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The Last Express: Video Game as Art

The Last Express: Video Game as Art

ANALYSIS – VIDEO GAME: The Last Express (1997) – VERONIKA ZÝKOVÁ –

The Last Express (1997) is a video game created by Jordan Mechner and Smoking Car Productions, set on the Orient Express in 1914. This video game was very innovative in the adventure games genre. The Last Express was the first “real-time adventure game” and until these days it remains an example of combining deep story with high artistic values, 3D environment based on detailed historical research, rotoscoped Art Nouveau stylized characters, international cast with great voice acting in multiple languages and other praised aspects I will mention further. The game has taken 4 years to develop, with budget over 5 million dollars.1 Innovative in many aspects, critically acclaimed, but at the same time financially unsuccessful2

This article will balance between serious analysis and a long-time love to this video game (or interactive media). Although it has been 15 years since its release, The Last Express is undoubtedly considered a piece of art and very accomplished narrative, which was examined in The End of Books — Or Books Without End? Reading Interactive Narratives by J. Yellowlees Douglas and other studies. Just like in the time of its release, when it received rave reviews, the game still makes it to various charts and polls of the best adventure games of all times.3 Now that The Last Express is available as a digital download on various sites4 and recently [on March 16th 2012] its version for iPad and iPhone was announced,5 lets have a detailed look at what The Last Express offers to a gamer.

Adventurous 90s

90s were exciting era of adventure games genre, inside the traditional point-and-click system emerged not only successful titles such as hand-drawn animated 3rd person Revolution’s Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (2 CDs, 1996) and Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror (2 CDs, 1997) and LucasArts’ Monkey Island sequel The Curse of Monkey Island (2 CDs, 1997). But I won’t talk about these. From numerous games of this genre I have chosen few titles from the 2nd half of 90s, titles I consider inspiring from today’s perspective and that also share some similarities with The Last Express – in terms of originality and in what they tried to achieve, although not every attempt was perfect. For those who do not know The Last Express or were not gaming in 90s, this could put The Last Express a little bit to the context of the period that was great for adventure games, in which big production games were designed, but at the same time the cutting sales and other aspects led to the end of this era.

At the time of its release, The Last Express was referred to as an „interactive movie“.6 To this category or sub-genre belong Tex Murphy series (Under a Killing Moon, Pandora Directive and Tex Murphy: Overseer), Phantasmagoria (7 CDs, 1997), The Ripper (6 CDs, 1995), Black Dahlia (8 CDs, 1998) or more overlooked The Dame Was Loaded (2 CDs, 1996). And of course, Jane Jensen’s and Sierra’s Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within (6 CDs, 1995), which is a great example of interactive movie with good acting and strong story, based on Wagnerian mystery, which leads to Neuschwanstein castle, Richard Wagner’s Museum and other locations. The sticker “interactive movie” at that time meant that the game included a lot of non-interactive sequences, it was shot live action, using full motion video (FMV), sometimes the acting was not very good, and very often it felt more like a film than a game, which was not very positive aspect for gamers; some of them were resentful to this kind of games. As we will see, The Last Express was going against some of the “interactive movie” aspects in certain elements.

At the end of 1997, Westwood’s big title Blade Runner (4 CDs, 1997), based on Ridley Scott’s cult film (though not following its plot but rather visualizing P. K. Dick’s world) promised gamers real-time and non-linear adventure. What it offered was quite cinematic experience with live environment, where one could walk or run through streets, where people were walking, sitting, selling things etc. But its real-time was nothing more than just a time dependent on player’s action, which would move the time and then you could act independently on time, until another „big moment“ (action sequence, cutscene) came, which pushed „hands of time“. As to non-linearity, Blade Runner had twelve different endings depending on player’s decisions during the game.


