While Loom today is fondly remembered by gamers who experienced it 30 years ago, it never got the same attention as the other Lucasfilm or Sierra On-Line titles of the era. Loom was and still is a very beloved game, but by the few, in the wider audience Loom seems only to be a distant and faded piece or even something not recognized at all, why would that be? was the game not any good? didn’t it sell well? and what about play-ability today 30 years after its initial release?
One word and the Age of the Great Guilds are born
It’s the late ’80s former Infocom, now Lucasfilm Games, game designer, and fantasy storyteller Brian Moriarty is leaping thru a computer magazine at The Stable House at Skywalker Ranch, where he stumbles over an advertisement for a kind of co-processing card, in the text below, the circuit board is referred to as a loom. The use of the word touches something deep and waiting in Moriarty, at that moment the story of the weavers and the Age of the Great Guilds was born.
Wishbringer (1985), Trinity (1986), and Beyond Zork (1987), all titles by Moriarty while at Infocom
Coming from Infocom, with its MIT graduate employees and mainframe development tools, Lucasfilm Games must have seen as a place from another planet when Moriarty arrived in 1988.
After Star Wars Lucasfilm had the means to let its Games division experiment, there were only two rules: Don’t lose money and don’t embarrass George.
Two earlier adventure games had been created at Lucasfilm Games, Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and both created using the SCUMM development software created by Ron Gilbert. SCUMM is the acronym for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion.
Gilbert’s SCUMM engine was designed in a clever way that rendered it highly flexible and components like the interface weren’t hardwired in the engine but could be changed to something entirely different at the script level. This flexibility led to Moriarty coming up with a completely new approach to how the player would interact with the game.
A testament to the versatility of Gilbert’s SCUMM engine clearly shows when comparing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Loom, two titles developed on the same engine, around the same time and play vastly different.
Development started in August of 1988, only a few weeks after Moriarty had joined Lucasfilm Games and ended up taking around one and a half years to complete.
The original EGA version was released in the spring of 1990 and is the version to play if you ask me, it comes with a full 30 minutes audio drama, on cassette, which introduces you to the story of the Guilds and our protagonist Bobbin Threadbare. The Drama is very well produced and draws you right into the compelling fantasy world of Loom.
Mark Ferrari did the beautiful 16 color backgrounds, in Deluxe Paint II, using a technique called dithering, a process of mixing colored pixels in a checkerboard pattern to create the illusion of a greater colorspace. He had already used the same technique when working on Zak McKracken, but the engine’s image compression algorithm ruined the effect. Gilbert later added support for dithering after seeing one of Ferrari’s images. Loom would be the first title to utilize dithering.
Loom was at the time, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful games ever created.
Mark Ferrari is still a huge inspiration for the pixel-artist of today and his work on Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick’s Thimbleweed Park is absolutely amazing (as well as the art in the game created by other talented pixel-artist from around the globe).
Animations and closeups were done by two other famous Lucas employee, Steve Purcell, and Gary Winnick.
A mint factory sealed copy of the original US EGA release from 1990.
The beautiful cover artwork was also done by Mark Ferrari
Loom has a very minimalistic approach to its interface and the way in which the player interacts with the game. The only item carried by Bobbin is a distaff, a wooden staff for weaving threads, which upon you’d be weaving drafts, comprised of a scale of seven notes – drafts you’ll learn throughout the game. You’ll start with the ability to weave 3 out of the 7 threads of the scale to spin drafts with, with these drafts you’ll be able to interact and manipulate items in the world.
Weaving drafts, examining, and moving around the environment are really the only actions that you will take throughout the game. The use of this unique and elegant interface and design made the experience a very unique and streamlined one.
Another of Loom’s big innovations was its sound. Sound designers from what would become Skywalker Sound digitally recorded British voice actors for the audio drama in a variety of indoor and outdoor environments. The actors recorded lines together, which is rare in voice-over work. Also Moriarty, a lifelong admirer of Tchaikovsky, had seven pieces from Swan Lake converted to MIDI to score Loom by now legendary game composer The Fat Man.
I played the original EGA version back in 1990 and really loved everything about it. Two years later I played the CD-ROM version published by The Software Toolworks (Mindscape) and while the CD version had beautiful VGA graphics and CD-quality audio and speech it was just not the same, also all versions since the original have been altered in some form or shape – I keep coming back to the original version which I took a shot at not long ago with my oldest son and the game is just as fantastic as when first released, the story and atmosphere just as compelling and beautiful… even by today’s standards.
Me and my brother’s original copies, bought the same year as released.
On the left the EGA version released in 1990 on 5.25″ floppies and on the left, the very rare black label version from 1992, this was the Software Toolworks version, distributed in the EU by U.S. Gold
Loom was ported to a variety of systems and was released in Japan for the Fujitsu FM-Towns system – It was even localized to Hebrew.
The FM-Towns version, released in Japan, this was like the Software Toolworks release, released on CD-ROM taking advantage of the FM-Towns media capabilities – Unlike the Software Toolworks version, The FM Towns version preserves close-up scenes and conversations but has no voice acting.
While Loom sold well, was a commercial success at the time, and was critically acclaimed, we have to remember that the early nineties were the heyday of the graphical adventure.
Already established franchises like Sierra’s King’s Quest and Space Quest saw releases of the newest rendition in their respectful series, with VGA graphics and Point’n’click interfaces.
Lucasfilm Games released the same year The Secret of Monkey Island, one of the best adventure games of all time – Yes it was a tough time to really stand out in the mainstream gaming world, especially being unique and a bit obscure.
For people who played it back in the days, Loom seems to have touched something magical in them and it seems like a small renaissance is happening these years. Loom is absolutely as playable today as back then – For people who missed it (over a quarter of a century ago!) and newcomers all seem to embrace it with love.
Some might say that Loom is too easy and too short, which I can on some level agree to but with the notion that Loom was created to be completed, without dead ends, unimaginable ways of dying, and puzzles that even Einstein would end up calling the hint line for answers to, Loom does exactly what it is set out to do, it gives you an immersive and interactive story in which you can casually and easily navigate and enjoy, and just as important also be able to complete – unlike many adventures games of the time and the time before it.
Loom is presented in the best possible way with its gorgeous graphics, engaging story, beautiful sound design, and the unique way of interacting with the world and its items.
Even while Loom might be considered a bit obscure and experimental by the mainstream, I do think adventure gamers and even established and aspiring game designers alike could benefit from an experience trying out brilliant Loom.
Loom can be found on GOG, unfortunately, though, it’s not the original EGA version.
Below a few copies from my collection, a few couldn’t make it to the photo shoot (a sealed Mac and a sealed US Software Toolworks release).