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Loom: How Brian Moriarty Proved That Less Is Sometimes More (filfre.net)
113 points by doppp on Feb 18, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

Apropos of nothing much, and as much so that it's recorded somewhere as to tell people, at the recent Thimbleweed Park bash in London, I asked Ron Gilbert about the "Ask me About Loom" badge ("button" in US vernacular) a pirate wears in "The Secret Of Monkey Island" and the accompanying glowing praise said pirate delivers. Ron Gilbert assured me that this was a poke (in good humour, I'm sure) at Brian Moriarty, who was taking himself very seriously at the time.

It is an interesting article, but I think the rose tint of nostalgia is a bit too strong.

Loom was an attempt to push gaming forward and explore new territory, and for that it deserves commendation. But it failed in the primary goal of any storyteller, which is to make the listener/reader/participant care about what happens in the world. It was a dreary and dull experience.

From the wikipedia page, a quote from the creator of Loom:

"Contrary to popular belief, the Loom sequels were not abandoned because Loom didn't sell well. Loom has sold more than half a million copies in various formats since it was published in 1990. The reason the sequels weren't made is because I decided I wanted to work on other things, and nobody else wanted to do them, either."

The final sentence, I think, is most telling.

Loom was the single most formative game for me as a child. Though I readily agree that it didn't make me care much about the game world. To me that doesn't even seem like an important goal of art. A more interesting goal is offering the viewer a new way of relating to the real world, and Loom somehow succeeded at that for me, much more than Sleeping Beauty that it cites as an influence. There are many other fun perspectives that I've absorbed through art, but Loom was among the first.

I get you. Very similar experiences.

I am glad you enjoyed it. I have a different perspective, but I don't fault you yours.

Clarity above all!

But this wasn't an article about Loom pushing storytelling forward. It pushed interaction forward.

Adventure games like Zork wanted a sentence typed. Later, a sentence was constructed using a mouse.

Loom removed the sentence as the player's action upon the game, and realized the player's intent didn't have to be a literal sentence.

It's just as much a breakthrough as Nintendo understanding that "pressing up" on a controller to lift a racket could be replaced by lifting an arm with a controller in it, in the case of the Wii.

That's the thing- it really didn't. Loom was novel for its lack of violence, and lack of a way to lose. But games like Neuromancer predated Loom by years, and were already using (comparatively) complex interfaces, for example.

LucasFilm Games was a noteworthy studio, among many other reasons, because they weren't dedicated to making shooters when that was clearly where the money was going. The shooter that they did produce (Dark Forces) was also better than Hexen. The "lack of a way to lose" was what distinguished them from Sierra Publishing, the only other interesting video game studio of the era.

LOOMâ„¢ was novel within the context of the studio, for being radically simplistic with the interface, considering how far they'd already "dumbed down" the interface from spiritual predecessors like Zork.

A side note: If you have not already seen Professor Moriarty's lecture on the actual origins of the CYOA format, this is probably the most interesting thing you will read all year: http://ludix.com/moriarty/electric.html

An interesting read. I was just wondering what Moriarty had done since Loom, something the article doesn't mention (presumably saved for the future article it hints will feature his exit from the industry), so thanks for a peek into his more recent career.

That was a fun read. Thanks for sharing it.

I praised Loom for its inventive simplicity, and how it avoids text towards direct interaction, and you refute that by referencing Neuromancer, a game with, in your words, a "(comparatively) complex interface."

Neuromancer is riddled with complex text interfaces for every interaction. Every choice demands a read through, along with several text selections to decide from. Here's a video of how awful it is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tNMdbq_Z7w

How is that more simple?

Awful? Those few minutes of example show more player agency than the entirety of Loom combined. This is not a novel criticism- it was one of the main complaints levelled against Loom when it first came out.

There's a difference between text you read, and text you have to guess at/type (ie, the find-the-synonym frustrations of Infocom games).

Player agency in a medium without unlimited outcomes is a Choose Your Own Adventure, where the trick is done in plain sight and therefore unconvincing. Loom is just trying to tell a linear story in a convincing manner with the tools it has available, and it elevated the tools available. That's my only point.

Fair enough.


(Although speaking of Choose Your Own Adventure: http://io9.gizmodo.com/remember-inside-ufo-54-40-the-unwinna... had a fun "choice".)

I had that book. Very weird and trippy to my pre-teen mind.

After many, many readings, both legitimate play-throughs and cheating flip-throughs, I don't think I realised what the article points out.