Another ambitious title, which shares more similarities with The Last Express than any other game, is Titanic: Adventure Out of Time (2 CDs, 1996). This game by Cyberflix followed after Dust: A Tale of the Wired West (2 CDs, 1995), a point-and-click adventure game set to Wild West, where you play a character named simply Stranger, whose escape brings him to a town called Diamondback in the year 1882. Playing from the 1st person perspective, you can talk to quite eccentric characters, which were played by real actors, their lip-sync is probably the best what could have been achieved with limited fps. The lips and voices are not in sync, but it is partly concealed by the fast movement of lips. What is truly amusing is character’s expressive mimics.

The same technique was used for Titanic, which offered rendered backgrounds based on detailed historical research of the real ship. But the characters work better in Dust, within a small town, than on a big famous ship. On Titanic, it felt weird to be almost alone with only few characters standing here and there in this enormously big space. This emptiness and lack of life I always considered big minus of many adventure titles. Although creators make sure it is explained (In Titanic most of the people are sleeping, because it is night… Well, okay, never mind!), this is something that keeps player (i.e. me) one step from really “being there”.7

Both these games had real-time elements with people moving on their trajectories and actions that had to be done to push time further. In case of Dust the real-time feeling was made possible by changing daytimes, Titanic followed events happening the night before sinking of Titanic and its final part had to be finished in 55 minutes, as the ship is progressively sinking. In both these games your character remains silent, the others are dubbed. Still, running of time was bound with your actions, just as in Blade Runner, so more than a real time; it was a “fake time”. The Last Express and Titanic share not only the detailed historical research8, recreating certain events based on real historical background, having also in common international personnel including spies, Serbian Black Hand9 supporters, industrialist etc., not to mention fight sequences.


In 1997, French company Cryo released Atlantis: The Lost Tales (4 CDs), that was at the time hailed for its striking visuals and gaming environment, in which you can look around you in 360 degrees from 1st person perspective. The characters were motion captured. Although some of them look quite alike and their lips syncing is not really great10, the game is powerful in its well-done puzzles, atmospheric music and beautiful environment.


Other memorable attempts to give player some interesting and innovative gaming experience include DreamWorlds’ and Doug TenNapel’s The Neverhood (1 CD, 1996), completely created by claymation technique and presenting charming naive world. It was followed by platform game Skullmonkeys in 1998. Jeff Blyth’s and Cyberdreams’ Noir: A Shadowy Thriller (2 CDs, 1996), set in 1940s, consisted completely of black and white photos, creating atmospheric world. But it was exactly this black and white conception that made it sometimes hard to orient, because some parts of the locations looked very similar. Atmosphere is the main weapon of this game, with its L.A. setting, jazz music and actors in period costumes, everything part of the attempt to recreate good old noir films. The result: really interesting try at combining noir genre with adventure game.


I could go on and on talking about such interesting gaming experiences as an independent ghostly game AMBER: Journey Beyond (1 CD, 1996), or The Dark Eye (1 CD, 1995) with its puppets and stop animation recreating world of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and poems. Instead I will stop here and finally get to the point of this article, which is the game that is more innovative than any of titles mentioned above.

“A clue in every car… A stranger in every seat… Danger at every destination”

When we look back in time, we can see that the universe of The Last Express was deepened in the space of the Internet. Before the game was released (in April 1997) and before The Last Express’ voyage began, at http://www.lastexpress.com/ players could look at twelve items that were set on the time-line of the year 1914 (from January 20th to 22nd July) and had a meaning especially in the relation with the story of the game, but when one looked at those items11 and did not play the game or demo, these would only partly make sense in combination with other information that were available on the website. The time-line with items was later after the game’s release gone off the site.

