue choices here, just plenty of threats. I don't know if he'll be able to defeat the Boar King with pleasantness alone, but Rif is certainly giving it his best shot. I definitely think the Boar King is up to something.

Something.

I've gone back to the ferrets' village.

I've figured out the solution to the footprint puzzle, I think. I'm not a complete dunce, only a mostly dunce. I have to take a cast of the footprint somehow, using my bucket filled with water and... something else. Plaster, or cement, or something like that. And where would I find something like that? The village of animal-folk who like to build stuff!

And after hunting through each identical house one by one, I've finally found a unique room in the ferret village. This must be the Tinkers' lodge. Except there's no plaster, or cement, or something like that in here. Only some saws ("It's fastened to the wall.") and the emblem of the builder's guild ("It's better where it is.").

For want of anything better to do, I've gone to the cave.

Hey, there's a rat recordkeeper here! And for some reason, Rif seems very curious about rat society, humans, the history of Morph civilisation (apparently the animal-folk are called Morphs!) and a bunch of other stuff. The Rat King lies beyond this passageway, but we can't see him without an appointment.

Let's confuse him, Rif! Use your foxy fox powers!

"We'd like to make an appointment. My name is Rif of the Fox Tribe. This is 'Hooryu' of the Boar tribe and 'Yassir Iam' of the Elk tribe."
You can see where this is going, can't you?

I'm surprised Okk and Eeah caught on immediately and were willing to help me sneak inside. I suppose anything goes when you're on a mission from the King.

You know, Rif is lovely. And Eeah is too. Even Okk is nice. We're three completely perfectly polite and nice guys. We don't bicker. We don't argue. There's barely any difference of opinion in the unlikely event my escorts choose to speak.

The concept of character pairs with conflicting personalities is one of the most fundamental writing tools there is (or so I'm told): he's by-the-book, he's reckless; she's naive and gentle but insightful, she's experienced and headstrong but wrong. Could it be that the writers deliberately made Eeah and Okk easygoing to begin with so that their relationship will become more strained over the course of the game instead of grow? Or perhaps, in Inherit The Earth's post-human world, it turns out that sometimes people can just get along without taunting and provoking one another - it's just Kings that are dicks.

Let's grab one of those cloaks and see where it leads.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooo...

An isometric maze. A literal maze for literal rats to literally get stuck in and that's it I'm done.

I'm going to take a few seconds and flick through the hint book that comes free as a .pdf with the Steam version. (I believe it could be mail-ordered separately for the MS-DOS version, or it could be new for the Wyrmkeep re-release.)

Maps! Wonderful, magnificent maps! And apparently there's a glassmaker in the ferret village too? Didn't find that.

This sketch in the manual doesn't quite convey just how vast the ferret village is. Allow me to apply some mecha-neko Multi-Map Manipulation Magic™, and I will convert twenty minutes of video footage into a single composite map of the entire village as it's displayed in-game.

Voila!

You can click the image to view it at the original size: the area I've been able to capture is 3264 x 1608 pixels. That's ten full game windows both across and down.

Please ignore the odd smears of Boar, Elk and Ferret across the map. They got caught in the edges of the screen as I wandered about.

With this feat of engineering at my disposal, I can now identify which shop in the ferret village is the Hardware Store, where Rif and sons would have been able to buy some plaster. Let's see... it would be about...

...here.

To get the plaster, you need to head into the courtyard of the ferret village and find the half-obscured closed door beyond the impassable-looking unbroken fence. There are seventeen doors in the ferret village, all of them are unlocked and all of them are unmarked but only three of them lead somewhere.

No.


CONCLUSION

Inherit The Earth is spectacular in its sophistication and presentation. Everything is exactly in the right place. The interface is nice, the graphics are pleasant, the voice acting and direction is exemplary. The new 'SAGA' engine developed for the game functions perfectly in terms of sound effects, dialogue, music and events. There's no hint that any part of this game is anything but top-notch top-notchery.

