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Looking Back: The Apprentice
Written by Jussi Eskelinen

Some months ago, I found an old zip file on my hard drive, containing an AGS-hit from the past: Permanent Daylight by Intoxicated Little Bunny. I loaded it up, wanting to reminisce the good old days when AGS games were still DOS-compatible by default. I was filled with a sense of nostalgia, memories from my early youth, and the feeling I had the first time I played Permanent Daylight - of playing, for the first time, an amateur adventure game that didn't feel too much like an amateur effort. Expectant, I waited for the title screen.

And boy did Permanent Daylight suck. My memories from the days of my innocent youth had apparently been just that: innocent. No wonder, there wasn't much contest back then for amateur adventure games - creating something like Permanent Daylight was considered a great achievement then, by me at least. Not until Apprentice did I play an amateur adventure game that really got something important right, a game that seems to have passed the test of time.

I no longer remember how I found out about the original, non-deluxe, Apprentice. Perhaps it was through some list of AGS game developers I was clicking through, opening new tabs (did tabbed browsing already exist back then?) and trying to pick out the game developers and projects to take note of. Apprentice had been released a while ago, and I downloaded it. And my view of amateur adventure games changed forever.

First of all, I was captivated by the music. The composer later admitted that he wasn't satisfied with the soundtrack. In retrospect I think he was right, but I was thrilled, having finally found someone in the amateur scene who can make music. But as I played on, I noticed that the important thing the developers of Herculean Effort got right was that the player felt as if there was something more behind those pixelated sprites. Pib was a living character, and so was Master, and so was Navy Joe. In fact, even though we never saw Navy Joe until Apprentice II, he still felt real even in the first game. Willowbean felt like an actual place with a history and its own customs. This game had found that something special, that something "the classics like Monkey Island had", and I thought it was only a matter of time until the amateur community would take over the commercial side.

It would happen by 2005 at the latest, I thought.

But the revolution wasn't as abrupt as I had thought. These days the quality of games is somewhat higher than three years ago, due to years of practice starting to pay off, but few freeware games would be eligible for their own Wikipedia articles. Apprentice II, 5 Days a Stranger, 7 Days a Skeptic...? My list ends there, but it might be that I should be less demanding and embrace the amateur genre despite its shortcomings.

But back to the Apprentice.

The surprising thing is that when you think about it, you notice that the story of Apprentice is negligible at best. There is the dream sequence in the beginning, sure, but the story ends and begins with it. There's no villain, and the only tension there is the fear of being drafted by Lord Ironcrow. There's no conflict to solve, nothing that would in any way be traditional storytelling as such. Apprentice is a prime example of how much adventure games depend on exploration, and how important a carefully crafted game world and back stories are in adventure games!

This is rather amusing, as many adventure gamers have separated themselves into strict categories, either proclaiming that adventure games are all about puzzles or that they are all about the story, when what I liked most about Apprentice was the fact that I could have conversations with the crystal ball. (Okay, so maybe it's just me.) The only reason I was motivated to solve any puzzles was that eventually I ran out of things to do, and my adventure gamers' logic told me that solving some of them would make something in the game world change and let me do more exploring.

What about the Deluxe -version, then? At first the deluxe treatment felt a bit like watching a colored black film. I had grown to like the 70s hippie music, and imagining the character voices in my head. And it feels funny to think like this because Apprentice Deluxe is not a fan effort but an extension created by Herculean Effort themselves. I had formed an image of the way Pib and Master talked. Lloyd sounded a lot different in my mind - a lot more mischievous and vain, not like a bunny in a children's educational movie.

Then months passed, and I replayed Deluxe for this review. I was pleasantly surprised. The memories of the original game had faded in my mind. First of all the voice acting was more than satisfactory, with Lloyd and Highwaywoman the only mild disappointments - Lloyd with the spectacular under acting and Highwaywoman with her rather slow talking pace. The new soundtrack suddenly sounded a lot more suitable for the game than the original, although the musical style of the Apprentice games is perhaps even too uniform. The graphical enhancements promised by HEP weren't that visible to me, but I suppose it made the developers happy.

It would be foolish to call Apprentice, or even Apprentice Deluxe with its enhanced music, a masterpiece of amateur games - for that it's far to small in scope. Apprentice was an important milestone which will be remembered, and probably more fondly and by more people than Permanent Daylight.



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