AGON (Ancient Games of Nations)


Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:   Private Moon

Released:   1st episode - 2003

PC Requirements:   Windows 98/ME/2000/XP,800 MHz Pentium III or equivalent processor,128 MB RAM, 32 MB DirectX 8.0 compatible 3D video card (Geforce 2 or equal), DirectX compatible sound card, DirectX 8.0 (or better)



Additional Screenshots




by gatorlaw

AGON: Ancient Games of Nations

Private Moon Studios, based in Hungary, is the creative force behind this new game series. AGON, in production for a year before the release of episode one, is their first project. According to the developers, AGON was originally conceived as a large group of culturally driven board games supplemented by a bare hint of plot. Fortunately for us, AGON evolved far beyond its original scope. What we have now is far more complex in concept and design.

I find AGON fascinating on many levels…

Primarily, there is the method of marketing and sales. At present, AGON is offered as a download game, in a serialized format. This first episode is not what you would call a full-length game, but rather an extended level or chapter. There will be a total of 14 such episodes offered for purchase over the next two years. Many will react to this serialized approach with a big “Why on earth would someone release a game this way?!” I wondered initially myself – what was up with this. Well it makes sense when you think about it from several viewpoints. Private Moon Studios went with the serialized mode of distribution for a number of reasons.

One, it allowed them to circumvent the more typical publisher route, so that the game could be released as it is done – rather than waiting 2 to 3 years for the full version. This method of production also allows each episode to take advantage of any technical advancements that arise during the development process and thus keep pace with current graphic/gaming standards. This is a big advantage for such a huge game, which all together will have over 60 hours of game time. How many times have games with lengthy development schedules (due to their length and detailed story lines) been far behind the production value curve by the time they come to market? The technology that exists at the start of the process would surely be dated by the time of release. The chapter approach is also central to the logic flow of the complete story, as each adventure takes place in 12 areas of the world and focuses on 12 different ancient games. Based upon my own experience of episode one and comments from the developers, each new chapter will be a self-contained story within the larger tale of AGON. The exceptions to this are the first episode, which sets the stage for the entire series, and the final episode, which is the grand finale to this saga. The last and 14th episode will be Private Moons gift to gamers and will be available at no cost. Finally, this mode of delivery allows for intentional responsiveness to gamers input as the story progresses. This will be implemented through the AGON online gamers club – which I will get back to later in this review. 

AGON – Episode One

The first episode of AGON has a wonderful introduction. Any thought that Private Moon, as an independent developer, is a “garage game group” is demolished by the intro cut scene to this game. I was immediately reminded of the intro film bits for PBS Mystery or Masterpiece Theatre.  It is that impressive. Given the varied backgrounds of the AGON team – it is not surprising that they have a strong talent for presentation, musical composition and film quality graphics.  

The sweeping open carries you across London streets and down through the open window of an academia’s office. It is in this small chamber that we meet our alter ego, Professor Samuel Hunt.  Prof. Hunt is a British historian, employed by the venerable British Museum of History. Initially, he does not seem like much of a hero-adventurer. However, we soon learn that our Professor is a man of unique persistence, a thirst for the truth and a wistful yearning for adventure. As fate would have it – he quickly finds himself caught up in a mystery of global proportions.  It seems that along with the ordinary correspondence and papers associated with his position, a mysterious letter has found its way into his hands. A lesser man might have noted its contents and moved on. But, he is a bit bored with the routine existence of his job within the museum and quickly embraces the mission hinted at by this strange document. I have no doubt, that his new found enthusiasm for the exotic will be well met by his future travels and adventures.

Additional characters are introduced in this first chapter. There is Dr. Thomas Smythe, who is secretary to the Museum Director. Despite his obligations in that capacity, it is obvious that he holds Prof. Hunt in high regard. Smythe warms to the task of a behind the scenes and covert assistant.  In this episode, our sole contact with Smythe is via phone and written communiqués. However in future episodes, Smythe will make a personal appearance and I look forward to that encounter. We are also informed of Hunts wife and the director of the Museum. There are other characters who play a minor role in this first level and are unique to this environment. There will be recurrent characters that will make appearances in person or via correspondence through out the series, as well as a cast of characters unique to each new chapter and its self contained story line.

I am deliberately avoiding discussion of the plot specifics in this episode, as I would not wish to spoil any part of the discoveries that await the player.  I can say that the plot is detailed and hints broadly at many possible twists and turns that await the player in future episodes. At the same time, I felt well settled as to why the Professor had been captivated by this mystery and what he had uncovered in this opening scenario.

Challenges and other Game Features

One of the enjoyable aspects of this first episode was the ability to roam and interact with a number of items that might not be central to the mysteries at hand. There are a large variety of printed materials to look through. I felt compelled to make a special note of these, as they might be significant for later chapters. Personal items, pictures along the way, any number of items could be looked at and subject to comment from Hunt. Much was non-essential to immediate tasks, but served to build depth to the story line and environment. These interactions also enriched the personalities of Hunt and others within the episode, as well as those who were not active within the chapter itself.

