Retrospective: Discworld

Did you get the number of that donkey cart?

In 1995, a curious alignment of some of the best things in the world occurred. Sat in a circle, hooded staff members of developers Perfect 10 must have chanted various nerd-pleasing names in an ominous fashion: "Monty Python", "LucasArts", "Blackadder", "the Doctor Who that owned the antique car" and (finally and most loudly) "Terry Pratchett". If they had a bit more foresight they'd have added "the gay uncle out of Gavin and Stacey" to one of the verses too.

The game that was called forth in a ball of blinding light was Discworld: a beautiful cartoon vision of Pratchett's fantasy creation in the style of the Lucas classics. starring Eric Idle, Tony Robinson, Jon Pertwee and Rob Brydon.

Pratchett acolytes, myself among their number, were bowled over. Favoured characters from the early-to-mid Pratchett canon were suddenly given flesh and bone (well, animated pixels), and what's more, a lot of them sounded like Baldrick. To some, the digital appearance of Cut My Own Throat Dibbler and Gaspode the Wonder Dog was a moment of social significance on the scale of the second coming of Christ. To others, to non-believers, not so much.

In fact, sit opposite a nay-sayer in the pub these days and start extolling the virtues of this oft-overlooked mid-nineties classic and they'll start giving you funny looks. They might even contradict you by saying that Discworld was, in fact, shit. And so, fuelled by a renewed love of the charms of item-combination and point and clickery - itself fuelled by Zombie Cow's recent three-pound classic Time Gentlemen, Please - for the past few days I've been re-treading the muddy streets of Ankh Morpork in an effort to discover whether I've been lying to myself all these years.

1

This man is trapped in an unending laughing-dance. It is his own personal hell.

The game places you as Pratchett stalwart Rincewind, the crap wizard whose cowardly misadventures formed the majority of the early Discworld novels, and pictures his feeble attempts to deal with a dragon that has begun snorting fire onto the local drunks. Apologies to those who aren't Great A'Tuin-literate, but it's essentially the plot of Guards Guards! only with less Watch activity, and a few hooks into other books like Moving Pictures. Every major early Pratchett character gets a nod - Nanny Ogg, The Patrician, Windle Poons, Ridcully the Archchancellor, Death with his ominous capitalisations and booming voice… for the average fanboy, the game remains a pleasure to play simply to watch the conveyor-belt delivery of rose-tinted cameos.

Discworld also remains a beautiful game. The art style, something arguably lost in the sequels, hasn't been diminished one iota by the intervening years. It's essentially a cartoony and more rounded variant of what would be found on Pratchett book covers - and the reward you feel simply by watching new and elegant, if stuttering, animations of Rincewind whenever you solve a puzzle is tangible.

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Death, perennial star of Pratchett books, favours capitalisation wherever he roams.

Tangible also, however, because Discworld is one of the most frustrating games I have ever (re)played in my life. You often hear about people blanking out certain periods of their lives that they can't psychologically deal with, and as I play through Discworld it's like opening a door somewhere inside my head and finding a fifteen-year-old version of myself weeping in a cellar clutching a walkthrough that's been etched in his own blood.

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