All posts by Josh Weinberg

Contradiction

Contradiciton is a full motion video game which of course immediately sounds horrible because of all the FMV failures which have preceded it but they have really overcome my expectations. The video is fluid and well produced. They used actual actors so it’s not painful to watch. They used actual film production techniques so it doesn’t sound and look like shit. Overall I am impressed by the gameplay and user interface. Much better than I expected.

The game is essentially a lot of walking around and talking to people. Once you’ve interviewed everyone around you can start looking for contradictions in the answers that they have given you.

The story is a murder mystery centered around a bizarre business school with links to the occult. The writing was quite good and the acting was excellent. I had a number of issues with the Contradictions which sometimes seemed pretty forced (see below). Overall however I felt it was a high quality and well designed game which I enjoyed playing a lot.

Design Elements

They clearly took a lot of effort to make the geographic layout of the locations logical and connected. When Jenks walks into a scene you often see him position himself very clearly looking in the direction that you see when the transition video cuts to the navigation view. This always keeps the directions relative to Jenks’ position. Also the map view quickly comes up between all location transitions and an arrow clearly shows the direction of view of the following scene. This helps to keep the viewer from becoming confused – although navigating in and out of the lake area still got me turned around on occasion.

The interview segments are all filmed in the same locations for each character. This was probably required to reduce the number of shooting locations but it starts to feel a little boring as the game progresses, always going back to the same interview setups. They did do a cute thing with Simon where he answered the door in his chef’s apron around 8 o’clock.

The game progresses in stages where you must solve all the contradictions in a given ‘hour’ before the clock winds forward. I like this type of setup in adventure games because it protects against the situation where you get to the end of the game and can’t win because you didn’t do something way back when (or did do something you shouldn’t have done) and therefore the game becomes unwinnable.

They obviously made an effort to keep the transition segments very short and it’s not cumbersome to walk around between scenes.

Things that worked

Like I said the production quality is top notch. The writing is good as well.

I like the hint/cheat system. The guilt trip where it tracks how many phone-calls and cheats you’ve used is a nice touch.

Problems

Sometimes the interface fucks up and you can’t click Exit from an interview.

After 8pm I’m not sure where Ryan is. I guess he’s back in the room with the students but the chief is suggesting I go talk to him and I can’t.

Some of these contradictions are kind of a stretch. I had to do a cheat to figure out I was supposed to ask Paul about why Lisa had been affected by the auto-hypnosis. But it wasn’t clear that auto-hypnosis was actually used that much and there was nothing specifically linking it to Lisa.

Jenks finds a 500 pound note for Kate in Ryan’s car but he won’t ask Rebecca (Ryan’s wife) or Emma (Ryan’s mistress) about it. Come on. Especially when Emma already said Kate was trying to blackmail Ryan. This should at least trigger some kind of information.

Kyle is running around the woods doing crazy shit and he drops Ryan’s car key. I’d love to know why he has Ryan’s car key but “It isn’t worth asking Ryan about the key fob.” OK.

Ryan said originally that “Kate seemed to be enjoying the course and had no detectable problems”. Later he says “He’d heard Kate was thinking of Leaving Atlas” but those statements don’t trigger a contradiction.

It does turn into a lot of just watching video.

After a while when there are like 6 people to interview it starts to feel pretty confusing. Also every new piece of evidence I’m just wandering back to all the people and asking them about it one by one which takes a while.

The final contradiction I could never figure out and had to use a cheat. It turned out to be quite a stretch.

 

AR-K: The Great Escape

This is a short episode of the AR-K game. I’ve never played the previous ones so it was a little confusing jumping into the story but not too bad.

On the plus side:

The graphics are good for 3D rendered content. The story is decent. It’s a nice convenience to be able to move around via the map. The plant sabotage puzzle was OK. The murder puzzle was challenging.

Bad parts:

Missing cut-scenes or maybe they just didn’t make them. Like this thing with Blaine’s coins. When I put them in the “Small Door” it fades to black and I hear some noises but never see anything happening. Maybe a bug.

Sometime she takes f…o…r…e…v…e…r… to move around the screen. Likewise starting conversations with characters sometimes gets stuck and just sits there forever.

The three cup game – this makes no sense to me. She steals the coin when the trickster is distracted. Fine. Then she has to pick one of the cups which wouldn’t have had the coin. But why? If she picks the cup where the coin would have been it still wouldn’t be there since the trickster supposedly has used his magnet on it. The mechanics of how he is supposedly cheating are really unclear. Bad puzzle.

