Hello, my name is Damien. Don’t ask me about Loom cause I have never played it. During that wonderful period that was the 90s, it was the one classic Lucasarts adventure games that no one talked about nor had a copy laying around to play. Monkey Island was everywhere and so Day of the Tentacle. Full Throttle and Sam & Max I found in the shops, where I bought my copies. Loom? What?
Maybe it had something to do with its intricate red glasses copy protection and audio drama or the fact that it never received a full italian translation. Whatever the reason, I found out about Loom being one of the classic Lucasarts adventures only many years later.
Amending past mistakes
As 2004 rolled on, I was indeed a Lucasarts fanatic but I wanted my adventure games filled with zany characters and illogical situations, a game with a serious fantasy vibe didn’t sound appealing to me. Once I saw the screenshots, the “distaff” interface put me off for good. You might be wondering why I am telling you all this. Basically I’m still trying to explain to myself how I could let Loom escape my grasp all this time. 2020 came around and I made up my mind: it was time to correct that glaring omission. I finished the game and now I’m giving it its due with this article, trying to find out why it was so hard to find and not very popular.
Initial game design and story
The game was designed by Brian Moriarty in 1988 and released two years later. The “professor”, coming strong from designing classic textual Infocom adventures, had the clout and the courage to pursue a unique vision at Lucasfilms, with the help of talented people like Mark Ferrari and Steve Purcell. Indeed, Loom is the “odd one out” of classic graphical adventures. It uses the SCUMM interface that made classics of titles such as Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken, while doing away with what made it instantly recognizable. Loom doesn’t have the classic verb interface neither does it have dozens of items to be picked up; there’s no inventory at all. Moriarty wanted the player to be fully immersed, as to open up the game to a larger public than other SCUMM titles. Thus, he created a story based on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (as is the wonderful soundtrack), where as the “prophecy child” you will have to save what’s left of your world from a great evil.
Since the professor was in love with the idea of a gesture-controlled interface, Loom uses a keyboard friendly “distaff” musical system. You learn spells (drafts) to interact with items and people as you progress in the game and “level up” by earning new notes you can play. Each drafts has four notes that you have to remember and play on your staff, since the game doesn’t keep track of any the spells you’ve encountered. At the beginning you can backtrack and listen to the drafts again, but don’t count on it for the rest of the game. Most spells are random each time you start a new game too; should you want to save, restart and then go back, that would be a dead end. The manual encourages you to write everything down, as was customary back in the day and you’d be well advised to do the same now.
Also, the game was introduced by a 30 minute audio drama included on a cassette in the box.
These two elements are key to understanding why Loom’s design is different from any other ordinary adventure. No other Lucas games included so much lore you had to be introduced to, the internarrative typical of Infocom games still an inspiration for Moriarty. Loom forces you to slow down, note down the spells you encounter, listen to the audio drama. It wants you to take your time in order to fully appreciate the world you’re about to enter, to feel like you’re actually there playing notes along with the prophesied Bobbin Threadbare. Approaching it with logic or brute force like any other adventures with “riddles” and puzzles, would make you frustrated, probably disappointed. Designing it to be more approachable meant making it different from the other games and we all know variety and originality are rarely rewarded by the large gaming public. Many would be pretty content in playing for the rest of their lives the same title over and over: another Monkey Island, another Doom, another Fortnite.
Don Bluth meets Jim Henson
Loom walks a similar thread (he he) to a Don Bluth cartoon trying for a foreboding atmosphere a là The Dark Crystal. It’s no coincidence that in the postmortem – heavily recommended viewing – Moriarty namechecks the Jim Henson related game Labyrinth as the other “fantasy Lucasarts title”. The story of Bobbin Threadbare feels very dramatic and heavy, the world hangs in the balance and an evil force is killing people left and right. Still there are many light touches of humour, especially in the names of the characters you meet that feel very “Sierra”. Even though it is indeed shorter and easier than most other adventures, Loom was designed to be unique and doesn’t feel designed for kids at all.
Writing a story between magical adventure and fleshed out world feels rightly of its time, but the weaving narrative and the direct approach to the player is straight out of an indie game from 2015. Ironically enough, the way it was designed to be playable by beginners and adventureres alike, made it “the odd one out” that tends to be skipped on even today. It also manages to expertly conceal many of its mysteries so that it seems like there’s much more beneath the surface of the story. Moriarty himself concludes that he didn’t realize how much the ending felt like a set up for a sequel that never materialized. I guess even the hints he threw at Doublefine and Wadjet Eye during his 2015 GDC speech didn’t really go anywhere.
Loom’s gifts for the future
It took me almost 20 years to get to Loom. In a way I’m glad, because I could savour it without feeling any kind of pressure or influence from other games. Still, I can’t help but feel sad that I waited all this time. Perusing Youtube vidoes I’ve read so many comments of people that learned english thanks to this game, like I did with many titles on the C64. You would sit at the screen, dictionary beside the keyboard and you’d look up each word that you don’t know.
Even though it’s not often mentioned among the classic titles from the 90s and sometimes not even from the memorable adventure games, it is clear to me now why this title is so important to so many people. It feels… Different, in an honest and sincere way. A work of someone who cared very much about everything he was doing, no other proof needed than the emotion Moriarty throws in while speaking about this game even though so many years have passed.
He almost cries when remembering the inspiration he was struck by.
I’m lucky to have witnessed, in the game, at least a tiny part in that emotion.