Tim Schafer Games: the History of, and my Love of BROKEN AGE


Double Fine Adventure was what turned me into a Kickstarter fiend for a few months. The only thing that ended that fun was a mix of finances and seeing certain projects I funded just take way too long. Still I pledged $100 to DFA with trust in what Tim Schafer and Nathan “Bagel” Stapley coming together and combining their efforts to create a modern point and click adventure based off the strength of Tim’s previous work and where it’d lead had he not had to move on to things such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. This is not a commentary on those games, but more to explain my views of what became BROKEN AGE and my feelings towards it versus how certain reviews and opinions have formulated based on preconceived expectations based on misunderstanding and lack of comprehension on the part of the backers.

Being a backer meant that for the last two weeks I have gotten to playtest, look for bugs, analyze the game and prepare for whatever post release onslaught could be coming. The fans on the boards who were negative… and I mean NEGATIVE and I can understand most of their issues. Yet, those issues are mostly based in falsehood expectations that they had. Not one of them have I heard complain about the story or the art. Many of them have complained about length and character, but the second is to each his own. Some people love Natural Born Killers, others hate it, the same with True Blood, My Little Pony, Ben 10, Batman and many many other things. One person will say the character was full of emption and I could really relate and another person of the same exact character can say they had no emotion and could not relate at all. These are things that happen with every creative piece of art ever made and BROKEN AGE truly is a piece of art and it is a game.

It is is not an interactive story, or an animated children’s book which you can press buttons on. It is the perfect example of an adventure game that exists as it would’ve had if when Double Fine was created did nothing but point n click games. This is how they would evolve. They wouldn’t just be retreads of Day of the Tentacle or Full Throttle or even Grim Fandango, but the next step, following the path that gaming has taken from going casual, back to hardcore, a return to casual and then reaching a happy medium that isn’t exactly a perfect balance and definitely won’t please all, but would allow for something fun, creative, purposeful, enjoyable, engaging and for some challenging, while others truly easy. For those who find it too easy though they would be getting something that no other game possessed. A special kind of charm, a witty humor, a sense of logic and story building that only Tim Schafer and a team he helped hand select could create.

My personal largest issue is people saying this is not what they expected and yet their expectations are all based on their own personal nostalgia and conception of what a Tim Schafer game is instead of the reality of it or at least to sound less biased, that there is another view of that and that the most important one is Tim Schafer’s. I will leave this argument and focus more now on the game itself and a couple of facts on the history of Tim Schafer games and Double Fine.

I feel to look properly at BROKEN AGE we must skip Monkey Island, as those were mostly Ron Gilbert games in which Tim got input but did not show us what type of game he would make. Day of the Tentacle is the first place when one sees the type of game Tim would make. Something that would take the genre to the next place. While multiple characters had been used in Maniac Mansion, finding a way to have those characters work together was new. DOTT was not as hard as people seem to remember though. Dave Grossman co-directed it and lots of his work which would be seen later on Moop & Dreadly and the Telltale Games catalog was definitely in place here… and they were equally Tim’s. Simplifying things to extract humor and thoughts but not making things so hard. The same can be said with Full Throttle, a game that was much more about fun, humor and story then trying to make things hard or complicated. It was short and balanced and even combined a difficult but not impossible action sequences, the first hint that Tim felt the best way to expand the genre was to simplify puzzles and add different types of gameplay. Full Throttle also showed Tim’s great and intriguing choices in voice casting and focusing on getting performances that would really show off his hilarious quips and really thought out storytelling. Mark Hamill, Maurce LaMarche, Tress Macneille, all inspired choices who at the time were established actors known to animation and genre fans worldwide. Then with Grim Fandango he flipped EVERYTHING upside down and made a 3D game with difficult controls, an abstract plot and even more abstract casting with voices everyone knew… Tony Plana, Maria Canals, Alan Blumenfeld and Pamela Segall-Adlon were all established actors with careers. It was an indication that if Tim could he’d really reach as far and as wide to get performances above and beyond that of a normal video game. The kind of performances we have all slowly now gotten used to, but back then… not even close to the norm.

Then… Tim Schafer stopped making point and click adventure games. Psychonauts had puzzles, but it was also an action platformer and one that took that genre into new directions with a heavy emphasis on conversations, visual cues, great storytelling with depth, and amazing acting performances. There was some really interesting casting on it with Armin Shimmerman, Josh Keaton and Tara Strong. He also proved a dedication using a lot of the talent from Throttle and Fandango. Then came Brutal Legend, turning the entire third person action adventure game in new ways and at times trying to do also way too much by adding Real Time Strategy. Yet, inspired casting, dialogue and story really leaped and showed Tim’s true talents as a director. Jack Black, Brian Posehn, Tim Curry, Jennifer Hale, Cree Summer and of course getting those legends of Rock.