It's just not very good.

The rewards in an adventure game are meeting new characters, discovering their motivations, outsmarting or working with them, exploring beautiful or haunting scenes, and seeing the results of your efforts having an effect on the characters or places within the world. Inherit The Earth makes all of these things incredibly difficult.

They figured out how to make big towns and the result was big towns. I don't know why they decided to make big towns because that's not something anybody looks forward to in an adventure game.

Most of Teenagent was spent trying to figure out how to use the vast collection of random junk sprinkled around the world and jam it into the game's drunken bonkers logic. In Inherit The Earth I have the opposite problem: the world and the dialogue are all very reasonable, I just can't find anything or anyone that's of any use!

After writing all of this stuff, I went back and found a cool astronomer dog that used human technology to study the stars and had a whole bunch of interesting things to say. To get to him I had to click a very small cluster of slightly brighter pixels on the world map. Did you notice there was a house on top of the mountain?

I understand the game isn't a comedy game like Spy Fox, so I don't expect it to hit me with endless puns and jokes and visual humour. Actually, I have no idea whether Inherit The Earth is a comedy or not because I can't find enough dialogue to make a judgement. Okk and Eeah hardly do or say anything! The characters and the voice acting are one of the game's strengths, and they're wasted. I'd rather listen to the trio talking to one another about stuff than play the game.

Inherit The Earth hasn't shown me a single memorable moment that would make the game worthy of a second play. It's failed to kindle my curiosity about its world into a true fascination. I can't recommend the game unless you have lots of time and a desire to hear a delightfully polite fox-man tell you about all the things he can't use or pick up.

What the game needed is for somebody to record themselves playing through it from start to finish so they could mark out the (HUGE) chunks of it that would need to be re-thought (or preferably removed) to make it a nicer, more immediately satisfying experience. I imagine they intended to do this (the credits have a whole list of staff dedicated to 'Reality Check'), but for reasons that you can read about in the links I'll leave in the comments, that didn't happen.

After playing through the first couple of hours or so of Inherit The Earth, I realised I'd had a lot more fun reading about the game than playing it.

Sorry, Rif.


INTERESTING STUFF

When I first caught wind of the Inherit The Earth, I thought it was a German-made Amiga exclusive (which a fair assumption for anything Amiga-related that seems remarkably good). I kept forgetting it was an American MS-DOS game.

The Dreamers Guild was a software company formed by a group of friends in 1991. Their aim was to pool their talents, raise a steady cash flow as a developer of high-quality ports of other software houses' games, and produce their own original works without publisher interference. Sadly, because life doesn't allow anybody to have nice things, the exact opposite happened almost immediately. Inherit The Earth was one of their first original titles, but the game didn't quite turn out right for various reasons, and it didn't sell all that well.

The Dreamers Guild lived on, and a new version of the SAGA engine was used in Cyberdreams' I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, another adventure game reviewed by Ray a while back.

If you start up the Steam version of Inherit The Earth, you'll see this screen instead!

In 2002, Dreamers Guild co-founder Joe Pearce formed The Wyrmkeep Entertainment Co, a new company that makes tabletop RPG gamebooks, as well as acting as a holding company for DG assets he was able to regain the rights to, which as of 2002 included Inherit The Earth (re-released July 14 2003)!

So if you buy Inherit The Earth from Steam or through the Wyrmkeep site, The Original Developers are actually going to Get The Money! (Except residuals and royalties in that context are more of a TV show syndication thing rather than software sales. And Wyrmkeep isn't just the entire staff of DG reunited. And Joe worked mostly on Legend of Kyrandia at the time DG was working on Inherit The Earth. So whether you'd consider this to be The Original Developers Getting The Money is debatable, but it's the closest you're going to get for a re-release of a 1994 MS-DOS adventure game.)

The Steam version I played doesn't change the graphics or gameplay from the DOS version, except that it's a little nicer in motion and that the musical score has been pre-recorded with a decent synthesizer rather than being left to the player's MIDI / Adlib hardware. As a result, it sounds nice and full and bassy instead of sounding like a Mega Drive game with speech.