Players could also read details about seven main characters of The Last Express.12 That is quite important, as you, when you start to play, have no information about your character and you get to know the others by talking to them and reading documents that you find, but still, you have to connect many of the information and sometimes those information are limited. The time-line with items was some time after the game’s release gone, but the rest of the web’s content remained there, with added previews, reviews and other information about the game. The whole site was up till 2004 and later was archived by game’s lead programmer Mark Moran and its different phases were captured by WaybackMachine. Complexity with which The Last Express was created was reflected on this web. It was not another site just promoting game – its creators managed to implement Art Nouveau style to its visuals and build up atmosphere and expectations with fitting lines.13

The gaming experience is, of course, influenced by reading previews, reviews and in some cases even walkthroughs prior to game’s release. Before the full version of The Last Express was out, demo version was available, which offered short segment of the game (5:30 to 6 pm), before the train stopped in Vienna. It was a great experience, though a little bit confusing, as you were placed right in the middle of events, not knowing what is going on, which actually was not different from your position in the beginning of the whole game. You could go only to certain places on the train, do some interaction and experience one action sequence, where you have to defy yourself in fight. The demo was closed with slide-show of screen-shots from non-interactive sequences of the game accompanied by a violin composition that fit together well.

Reviewers praised the story, beautiful 3D rendered backgrounds and rotoscoped characters, acting, music, atmosphere and other aspects. The only thing that they (and also some gamers) were not happy about was the gameplay time that is not very long (great re-playability value was overlooked in most cases). Unusual innovative saving system was also not to everybody’s taste. Other thing mentioned quite frequently was the non-interactive sequences that are done in the comic book style like a slide-show, which looks worse in comparison to full motion that was used for some scenes (most notably people going through corridors of the train). Generally, the reviewers were enthusiastic and so were most of the gamers who got a chance to play The Last Express.

Note: I am including information about graphics and onboard-art in „chapters“ below. For more detailed information about graphical side of The Last Express and rotoscoping process, read the interview with Nicole Tostevin. You can also watch video, where creators of the game describe making of The Last Express. Interesting information and screenshots are available at http://lastexpress.markmoran.net/production.html.

Story and characters

As I’ve mentioned earlier, in the beginning you do not know anything about your character. The game starts with non-interactive sequence showing Paris train station (as you get to know from subtitles saying “Paris, July 24, 1914”) with train about to depart (as you can hear). You see an unknown man on the train, obviously waiting for somebody, observing station with many policemen. Then the train departs, unknown man goes inside the train with resignation and worries in his face. Train is moving through the country, and then motorcycle appears with rider and man; he tries to jump on the train. Finally, he succeeds. Rider takes of helmet, now we see it is a woman, she waves to a man, and he waves back and then gets inside the train. Then this truly cinematic sequence14 ends and you are suddenly in hold of control and you watch everything from 1st person perspective. You are the man who just boarded in very original way. You can feel confused, this is quite unexpected (at least if you have not spoiled your experience with reading walk-through or this article…). It pretty much captures how you often feel while playing The Last Express, not knowing what to do; the game does not lead you from one person who gives you tasks, to another. You can reduce the lack of information by checking your inventory, where you find telegram and newspaper clipping, which can give you some clues about who you are (you are Robert Cath) and why you’re on the train. Soon enough you will discover that “something has gone terribly wrong. Now you must untangle a complex web of political intrigue, suspense, romance, and betrayal. Every move you make could bring you closer to the truth or your own demise.“15 This quotation pretty much captures what you will do aboard. The setting is clear to anybody who took History classes. On June 28 archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot dead in Sarajevo, on July 30 Germany started to mobilize. Just few days before WWI Orient Express with passengers of different nations, social statuses and interests is on its way from Paris to Constantinople.

The main story is captivating, but what makes this game such extraordinary experience is the deepness of characters and stories you can follow during you journey. For instance, French family (wife is gossip, husband is rational engineer, their son is annoying imp) is going to Abadan, city in a desert; you will speak with this little boy, François, and trade with him important item. You can watch him going to harem’s compartment and listen to him playing with women or listen to his remarks and conversations with his parents, especially his mother. She does not take him seriously, although he is telling the truth. Listening to him can give you some hints.

