Visual Memory #5 – ‘Discworld’

In this month’s column, Christopher Bell revisits another comedy classic…

I’ll start with a quick question: What do Doctor Who, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Gavin & Stacy have in common (apart from the fact that they’re all well-known British TV shows)? The answer is that some of their stars (Jon Pertwee, Eric Idle and Rob Brydon) lent their voices to this point-and-click adventure based upon Terry Pratchett’s best-selling series of comic fantasy novels.

The game’s story is loosely based on two of the most popular books, Guards! Guards! and Moving Pictures, requiring players to fill the billowing robes of Unseen University’s most inept wizard (or should that be wizzard?), Rincewind, voiced by Eric Idle. A shady sect of hooded villains has managed to summon a dragon into the streets of Ankh-Morpork, and it’s running amok. The fate of the city now rests upon Rincewind’s shaky shoulders (because no-one else wanted to fry), forcing him to rely on his wits and sarcasm. Oh, and a piece of luggage with feet.

I was a fan of the Discworld series growing up (Mort and Guards! Guards! in particular) and this quickly became one of my favourite games. Many of the eccentric Discworld cast appear here in some form, including the City Watch, Nanny Ogg, Death and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler. All of these characters are fully voiced by the likes of Tony Robinson (Blackadder) and Kate Robbins (MirrorMask) as well as the headline actors, mentioned above.

Controversially, despite getting a teen-friendly rating in both North America and the UK, there was one Easter egg cunningly squirrelled away (I never found it when I played it as a teenager, and I don’t know how to find it now), which pays homage to Idle’s fellow former Python, the late Graham Chapman. Rincewind jokes that he wants to “be the first person in a game to say “f***”. This is a reference to John Cleese’s eulogy at Chapman’s funeral, and the line plays out uncensored.

Our hapless hero, Rincewind

The game hit the shelves just as the Discworld phenomenon reached its peak and, despite an insane difficulty level, sold well enough to warrant a sequel. Discworld II: Missing Presumed…!? came out in 1997 with most of the same voice cast. Sadly, Jon Pertwee died during the game’s pre-production stage. A third game, Discworld Noir was released on PC and PS1 by Infogrames in 1999, and featured the voice of Robert Llewelyn (Red Dwarf) throughout. But apart from a mobile phone re-release of The Colour of Magic (a 1986 Spectrum and Commodore 64 adventure game), it seems that Death has swung his scythe and claimed the gaming series for himself. It has not been re-released since.

But there is some hope. The rights to the original game have been picked up by the makers of the ScummVM engine (see last month’s piece on Monkey Island), who may choose to re-launch it, assuming it isn’t freely downloadable over the internet already.


Another awkward conversation with Death

Publisher Psygnosis was eventually bought by Sony Europe, and was renamed Sony Liverpool. It still exists, giving us sci-fi racer Wipeout (most recently, the PS Vita game Wipeout 2048).

The source material has gone from strength to strength, meanwhile. Terry Pratchett has written over 30 Discworld novels to date, as well as numerous spin-offs and guides. The series has been adapted into live action and animated TV shows (Hogfather, Going Postal, Wyrd Sisters), stage plays, and a long-rumoured big screen version. With so much good will still available, surely there’s still room for a few video games?

It’s not proper fantasy without dwarves

Game: Discworld
Developer: Teeny Weeny Games / Perfect 10
Publisher: Psygnosis
Platforms: PC, Mac, PS1, Saturn
Year: 1995

Christopher will be back with more gaming nostalgia next month. Until then, you can click here to read his previous Visual Memory articles.