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Discworld – PlayStation

Discworld – PlayStation

Discworld_CoverPlatform: Sony PlayStation

Developer(s): Teeny Weeny Games, Perfect 10 Productions

Publisher: Psygnosis

Release Date (NA): 1995

Genre: Point-and-ClickAdventure

Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Guided Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Since its beginnings in 1983, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has enchanted thousands of people across the world with its witty and wonderful fantasy world set on the backs of four giant elephants, which are themselves perched on the back of a massive space turtle. Over forty novels, this world has grown into a beloved literary universe full of colorful characters, marvelous locations, and the adventures that connect all of them together. Over his lifetime, he also had a hand in a sprawling multitude of Discworld-related media, from animated and live action films to video games. Among these is the simply-named Discworld, a multi-platform point-and-click adventure game that, along with an animated miniseries of Soul Music, cemented my place as a lifelong fan of the great man and his enduring legacy of stories. Now that Terry Pratchett has passed on, I will honor his memory by reviewing this game, which I hope will inspire people to read his novels as this game inspired me. Follow me as we explore this fascinating realm on the edge of reality, and try not to let the Luggage bite you!

Please note that as pictures of the PS1 version are difficult to find, I'm using pictures from the DOS version. They look graphically the same, except the PlayStation version was large enough to support the voiceacting.

Please note that as pictures of the PS1 version are difficult to find, I’m using pictures from the DOS version. They look graphically the same, except the PlayStation version was large enough to support the voiceacting.

Discworld (the game, also known as Discworld: The Trouble With Dragons) was developed in 1995 for many platforms, including DOS, the Sega Saturn, and the Sony PlayStation. I first heard about this game when it was coming out, mostly because my family somehow got hold of a VHS tape advertising the latest titles published by Psygnosis (Destruction Derby and Lemmings 3-D were their other attract mode titles on that tape, if I remember right). About ten years later, when we traded in our Sega Genesis and all of its games for a PlayStation and a few starter titles, this game came back out of my childhood memories and rose up out of the game store’s selection as a must-play, simply because it stood out so much on that old videotape. I mean, my choice was between wrecking cars into each other in a big arena, leading little blue dudes to their deaths in labyrinthine mazes, and watching a spindly wizard wander around an odd landscape talking to people. Needless to say, the choice I made was telling indeed, as it was one of the first games to successfully initiate me to the point-and-click genre.

Ankh-Morpork's Unseen University, home to many successful wizards, one failed wizard, and a piece of homicidal furniture. Long story.

Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University, home to many successful wizards, one failed wizard, and a piece of homicidal furniture. Long story.

The story begins immediately upon starting the game, where a shadowy group of hoods are using a magical tome to summon a dragon into the Discworld. The very next morning, you find a failed wiz(z)ard taking a momentary rest from fleeing indescribable dangers in his room at Unseen University, the chief school of wizardry in Ankh-Morpork, the Disc’s great melting pot. How does the dragon summoning affect him? Simple: He’s Rincewind, the least likely hero that the world has to offer, and yet the only one in the right position to do something about this dragon business. He’s joined in his adventures by the Luggage, a magical creation that acts as walking inventory system, loyal companion, and occasional homicidal maniac, should the situation call for it. With this trusty element of chaos at his heels, Rincewind is sent to collect materials for the more senior wizards to build a dragon detector from, but in so doing, he learns that there’s more to this dragon summoning than simply slaying the dragon! He’ll need to gather everything that he can pick up and use every trick up his sequined wizard’s sleeves to get out of this one!

Don't worry, Rincewind. I used to have a hard time finding my way around the halls of my college too. Of course, my college wasn't magical and the books didn't bite me more than once.

Don’t worry, Rincewind. I used to have a hard time finding my way around the halls of my college too. Of course, my college wasn’t magical and the books didn’t bite me more than once.

