The Interesting Times of the Discworld video games11 minute read

A look into the Sourcery of the Small Gods that made Discworld into Moving Pictures

Most people have heard of Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series of books (amongst others of course). Most people will also be aware that, aside from the books, there were several television adaptations created (Going Postal and Hogfather for example). Some people may even be aware that there were 1997 animated adaptations for Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters by Cosgrove Hall. But bottom of the list, and rarely even discussed are the three Discworld video games that blessed our computers and consoles in the mid to late 1990’s.

The Colour of Magic & Discworld

Since 1983 Sir Terry Pratchett has allowed us into his fantastical Discworld, atop four giant elephants (Tubul, Jerakeen, Berilia and Great T’Phon), whom are themselves atop a turtle named Great A’Tuin. 32 years of publications brought us 41 novels that gave us the humour, quirkiness, wit, emotion and full imagination of a wonderful author who was stolen from us all too quickly.

After the literacy success of The Colour of Magic a video game was developed and released in 1986 by Piranha on multiple formats such as Commodore and Spectrum. The video game was a complete failure, having “several twinkles short of a glitter”, but thankfully it is rarely spoken of. But then we hear the wise words of Pratchett himself, “if failure had no penalty success would not be a prize.”

A new era dawns

Thankfully during the 1990’s Gregg Barnett managed to successfully persuade Sir Terry Pratchett an offering and design concept that would allow him the power to direct a large adventure game for CD-based computer systems. Instead of the initial adaptation of a singular novel, this would cover a vast degree of titles penned by the great author himself.

Discworld was born. With a development team combination of Teeny Weeny Productions and Perfect 10 Productions, Gregg Barnett directed the game which would be published by Psygnosis in 1995. The game was released in MS-DOS, Macintosh and Sony PlayStation formats with a Sega Saturn version being released the following year – time would tell if they were cutting their own throats.

Discworld, also known as Discworld: The Trouble with Dragons, was a commercial success in Europe with its plot and humour being praised. It would come as no suprise to Pratchett fans that the game is somewhat an adaptation of Guards! Guards! with added references to various titles across the Discworld series of novels at the time. The game follows the story of a secret brotherhood that summons a dragon from another dimension in order to bring ruin to Ankh-Morpork. When the Unseen University gets wind of the situation they deploy Rincewind to deal with the situation.

Joined in his adventure by Luggage, his magical walking storage system and occasional homicidal psychopath, Rincewind sets off to find materials in order for the senior wizards to build a dragon detector. In this adventure Rincewind soon realises there is more to this than having to kill a dragon and the adventure unfolds beautifully in true Pratchett fashion (literally as he was a major part of the games development).

Developing success

The game was produced with a staggering arrangement of British voice actors. Originally John Cleese was offered the role of Rincewind but he turned down the opportunity. Instead they managed to hire the fantastic Eric Idle – someone who took the character to heart and made Rincewind as much a part of him as he made himself a part of Rincewind.

Other actors included Rob Brydon, Jon Pertwee, Tony Robinson and Kate Robbins. The acting was also regionalised, with the Japanese release being voiced by a prominent Japanese comedian which helped sales in that region too.

Death: I’ll see you later.

Rincewind: How much later?

Death: Don’t start reading any long books…

Discworld, Perfect 10 Productions, Teeny Weeny Games

The game was mixed up inside Nanny Ogg’s cauldron, with a recipe consisting of a fantastic soundtrack and the simplistic approach of the point-and-click franchise. This meant that anyone could pick up the game and understand how to navigate, talk and solve puzzles. There were some criticisms over the difficulty and unforgiving nature of the game, and also some questions over vagueness of how to solve puzzles. Then again “Humans are always slightly lost. It’s a basic characteristic. It explains a lot about them.” The game was still a humorous and fantastic hit in Europe with an amazing development team and cast.

The game tied for third place in Computer Game Review’s 1995 “Adventure of the Year” award category – not bad for a game which somewhat came off the back of the 1986 text-adventure flop!

Discworld II: Missing Presumed…!?

Discworld had entered the video game market for a second time and the franchise had gained traction in Europe. Yes – the American market saw a more critical and not a well-received game, but Europe was where it was at! The sequel to Discworld was released in 1996 on MS-DOS and again on the popular Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn in 1997. Using the momentum from the first release Gregg Barnett once again took Binky’s reins as director and also as producer this time around, replacing Angela Sutherland from the original game.

