Swan Lake, one of the most popular ballets of all-time by Tchaikovsky, is not what most might consider obvious inspiration for a video game. Well, if I was watching the ballet in person I suppose my mind might wander, but inspiring me to create a brand new story for a game seems a stretch.
But Swan Lake was indeed the seed that spawned Loom in Brian Moriarty’s mind. Being a recent Infocom alum, this was Moriarty’s first gig designing a game at Skywalker Ranch. He took the idea of a princess being turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer and weaved an entirely new interactive world out of it.
And of course, like ballet, his game uses music for its foundation. In fact it uses compositions converted directly from Swan Lake.
But you don’t have to be a musician to play the game (thank goodness). Nor do you need to be able to dance or even know the ballet (thank goodness times two!). You will be made to “draft” songs to get past the puzzles in the game, however, but it requires no musical talent on your end - just some concentration and an open mind.
If you happened to buy the boxed game back in 1990 for Amiga it came with an incredible package of “feelies,” or physical goodies that heightened the overall experience and were often required to finish the game. In Loom they included two beautiful manuals including the Book of Patterns, which provides more of the background story but also is used as a literal diary for you to jot down (in pencil!) the “drafts” or spells you learn. In the box was also a weird red plastic viewer doodad as a means of copy protection that revealed hidden musical notes needed to start each session. Finally, the real prize was an incredibly well-produced audio cassette tape! And this was no data tape to slow you down. No, this was a top-shelf audio tape that contained a 30-minute long drama (which can be found on YouTube
today). It really is imperative to be experienced before playing the game in order to build the foundation for the story. And to include that in the box must have cost a fortune.
And this game really is all about the story. It’s almost a blending of tragedy and epic poem.
What makes Loom so unusual as a Lucasfilm game is that it’s so serious. Everything feels very dramatic, very melancholy and even heavy at times. So many of the other SCUMM-based games
from this era and style were humor-ridden to the point of being cleverly ridiculous. Loom takes itself pretty seriously most of the time, and at times is even sad.
However, it isn’t cruel or mean to the gamer.
There is no way to die in this game and there is no inventory to manage - except for the songs you learn along the way. You must write the 4-note melodies down (as each time you play the game from the beginning, the note orders for each “spell” will be different). So you do need to take some notes. But it doesn’t bash you over the head with countless ways to die or provide dead ends to get hopelessly lost.
Loom has three game difficulties: Practice, Standard and Expert. I played the game in Standard mode. This means I got to see the musical notes on the screen, and the user interface would show me where to later click in the proper order when I needed to play a song. In expert mode, I would have to play the game entirely by ear with no visual cues at all, which was way above my pay grade. But supposedly if you do play Expert mode and beat the game, you get a special end-screen of some sort.
In any case, I’d read before playing this game in many chest-puffing reviews that the game was way too easy and too short. Well I’ll be honest I thought it was just fine. I’m not an expert at these types of puzzle games and I found the puzzles to be hard enough (thank you very much). But they weren’t unbeatable, and honestly many of the Infocom and Lucasfilm games do sometimes feel like the puzzles are unfair or impossibly random. Loom did not feel random at all - it felt very steady and logical most of the time. And to that end, I very much enjoyed it. But I didn’t find it “easy.” I found it to be fair, which was a breath of fresh air. I didn’t need an Ultima-level grind in order to enjoy this game
From a visual standpoint, it’s at times breathtaking to see what Lucasfilms’ artists were able to do with such a limited palette. The game was originally created for MS-DOS with a 16-color palette. The Amiga port seems to be a direct 1-to-1 copy of that effort. But that’s not a dig; to be honest I think that limitation improved their artistry and vision, creating jaw-dropping scenes with oftentimes just a few colors. Put simply, the game is gorgeous. The character animations are at times a little wonky, which seems a fairly common occurrence in many of the games that utilize the SCUMM-engine, though.
The music, however, did not always inspire.
For a game that almost entirely leverages the novel idea of music as THE key game mechanic and theme, I actually found the music rather shrill and not very likable at all. That’s really one of the only criticisms I can muster towards this much-beloved classic. I never wanted to just sit and listen to the opening title screen. (I did love looking at it, though, and the dreamy swans flying through the LOOM logo.) I wish I liked the music more, but I just didn’t. There are some games where it will grow on you. And Loom’s score did set a peaceful mood, which I liked - it was never that stressful or tense. But the actual songs were just… meh. They’re actually clips taken from Swan Lake and I’m just not a fan in the way they were represented. I think I’d rather listen to Swan Lake as performed by a band of kazoos, and I hate kazoos!
Assuming you’ve listened to the female-narrated audio drama and the other voice actors, you’ll have learned about this world that has segregated itself based on professions. And thus began the age of the Guilds. One of these was the Weavers, and over time they learned to not only create impressive tapestries, but were able to work “influences” into their patterns. In other words, their work and the very process of weaving became magical. As a result, the other guilds began to fear and mistrust the weavers and eventually persecuted them (much like the Salem witch trials
Ultimately, the weavers moved to a hidden island away from the rest of humanity and much time passed.
