The 90s was a decade with a lot of experimentation and uniquely designed games, and also a lot of them were fantasy themed. LucasArts’, developed only one original high fantasy game, Loom.
Looking at the games developed at the time, and especially adventure games, there were a lot of fantasy-themed games. Titles like King’s Quest, Quest for Glory, Simon the Sorcerer, and many more, one would think that a giant like LucasArts’ would develop more fantasy-themed games. Loom was their only game set in the high fantasy setting (not counting the Labyrinth, their first video games, which was based on a movie).
The game was designed by Brian Moriarty, a former Infocom employee, and author of several text adventure games, such as Wishbringer (1985), The Trinity (1986) and Beyond Zork (1987). Released in 1990, Loom was the fourth game that used the SCUMM engine. What sets Loom apart from the rest of the LucasArts’ titles, and other adventure games in general is it’s gameplay which makes it unique.
Loom disregards the traditional model for adventure games, and you will notice this right at the start of the games. For instance, you will notice that there are no typical SCUMM commands, like “Open”, “Use”, “Pick Up”, etc. You can’t even pick up items in the game, and there aren’t any dialog options.
You are probably wondering, how do you play this game?
Well, early at the game after the introduction, you get a distaff, which you use to cast spells, but there is an interesting twist. Loom’s gameplay is centered around magical four-note tunes, known as “drafts”. At the beginning of the game, you are only able to play drafts, using only the notes “C”, “D” and “E”, which limits your ability to play more advanced drafts. As the game progresses you will unlock higher notes, and learn more advanced drafts.
You can learn drafts by observing an object that possesses the draft, and a draft will be played. For instance, by examining the dye, and playing the “Dye” draft, you can now dye things. Some of the drafts can be played backward, like the already mentioned “Dye”, if played backward would become “Bleach”, and you will have the draft to bleach things. Not all of the drafts can be reversed and some are palindromes, and can’t be reversed.
Unlike most adventure games at the time, Loom offers three difficulty settings: Practice, Standard and Expert. In Practice and Standard mode, you can see the scales and notes, while selecting the Expert mode, a distaff with no notes is displayed, and you must play the game by ear. In the original version of the game, the Expert mode featured an extra scene, but this scene was later included in all difficulty settings in later releases.
The story in Loom is interesting, with a rich backstory which for the most part serves as the story filler. The large portion of the backstory doesn’t appear in the game but was included in the as a half-hour radio drama, included in the original release. Fortunately, most of the backstory can be figured out by playing the game (and the Book of Patterns gives some context), and the radio drama serves to fill in some blanks.
So, Loom is about the Guild of Weavers, that have grown to powerful, and graduated from clothes to sewing patterns into space and time itself. So the Weavers were ostracized and cast out to a small island, away from the rest of the Guilds, due to their fearsome craft. They named the island Loom, after the great loom, which is the source of their powers. Isolated from the rest of the world, the Weavers’ number grows smaller.
A troubled weaver, Lady Cygna Threadbare, uses the great Loom to help by adding a grey thread into the Loom. This has an unexpected effect and causes a child to appear out of the loom. Because of this Cygna is punished by the Guild Elder’s and turned into a swan, and banished from the “pattern”, and essentially condemning her between dimensions. The child is adopted by Dame Hetchel and names him Bobbin Threadbare, but she is forbidden from teaching him any of the Weaver’s teachings and techniques. The Elders fear that Bobbin will eventually unravel the pattern, but Hetchel teaches him about weaving nonetheless.
On his seventeen birthday, Bobbin is summoned by the Elders to the main hall. Once he arrives, he finds Dame Hetchel, being berated by the Elders. They have found out that she has been teaching Bobbin weaving and are about to punish her in the same way they punished Cygna Threadbare. However, instead of turning into a swan, Dame Hetchel is turned into an egg. Suddenly. a swan appears out of the dimensional pocket, and plays a draft of transcendence on the great loom, and transforms all of the elders into swans. All of the swans fly away, cursing young Bobbin, leaving him confused and wondering. Once he frees Hetchel from her egg, he sets out on the quest to find out were the flock of swans left to.
