THE BLACK HAND GANG
Start Date: November 22, 2016
End Date: November 22, 2016
The Black Hand Gang is not really a video game. It is, in fact, a 1965 chapter book about a group of dorky German children who solve mysteries. The book is a bit like the Encyclopedia Brown series, in that the reader is encouraged to play detective along with the characters, but the hook is that the clues are hidden in gorgeous and elaborate illustrations. I owned this book as a child and adored it, poring over its intriguing stories and awesome artwork for hours. As is often the case with childhood relics, at some point the book was simply gone from my life, and largely forgotten. But a couple of times a year, it pops back into my head, and I spend an hour or so searching the internet for a digital copy or jpgs of the illustrations or something. Usually to no avail. But on November 22nd, I hit pay dirt.
Because I did find a digital copy of the book. But not only is it a book – it’s also, technically, a video game! You see, back in 2013 some dude named Ross Kevin Moffat (aka Mandle) scanned his copy and, not content with just being kinda awesome, used Adventure Game Studio to transform The Black Hand Gang into a fully-interactive experience. Here, I’ll just let him tell you about it:
In case you decided to skip over those instructions, here’s how it works. You read a chunk story on the left side of the page, then click on the area in the corresponding illustration that you think answers the question posed:
Next, just to ensure that you didn’t stumble upon the answer by blindly guessing, you must also type out the answer:
…BIG GREEN LETTERS MAKE YOU FEEL SUPER FUCKING SMART!!!
Sorry for spoiling the book’s first puzzle, but I just wanted to illustrate how great this system is. Most impressive is the word parser for the typed input, which seems to take into account all sorts of different synonyms and ways of phrasing things. Many times, I’d type in a word (The clock is… BROKEN), and the game would immediately switch it to the intended phrase (The clock is… STOPPED), but still accept my answer as correct. Very cool.
If I have one complaint about the gameplay, it’s that the hit detection can be wonky when you’re clicking on the illustrations. A few times, I hit the correct thing, but was apparently a fraction of an inch off from the exact spot the game wanted me to hit, so I got penalized.
In the above example, you can see my cursor on the poster for the variety show – which is what I was supposed to identify in the drawing – but I guess the developer wanted me to click on a different part of the poster or something? I’m not sure what the problem was, but I maintain that I got this answer CORRECT, no matter what those big red letters say!
But, forget about word parsers and hit detection, because what really matters here is that The Black Hand Gang is awesome!!! This was the first time I’d read the book in at least 25 years, and almost every single picture filled me with nostalgia so powerful it was almost overwhelming. Like this one:
Or this one:
Or, oh my god, this one most of all:
This particular puzzle tasks you with figuring out what movie the bad guy is going to see, based on his torn ticket stub. The answer is, of course, Deep Pockets Long Fingers, but I remember obsessing over this entire page as a kid. I’ve never wanted to see any movie more than I want to see Victim of Frankenstein.
And even though it’s been forever since I last looked at the book, I still remembered the solutions to almost every puzzle. In many cases, my hand drifted to the correct point of the drawing before I even looked at it, as some bizarre and long-dormant Black Hand Gang muscle memory awakened from its decades-long slumber. By the time I arrived at the end of the book, my score placed me in the “potential to be Sherlock Holmes” category:
Still, I’m pissed I didn’t do even better. Damn you, spotty hit detection!!!
Honestly, this guy Mandle has done god’s work here. Not only did he reintroduce me to a part of my childhood that I thought might be gone forever, but he even managed to make it a new and improved experience!
Even if you didn’t have this book as a kid, it’s still totally worth checking out for the cute little stories, the simple-but-fun puzzles, and the incredible illustrations. That recommendation goes double if you have young children with whom you can share the experience.
Once again, you can download The Black Hand Gang here.
Thank you again, Mandle. Thank you so much! Please do Hawkeye & Amy next!!
Life is Strange