In 2005, as an extra unexpected treat, fans eager to follow the further of adventures of Rif of the Fox Tribe and learn more about the world of the Morph were invited to...

...read about them in the official Inherit The Earth web comic!

It's been active at www.inherittheearth.net since 2005 with weekly updates, and the website hasn't changed one single pixel in all that time. There's tons and tons of awesome concept art for the game on the Sketches page, both for characters and locations! Because the in-game sprites are so teeny tiny and expressionless, and there's no Monkey Island 'big head' scenes, this is the only way to really appreciate how awesome the artists behind Inherit The Earth are.

It's really nice to see that there are folks who are still interested in the world of Inherit The Earth, and are proud of their work and still want to produce work based on it.

In January 2013, Wyrmkeep launched a Kickstarter for Inherit The Earth 2! But it didn't go so well.

But in July 2014, Wyrmkeep tried again with a second Kickstarter, this time for Inherit The Earth: Sand and Shadows! But it didn't go so well.

BUT!! In March 2015, Wyrmkeep started a Patreon for their Inherit The Earth-based projects such as the webcomic and ITE2 and that, remarkably, is still going. Go Wyrmkeep!


PORTS AND STUFF

Right before I finished this post, I found out that there was a PC-98 version! - That's a Japanese computer range from the early Nineties that runs MS-DOS and supports high-resolution but highly-static graphics, so it's useful for productivity work, and visual novels. The Japanese release of Inherit The Earth is the same as what you've seen here, except it has a Japanese interface and subtitles.

However, I invite you to click on the following image and enjoy the Japanese box art at its full size for yourself.

'I see you admire my noble bearing!' - Eeah
American cover image, left. Japanese cover image, right.
Images from Museum of Computer Adventure Game History

The German release that I mentioned in the intro was handled by another company, Softgold (Mobygames link), who also handled the translations of many Lucasarts titles! In addition to recording a full German language voice track for their MS-DOS release, Softgold also handled a port of the game from MS-DOS to the Amiga CD32! It came in a big lovely box and everything (YouTube link). Recording entirely new dialogue must've been a heck of an investment back in 1994. It's a good indicator of how popular the Amiga was relative to DOS PCs back then - if your family had a computer for games and minor word processing, it was most likely a relatively inexpensive Amiga, not a phenomenally expensive PC.

As far as I can ascertain, the English version of Inherit The Earth for the Amiga, if there ever was one, was never released in any form. It became the adventure game analogue to Putty Squad: something that surely must exist, but was never released and never found.

In 2011, Issue 92 of Amiga Future magazine (a German/English Amiga Magazine that was started in 1998 and is still published and printed monthly to this day!) put an English beta version of Inherit The Earth on their coverdisc (external link to the magazine page). From where it came, no-one can say. Whether it was hammered into shape by combining parts of the German Amiga version and the English MS-DOS version together, or it was a forgotten English test copy that just needed a bit more fussing before it could run, no-one dares speculate.

In 2015, the disc image from that issue rematerialised and canny people buffed it into shape as a full CD32 game as it would have been released at the time. The missing English Inherit The Earth for the Amiga had been reborn!

I wouldn't recommend you download it though, for three reasons. First, That Would Be Bad™; and second, it takes a heck of a lot of effort and trial and error to get it running, and third, when you do the game doesn't run very nicely at all.

Let's have a snoop at some images of the demo version of the Amiga Inherit The Earth!

Left: Amiga CD32 / Amiga 1200 (AGA chipset)
Right: Amiga 500+ / Amiga 600 (ECS chipset)

The port of the game's SAGA engine is highly commendable, complete with full speech support and save games (it takes up the entire internal save RAM for a single CD32 save). The CD32 graphics are identical to those for MS-DOS, with the exception of losing a vertical band of pixels either side of the view while on isometric scenes.

