Loom is one of those games that most
adventure gamers have probably heard of but, given the march of
technology, perhaps only the old-timers have played. Which if true is a
shame, as it really is quite charming.
I say that, not through a nostalgic haze, but having only just played it
for the very first time. When it released in 1990 on 5.25 inch discs, my
first PC was incapable of playing it. I eventually got hold of a version
on 3.5 inch discs and then a CD copy, but never got around to playing it.
As my system got more and more powerful, and as new releases continued to
build up on my shelves, it drifted further and further off my playing
radar. Two things put it back on - a determination to fill a gap in my
adventurer game pedigree, and its availability via Steam to run without
any tweaking on my current gaming rig.
It has been possible for some time to get these old games to run using
utilities like DOSBox, VDMSound and Mo’Slo, but they could still be
cantankerous varmints, and not every gamer feels comfortable fiddling with
their system. The beauty of getting these games from sites like Good Old
Games and through Steam is that, while utilities like these are still
used, all the fiddly configuration has already occurred and DOSBox (or
whatever else is being used) is built in. Just download the game, install,
and away you go, like any modern downloadable game.
What is not built in of course are any modern-day graphics or sound or
anything else circa 2011. What you get is the original game in its
original pixelly glory, complete with tinny midi-sound and whatever else
it was comprised of when designed all those years ago. You also don't get
the packaging. But if like me you have a collection going back that far,
you can get your original game off the shelf and it’s as if you were
playing it from the box.
I don't want to fixate on the packaging but these old games came with a
variety of goodies, and Loom was no exception. Mine came in a solid
blue box that would put the flimsy current models to shame, and as well as
the usual reference guides and manual it contained a rather lovely book of
patterns (which is an essential part of the game) and an audio cassette.
My copy also contained a little red cellophane Lucasfilm “visor”, used to
read the related hint books, but I can’t confirm whether the visor was
officially part of the Loom paraphernalia.
The cassette I mentioned contains
an “audio drama” prologue to the game which sets out the basis of the
Loom world, the background to the Guild of Weavers, and the somewhat
controversial circumstances surrounding the birth of Bobbin Threadbare,
the Loom child. If you google you can find transcripts and even places to
listen to this prologue, and it’s a worthwhile endeavour, as the game
picks up virtually where the prologue leaves off.
In short, what we learn is that
various guilds acquired both political and economic control, but the
Weavers shunned such things. They preferred to focus on their craft, and
in doing so they began to discover truth and destiny within their
patterns. As they studied, they came to spin things like light and music,
and eventually spun patterns directly into the fabric of reality. This was
feared by other guilds and the Weavers suffered persecution, so much so
that they retreated into solitude on an island called Loom.
As time passed, their stringent
rules told against them. Marriage outside the guild was outlawed, and only
those born of Weavers could be members. More and more children were
stillborn, and numbers dwindled. Urged by the Lady Cygna to use their
power to bring life back to the guild, the Elders refused, preferring to
remain true to their task as guardians of the pattern. Cygna therefore
defied them, introducing a new thread into the pattern and causing its
disruption, but resulting in the birth of a healthy Bobbin Threadbare. For
her actions she is transformed into a swan and cast out. Bobbin himself
was also ostracised and raised outside the ways of the guild. On his
seventeenth birthday he would be brought before the Elders and his fate
Which is where the game begins,
and all is not well with the pattern. Nor have the past 17 years been as
the Elders intended, and Bobbin knows more than he should of being a
Weaver. When the Elders realise this, they take action, but a swan appears
and transforms all of the Elders into swans. Alone now, Bobbin heads off
to find the flock.
Unlike many adventure games, both
now and of its time, there is no inventory and no verb list to complete
actions. There is only one item to acquire in the game, and you will do
this very early on. From then, it’s a case of using that one item to
achieve results in the game world.