After Brutal Legend and how it fared though Double Fine went smaller and Tim became a department head, while other voices in Double Fine showed how equally awesome they were. Costume Quest, Stacking, Iron Brigade, Middle Manager of Justice were all brilliant and definitely Double Fine games which also felt like Tim games even with Tasha Harris, Lee Petty, Brad Muir and Kee Chi as directors.

All this brings us to BROKEN AGE and I’ll start with this. I love it, I understand any negative reviews and complaints but respectfully disgaree with them and I think this is something all gamers who want a new experience that at the same time feels old. Tim’s handprint is all over this thing. The jokes are aplenty and funny. Some are easily missed if you don’t experiment at illogical things, but there comes the real fun of adventure games. This is the linchpin of everything for me. Tim has created something that is funny, heart warming and full of depth. Are the puzzles easy? I guess. I’ve seen plenty of people also stating they were stuck in places and actually turning to a walk-through or asking for a hint, so I think the balance has been hit. A delicate balance that any game of this type will have had trouble juggling. I believe they have done so successfully. We also really get everything we’ve gotten from Tim in the past, innovation, the next step. This is the game he’d of made in 2014 as an adventure game especially if Psychonauts and Brutal Legend were point and clicks if he had complete control without publishers and never turning to Kickstarter in the first place. Turn to Kickstarter he did though and that created a whole different setup. Because this might not be the game he would’ve made under a publisher. A publisher would’ve maybe given him that little amount asked for and then he’d make a game and publishers would complain instead of fans. All this could be wrong, but it’s what I feel and isn’t that what reviews are, feelings?

I think the biggest thing that makes BROKEN AGE special is twofold.

Firstly, taking the evolution of casting to the next level. Tim brought in a ton of old friends along with him, including the folks with him since Day of the Tentacle and even bringing back Jack Black, as well as Cree Summer and even recruiting Wil Wheaton again. It’s the NEW people that are so exciting though. In the leads Elijah Wood (yes, that guy!), Masasa Moyo (best known for Team America: World Police and Young Justice), and David Kaufman (Danny Phantom and animated Jimmy Olsen); joining them in minor roles are major voice actresses like Hynden Welch and Grey Delisle with a final extra special appearance by the creator of Adventure Time & Bravest Warriors (and the voice of Spacy Lump Princess) Pen Ward. It’s like the greatest cast ever in forever for anything.

Secondly is the art style. No game has ever looked like this, because no game has ever tried to look like a painting by Nathan Stapley (well other than the Flash game on Double Fine.com based on his comic book). While he’s been an employee at Double Fine for a long time and was previously at Lucas Arts, his personal work is something special and other worldly. His palette and style has a frenetic energy that has not been seen by many… not even his occasional mate and fellow Double Fine employees Scott Campbell, Levi Ryken or Lee Petty. “Bagel” is a very special artist and that comes through every image in the game. While Peter Chan and the other artists I mentioned had a major part in the concept art, the final look of this thing is still all through the eye of Nathan.  Words really do it no justice, so here’s two screen shots.  One from the “fantasy” world and one from the “space” world.  Both have all the artistic influences in here and really show off how absolutely beautiful this game is.

The final word from me is you need to get BROKEN AGE. Be it now (released February 28th, 2014) off STEAM to experience the awesomeness of ACT 1 and marvel at an amazing Part 1 or waiting for the whole game off of Humble and other sources. I say play it now… as you get the entire game. Also grab the soundtrack.

Spelling Words, Making Magic. A Game Not To Miss!

I have never been good at word finders, and I actually not even really good at Scrabble. I miss those large scoring words, because even though I know them, the scrabble part of it always confuses me. Yet I play Scrabble, but not online. I never got into Words with Friends or anything like that, but I get the appeal. I like developer Ryan Creighton have always wondered what a game like that if brought to something even bigger. Ryan was inspired by a game that he thought was going to be that and wasn’t. I see Ryan’s game as pretty close to what I’ve always envisioned a word finder game at a larger scale where the word building wasn’t just a game but a function of the story telling.

That in a nutshell explains what SPELLIRIUM is. A word finder/builder with a story that is enjoyable and intriguing. One of the best things the game has going for it is the art design, from the characters, the backgrounds and the cut scenes. In simply still an alpha state this is blowing my mind. Being able to actually play something in Alpha is always fun. You’re not actually a playtester but you get to really see where a game is at before completion. I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let me rewind a tad.