> Loom was novel for its lack of violence

Bishop Mandible's death wasn't exactly non-violent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEQ6Kx0wY0c&t=1h23m29s

True, but notable in that the player had nothing to do with it.

Loom is, to this day, my favorite adventure game of all time. For me, at least, it succeeded at the primary goal of any game, which is to be fun.

I don't think it's nostalgia, because I didn't play Loom until long after it first came out. I had played many of the other LucasFilm games at this point and most of the AGI Sierra games.

I agree that it was inferior in storytelling to many of those[1], but it was just a heck of a lot of fun, with the puzzles ranging from obvious to "obvious in hindsight."[2] combined with the extremely minimal, yet novel interface just struck exactly the right chord with me.

1: Gabriel Knight, Day of the Tentacle, and Planetfall stand out in my mind as some games from 3 different companies that spoke to me in the way that you seem to be talking about

2: Even LucasFilm, which was 100000x friendlier than other adventure game companies (don't ask me how many AGI games I finished), had the occasional terrible puzzle). Loom is on the extremely tiny list of adventure games that I completed 100% solo; most games I've finished I played with friends and we usually could get each other un-stuck.

I've replayed it recently and I found the world to be magical. I can't see how anyone would call it dreary and dull and I cared about what happened. But to each his own taste.

I am glad you enjoyed it!

To explain where I'm coming from: I found Loom frustrating because it removed what I enjoy most in almost all types of game, which is agency. I remember several points where Bobbin's actions were very different than what I would have chosen. I had no say in it, yet still had to do the 'work' of advancing the story. I enjoy linear narratives, too, but Loom felt, to me, like the worst of both worlds, not the best.

I was surprised when the article mentioned Loom in the 80s, I remember playing it and it feeling more recent.

Then the article explains the sad story of how the game failed to become a massive hit, and its design lessons went on ignored for years...

I personally think Loom has one of the finest adventure game interfaces I have ever used. I also loved its tone, for some reason I am just not that interested in comedy.

The wikipedia article claims it was released in 1990.

The article is more about the man behind the game, Brian Moriarty, than the game itself, as he moved from Infocom (of Zork fame) to then Lucasfilm Games (later Lucasarts).

If you liked this and haven't read it yet definitely check out Masters of Doom![0]

It's about the two John's (Carmack and Romero) and how they created Doom, Quake et al. and why id Software broke up eventually. Very fascinating, highly recommended book!

[0]: https://www.amazon.com/Masters-Doom-Created-Transformed-Cult...

I met Brian Moriarty in 2000, shortly after he bailed from HearMe. He played a role in The Crucible, which my father directed at Pacifica Spindrift Players.

He took on the role of Reverend Parris shortly before the play opened, taking over for a junior actor in over his head. I was 15 at the time and was taken with the ease in which Brian slipped in to the role.

He brought the production together and was a stabilizing force. My father recently passed away, so seeing Brian's name here brought on a rush of memories from the play.

I looked around and found the playbill from the show: http://www.pacificaspindriftplayers.org/shows/2000/the-cruci...

Loom was amazing, one of the first games I remember finishing and the ending was very intense. I still have it on 5.25" in the original box.

I have it in 5.25" double-density disks (360 KB/disk) and I remember it being awful to play, because it would very often ask for protracted sequences of disks with repetitions (e.g. when going from one screen to another it could ask for disks 2,3,2,3,6,4,1,2,3,1,2,3, or things like that). I had other games that had the same number or even more disks, but they asked less often, for much shorter sequences, and always or almost always without repetitions. Probably the content in those was distributed taking that into account, while in Loom the 5'25" DD version was just an afterthought and they just distributed the content into the diskettes arbitrarily.

This was so frustrating, and felt so gratuitous (because games with way more disks behaved much better) that I didn't get very far in the game and I have always had a negative view of it since then (probably the fact that I have always been a fan of text interfaces and of deaths in adventure games didn't help either, but the disk issue was really a deal-breaker).

Brian Moriarty gave a great talk in 2015 about his story of Loom with many interesting behind-the-scenes infos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1aVDael-KM Towards the end he also says he'd be excited to do a Loom sequel with the right studio.

Heh, it seems i will not be short any reading material any time soon (been working my way through the epubs of this earlier articles as bedtime reading). His earlier stuff has given me insight into a world i only glimpsed the tail end off as a young kid visiting relatives.

Brian Moriarty is now Professor Moriarty at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Brian Moriarty wrote some of my favorite adventure games of all time.

He's a creative genius.

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