Where Discworld succeeds is in its writing, though this is no surprise, given that Terry Pratchett himself had a major part in the design of this game. The story itself is an adaptation of Guards! Guards! and features characters and references to titles across Pratchett’s series bibliography of the time, as well as brand new characters (and slightly-altered characterizations) made specifically for the adaptation. The dialogue itself is the crown jewel of this game, any experience for a character to speak presenting Pratchett’s mastery for all to see, especially when combined with voiceacting, which was left out of some versions but thankfully present on the PlayStation iteration. Eric Idle of Monty Python fame does the voice of Rincewind, and he brings his natural comic timing and experience to the role, to the point where I can’t think of anyone else saying his lines. If you play this game, make sure you find a version with the voiceacting, as it really loses a lot of heart without it. Accompanying all of this is a quite lovely soundtrack, with a mood to suit every specific locale, from harpsichord accents in the Unseen University’s kitchen as you grill a cook about his pancake-flipping skills, to the oppressive strings of the Patrician’s Palace as you stand before the tyrannical ruler of Ankh-Morpork. Together, these elements represent the big draws that will keep you playing and wanting to see more.

Mostly, the only thing that wizards are good for these days is eating big dinners. They're also full of amusingly useless information, just like real members of a university's faculty!

Mostly, the only thing that wizards are good for these days is eating big dinners. They’re also full of amusingly useless information, just like real members of a university’s faculty!

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the gameplay yet, and that’s for two reasons. The first is that, when it comes to the point-and-click genre, there really isn’t much to say even when it’s done well. You use your cursor to move your character around the screen, examine elements on the screen (such as objects, background pieces, or other people), and interact with said elements. Discworld suffers a bit here, however. The cursor is too small and unobtrusive to really be noticeable sometimes, and when you’re hovering over a clickable item, it barely changes to reflect that. You’ll want to turn on the subtitles if you want to get the most out of this game and really notice all that there is to see. And sometimes, the places you can go and the items you can interact with aren’t obvious at all. You can pixel hunt the entire screen with your cursor and still miss a vitally-important detail because you don’t know what you’re supposed to be looking for, which is a real pain in a game like this. This difficulty in finding things would be bad enough, of course, but there’s more to it than that.

This guy will pop up on the screen whenever there's a distinctly Discworld plot element that you need to keep in mind. What, you thought that was just fun background information? Think again, because this game treats every detail like an AP exam would.

This guy will pop up on the screen whenever there’s a distinctly Discworld plot element that you need to keep in mind. What, you thought that was just fun background information? Think again, because this game treats every detail like an AP exam would.

Discworld also had a much bigger problem, that being extremely vague solutions. Many games of this caliber require you to grab anything you can see standing out in the background in the hopes of being able to use it later, and often they won’t tell you how you’re supposed to use them, leading to you using every item with everything in a trial-and-error effort to find out what you’re supposed to be doing. And unfortunately, this is One Of Those Games. It’s especially trying, seeing as how this game is supposed to get people into the Discworld franchise, and yet the difficulty of finding out what to do can be outright intimidating to outsiders looking in. Even die-hard fans may find themselves scratching their heads at some of the puzzles. The difficulty of Discworld is very challenging and almost unforgiving, and if it was intentional in the way that a Sierra game usually is, perhaps we would be a little more mentally-prepared for this sort of thing. But between difficult-to-find elements, frustratingly vague logic, and an almost required knowledge of certain Discworld plot strings, it just makes you feel more confused when that last-ditch hairbrained scheme you tried somehow worked, rather than clever when you put two and two together like the game is trying to get you to do.

I could tell you what you have to do here, but...well, you wouldn't like it. Let's just say that actually using the outhouse would be a mercy next to your actual aims here.

I could tell you what you have to do here, but…well, you wouldn’t like it. Let’s just say that actually using the outhouse would be a mercy next to your actual aims here.