The ending was a little weird. What exactly is the deal with all those bottles? Why did Sascha think Grigor would get those messages? Was Grigor just too stupid to figure out what his brother did? Why didn’t his brother just come back down and get him? I guess because he was wanted. Why can’t Grigor go up the pipe with me? He’s too fat? Weird.

Anyway it wasn’t the greatest gaming experience. Not a bad story and some challenging puzzles though. It did feel very short but it’s only a single episode.

 

Among Thorns

Among Thorns

This is a really well made little point-and-click adventure by . Made for a game jam but it looks professional as hell. It reminded me a lot of Beneath a Steel Sky in both the futuristic cyber-punk setting and the pixel art.

The pixel art is phenomenal – really excellent quality in style and animation. Seriously – look at this hungry panda… so cute.

Panda!

Panda!

There is no voice-over which might have been cool but understandable not to include in a game of this size.

The game itself was pretty simple with the character locked into a scene until you figure out the puzzle. No complex branching puzzle or narrative. The writing was very good and fit the world and style of the game. It’s not big – maybe 30 minutes of gameplay but still cool and fun.

Among Thorns: https://mattfrith.itch.io/among-thorns

Adventures of Bertram Fiddle: Episode 1: A Dreadly Business

This game was fun. There’s not much in the way of traditional adventure game puzzles in here, mostly just an amusing story with witty dialogue. Bertram and his cyclops sidekick wander around an amusing victorian England full of bizarre characters (human and non-human). Storytelling and dialogue gets an A+. Subtle and no-so-subtle sexual innuendo abounds.

From a gameplay perspective it pretty much amounts to wandering around sets of rooms with simple puzzles to solve. There were only a few times when I got “stuck” and had to think about what might solve a puzzle. There were two “live-action” sequences which involved just moving up or down to avoid obstacles. These were not as horrible as realtime action tends to be in adventure games but I’m not sure they really added a whole lot either.

On the whole this game was entertaining and funny. Low on the puzzles but high on story.

Game Developers Conference

Thank you to everyone who attended my session at the Game Developer’s Conference.

GDC16 title page

Journey into the DAG: Puzzle Dependency Charts, Tentacles and You

The slides can be downloaded here: Journey into the DAG: Puzzle Dependency Charts, Tentacles and You

The full poster from my session is here: GDC Poster

Please see the following link for a ‘yEd’ version of the Day of the Tentacle Puzzle Dependency Graph: Day of the Tentacle Puzzle Dependency Graph for yED

yEd is available here.

I am working on an even more in-depth analysis of The Day of the Tentacle which will include all the information from the talk and more. Please follow me on Twitter @plastroltech or @brickshot and I will notify you when that is ready for viewing.

Oh yeah if you want to see the video I made to promote my talk, here it is:

Thanks!

To a Dear Friend who has Come Into Money

Jeff! Buddy!

I know we don’t hang out like we used to in the old days but I definitely consider myself to be one of your oldest, best and most loyal friends. I’m certain you feel the same way about me. Now that you’ve come into money I just want you to know that nothing will change in our relationship. I’ll be there for you. Thick or thin that’s right buddy. Nothing could make us less friends than we are! Right!?

Good Christ that’s a ton of money. Maybe you can give me some? Haha! Just kidding! Pal!

A little though right? Because otherwise people talk behind your back and say things like ‘He didn’t even share with his best friend. Tsk tsk’. I’m looking out for your reputation, best friend Jeff.

But yeah no that would be weird, you giving me money. So no… nothing more than half. Half is fine. I’ll take half before taxes how about that? You have an attorney now so you can deal with taxes. I’m poor. I don’t have an attorney. So it makes sense. Half before taxes has a nice ring to it. Kaching-ring! LOL totally kidding. But please let me know soon. I’d hate for you to commit to some bad investment and lose your money before sharing it the way I know you want to. Just mail me back.

You know what, don’t worry about mailing me, I’ll call you. I’ll give you a call. Or no – I’ll come by! I’m going to be in that part of the country suddenly. I’ll stop by. Man it will be good to see you. So like tomorrow in the morning I’ll come over. Early.

God this is exciting!

Love, “best-friend ever” (your words) Josh

Apple //e Sounds

First off, I’ve started working on the actual game now, not just research and design! Whomp there it is.

