When they said "nothing in life is free", they didn't count on this. In "Free for All", Nathan "Berserker" Vian scours the web to bring you some of the best free software available. The article's free, the software's free ... does it get any better than this? The answer is no.


About a year ago, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. I was unemployed, and hence poor, and I needed some entertaining new games. The caveat was that I didn't want to steal or pirate anything. The answer, I decided, lie in freeware and open-source games. Now, up to that point I had based my judgement on the few freeware games I had run across by chance over the years... mostly, they were crap, badly designed “games” that weren't much fun, and weren't much to look at to boot. Ignoring this bias however I forged on, combing the depths of various sites such as the freeware section of Home of the Underdogs, and... I found I was in for a pleasantly rude awakening. I found... games. Real games. I'd discovered many good games, and a few that were indeed, truly great. Such that when I did eventually reattain employment, and money to buy commercial games, I often found myself going back to many of these amazing freeware gems.

In this column, “Free for All”, we'll take a look at these games. Some good, some truly great, others... not so good, but still interesting in one way or another. We'll look at things of interest, games that you might want to allot some precious hard drive space for, disposable income or no. In this first installment, we take a look at a genre you don't hear much from in the commercial sector these days – Point-and-Click Adventure Games.

An Adventurous Onset

Adventure games. The point-and-click variety. Most of us remember them, but in today's video game market where the scores for what add up to a successful game are tallied in millions of polygons cast in fully-3d environments, the adventure genre seems to have been cast along the wayside, ignored and left for dead like an old dirt road as the highways and freeways of tomorrow are constructed over them in the name of progress. As if they were never really there at all..

Of course, they were there, and they did exist. And, it may come as a surprise to know that this genre is still alive today.. it's just gone underground, in the commercial sense anyway. In fact, as I write this there are actually scores of adventure games currently in production. The difference now is that it's all being done by hobbyists, people who genuinely care about the world of point-and-click, keeping it alive out of sheer love. The main way that this is made possible is through the advent of adventure game engines, of which there are several. Many are freeware, some are shareware, one found was even a strictly commercial product – the one that seems to have the most vibrant community around it however is AGS, or the Adventure Game Studio, created by Chris Jones. Using a robust ready-made engine such as this cuts out the need to know how to program. You have but to create the graphics, sprites, backgrounds, dialog, possibly even sound, and build the point-and-click you've always wanted. And people have. There are scores of games that have been written in AGS, some with more crude-looking graphics but still decent story and dialogue, and others with graphics you might think to find in a commercially-released game during the adventure heyday. Some are even remakes of classic games many of us all know and love. Best of all, almost all of them are free, having been made by true fans who want nothing more than to see the genre come to prominence once again. Let's look at a few of them...

Enthusiast Creations

5 Days a Stranger - In this game you play Trilby, a sly cat burglar who makes his way into the presumably vacant DeFoe Manor, only to find that it's anything but. You're stuck in the mansion along with several other people, and you've got 5 days to figure out who – or what – is behind all the bizarre occurances in this intriguing murder-mystery. Although the graphics certainly aren't the best ever created by man, the dialogue, plot, just the whole feel conveyed makes it a favorite of the fan-created adventures. The flow of the story, along with choicely inserted bits of music inspire a real sense of terror at times. Clocking in at a cool 1mb in size, this download is definitely worth your time.

Download 5 Days of a Stranger

The Apprentice - Here you play Pib, a magician's apprentice awakened by a strange dream. Let it be said right off the bat that this game is very short. It gets a mention here though because it shows just what these fanmade adventures are capable of in terms of graphics and professionalism. The artwork and animation is top-notch, like something you might expect to find from a LucasArts game of the same genre. The voice-acting is pretty good as well, exceptional when you consider that this was all made by a few folks in their spare time. Short, sweet, and humorous, this is worth checking out if you don't really have the time to commit to some of the longer games out there.

Download The Apprentice

Classics Reinvisioned

King's Quest I - I don't know if you ever played the original King's Quest, but if you have, one word may come to mind – lego. The whole game just seems like it was made out of legos. It's a historic, precedent-setting game for sure, but it still looks like it was made out of legos. Sierra released a 16 color EGA remake of the game in 1990, which improved the graphics significantly, transporting us out of Legoland and into something more palatable... unfortunately, it was a huge failure in terms of sales, dashing any hopes that Sierra would remake the game ever again. Luckily, AGD Interactive decided to step up to the plate, and using the aformentioned freeware engine, AGS, released this wonderful VGA remake of the classic tale of Graham's quest to find the sacred treasures of Daventry.

The game looks great. The updated VGA graphics really bring the land of Daventry to life, along with all of the characters that dwell within it. The music is something to behold as well, playing like something out of a fairytale, which is perfectly suited to this game. If you've ever played a King's Quest game, you have to give this one a try. It's aces all around, and for the sake of everything holy, it's free!

Download King's Quest 1 VGA Remake

Maniac Mansion Deluxe - Here we have another remake of a very different classic. Designed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, Maniac Mansion first appeared on the Commodore 64, eventually being ported to the PC, Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, and of course the NES. While some ports such as the NES vary significantly from the original, this VGA remake remains closer to it's C64 roots, likely since there aren't really any restrictions or censorship guidelines that need to be followed.

To be honest, the only version I've ever played of this game was on the NES, when I was but a wee gamer. No matter what version you've played however, you can immediately notice a difference in the updated graphics of this unofficial official-remake-that-should've-been. The old gang is all here, including Dr. Fred, Nurse Edna, Weird Ed, and of course, the good ole' purple and green tentacles. You control three characters, one of which can only be Dave, the hero, along with two of a cast of familiar friends.

If you've played Maniac Mansion, you should download this right now. Even if you haven't, this game still deserves at least a play or two, given its campy charm, twisted humor, and multitude of different endings depending on the characters chosen and the path you take.

Download Maniac Mansion Deluxe

Revolution Takes a Leap

Beneath a Steel Sky - In august of 2003, Revolution Software did an amazing thing. They released their critically acclaimed commercial adventure, Beneath a Steel Sky, as freeware. Though not open-sourced, the source was given in strict confidence to the ScummVM team, the namesake of which is a program that allows older SCUMM engine games from LucasArts to run on modern PC's, in order to make their game runnable on this software. Well, they did just that, and now we have this wonderful cult-classic cyberpunk thriller to run perfectly on our present-day machines. For free.

If you've never played this game before, you're definitely in for a treat. You play Robert Foster, who as a young boy is raised by tribal people, and through catastrophic circumstances finds himself in the Orwellian Union City, along with his only remaining friend, a robot named Joey, in the mission to find out what all of this is about.

This game is a favorite of many adventure fans, and this status is well-deserved. The background and settings are futuristic and bleak, like something reminiscent of Shadowrun. The voice-acting and dialogue are well-done, portraying a host of remarkable characters, the most lovable of which would be the humorously pessimistic Joey. The gameplay is traditional point-and-click, but the interesting thing is that you can insert Joey's circuit board into various robots, allowing him to take control of several different bodies to apply to different circumstances.

The freeware CD version is a bit of a big download, clocking in at 67mb, but in my opinion it's well worth it. Give this game a try, you won't regret it.

Download Beneath a Steel Sky

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Last updated: Monday, February 27, 2006 11:25 PM