Untold Entertainment is doing a special way of pre-order for their game in which isn’t a Kickstarter, but a kickender. This game is happening, it’s coming out. The question is how good will the final product be? Production costs money and while kickstarter is meant to do just that for projects, SPELLIRIUM has funded itself along the way with grants, funding and out of pocket and has a long way in its development. Despite being a point n click game and 2013 being definitely The Year of Adventure Games Return To The Mainstream it is also a niche game. It is not your traditional puzzler with fetch quests, inventory options and more, no it really combines two genres that you wouldn’t expect to work but in your mind want them too.

This isn’t to say that the Alpha isn’t full of flaws, but the promise it shows makes the Pre-Order completely worth it. Certain bugs are causing at least for me an impossibility to beat a certain puzzle, or maybe I just am not good at this stuff. It’s also about predicting vowels and consonants and understanding a structure of charges and combos and all that jazz. If you love things like Bejeweled, etc. or supposedly some game called Bookworm, then you’ll love this and you’ll enjoy the fact that it’s not just a word connecting. There is definitely still that point n click aspect and there’s the entire figuring out what to do next/where to go next thing going on as well.

In terms of seeing games always changing, evolving, taking the next step while staying in their roots of fun, good graphics, fun, good stories, interesting gameplay, fun then you can’t go wrong with SPELLIRIUM (even if admittedly my difficulty with a puzzle I can’t beat because of my skill level/bugs within the game).

So if you’re still staring at the screen shots, or reading this, stop. Just go and pre-order the damn thing already. You know you want to. Flaws and all!

Also… how can you resist a campaign that gives you something like this?

Come mothers and fathers, come sons and come daughters,
come graduates sprung from your old alma maters
come lovers of words, come adorers of books,
come peer at these pages, come take a good look
For today at long last, you will finally play
the game we’ve been building for many a day
(i’m so proud to say it, it’s making me teary some)
this is the day that you’ll all play Spellirium!
While it’s not fully finished, it’s come well along
we’re ready to let you all play, you big throng
and with your support, it will end perfectly
and we’ll make it the game that we meant it to be.
So open your wallets! Un-mattress your cash!
Donate all your savings, and empty your stash!
Dig deep, and find money, and give it all here
And then yell to your friends so that they overhear
And THEY give us their money! And THEIR friends do, too!
and then when it’s all over … just what did we do?
We shut down the banks, and we took all the bucks
and every last dime in the world went to us
The people of Earth will all turn out their pockets
And hope, beyond hopes, that we’re gonna rock it
And rock it we will, for the price you did pay
Oh, the game that we’ll make. OH, THE GAME THAT YOU’ll PLAY!!

A Fortnight of Amnesia in 2012 gives us more Doublefine Sausage AND 5 new game prototypes

Double Fine Games came into super extra megaton popularity earlier this year with their monumental Kickstarter that launched the  excellent Double Fine Adventure game now codenamed REDS along with the so far six episode documentary Doublefine Adventure from 2 Player Productions.  If you aren’t already a backer on that and getting to enjoy the awesoment development, art, production and stories on this future old school inspired modern adventure point n click adventure game from the mind of Tim Schaefer and as of now featuring the art design of Peter Chan, Scott Campbell and most specifically Nathan “Bagel” Stapely, there’s still time with their Slacker Backer program.  That isn’t what this is about though. In the continued interests of opening of their doors to all, Double Fine decided to take their annual two week new idea/prototype development session a public event.  Titled Amnesia Fortnight, previous years have brought forth prototypes that gave us games such as Costume Quest, Stacking, Trenched and Once Upon A Monster.   Now this year we’ll be seeing five new prototypes, but for the first time these prototypes will be shared with the public.  Well that is if they buy into the Humble Bundle for the program.   Not only will one get these 5 new prototypes though, they’ll also get three old prototypes if they give at least the minimum top price suggested on the bundle.  Humble Bundle gives to charity as much as it does itself and the developers, you get to choose how much you give for how much you get and how it gets allocated.  The three prototypes available are Happy Song (which became Once Upon A Monster), the original Costume Quest and a game called Brazen which was made in last years Fortnight and is now being prepared for further development.  Along with the prototypes you’ll also get documentary episodes of the daily progress on the development produced by 2 Player.  On top of all that there is also a live stream from twitch, running from 10 AM-6 PM PST.  It has been running since last week and shall continue along till the games are ready to be shared in the two week process. Each of the five games being developed were actually whittled down from 23 pitches from various Double Fine employees which were voted upon by fans who discovered the Humble Bundle project on day one and wanted to be right on the ground floor.  It could be said the five best choices were selected, but some of the games not being worked on this Fortnight definitely deserve exploring at some point and I believe this is honest being considered.  Of the five games I personally am excited for the two artistically envisioned games, but from the work shown on all them they should all be awesome.  Here’s a list of the five, short descriptions based on my personal understanding, and a cool progress image that shows what I think is exciting.  More images can be seen on the Doublefine Tumblr and the Doublefine forums. The White Birch: A plat-former with exploration, there won’t be foes, but the protagonist must continue climbing and exploring to reach the top of a strange tower where an actual White Birch tree sits with a prize and I assume the only way home.  I believe the prizes and exploration will change in repeated playthroughs as there will be multiple paths to the top, but not ways to actually go back and explore the other paths once you choose one.  Here’s some early concept art from Derek Brand.