The item is a distaff, which you
use to spin drafts on objects in the game world. Each draft has a
particular effect - for example empty, open, sleep - and can also have an
opposite effect if spun correctly.
You can think (if you like) of the
distaff as a wand, and the drafts as spells which you can cast. But that
would be doing a disservice to the writers. An intricate narrative built
on the foundations of weaving has been created, and it should be
approached in that way. A distaff is a tool used in spinning, and a draft
consists of four threads - the throw, the beat, the treadle and the rest.
In Loom, the distaff enables a Weaver to spin music and light into
threads of influence.
In Loom, each thread is
represented by a musical note, which you spin or "play" on the distaff.
You learn the various drafts as you progress through the game, as well as
acquire the ability to spin more threads (aka play more notes). It's worth
spinning drafts here and there just to see if doing so teaches you
Three different difficulty levels
determine how musical you need to be. On the easiest level, your distaff
is permanently visible in a window below the game world, and a musical
scale appears beneath it. The particular notes for each draft will play
and light up when you first learn the draft, and a dialogue box will
capture the sequence for you. Simply write down the sequence appearing in
the box, and then play it back by choosing the appropriate notes when you
wish to cast it. The second level is virtually the same, except there is
no dialogue box so you have to watch and write down the highlighted note.
Played at those levels, the game
remains "musical" but the ability to recognise tones, etc., is not
required. However, on the expert level there is no musical scale and you
have to identify the draft by listening to the notes. Clicking on
different parts of the distaff will play a note, but if you haven’t learnt
that note yet it won’t play. So, the very first 4-note draft you learn is
incapable of being recreated on the distaff, as some notes are too high.
On the previous difficulty level you would know what the notes were, even
if you couldn’t yet play them. As an expert, as the manual says “you
have to literally play the game by ear”.
I didn’t play by ear, useless as I
am at that, but played on the middle level. The musical challenge was
absent, but quite frankly it would have been a punishment not a challenge.
The appeal in the game is not in this aspect, but if you are musically
inclined it certainly adds a level of complexity.
Speaking of which, the drafts can
be different if you start a new game, which is why walkthroughs don’t give
you the sequence, simply the name of the draft. On the easier levels it
probably adds little, but as an expert, the tonal challenge may well be
different each time you play.
There are limited objects in the
game world with which to interact, but the challenge is not really in
finding objects. Rather it lies in recognising the clues that will help
you determine what drafts to spin, and in thinking a little differently
about how to use the drafts. The Book of Patterns will help, as this is a
list of the drafts you will learn in the game, with a description as to
what they might be useful for. Putting all this information together will
help you to do things like vanquish dragons, change your appearance,
restore the dead and unrip the heavens.
You will also learn never to look
inside a Weaver’s hood.
Finding objects is not that hard.
Just move your mouse around the screen and any item you can interact with
will pop up in your icon box, the lower right portion of the screen. Click
in the game world to lock it in, and then click in the icon box to
interact with it. That will either be to examine it in some way, or to
attempt to spin a draft upon it.
F5 controls the menu, where you
can save, load etc. You choose your difficulty level at the start, as well
as whether you want on-screen text for dialogue. Loom plays in the
third person, and pointing and clicking with the mouse does everything you
need. Some of the screens side scroll, so be sure to explore the edges,
and there is a mazy bit when you wander around some caves.
is a gentle tale, well written, with some humorous moments and a little
pearl here and there (I particular liked how you learn the "awaken"
spell). The game window is rather small but it ensures the resolution
remains as good as it is going to be in a game of this age. It is well
acted, the musical score is far more than you might expect, and all in all
the tale of Bobbin Threadbare is a short but engaging adventure that you
probably should put on your playlist. Two sequels never eventuated, but at
least we can still enjoy this.
I played on:
OS: Windows 7
Processor: AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz
Ram: 4.00GB DDR2 400MHz
Gx card: ATI Radeon HD 3850 512Mb
Loom can be purchased via download through
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