One of the most annoying examples of this in my estimation has to be the Million-to-One Chance puzzle at the beginning of Discworld‘s third act, where you have to go around the city and ask certain people what makes a hero, but the game expects you to know who to ask. Even if you do that correctly, you still have to go to Nobby at the City Gate and find out the right combination of elements that raise the odds to exactly a million to one, which in the Discworld is practically a guaranteed chance, due to the way luck works. And even if all of that goes swimmingly, you still have to write it all down so that it isn’t lost, because Nobby won’t tell you twice if you’ve forgotten! So you have a combination of difficult-to-find elements (not knowing who you need to talk to), vague solutions (guessing what heroic elements will give you the coveted million-to-one chance), and almost required Discworld knowledge (even knowing that you’re going for the million-to-one chance in the first place)…all along with expecting you to take notes about it the first time! This game definitely fits the trope of Guide Dang It, as having one is almost necessary so that you can spend less time pulling your hair out trying to wrap your mind around the game’s logic and more time appreciating the comedy that you played it to experience.

Here's a tip: When you find the Broken Drum, you'll want to drink a glass of counterwise wine. You'll find out why later. And that's just the easy puzzle here, by the way...

Here’s a tip: When you find the Broken Drum, you’ll want to drink a glass of counterwise wine. You’ll find out why later. And that’s just the easy puzzle here, by the way…

That said, once you do have a guide of sorts, you realize what the Discworld‘s real problem is: It isn’t written like a video game, it’s written like a book in video game format, without any sort of hint system to help you follow along the intended track. You’re on a storyline railroad without knowing that you’re on rails in the first place and with no idea of what happens when you ride off the rails, or even that you’ve went off the rails when you do wander away from the approved storyline. I don’t exactly blame Terry Pratchett for this, he was focused on making an enjoyable story, and it was the developers’ responsibility to figure out a way to make the story play just as well as a game. They put in a save feature, which I am extremely thankful for, as even when you’re trying to speed through it, Discworld will take the better part of a day to complete from start to finish, and that’s skipping out on all of the fun conversations and item descriptions. And they even added a cute idling bit where Rincewind will come up to the TV screen with an irritated look on his face and start asking if you’re there. I just wish they put in a little more to help players enjoy the game rather than grind their teeth at it, because as it is, beating the game is doable. You just have to try everything on everything else three times or you’re going to be frothing at the mouth, and that sort of thing doesn’t pass as fun even in a dim light, so if you really want to enjoy yourself, find a guide on the Internet (which is thankfully easier to do now than the year it was released) and save yourself the headache.

Death comes to personally claim wizards from the Discworld, even failed ones. So if you see this guy lingering around, you should start being very careful of what you do next...

Death comes to personally claim wizards from the Discworld, even failed ones. So if you see this guy lingering around, you should start being very careful of what you do next…

As much of this as I’ve said, I won’t say that Discworld for the PS1 is terrible, or even remotely bad. For what it’s worth, it’s a very fun story and quite imaginative, filled with loads of beloved Discworld characters doing what they do best, and the setting is just delightful when you take the moment to appreciate it. If you have a guide, I rate this game a full point higher and happily recommend giving this game a playthrough just to experience it for yourself. If you don’t, I cautiously propose it as a good game with the condition that you probably should be ready to look things up as soon as you feel stuck. Without the stress of running into brick wall puzzles, you’ll be able to enjoy Terry Pratchett’s work a lot more, and that’s why you should really be playing this. This is a great story packaged in a not-quite-as-great game and made by a great man and a not-quite-as-great development company. It was a valiant effort, and that should be appreciated all the more, as all of his works should now. Just don’t be so quick to judge a game made two decades ago using today’s standards and you should have a reasonably good time.

Written by Action Zero

Action Zero spends his time relaxing in his Stratocaster-pink Starjammer, listening to New Retro Wave tracks and planning to get back in touch with the Hell Riders of the Milky Way for some beers and an intergalactic drag race or two. Played by Reb Brown in the historical documentary “Space Mutiny”.

 
 

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  1. You had me at “on the backs of four giant elephants, which are themselves perched on the back of a massive space turtle.”

     

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