Black Lake: From the mind of Levi Ryken, this looks like it’ll be a 3rd person top down perspective.  You’ll be playing a mythical animal hunter who doesn’t actually hunt, but uses some type of dream control mechanic to capture these supernatural beasts in a combination of action/adventure and another mechanic not fully explored.  Levi’s art concepts are what really attracted me on this one.  Here’s a final version of the lead protagonist he designed.


Autonomous: The brainchild of Lee Petty, the same man who gave us the ingenious STACKING, this is set to be a first person game (the first 1st person game from Double Fine they keep saying, although I thought that the cancelled SPECS was first person).  In it your character programs, but does not control Automotons… also known as robots.  Through basic input these bots will help the character explore and survive the world he has found himself in.  The team is hard at work on robots and especially making really awesome looking arms that would be the main inputting.  Here’s Lee’s early arms design that 3d modeller Ray Crook has been building furiously.

Spacebase DF-9:  A simesque game that being pitched/promoted as Dwarf Fortress in Space with graphics (and I assume simpler mechanics).  You’ll be building a spacebase, hiring employees, setting up shop, and placing characters in situations and then watch what happens, with each playthrough creating a virtual fiction/story that I assume can be easily shared.  I have to admit I am still not sold completely on where the fun is here.  I understand some people find this fun and once upon a time I actually thought the idea of games like this sounded like the most fun ever, but I’ve changed.  What I feel shall be one of the saving graces of this game is the creative minds of DF  instilling their humorous creative juices and also that Nathan Stapely is working on the character designs that will if anything make the game fun to look at.  I know I keep using the word game, instead of demo and/or prototype… as none of these will be full games, but a game is still something someone can play and hopefully have fun with, so… game.  Spacebase doesn’t really have any mockup graphics to show off that make me go “Oooh…” but the twitch.tv stream showed Bagel working on the characters and they look great.

Hack n Slash:  A NES/SNES Zelda-esque game in which instead of slashing away at stuff, you actually try to hack the game using codes, glitches and various secrets to find your way around monsters, walls, and more.  Team leader, head programmer Brandon Dillon really seems to have most of the game figured out mentally, so it all comes down to the programming itself.   Mark Hamer has come up with a great character design and Raz has conceptualized an awesome background, so visually this game is looking awesome.  I actually at first really couldn’t even see how this game would work, but I really do look forward to it.

So get in on the ground floor now for what could be the next best great Double Fine game to come after the upcoming The Cave from the mind of Ron Gilbert, the iOS superhero management sim Middle Manager of Justice, the sequel to Double Fine Action Theater known as Kinect Party, Double Fine Adventure and who knows what else they have up their sleeves.  If the 2012  Amnesia Fortnight is any hint to some of the ideas running around, expect awesomeness.

RESONANCE: Epic Retro Sci-Fi Mystery Does Much Good (some bad)

The best Science Fiction tends to have dubious characters of gray personalities, a terse semblance of what is truly right and wrong, awkward scientific concepts which aren’t exactly plausible and usually, but not always an ending which makes one think “Well, was it all worth it?”. Mysteries seem to have this is as well and then there’s science fiction mysteries who really play into this such as Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Twelve Monkeys, etc. Although science fiction may be the wrong term, possibly speculative fiction is the better genre use. They seem interchangeable and in many ways lots of these books do too. The characters, plots, etc. are all different, but they all speculate the possibility of worlds with excessive control, characters who want to escape that control, twists that possibly change your entire view of the story and an ending in which you feel satisfied, but not happy, questioning your own moral code and the future of our world as a whole.