Other example: two women, English Rebecca Norton and French Sophie de Breteuil, who are traveling together as a couple, do not play any part in Robert Cath’s life story. But still, you can listen to huge amount of conversations between them; listen to them quarreling, havening fun, and discussing their lives. Also, you can sneak to their compartment and read Rebecca’s diary, in which she progressively captures from her perspective what happens on the train and with obvious literal talent, she describes her fellow passengers. It is also her voice and part from her diary that always tells you what happened after you failed and the game ended.

It could be stereotypical to have Tzar’s good friend and anarchist together on the train, as well as British spy and American who summons his dead friend’s identity, but all the characters are written so well and their background story is so deep, that that it has no equivalent in gaming world and I am afraid many films lack such deepness. It is not surprising that Jordan Mechner and Tomi Pierce intended The Last Express to be one of many adventures of Robert Cath, who would (in Indiana Jones style) get himself into troubles all over the world.16 He minds his own business (i.e. old manuscripts and various ancient stuff), does not care about politics and intrigues, but political situation always drags him to different people with contradictory interests. Cath might not be likeable, because he talks openly and his remarks are often biting.

Although characters aboard the 1914 Orient Express are fictional, they are discussing relevant political and social issues of that time (e.g. Bovary trial) and are referring to real historical characters. On the passenger’s list, there are names of Radomir Putnik, Serbian Field Marshal17, and Jean Jeurès, French Socialist leader18. Although these men should supposedly stay in non-existing compartments of the train (according to passenger’s list), so this could be just a latent reference, conductors discuss political matters and mention that it is pity Jeurès canceled his journey and so he cannot share his opinions.

Rebecca Norton is named after Rebecca West, author of fiction and non-fiction books, such as The Birds Fall Down (1966) and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941) that inspired creators of the game19, and Ann V. Norton20 Also, the name of French family – Boutarel – might sound familiar, if you’ve read Jordan Mechner’s The Making of Prince of Persia. Journals 1985-1993. He spent quite a long time at Rue Boutarel while he was living in Paris.21

You can also read many documents; they either enlighten part of what is going on, character’s motivations, or simply offer you to learn something about historical period; period newspaper in Smoking Saloon, letters and reports of passengers (often concerning you), trainmaster’s documents, look at conductor’s sketches etc. Although this is a serious story, real drama with sadness, love, hate and many dead people, one of the aspects of The Last Express is humor. Robert Cath is witty guy whose remarks in various situations you will appreciate; others not so much. You can have mischievous fun listening to bald German August Schmidt (played wonderfully by Karl-Heinz Teuber) trying to hit on beautiful violinist Anna Wolff. Other memorable character is Englishman George Abbot, who is “traveling on business”; clever guy with fast mouth, behind his blabbering is plenty of hints that he knows a lot about you. In fact, all characters are memorable and are in no sense one-dimensional. Women characters are strong and play big part in the story, I would dare to guess they are so beautifully written thanks to co-writer Tomi Pierce

Authors of the game, Jordan Mechner and Tomi Pierce, mentioned that they were inspired by many books and movies. Graham Greene (Stamboul Train), Russian fairy tales, Robert Graves’s autobiography Goodbye to All That, William Butler Yeats’s poem The Second Coming and many others. As for films, the most notable inspirations are Hitchock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938)22, Reed’s The Third Man (1949) and Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941), just to mention few.23 In terms of montage, biggest inspiration was Hitchcock’s Rare Window (1954).24

So far, I have not been talking about visuals and voices of characters. It would be shame not to mention, at least briefly, that characters are rotoscoped in 2D stylized Art Nouveau look. Not only Mucha’s and Toulous-Lautrec’s paintings were inspiration, but also comic books by such authors as Hugo Pratt, François Schuiten or Enki Bilal.25 Comic book style reminds also the way creators dealt with limited 3 CDs space26 and in many cases had to use not full motion, but more slide-show style, capturing significant gestures and mimics. It works surprisingly well, partly because you just accept this style and get used to it. But full motion used for character’s walking, facing you in the corridor, looking to your eyes with emotions, this is just priceless; surely one of the greatest efforts of The Last Express. You can observe characters from different angles, their actions are little animations similar to loops; they repeat certain moves. It is not too impressive, but sufficient enough to create the illusion of action.