The puzzles in the game are relatively simple, and Loom was one of the first games that used LucasArt’s unofficial policy of no deaths or unwinnable situations, where you might be forced to restart the game. That being said it is difficult to get stuck, and you are encouraged to write down drafts, as they change every time you start a new game. Some of the puzzles involve trial-and-error, but these are rare, and most of the puzzles require that you use the correct draft at the right time. With all of this mentioned the game is quite short, and it may take experienced players about an hour or two to beat the game.
The graphics in the game are beautiful, like all LucasArts’ games and even the original 16-bit EGA graphics still look colorful and fresh. This version was also ported to Amiga, Atari ST, and Macintosh. Loom was also redeveloped for the Japanese FM Towns and it was released on CD, in 1991 with 256-color VGA and a new digital soundtrack. The game was for the most left unchanged, although the scene with the blood was censored, and some visual elements were lost. A similar port was released for the TurboGrafx-CD in 1992 and features a mix of graphics from the 16-bit and 256 color versions, adapted for the system.
The definitive version of the game was released for MS-DOS on CD in 1992. It features an entirely re-recorded soundtrack, a separate CD for the radio drama and fully voiced dialog, with many of the actors from the radio drama reprising their roles. However, due to technical limitations, much of the dialog had to be abridged or revised. The graphics are similar to those from the FM Towns version but feature minor improvements and some additional censorship. Also, some things were cut, such as multiple solutions to the puzzles, and due to limitations, the dialog close-ups were removed and some parts of the cutscenes. Brain Moriarty stated that he considers the FM Towns version, the best version of the game.
Loom was also the first LucasArts’ game to feature music, and almost all of the Loom music consists of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, which is fitting with the game’s theme. The main difference between the floppy and the CD versions is that the floppy version doesn’t feature dialog, while the CD version doesn’t feature music, except in cutscenes. In the IBM CD version, the music will fade after the cutscenes, and the rest of the game is played in silence, while the FM Towns and TurboGrafix-16 version have music playing throughout the whole game. The IBM CD version is the only release that features voice acting, and it predates the Fate of Atlantis by only a few months. The voice acting in the game is great, but most of the characters speak in British accents. The thing with the voice acting is that they are recorded on CD audio tracks, rather than being compressed. This took a huge amount of space, and in return, some of the dialogs had to be cut or changed. All of these changes have minimal impact on the game itself and don’t ruin the experience.
Loom is considered a cult classic and is definitely a unique game, even for its time. Apparently, Loom was not designed as the first game in the series, but Brian Moriarty did consider the possibility of developing a sequel. The two planned sequels were titled Forge and The Fold. starring Bobbin’s friends Rust Nailbender and Fleece Firmflanks.
Here’s the quote from an interview with Brian Moriarty from 2006:
“Loom wasn’t actually written with a trilogy in mind. But after it was finished, there was vague interest in continuing the story. In discussing this possibility, I imagined two sequels.
The first was tentatively called Forge. It tells the story of Bobbin’s friend Rusty Nailbender, whose home city (the Forge of the Blacksmiths) was enslaved by Chaos near the end of Loom. Rusty becomes the leader of an underground movement to overthrow Chaos, together with Fleece Firmflanks of the Shepherds and new characters from the other Guilds. Bobbin appears every now and then as a ghostly swan dispensing mystical advice, an obvious nod to Obi-Wan Kenobi of Star Wars. The story climaxes in a terrible battle that nearly destroys the world.
The third game, The Fold, is about Fleece Firmflanks and her attempt to unite the shattered Guilds in a final, desperate effort to banish Chaos. Near the end of the game, when the cause appears hopeless, Bobbin and the Weavers swoop in like the proverbial cavalry to save the day. The Loom of the Weavers is remade, reality is healed, and peace is restored to the Guilds.
But this was all just talk. I was busy with other projects, and nobody else felt strongly enough about the games to make a commitment. So Forge and The Fold never got made.”
The game was highly received by both the critics and the audience, and the game even received a fan sequel, titled the “The Forge“, but there haven’t been any updates since 2015. Loom was also a contender (not a finalist) for the Nebula reward in 1991.
The game designer, Brian Moriarty also did several postmortems and interviews, for those looking for more info about the game.
Loom is available via Steam and GOG, and all of the versions of the game can also be played using ScummVM virtual machine.
If you are new to adventures or an experienced adventure fan, give Loom a try. It still has its charm and has aged beautifully, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.