All this preamble is leading to a look at the just released speculative fiction point ‘n’ click adventure game epic by Vince Twelve/XII Studios, RESONANCE. A deeply satisfying, yet as it seems with ALL video games, no matter what, slightly flawed production, but none that detract from enjoyment. Yet, designer/writer Vince has stated that he expects to be hear these complaints and he’s already had bug detractors from the demo that has been available for a week, so nothing I say here should be too blaring compared to much more delicate video game players who either expect golden platters or never really explore enough to find some of their statements to be completely untrue.

A perfect example of this is in a review I read earlier today which stated that the four playable characters were shallow, the only one with real depth being Anna. This is very untrue. While Anna’s background is fleshed out through nightmarish maze levels which open up flashbacks, the other characters are more than fully developed with back story, sense of being and more through dialogue trees which are not essential to finishing the game and may only be discovered through full discovery are careful attention. I particularly enjoyed Inspector Bennett’s personal monologue that kind of explains about why he is the way he is.

The mechanics of the game are as important as characters and story and in most ways. RESONANCE hits it out of the ballpark with a few fouls. I absolutely loved using all four characters to figure out different puzzles, the clues and development of the long term and short term memory, the variants in puzzle style and design that kept things interesting and yet never stopped one from being able to continue on. In at least each of the more complicated logic/math/mechanic puzzles there always another solution and in the ones where there wasn’t, it was way less complicated than one thought. I think of one puzzle involving a magnet where I was frustrated forever and then one simple solution and it was really easy. I mean super easy, I just had to think. Actually I asked for help, but I would’ve eventually gotten it and I smacked myself for not realizing it sooner, although one could also blame Vince for not making it as intuitive as possible and I do feel that was an issue. It was actually an issue in various other places in terms of design. A lack of intuitiveness or the system reacting the way one would expect. Having to switch a character because he/she was standing in front of a hotspot another character need to access seemed quite retarded. The short term memory system also had issues in which it could remember items multiple times, wasting slots because of the way the system woke up in certain situations. These were the biggest of the flaws though.

With that out of the way I’ll focus on my personal positives although with still a few negatives for a balanced review. I found all the voice acting to be superb except in some minor spots. It’s like a great movie though where so much money, time and energy has been spent on the main cast that the minor character is played by whoever could show up that day. It reminds me of that scene in Wayne’s World 2 when Wayne goes to the gas station and complains about a very minor role being handled by a “bad actor” and the actor is then replaced by Charlton Heston of all people. Unfortunately here Al Hansen kept his role and we were stuck with the “bad actor”, which more is to say that the performance wasn’t as strong as one would hope on the minor characters when the leads were so fun and quality. Most folks would praise Logan Cunningham, but for me it was Darryl Lathon’s Ray, who in many ways is the most important character, who was awesome. A kind of everyman as the outsider pulled into something that had nothing to do with him, yet becomes as involved and as important as anyone else.

The puzzles be they context based, environmental, logic, visual, etc. were all really well thought out. Even the more complicated ones or the maze like ones, they all seemed to fit. They never once made me go “Oh screw this”. Some may have taken me walking away for a day or two, but THAT is the sign of a well done adventure game. There are no steadfast rules on this though. Some folks love puzzles that are easy and allow a game to be an interactive story as much asd it is a game, while others appreciate games that really force you to think while also balancing story elements. Many of those elements may even become hidden to certain players as they worry more about the next puzzle than asking about every last thing which might extrapolate a line of dialogue that could create further character development. It’s a double edged sword, people complain about everything being fed to them, or people complain that it isn’t fed to them, there seems to be no happy in between. RESONANCE tries it best to find that, but I don’t expect that of any game developer ever. People will see a game the way they want to see it, it doesn’t matter what the game actually is.

As a hard sci-fi near future story with moral gray areas, difficult puzzles, amazing pixel graphics, sensational plotting and writing (that might actually be too gray as a story or movie, but workbrilliantly as an interactive software), concepts that make you think and more, RESONANCE is completely worth your time, attention and money.  I should also mention that unlike most films or books there is one option to see things end up.  There are only a few options available and they are all as gray as the rest of the game and its moral ground, but they definitely add to the entire sensation of the game.  There are also achievements which give the game a bit of replayability not seen in adventure games usually other than to experience the story again.  The alternate endings and achievements are just really nice extra touches that show Vince Twelve has a bit of forward thinking, although equally they may suggest a bit of stretching too thin and trying to do too much as some of the puzzles had shown.  Once again, that double edged sword.

For those weary there is a demo available which gives you a true feel for the production and should either compel you to have to continue on or know if it isn’t your cup of tea.