The voice acting is perfect and gamer can enjoy various languages in their beauty. High level of authenticity was accomplished even in this field; Russians are speaking old Russian, you can say when Austrian is speaking German and so forth. For example, character leads conversation in German and in the middle of a sentence he/she starts to speak English with strong German accent. Richness of languages is exceptional.27 When I mentioned that The Last Express was going against some aspects of „interactive movies“, it was because of the difference between FMV used in these games and rotoscoped cartoon-style technique that creators of The Last Express used. It does exactly what they intended: player does not concentrate on acting that much, because he/she sees only key frames of characters talking, he/she rather listens to dialogues and focuses on story. But The Last Express is highly cinematic, as well as very interactive, so if we call it „interactive movie“, „interactive media“, or simply „video game“, it won’t make much difference.28

Time and space

Time is in this real-time adventure game very important, obviously.29 Inner time of the game is similar to time of player’s reality, but it is accelerated. When I talked about characters, I deliberately skipped their AI and logic, which is tightly connected with this real-time aspect of The Last Express. Characters are programmed to do certain actions at certain time – that means they live their lives independently on your actions (they sleep, eat, lead conversations etc.). Passengers of the Orient Express are not static; they don’t wait for you to do something. On the contrary: if you are about to meet someone in Dining Car and you avoid the meeting and lock yourself in your compartment, this person will after some time let you know (through conductor) that he is waiting for you. If you decide to ignore it, after some time you will hear knocking on your door. Who could that be? Ignore once more and he will leave. Then if you change your mind, you can come to that man’s compartment or disturb his conversation with certain lady and finally approach him… This is just one example of how things work in The Last Express.

There is no classic saving system with certain amount of empty slots. Real-time means you can also rewind time whenever you want. The time is re-winded automatically, if you are e.g. killed, to the position where you can do things differently. Whenever you want to play the game from the start, you can rewind time to beginning or just click the gem on top of Fabergé egg clock30 and it will open another clock of different color; there are 6 clocks. Fabergé egg clock in the menu shows the same time as clock in Smoking Car, so whenever you want to check what time it is, you can choose. Not to mention that train-master announces lunches and dinners, stops at destinations etc. Also, subtitles will announce time and destination of the stop. You can possibly guess that The Last Expressis meant to be played more than once. Different actions take place at the same time on different places of the Orient Express. For someone who is used to peace of classic adventure games, it might be frustrating. But this is real life. The whole train has engine, two sleeping cars, baggage car, private car and restaurant car, that is door-separated from the smoking car (so they are together one car). Five cars including sixteen compartments do not look like much space for a big adventure. But everyone who ever saw some train-movie knows that closed space has many advantages and this claustrophobic feeling, rising suspense and inevitable danger are invaluable when connected with good story. You won’t control Robert Cath anywhere else than on the train, with the exception of fun like hanging from the window and walking & fighting on top of the train.

The train is 3D modeled. Rendered recreation to its original beauty and level of authenticity is just marvelous. You can enjoy enormous details in your compartment and bathroom, beautiful period posters in trainmaster’s office and both smoking car and restaurant car. But the most valuable and artistic pieces are in Kronos’s private car called Saturn. Before you enter there, you will see Franz von Stuck’s painting Sünde. If you enter, it won’t surprise you much that there is Wassily Kandinsky painting on the wall behind the piano and if you break into Kronos’s bedroom, you will see beautiful Beethovenfries by Gustav Klimt.31

