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.
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.
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.
Discworld commits every point-and-click crime you'd care to mention - tiny (almost invisible) hot spots, events triggered through dialogue you might not ask and the most obtuse puzzles yet created. To catch a butterfly, I have to put a frog in past-Rincewind's mouth so that it isn't scared away by the snoring? That doesn't work. That doesn't work. THAT DOESN'T WORK. And said butterfly, when placed in the past next to a lamp-post will cause a miniature thunderstorm next to a mad monk in the future? Causing him to take off his robe so you can steal it? That doesn't work, Rincewind! THAT DOESN'T WORK.
I've heard that phrase "that doesn't work" so many times in the last few days that if I'd woken up this morning having drawn it over my body in toothpaste during convulsive night terrors, I genuinely wouldn't have been surprised. Those pre-GameFAQs years were dark indeed. How can a game so warm and inviting, filled with all of my favourite fictional people, want to hurt me so badly?
Why, at the start of act two, have new puzzle-centric objects appeared in places I've visited before without the game telling me? What hints are offered to suggest that I need to put a tied-up octopus in a toilet, then mix a prune in with a Fishmonger's caviar supply so I can steal his belt buckle from beneath a toilet door? Discworld runs on pure dream logic; it's like a pixellated hallucination. If there's anyone that completed it entirely under their own steam then they must have a connection to a higher astral plane than yours or mine. To complete the game without a walkthrough is to see the face of God. An insane and cruel God.
For me then, over the years, the rose-tinted spectacles have won out to some degree. But that's not to say that the game is an entirely bad one. The voice acting remains superb (has Eric Idle ever done anything that hasn't been 100 per cent super-great after all?), and small details like the way the Luggage (a treasure chest with hundreds of tiny legs) follows you around as a mobile inventory meld Discworld lore with the demands of point-and-click adventures beautifully.
The time-travel L-space twist, meanwhile - which has you going a week into the past and affecting the future with your obtuse puzzling - may be a Day of the Tentacle rip-off, but is still done with story-telling flair and panache. What's more, as an exciting and vibrant fantasy world, Discworld remains hard to beat, and the game's two sequels would go on to capitalise on that to, in my opinion, an even greater extent.
Above all this though, loom those three giant words, almost blotting out the sun. That. Doesn't. Work. I've been lying to myself for all these years, and to many of my closest friends and family. All this time I thought it was me that did not work, but in reality it was this badly-designed point-and-click adventure. Perhaps now I can attempt some form of closure. Perhaps now I can try to be happy again.