For some reason many of the weaver guild’s newborn babies would be stillborn as a curse had fallen onto the weaver’s island. (See what I mean about this game having a dark tone?) It also had something to do with a large and ancient magical loom and the patterns it held. The guild’s elders grew very conservative over the years, and were afraid to change the loom’s patterns in any way whatsoever for fear of unknown consequences. They believed the loom literally held the fabric of reality together. And to a great extent, they were right.
A character named Lady Cygna uses the loom against the wishes of the elders in order to save their future race. I got the impression during this part of the story that she just lost a child, too. And from her weaving with the Great Loom, a baby boy was born - that’s you. Your name is Bobbin Threadbare.
Cygna was discovered and turned into a swan as punishment for her crime of using the loom.
You are raised by an old lady named Hetchel outside the guild until you turn 17 years old, and the old woman teaches you a few basics of weaving in secret.
You soon witness Hetchel being punished by the elders for teaching you, and see her transformation into a swan, too. Without giving too much away, all of the weavers are transformed into swans except for you. After they all fly away, you pick up one of the elder’s “distaff”, which not only is literally used for weaving, but mainly casting spells through the process of playing “drafts” or short 4-note tunes. And that’s really where the game starts in earnest.
Cygna is latin for swan.
You, Bobbin Threadbare, must find the flock of swans. The fabric of the universe has been torn open by a somewhat cliche character named Chaos. You must close the holes and defeat Chaos and his army of the dead. (Say what?!)
The graphics and the story in Loom are stunningly good, and in many respects were very innovative at the time. The art direction and use of cold or warm colors at a given time are frankly awe inspiring. Put it this way: I took over 120 individual photographs of the game while playing for this review. Selecting the set below was a very difficult job indeed.
Moriarty took the graphical adventure genre in a whole new direction and broke from the norms of previous (and future) contemporary games. The level of the puzzles were not all easy in my opinion, but they were mostly fair. At the end of the day, Loom really is something very special indeed and - if played with the audio drama and books as originally intended - can be a very deep and immersive experience. Its bizarre story and characters, overall uniqueness and depth make it a must-play game.
It is not, however, a game that will likely inspire multiple replays. Once you get it, you get it. But for first-timers, buckle those seatbelts and enjoy the ride, even if for some it might feel like it is over too soon.
Loom was released in the Spring of 1990. As such, the Amiga box states it is playable on the 1000, 500 and 2000. However I played the game on a “low end” A3000 at 16Mhz and 16MB RAM. I installed the game to hard drive, but it can be played off floppy disks, too.
To my surprise at times the animations felt slow. Even clicking on the distaff to play tunes was not very responsive. It seemed like the machine was struggling to keep up with my clicks. That being said it didn’t detract from the game at all as most of the time you’re sitting there pondering the screen and what to do. Thankfully there’s no time limit, and no need for expert arcade skills or responsiveness. Just sit back and relax. It's all good.
From the Manual (and how refreshing it is!):
is unlike traditional "adventure games" in many ways. Its goal is to let you participate m the unfolding of a rich, thought-provoking fantasy It is neither a role-playing game (although it incorporates elements of role-playing), nor a collection of brainteasers. Its simple mysteries are designed to engage your imagination and draw you deeper into the story, not to frustrate you or increase the amount of time it takes to finish.
You can never be stranded while playing Loom
. We've gone to great lengths to insure that you will never find yourself in a situation from which you cannot escape. If you're not sure how to proceed, remember: the knowledge you need to continue the story is always available somewhere nearby. You don't need to save and restore your game frequently to insure success (although you can if you want to). Don't be afraid to experiment. Nothing in the game can "kill" you. If you're really stumped, ask a friend for help. Sooner or later, the answers will reveal themselves!
Most important of all, Loom
is designed to be completed
, not played halfway through and then thrown on a shelf and forgotten. We spent a lot of time and effort creating these disks. We want you to enjoy them all!
Read the Book of Patterns!
It contains important information about the magical powers you will soon command.
Read the rest of this manual!
Loom looks and plays like no other adventure game. Take the time to learn how to make the most of its unique design.
This is your role ...
You direct the actions of Bobbin Threadbare, an inexperienced member of the Guild of Weavers. At the beginning of the story, Bobbin doesn't know very much about the power of the Weavers or how to use it. As he encounters and masters increasingly challenging situations, Bobbin becomes a more proficient Weaver.
lf this is your first computer adventure game, be prepared for an entertaining challenge. Be patient, even if it takes a while to figure out some of the puzzles. If you get stuck, you might need to solve another puzzle first or discover a musical pattern. But hang in there and use your imagination
and you will guide Bobbin to understand the mysteries of the Loom!
We've included the Book of Patterns to help you learn the magical patterns that have been created by Weavers over the millennia. As Bobbin explores the world around him, certain actions on his part cause musical notes, or threads, to be played. Pay attention to these threads-they will always occur in a series of four, which the Weavers call a draft. As the Book of Patterns points out, each draft has its own unique effect, and discovering the purpose for each draft is the secret to success in the world of Loom
. As Bobbin finds new drafts, write down the individual threads (each draft has four) for future reference. Be sure to use a pencil when writing drafts in the Book of Patterns!
Each time you start a new game, the threads of each draft may be different.