(Inter)action

Three main sorts of interaction fill your time aboard the Orient Express: 1 a) Conversations that you are having with fellow passengers will give you clues and hints about what is going on. You cannot choose what you will talk about; clicking simple dialog bubble will make your character speak what he finds to be most appropriate. Although it is sometimes inappropriate, it is always Robert Cath. This makes the game more fluent and cinematic, prevents annoying asking the same questions all over and listening to the same answers. 1 b) Eavesdropping – more than often you will listen to conversations of others and try to make sense out of what you hear and connect/compare it to what you know so far. You will not only hear what is said, but also how it is said. This activity takes a lot of your time. You can observe and listen to characters in restaurant and smoking car and listen near their compartments. You won’t be the only one to do that. Important aspect of The Last Express is its multilingual character. Robert Cath can speak in four languages (English, French, German and Russian), but since he is American, nobody would have guessed him to be international guy. That is his advantage, he can pretend he does not understand French, so he can easily overhear what others (Rebecca and Sophie, conductors) are saying about him. On the other hand, when he tries to talk to Sophie (“Excuse me, got a light?”), she pretends she does not speak English (“Je ne parle pas anglais”). You know she does, but you have to keep pretending. Languages Robert Cath understands (except English) are subtitled.322) Searching (sneaking to compartments and stealing things) is necessary for your progress in the game. Not only you need to observe and look around you, but you have to get to forbidden areas of the train. This activity offers certain pleasures, because – as other things in this game – it allows you to do something that is forbidden in real life. You can be caught only in some cases33 You can enter someone’s compartment if you have a key or if the door is not locked. And conductor’s view must be obstructed. That is all logical.34 As in case of eavesdropping, you won’t be the only one who will sneak in compartments of other passengers. Everyone has certain interests and there is lot of people on the Orient Express who break rules. Unlike many other adventure games, where you can collect and combine many different objects, in The Last Express with its realistic approach, your character takes what he considers being important. He does not need to collect and carry everything around. As for combining items inside inventory – there is none. 3) In five fights throughout the game you have to defend yourself, because being killed won’t lead you anywhere. These combats, in which you are mainly weaponless, are smoothly implemented to the story of the game, this is not a case of action sequences that are put into a game to punish players, who have to frenetically press keyboard buttons. Combat system is intuitive and real time, so you just need to concentrate and time the action well. Controls are as easy as in the rest of The Last Express(back arrow and hand cursor).

Music

Constant rhythmic sound of the train is one of the main thing you can hear in the game and it is a soundtrack of its own. But huge part of The Last Express’ atmospheric power can be accounted to the soundtrack composed by Elia Cmiral35, which is heavily based on violin instrumentation, with rich orchestration supported by synthesizers. Significant scenes of the game are accompanied by short themes; dramatic and action sequences, romantic (Joyride) and horror scenes (Nightmare), as well as fights (Battle with Salko). The most emtional for me are opening and closing compositions, and short piano piece capturing sad Tatiana’s destiny. The strongest part of the soundtrack is its violin motif. Violin represents a bound with the main female character of Anna Wolff. Significance of violin is underlined in scenes near the end of the game, but player can often throughout The Last Express overhear Anna Wolff practicing her violin play. And there are other pieces of interest that are almost hidden in the game, such as part of Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. posth. 66 and part of 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Sonata n. 8 (Pathetique), which you can hear the first night on the train, if you listen near Kronos’s apartment before you go back to sleep after you have proven your medical skills. But the biggest piece of music – which Anna and Kronos play together – is César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major. This beautiful piece for violin and piano captivates a great deal of spirit of the period that is to be gone soon.36 It’s quite unusual for a video game to be offering such an artistic experience on the level of music, but in the case of The Last Express, it seems to be just a natural part of detailed and artistically rich in-game world.

Conclusion

I have omitted many aspects of the game, but extent of this article is considerable, so I will not push it more. I wish part of my memory was deleted and I could play The Last Express without knowing what is going to happen next, where I am supposed to go, feeling lost – in short, with all this excitement I felt for the first time. Instead, I am wandering through those corridors, fighting and eavesdropping like some old hand. Still, there are so many details that even after 15 years, every time I play this game, I find something new; small detail, hidden sequence or unknown conversation. Agree or not, The Last Express is beautiful piece of art.