I’m going to build out the first “scene” of the game and make it playable. This scene involves an old Apple ][ computer which you have to wire up and dial out to a BBS. I want the experience of using this computer in-game to be as realistic as possible so I recorded all the audio coming off the physical keyboard of my actual Apple //e and wired those sounds up to the in-game computer keyboard.

Here’s a demo of the result: https://www.twitch.tv/brcksht/v/34063189

Broken Sword 4: The Angel of Death

Washed out

Washed out

So frustrating. The 3d graphics in this game are so badly lit and the character controls are so hard to manage that I can hardly play this game. In fact I quit about an hour in. Too bad since I like this series a lot but this is torture.

What worked

Well the same characters are back. Presumably the story will be as good although I didn’t get far enough to appreciate it.

What didn’t work

3d graphics. Such a letdown after the nice hand-drawn backgrounds and animated characters of the previous games. This is really a huge step backwards. And walking this idiot around takes forever and he bumps into little 3d bits and pieces all the time. Total distraction from the gameplay. I can hardly concentrate on the puzzles.

Broken Sword 5 – The Serpent’s Curse

The first two Broken Sword games were awesome. Then came a horrible 3D graphics phase with 3&4. Now #5 has switched back to the beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds with more subtle 3D characters rendered on top of them. This works much better. As usual there are the two protagonists with a large cast of side characters. The whole thing is very well produced and looks good.

This game looks good.

This game looks good.

Notes while playing…

Once again a very linear story with little (no?) branching.

Some of these puzzles are a bit contrived.

I stopped playing this game for about three months because I got stuck in the cave in the chapel and couldn’t figure out the symbol puzzle. I finally broke down and just used the in-game hints. I guess it makes sense but this puzzle was frustrating. The user interface for the puzzle itself was cumbersome – there was no way to remove the little word strips from the symbols once you placed them so they kind of were distracting and actually covered each other up in some cases. The symbols were eventually comprehensible but it turned into a lot of trial and error and as I said I never did solve it.

This game is so slow… walking around everywhere is time consuming and boring.

As with the other games this one has a lot of history, mythology, religion and philosophy wrapped up in the plot. It felt like an Indiana Jones episode. This was all good. The problem is that it just turned into a long slog towards the end and it was a relief to be finally finished with it.

Day of the Tentacle

Note: This is a mini review of the game as part of my Epic Procrastination Adventure Game Research Project. I later wrote a much more in depth analysis here.

I really liked this game. It was quite hilarious and engaging. They really improved over Maniac Mansion which I found to be fun but not nearly as polished. I played most of it without hints although I did resort to them in a few cases.

Day-of-the-Tentacle-IGN-20

1,2,3 times the toilet humor.

What Worked

The playing three characters at once thing actually worked. This has been tried in other games with limited success. It helped that I could only access Bernard or Hoagie for most of the game until I realized how to get the cherry tree chopped down. Once Laverne was accessible I had pretty much solved all the puzzles in the other two times and I could focus on her.

The characters are bizarre but actually fairly well portrayed. They all behave in ways which are consistent with their character which makes the game much more polished and enjoyable. The story also was well told and “made sense”. It’s important for the story to make sense even when it’s totally wacko and out-there. I didn’t feel like the puzzles were out of left field – they fit into the world of the game.

I liked how certain items couldn’t be passed into the other times because they don’t fit down the Chron-o-John. That helped to reduce that problem of just trying every item in your inventory in every possible place because you’re stuck. At least those items which I knew had to stay in the past must apply to a puzzle in the past. It’s actually helpful when games limit your possible actions in this way so you know where you have to focus your efforts.

Humor – this game really had some nice funny bits. The part where you don’t have a quarter for the dryer and you finally end up with hundreds of quarters which makes the dryer run for 200 years… that was amusing.

What Didn’t Work

I definitely got stuck in a few places. One problem I had a few times was that you need to click a verb and then an object outside your inventory in order to proceed. Like moving the mattress from one bed to another. I was kind of in the habit of just using my own items and I missed that one. Getting the cherry tree chopped down also confused me although they did give some hints so I can’t complain.

Lessons

This game really won me over because it was fun, polished, humorous and captivating. It felt like a feature film. I felt like I was really getting my money’s worth. The characters were solid. The story was engaging and well told. The puzzles were fair! I got real satisfaction from solving them. I rank this game up with the Monkey Islands and KQIV.

Other

I found an interesting “map” of this game by an indie adventure game creator:

https://moldgame.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/130128_length_research_dott.jpg