In future episodes, as mentioned earlier, there will be a board game introduced or discovered. Each of these games will be culturally unique to the environment, circumstances and story line of each chapter. Aside from this individual game, there will be puzzles and or challenges integrated within the story line of that chapter and the sub mystery or quests inherent to that plot path. Episode one had only these challenges as it is the only chapter aside from the last that will not have an ancient game included. These puzzles were logical to the story line and were well crafted. There was a bit of running back and forth for part of this – though it made sense given the details. It is the one small flaw in an otherwise well conceived game. I enjoyed my foraging and the wide range of activities I had to engage in to solve my way through this first episode and look forward to more of the same in Episode Two.  

I also thought the voice talent was well chosen. It was great to hear English characters who sounded legitimately British. Rather than the arch pseudo upper crust English of old movies  – this was the gamut of English accents. This was refreshing and added great credibility to the characters and gameplay. The dialogue was similarly well chosen. Hunt had a wide range of private responses to items or events, but conversations between characters never felt strained or overblown.  It all had such a natural flow. 

The graphics and ambiance of the game was quite exceptional. The musical overlay had good variety and was beautifully written. I tend to capture musical pieces I enjoy in games for enjoyment independent of gameplay. The AGON musical pieces are such quality compositions. Not that the graphics were slighted by the developers. As with the opening scene, the care taken with the graphics was evident throughout this episode. Even in the little touches, the game impressed. For example, reflective surfaces were used well in the game to add a note of realism. Not only would you see yourself in character whenever you passed a closed window, a glass fronted cabinet and so on. But the perspective shifted as you moved. I was fascinated by the detail of this and checked it out for consistency in a variety of places. It is difficult for me to find areas for improvement in these areas of the game. Well done team AGON!

Series related comments


AGON is mouse controlled with a point and click interface. The scenes are explored using a first person view and panoramic views of the surrounding environment. Characters and interactive objects are depicted in real time 3D. The puzzles are fully integrated in the same graphic mode. There is a menu access along the top right corner of the game screen. Here you have what appear to be typewriter keys. There is one for the inventory, a documents button, main menu and so on. You have a smart cursor that indicates with an magnifying glass when closer interaction is possible with an object. An “X” button appears on the lower screen in close-up mode. Click on it to exit  that view. If there is an inventory item that can be interacted with directly, clicking on it will take you to a close up mode. Items that can be used are taken into hand by clicking on them.

Series Game Play

Each episode features interaction with other characters, multiple puzzles, and as a master puzzle, a board game to be played against one of the characters. Developers took great pains to include relatively unknown board games that also fit with the cultural context that the given episode is taking place in. This is reinforced by soundtracks that are mirrored and grounded in the related culture of each episode.  What adds great value to these chapters is that you have several layers of gameplay. One you have the internal chapter mystery and side quests. Two, you have the added knowledge that involves the larger series wide mystery and story. Third, you have the ancient game featured in that chapter that you play against an internal character. Once you have completed each episode you will play any and all of these accumulated games online with other gamers. The online AGON server that allows the downloading, installation and activation of each episode is also set up to facilitate this online play. The interface online will be the same as that used in the game. You can also play the games on your own computer in a stand alone fashion. Last but hardly least, is the added feature of the AGON online club.

The AGON online Community

Membership in the online AGON community is free with purchase of the initial episode. All you have to do is register the first episode. When you do this the same ID and pop code that activates the game also is the sign in for the club pages. There will be added game materials on those pages, that will provide insight into the professor’s quest and events surrounding his journeys. There will be letters from Prof. Hunt and others as well as additional supplemental information.  What is really exciting is the adaptive nature of the development process. Input from players at the AGON club pages is actively sought and will be considered in shaping future episodes. So this is a pre-designed game, but with a unique built in responsiveness as the game is developed chapter by chapter. In a further unusual twist – the last and 14th episode will be free. The grand finale to the AGON story will serve as a reward to all who have traveled with the professor and uncovered the secrets entwined with these Ancient Game of Nations.

Last Thoughts

It is true, that by making this game available only through a large download and in chapters, Private Moon has excluded certain groups of gamers. Those with slower online access will be daunted by the 200+Mb file size. Private Moon has tried to make this process less cumbersome for these players by also having segmented download available. Early word of mouth has been positive from the intrepid dial ups who have purchased the game and used this download method. I think the quality of this game make it worthwhile to try out the first two episodes. In fact Episode 2, which is indicative of the majority of the future AGON episodes and will feature the first of 12 unique ancient games will be available for purchase in a few weeks.  There are others who fear getting attached to the series and seeing it only partially completed over time. That is a valid point. But I figured at under 10.00 per episode, the value of the game was well worth that chance. Now that episode 2 is soon to release, the first ancient game will be introduced. This has value as a stand alone game both on your PC and online against others. So, there is internal replay value exclusive of the larger series mystery. And each episode has its own internal story that is resolved by successful completion of that episode.  I suppose the bottom line for me was the attention to every detail that shown brightly in this first episode. Future episodes and the promise of an entire series this well crafted will be a joy to experience.

Review Grade:    A-

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