Links

Internet Archive: Wayback Machine – TLE:
web.archive.org

Mirror of TLE webiste:
lastexpress.markmoran.net/

Jordan Mechner’s site with the latest news about TLE:
jordanmechner.com/last-express/

Programmer Mark Moran’s page about TLE:
markmoran.net

Archived interviews with Mark Moran:
markmoran.net

Mark Netter and Mark Moran interview:
Gamasutra.com

Interview with Jordan Mechner:
Gamasutra.com

Interview with Jordan Mechner (in Russian):
Questzone.ru

Interview with Nicole Tostevin:
25fps.cz

Tropes in the game (including heavy spoilers!):
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheLastExpress

Facebook TLE official page:
https://www.facebook.com/lastexpress

Facebook fan group “The Last Express is the best game nobody ever played”:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/2263462895/

Digital download of TLE (collector’s edition):
dotemu.com

Literature

BARBA, Rick: The Last Express: The Official Strategy Guide. Prima Publishing, California 1997.
DOUGLAS, J. Yellowlees: The End of Books — Or Books Without End? Reading Interactive Narratives. University of Michigan Press, 2011.
MECHNER, Jordan: The Making of Prince of Persia. Journals 1985-1993. 2011. Electronic release.

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  1. Interview with producer of The Last Express, Mark Moran: http://personal.markmoran.net/Programming/GamesDomainInterview.html [Retrieved March 10th 2012] Jordan Mechner supposedly „poured about a million dollars into The Last Express. Read more here: http://venturebeat.com/2012/04/06/pax-east-2012-storytime-with-20-year-game-veteran-jordan-mechner/ [Retrieved April 12th 2012] []
  2. This matter deserves another study, hopefully Jordan Mechner will publish his journals capturing the creating of The Last Express and its reception, and we will know how was the situation after releasing the game. To my understanding, Broderbund’s division Red Orb was the publisher of TLE, Broderbund was purchased by The Learning Company in 1998, many employees were fired and the company was specialized in the learning software, not video games. The Last Express was not promoted a lot, copies were not even available in shops later and Playstation conversion was canceled; although it was finished, it was never released. But I have no insight to the situation. For me it is another example of how the best things are not fully appreciated sometimes, because of a strange way marketing and other devices work. I was happy to get my „original“ of TLE on December 24th, though. []
  3. #7 at adventuregamers.com: http://www.adventuregamers.com/article/id,1401/p,20 [Retrieved March 10th 2012] []
  4. gog.com, dotemu.com, bigfishgames.com []
  5. not to mention possible adaptation to a movie []
  6. In many previews and reviews, some of which you can check here, and in the Czech gaming magazines Score (no 43, 4/1997) and Level (no 31, 8/1997), that published reviews of The Last Express. []
  7. On the other hand, there are games in which you won’t meet anybody, except ghosts or walking monoliths, like in Barrow Hill or Scratches, which is better than a big city with nobody except one guy and newspaper flying in the wind in its streets. []
  8. which was surely much more difficult in the case of long forgotten pre-WWI Orient Express than notorious Titanic []
  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hand []
  10. When you play the game now on much faster machine than 15 years ago, you will probably be annoyed by fast movements of the characters, while they are speaking. It looks like some kind of seizure. []
  11. Including newspaper clippings – both fictional and real, letters and other notes []
  12. In 1997, The Last Express Official Strategy Guide by Rick Barba was published, which includes history primer, information about all characters and interesting interview with Jordan Mechner and Tomi Pierce. []
  13. “The year, 1914… In an age of opulence… In a world on a brink of war… everything is about to change forever” or “The Last Express has already departed, Robert Cath! But you can still aboard…” Another example of precise work was the cover art of the game. []
  14. Jordan Mechner directed the shooting. He took many film classes at Yale and shot documentary shorts: Waiting for Dark (1993) and Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story (2004) []
  15. http://www.gog.com/en/gamecard/last_express_the [Retrieved March 10th 2012] []