This review was based on a review copy courtesy of Wadjet Eye Games.  Screenshot courtesy of XII Games/Wadjeteye Games.  Image of Daryl Lathan courtesy of  Genevieve Rafter Keddy of Broadwayworld.com

Console Games scheduled for 2012 that catch my attention

Be aware that I like puzzle games, adventure games and third person action adventure games with platforming.

I Am Alive: An Ubisoft productiion, the trailer shows an awesome combination of platforming, third person action, puzzles, first person shooting and more. Currently scheduled for XBLA and PSN. The game looks a bit big for digital release, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Hitman-Absolution: After watching a nail biting gameplay sequence on the official website showing awesome stealth, timing and shooting mechanics I am totally sold on the first ever PS3 Hitman.

Devil May Cry: As developer Ninja Theory will not be doing a sequel to Enslaved, seeing their work continued in some fashion in a fascinating looking game is what I’ll settle for. I have no connection to the DMC games, so a reboot is right up my alley.

Papo & Yo : Another digital only, this time PSN only, has amazing art and gameplay with seems puzzles meet third person adventure.

Tomb Raider: No gameplay has shown up for the reboot, but I trust in the company to create another excellent game full of everything I like.

Max Payne 3: I’ve been a fan since day 1, got Payne on XBox and PC and Payne 2 on PC. Got to see what they’re doing with Payne 3 at New York Comic Con and I was sold.

The Last of Us: Sure no gameplay yet, but it’s Naughty Dog and it has a great cast. Also from what I understand one of the main guys who worked on Enslaved spearheaded this.

A.M.Y.: Sure it’s ANOTHER zombie survival horror game, but it’s a PSN title and it’s made by the man who gave us Flashback all those years ago.

Inversion: Third person shooter with physics tricks and gameplay? Yes please and thank you.

Neverdead: Ever since the first gameplay of this I was on board. You’re body can fall apart and then you find it and as you gather a body part you can keep fighting and you can just keep getting your arm or leg ripped off and just grab it again but shoot with the other arm? Plus the story trailer was hilarious!

Lollipop Chainsaw: Hot chick, super awesome graphics, extreme violence, 3rd person action and Suda51? Ok!

Journey: thatgamecompany has not disappointed. Cloud, flOw and Flower were three very different but amazing games and I look forward to seeing what they’re latest which has had a much longer development time can bring.

Testament of Sherlock Holmes: Frogwares has been doing Sherlock games for the PC for a long time now, with interesting and original stories in the Holmes tradition including having him go against Jack the Ripper and Arsène Lupin. This will be the fifth game in the series and the first to be designed with PS3 and XBox in mind. They upgraded their gengine from scratch and look to have retained/returned to their more popular third person camera with first person probably now being the optional camera view. I’ve actually gotten to enjoy these games and feel they have a good handle on the character. While all renditions of Holmes have their incencretities, these are some of the funnest next to the BBC modern show and the Guy Ritchie films.

Silent Hill-Downpour: Traditionally the Silent Hill games have caused me frustration more than anything, but the latest version is from a brand new developer and is just using the premise of the Silent Hill ghost town to tell another survival horror action adventure. With IDW editor and Silent Hill comics writer Tom Waltz on story duties and music from Dan Licht.

Binary Domain: An action shooter from the producer of the Yakuza games and the producer of Vanquish? There seems to be some innovative squad based actions as well, yet still all in single player third person mode… so basically like elements from the Mass Effect games, but with a different fundamental. The videos for this look awesome.

Keeping an eye on Wadjeteye

I first discovered the writing and programing talent of Dave Gilbert through the AGS website and specifically the first games he tackled based on the Reality-On-The-Norm universe and then his first AGS game, the uncomplicated as it existed, but still essentially continued (by Blackwell) Bestowers of Eternity. I was happy to see him continue on as a writer with the AGS award winning Two of A Kind and his first major project The Shivah. This game was eventually expanded into a commercial game which allowed him to begin his independent studio Wadjeteye Games which has not only become home to his excellent and inspired Blackwell series, but as a publisher/distributor for games written by.

The latest game from Wadjeteye was The Blackwell Deception, a very well crafted chapter full of interesting dialogue, clever puzzles and exciting plot enhancement and direction which delivered on all fronts for fans of adventure games. While the pixel bit graphics are obviously a desired taste, a true adventure game fan and a person who appreciates great writing as well as the painstaking effort to create recognizable quality pixelart will absolutely love it.

At this years New York Comic Con I had the pleasure to sit down with Dave on a relaxing Sunday after much chaos and have a passionate and exciting 25 minute conversation about his history getting into programming and developing as such.