The game once again takes on many references from Sir Terry Pratchett’s books such as The Last Continent, which is visited within the game, and Reaper Man which is apparent when Death announces his vacation. Once again an all-star cast was harnessed, with Eric Idle, Rob Brydon and Kate Robbins returning and Nigel Planer joining for the first time. This is the game for me that really made Rincewind shine as a character. It was the first game of the series I had played and Eric Idle literally made the game buzz with vibrancy. Not to belittle the concepts, music, artwork, gameplay, puzzles, characters, storyline and other voice actors – but Eric Idle and his mannerisms really spoke to me, especially when he broke the fourth wall.

“Rincewind: Homosapien Sorcerus Iritablus. In reality I’m a full foot taller, bronzed and rippling with muscles but it’s been a hard night for the artist.”

Eric Idle as Rincewind – Discworld II: Missing Presumed…!?

With a fantastic setting and a brilliantly executed development the game really brought to life Discworld and even had splashings of Monty Python within its brilliant humour. I completed this game all too long ago and should revisit it, even if it is just to hear Eric Idle sing That’s Death once more.

Discworld Noir

Once again fans of Discworld did not have to wait much longer as Discworld Noir was released in 1999 – only two years after it’s prequel. Once more led by Gregg Barnett the game follows a new character, Lewton, the first private investigator of the Discworld franchise.

Bringing in the essence of films such as The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca the game pushes Discworld into a dark, occult-based and Noir setting rather well (“When you break rules, break ’em good and hard.”). Once again Sir Terry Pratchett consulted on the story and provided some lines of dialogue, but his hand was not as far into the pot as in previous titles.

The game itself came with some technical originality, using a ‘threaded’ structure for the dynamics of the clue-finding mechanisms. This meant that certain nexus-points in the game might be missed by the player, thus missing a clue, but the game was intelligent enough to allow a character to give the clue to the player later.

The plot starts with the origins of the  “Tsortean wars”, and the disappearance of the Tsortese Falchion (Maltese Falcon anybody?). You shortly see Lewton running for his life before being stabbed through the chest, and then the narration begins to unfold the events of the game that lead the player to how this all came about.

The puzzles within the game were seen to be much simpler than in previous titles, with less outside-of-the-box thinking necessary by the player. The 3D elements of the game was clearly an observation from the developers of what was popular at the time, but the clever use of 2D backgrounds made the game stand out graphically.

The game was obviously grittier and darker than the previous two colourful titles. The music once again brings back echoes of Eric Idles That’s Death with a more vibrantly jazz-based soundtrack, with elements of Soul Music (I thank you). One song is a direct mirror of As Time Goes By from Casablanca in 1942. This time round Eric Idle was not a member of the cast, with the voice acting predominantly done by Rob Brydon, Kate Robbins and Nigel Planer who were all returning members. They were also joined by Red Dwarf star Robert Llewelyn.

The dialogue was one of the key criticisms, with many reviewers stating that here was too much of it, and that many of the voices between the characters were not different enough to make them stand out as individuals. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you find out that Kate Robbins, who voiced every female character in the game, finished her work in just one day. Rob Brydon on the other hand, the voice of Lewton, still only took one week. Due to the masses of dialogue a lot of the games conceptualised “puzzles” were actually dialogue-based too, which differed heavily from the original two games.

The game received similar scores to the original two titles, but never saw a release outside of Europe this time round due to the collapse of Perfect Entertainment which had only been running for eight years. Because of this the PC version was never able to be patched, but when the company briefly resurfacing as Teeny Weeny Games the game was successfully ported to the Sony PlayStation. A Dreamcast port was planned but never materialised before the company re-folded.

The Light Fantastic

So there we have it, three fantastic Discworld games that appear lost to the passage of time. We’ll ignore the first one that may as well have scored “Twelve and a half percent! Twelve and a half percent!” in reviews! Given their flaws and imperfections they were still classic and heavily complimented titles from a small and independent British game development company – something that would possibly be considered Indie in today’s market.

With the collapse of the studio behind the magic came the loss of any chance of further games. There are games which have tried to mimic the point-and-click Pratchett-styled humour, such as The Bard’s Tale, but I personally feel that none have been able to match these fantastic games. The entire feeling of becoming lost in Discworld itself, searching for the ultimate answer is something that cannot be imitated.

“The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.”

Moving Pictures, Sir Terry Pratchett

Will there ever be a resurrection of these games in the form of new ports or remasters? The answer probably relates back to the uncertainty principle, and if you asked me what that is I would have to say “I’m not sure.”

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