I suspect that the code that handles graphics was somewhat lazily copied across as directly as possible rather than rewriting it for the Amiga to take advantage of the ability to scroll the screen. As a result, the isometric scenes on the AGA version are just about bearable, but on A500+ they're sadly not. The entire game is there, intact and redrawn in fewer colours for the older computer, but you have to suffer 1 or 2 frames per second as you walk through the towns.

Again: it's respectable, but it doesn't work. That's Inherit The Earth.


Thanks for somehow finding yourself on this page and for presumably reading all or some of those words above. The best part of writing those game posts I used to write was getting comments, so if you could leave mecha-neko some replies I expect he'd appreciate it.

16 comments:

  1. I KNEW I SHOULD STAY SUBSCRIBED!! I love reading things in this blog, and this is no exception. I know you didn't like the game, but it looks endearing and gameplays look pretty. I guess I'm going to undust my windows machine and give it a try it.

    Thank you for this!

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    Replies
    1. You're very welcome, Diego!

      It does look really nice, doesn't it? �� You just have to be a very patient fan of adventure games and not be put off by all the walking.

      After I submitted this post, I looked through old magazines and read the reviews of ITE from 1994 in Dragon magazine (for roleplaying enthusiasts), Computer Gaming World, and PC Gamer to see if reviewers of the era were spellbound by the game. Sadly, they weren't. It got a lot of 2/5 stars and 40-60% reviews.

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  2. If you'd like to read about Inherit the Earth, here's all the links I could find relating to its development. I greatly respect the candidness of all the persons involved in these interviews. They are Good Stuff.

    Text interview with Talin (Director) about Inherit the Earth in roughly 2000
    http://www.furryvideogames.org/

    Voice interview with Talin in 2015 about Inherit the Earth about its history
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb7Yj2-ZM-k

    Voice interview with Walt Hochbrueckner (Producer) 2015
    https://www.patreon.com/posts/inherit-earth-3-2738616

    Talin's article about the history of Inherit the Earth on his personal Medium blog
    https://medium.com/@dreamertalin/inherit-the-earth-quest-for-the-orb-2cd0fa4cfc02

    Talin's article about Faery Tale Adventure 2, including about The Dreamers Guild
    https://medium.com/@dreamertalin/the-history-of-faery-tale-adventure-2-c3a17ac02378

    Talin's article about 'Why Being a Computer Game Developer Sucks'... in 1999
    https://slashdot.org/story/99/08/20/143215/feature-why-being-a-computer-game-developer-sucks

    Amiga Lore interview with Talin
    http://www.abime.net/interviews/view/interview/id/71

    Lisa Sample née Jennings (Artist) interview with Furry Video Games in 1999
    https://web.archive.org/web/20010228042347/http://www.furryvideogames.org/int_lj.html

    Interview with Joe Pearce
    https://adventuregamers.com/articles/view/17628

    Interview with Joe Pearce 2
    http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/interviews/463/

    ReplyDelete
  3. P.P.S. I believe the red text on the Japanese cover says

    キツネの"リフ"と仲間の "オック","イーア" たちの運命を決める冒険の旅へ...
    [インへリトヅアース]はあなたを美しい地球の世界へと誘います!

    An adventurous tale decides the fate of Rif of the Foxes, and his companions Okk and Eeah. 'INHERIT THE EARTH' invites you to their beautiful world: Earth!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I found this an unexpectedly compelling read. Maybe it's the charming setting/concept of the game, the 'idea' being appealing, even if the execution is not.