I found it quite interesting that prior to AGS and Reality-On-The-Norm he had minimal background in programming and had not been published professionally as a writer. It was 10 years ago after going to school for broadcasting and being laid off from a job at CNN, that over a weekend after the Twin Towers/September 11th situation happened he discovered AGS and the RON games and decided he could do this, as the software was fairly easy for one with some basic programming skill and RON already had an established shared universe and graphic assets.

Following that came the aforementioned Bestowers of Eternity, followed by a collaborative project Two Of A Kind, which won lots of merit and awards. Dave laments that the two other people he worked with no longer seem to be involved in the gaming world.

I asked Dave a lot about the writing process behind the entire Blackwell saga, curious to how much he had locked down in terms of where the story is going. He told me that he knows exactly his ending, but it isn’t exactly fully structured out with notes like a set screenplay or novel, there’s no “bible”… just what sits in his head, except some major structures are “written” down, like Joey’s origin. Which I find quite fascinating, cause that’s a lot to keep jumbled up there, but at the same time it allows him to work more freely and let random ideas pop in or change his focus on the sage as it exists. He had done a job where he was paid to defraud a phony psychic and he knew that at some point he wanted to use that as the plot for a game and he worked around that for a Blackwell game, building from the basic plot. The puzzles and writing come first, followed by dialogue and restructuring before the actual coding.

We proceeded talking about puzzle solutions, how people will solve them, how they get decided upon, it was really fascinating, and showed me how passionate Dave is about game creation and adventure games.

One of the final things we spoke of was Dave’s one professional game developed outside of Wadjeteye. Approached by games company Playfirst for a casual adventure game and after several pitches an Emerald City/OZ game was approved. Emerald City Confidential is one of the favorite games in my echelon of ownership. We discussed the conceptions of creating an OZ story and the rights behind creating something in public domain.

I suggested that Dave consider writing his games out as a book as well, we shall see where that goes but in the meantime, grab yourself all the Blackwell games, as well as Gemini Rue, the first published game by another developer from Wadjeteye and do yourself a favor and hunt down other games as well. The AGS scene is awesome and while Dave is one of the tops and deserves the attention, broaden yourself, it’s worth it.

Games That Tell Tales

As TellTale Games truly expands their line of excellent produced games in the end of 2011 and beginning in 2012 with magic based on the Jurassic Park movie franchise, and two very popular the Comic books in Image Comics The Walking Dead created by Robert Kirkman and the Vertigo fantasy series FABLES created by Bill Willingham, I thought it best to look at Telltale’s game history as a whole as well as quickly review their three last distributions in Back to The Future-The Game, Puzzle Agent and the second chapters of Hector-Badge of Courage.

I’d previously reviewed the first chapter of Hector on PCS, but I’ve yet to throw praise their way for everything else and they’re highly deserving it. So, away we go, with the history of the company as I understand it without all that legal and technical mumbo jumbo and with applauding their efforts and criticizing a bit (because it’s video games and one still must criticize video games) along the way.

Telltale was founded by former Lucasarts team members Dan Connors and Kevin Bruner. Both have had an extensive hand both creatively, administrative and technologically in bringing to life some of LucasArts most popular franchises such as Sam & Max and Grim Fandango, along with some Star Wars titles as well. Along the way they’ve been able to bring in some really awesome people to the team including Mike Stemmle, who was co-lead on Sam & Max as well as Escape from Monkey Island, Andy Hartzell, an award winning independent comics cartoonist and most notably Dave Grossman, co-creator of Monkey Island, Pajama Sam, and Moop & Dreadly with Ron “Grumpy Gamer” Gilbert (who now works at the other base of operations for awesome games Doublefine with Tim Schaefer, who worked alongside Stemmle, Connors and Brunner back when) was brought in as head designer. Along with incredible artists, producers and more, this assembled team has allowed Telltale to be one of the only successful adventure game companies in the United States today. Most of the adventure game companies with success are based in England, the Netherlands and Germany. Thankfully though Telltale exists and helps bring franchises you’d think were primed for a game, but also difficult to envision to life.

The first series they tackled was Jeff Smith’s BONE. Visually and intellectually, as well as voice acting, this production was awesome, but it definitely suffered serious flaws in their action and mini-games sequences. Despite this, it is a great shame that they only got to do Out From Boneville and The Great Cowrace. I’d love to see them return to the series at some point and maybe try and create a side adventure instead of the adaptations done here. Maybe an untold Grandma Rose story would be best suited.