  16. Interview with Jordan Mechner. http://questzone.ru/articles/10.php [Retrieved March 10th 2012] It was not meant to be, but having at least this one game is truly amazing. []
  17. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radomir_Putnik [Retrieved March 10th 2012] []
  18. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Jaur%C3%A8s [Retrieved March 10th 2012] []
  19. It is their homage to her. Interview with Jordan Mechner. http://questzone.ru/articles/10.php [Retrieved March 10th 2012] []
  20. This is just my speculation, based on the fact that Ann V. Norton’s specialization is Rebecca West: http://www.anselm.edu/Academics/Majors-and-Departments/English/Faculty/Ann-Norton.htm [Retrieved March 10th 2012] []
  21. MECHNER, Jordan: The Making of Prince of Persia. Journals 1985-1993. 2011. Electronic release. Mentions on p. 293, 299, 307, 309. []
  22. When watching Hitchcock’s piece after playing TLE, you might have a feeling that the scene with detaching the train and also Englishman’s question “I say, do you know how to control this?” while running the train are quite familiar to you. []
  23. BARBA, Rick: The Last Express: The Official Strategy Guide. Prima Publishing, California 1997, p. 193. []
  24. Game Design: Theory & Practice Second Edition: ‚Interview with Jordan Mechner’. Available at: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/130593/game_design_theory__practice_.php [Retrieved March 10th 2012] []
  25. Ibid. []
  26. When you unpack those 3 CDs, you will be surprised how many data programmers managed to „press“ there. []
  27. If you wonder how it is possible that Americans created game with such European feeling, you should know that Jordan Mechner’s grandfather was Jewish, born in Czernowitz, part of Austro-Hungarian Empire, and he fought in WWI. After WWI he lived in Vienna, where he worked as doctor until 1938. Then he had to escape to America. Interview with Jordan Mechner. http://questzone.ru/articles/10.php [Retrieved March 10th 2012] Tomi Pierce’s grandfather also fought in WWI. BARBA, Rick: The Last Express: The Official Strategy Guide. Prima Publishing, California 1997, p. 193. []
  28. At least to me. []
  29. Time plays big role, too, in other games by Jordan MechnerKarateka and Prince of Persia. []
  30. Before you „open“ the clock, you see symbols of tower, hand and eye, which are probably the same on ring Cath wears, although „every part of it has a meaning“, this meaning is overshadowed and could have been explained possibly in the second installment of the game… []
  31. And there are many more… Such as bird sculpture by Constantin Brancusiand others that I am not able to match to their authors. []
  32. Apart from English version of the game, there is German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese version. Russian is dubbed over the original, every version [except for Japanese, which I did not manage to try] has all English dialogues and all English subtitles translated to particular language, as well as all in-game documents.“ []
  33. In Tatiana’s compartment, if you want to leave with the Egg; in Anna’s compartment, if you wait for her to come back after the concert; in Kronos’s private car []
  34. But characters‘ artificial intelligence has limitations in some cases. For example if you press the bell in your compartment (or compartment that you got into) and then go out, conductor will come to your compartment and knock, although he saw you coming out and you can easily try to enter someone’s compartment without his reproving. []
  35. Elia Cmiral was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated to Sweden and later to USA. He scored such films as Ronin, Stigmata and Atlas Shrugged: Part I. TLE soundtrack is available as a digital download with the game at dotemu.com and was released by Intrada on CD. []
  36. The piece was written in 1886, four years before Franck’s death. The version which you can hear in the game was performed by Josef Suk and Jan Panenka. []

Autor

Veronika Zýková
Editorka, garantka rubriky Český film

Zajímají mě méně probádané či neprobádané oblasti československé kinematografie, nerealizované scénáře, krimi inscenace Čs. televize 60. a 70. let, současný český film, současné britské TV seriály a série (opět zejména krimi), videohry (především adventury), české i světové komiksy a další oblasti a témata. To vše střídavě, průběžně, současně, jak to přichází, odchází a navrací se ke mně...

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