    I did think you might play further though, as I was reading this page, it almost felt like you were getting into it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for reading. And I'd love to play more! But I looked at the walkthrough and the next few puzzles are:

    - 'walk through the length of the Rat labyrinth to find Sist'
    - 'talk to Sist'
    - 'leave Rat labyrinth'
    - 'pick up an item'
    - 'walk through the length of the Rat labyrinth to find Sist'
    - 'talk to Sist'
    - 'leave Rat labyrinth'
    - 'pick up an item'
    - 'walk through the length of the Rat labyrinth to find Sist'
    - 'talk to Sist'
    - 'leave Rat labyrinth'
    - 'pick up an item'

    There's only so much of that a man can take. This longplay includes 99% of the incidental dialogue you get by inspecting every item and talking to Okk and Eeah in every scene. (And there isn't much.) So I might as well just watch that instead. :(

    ReplyDelete
  6. It sort of reminds me of The Last Ninja, except with fewer ninjas. And more foxes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had a bit of 'BINGO!' moment when I remembered the Last Ninja games, yeah. Though when I checked the isometric was a little shallower in LN. I have a big boxed LN2 for the C64, but I've never gotten anywhere in it. I'm satisfied with my conclusion that it is seriously not worth the time to load it from tape.

      Delete
  7. Thanks for posting this; I've been gently curious about this one for ages. Definitely not the kind of thing I'd have patience for these days, but I really enjoyed all the work you put into this one. It looks like an endearing little game with some unfortunately thorny flaws. It's heartening to see that the people involved didn't just drop off the face of the earth, though; it clearly meant a lot to these folks if they're still trucking along in some incorporated capacity. Best of luck to 'em.

    Incidentally, I've been quietly enjoying your articles for several years, and I just wanna thank you fine folks for all the above-and-beyond you've done in your many, many, many articles here. Nobody would've thought twice about it if you'd gone without the animations, the cross-platform comparisons, or the niche historical tidbits, but you always poured on the love, and it absolutely shows.

    I have a deep, abiding love for obscure and curious games, so thanks for wading into the deep weird dark for as long as you did. Even when the games were terrible, you didn't heap on the bile; I've enjoyed your happy little island on the endless sea of causticity that so many internet people sink into.

    Anyway, adios! Hope you enjoy what you're doing now, and thanks for the ~1,000 articles!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading some of them! I can't take the credit for this post, because mecha-neko wrote it, but I wrote 1018 of those ~1,000 articles so I'm shamelessly jumping in to accept some of the praise you've sent his way. Plus I was always worried I was being overly negative and whiny so it's good to hear that I apparently wasn't.

      Delete
    2. Thank -you- for reading, Anonymous!

      I really appreciate the comment. One of the reasons I started writing less was that I was concerned that I couldn't quite make the material work for some games the way I would like. Some games are incredibly resistant to being written about due to them being slow, boring or stingy with interesting graphical scenes, and for some genres I just can't figure out a way at all to make them interesting. Being funny is hard! Nobody wants to read a couple of pages of 'ugh I'm bored' or 'ugh I'm stuck' or 'ugh this level is like the previous one'. Games that have mysteries and surprises all the way through in both their setting and game mechanics are perfect for me, but not every game can be as awe-inspiring as Immercenary unfortunately.

      I really like writing about the background of games, so Inherit the Earth was a real gem in that respect. It helps that the kind of games that I personally obsess over are the ones from the age where teams were small enough that the folks felt a connection to the project. For example, I'd really like to know more about the making of that Animorphs game.

      And I'm surprised you said I didn't heap on the bile - I thought I was rather rude about some of them! (Again, Animorphs.) At the very least I hope I made it clear why I didn't like the experiences I had - though, looking back I always find my feelings mellowing as I'm able to contemplate the game design at my leisure without the dark cloud of frustration hanging over my head, instead of my indulging gut reaction to come up with smart-ass excuses why a game is bad (usually just because I'm bad at it).

      Maybe we'll see each other around. The site isn't going anywhere...

      Delete
  8. On vacation with my wife (got married last month!) and decided to check out the site to re-read some old articles and lo and behold! That made my day, thanks Neko! (And hi, Ray!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi!

      Also congrats on your wedding.

      Delete
    2. Thanks so much! I’ll pass that along to Heather.

      Delete
    3. Congratulations, John!

      And you're welcome!

      Delete

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