TellTale was given the CSI franchise to develop for publisher Ubisoft, but these games never really seemed to fall into line with where Telltale’s style and bread&butter landed. It wasn’t long into Telltale’s existence as a company though that the opportunity to “come out like gangbusters” presented itself. While the exact reasoning behind how Sam & Max ended up at Telltale has many stories suffice it to say they got their hands on the Freelance Police, along with their creator Steve Purcell along for the ride for brand new adventures not tied to the LucasArts design. That gave us “Save The World” which was followed by “Beyond Time & Space” and eventually “The Devil’s Playhouse”. All three games used very interesting and intriguing uses of puzzle design and twists in the adventure gameplay to deliver games that were quite awesome, even if they somehow never have yet to reach the epic-ness that was “On The Road”. This was not for lack of trying. It could be because of the SCUMM system, maybe it’s because of nostalgia on my part. I enjoyed all the Sam & Max games from Telltale but there were decisions made in gameplay style which caused problems.

These same issues would plague their very thought out and high quality “Tales of Monkey Island” series. This game did have the excellence of Ron Gilbert working alongside Grossman and Stemmle to come to fruition though. What hurt this game, much like in the Sam & Max game was that each episode was not exactly standalone. They were treated much more like chapters in a book and some episodes were weaker than others, in terms of length, puzzles and more. If played in one sitting, this could be ignored, but if played the way they were originally designed it was very noticeable. In the long run though, it truly proved that Telltale was on to the magic. (Although it should be noted Ron Gilbert did come in for one chapter of this series, helping with design and writing, helping stir the pot that Stemmle and Grossman started.)

During this time they had also worked with Aardman Animations on their “Wallace & Gromit” franchise. Now I never saw how that could be a video game, but they figured it out. Even more amazingly they found how to turn the Strong Bad flash cartoons in to fascinating and funny games. I was never a fan of Strong Bad and I am still not, but my god, they seriously figured out how to make me in the least like those Strongbad games. It’s a testament to the talent of the Telltale team.

In 2010, Telltale became more than just a developer of their own products, but the housing platform for smaller games which would come out on their own, but with Telltale backing them had much more chance at being seen by a public desiring adventure games on all levels. They called it the Pilot program and the first title was Nelson Tethers, Puzzle Agent. Designed by cartoonist Graham Annabelle, who had been working in some capacity at Telltale since 2005 as they published his webcomic DUNK, it was an an example that Telltale didn’t just make good games, but they really could find excellent ones. I actually had problems with Puzzle Agent, both the original and the sequel in the puzzles. Some of them just went beyond my style of thinking. That’s not on me though, the game is called Puzzle Agent and that meant all kinds of puzzles, logic, math, visual, and when it comes to two of those I tend to have some issues, especially super complicated mazes. The game has both super easy and then slider puzzle types and I am not good at slider puzzles. Never hand me a Rubik’s cube, my way of solving it is to crack it open and re-glue it together when solved.

Back to the Future: The Game was announced in June of 2010, alongside with the upcoming Jurassic Park, as part of a licensing deal with Universal. Fan interest was high straight from the start and only got higher when the game was announced as “the fourth chapter” in BTTF and that Christopher Lloyd would be voicing Doc Brown. From the first chapter I was immediately sold. While my computer wasn’t completely up to snuff to handle the graphics completely I could tell the writing, acting and gameplay were everything I’d been wanting from Telltale and that the franchise only helped this. I think with this series the company really found their swing. Maybe it was knowing that there would be even more discerning eyes on it to accomplish their goals. Yet, yes, the episodic formula caused this to also suffer from some episodes being weaker than others and the game can truly only be appreciated best if played in succession. It truly was one of the strongest efforts from Telltale and gives amazing hope to their Jurassic Park game, not to mention The Walking Dead and Fables.

The most recent Telltale game to “ship” were chapters 2 & 3 of the Straandlooper developed HECTOR-Badge of Carnage. These both continued the excellence of the first two chapters and truly compel you complete the entirely funny, well thought out and constructed point & click game. The way this project finished gives me not only hope to see what if anything Straandlooper produces next, but what the pilot program may offer. While it’s obvious Telltale’s efforts for the next year will be in the three previously mentioned franchises and hopefully a second Back to the Future game, I hope they understand what they can really do here for gaming as a whole. Especially being one of the only, if not the only developer who is not an independent creator to produce games like this with distribution on almost every available platform one can think of.

There was a TellTale panel scheduled for New York Comic Con 2011, but based on research I could conduct it has been postponed for rescheduling or possibly all out cancelled.  This is a shame as I was excited at the prospect of possibly meeting Stemmle, Grossman, et. al… but alas.  I shall just continue to enjoy their products.