In 1998 I was in third year of college and working hard. I’m not even sure how I found time for video games, but I did and on top of that heap was Grim Fandango. Up to that point I was a Lucasarts adventure game for lifer starting back with Loom. When Grim Fandango came out I can’t really remember the marketing at all, but I knew the Day of the Dead plot and that it was from the mind of the same person who made Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle and that was enough for me to grab it up for whatever probably outdated PC I had at the time.
Truthfully though I don’t think I ever beat it. I do remember being amazed by the music though. Peter McConnell at that point had cemented his abilities with various LucasArts games but he seemed to become super inspired through Fandango’s mexican jazz and noir influences. That music would stay with me for years past ever actually touching the game. What also got me was that voice acting. At that point the lead, Tony Plana was a pretty established character actor with multiple film and TV appearances and an impeccable voice for comedic timing while still coming across as serious. Equally Alan Blumenfield who at the time was also one of those character actors who fell under the “hey, it’s that guy” was just perfect as the super energetic bounce off Plana’s cool and collected. The rest of the cast was full of known acors as well, but what stood out for me then and NOW was Pamela Segall. That was the coup of the voice casting, she was a former child actor and known cartoon voice actress at the time so hearing that she would be part of Grim was exciting. Honestly though I don’t know if I ever got far enough in the game to actually hear her in 1998. Those tank controls were… well, like controlling a tank. A headache and a half. I don’t care what Tim Schafer thinks… they aren’t fun. They’re a new device never used in an adventure game adding to the difficulty, but they also took away from the fun and ability to enjoy his clever script, engaging puzzles and curious plot.
Thankfully, in 2015 that all got fixed with Grim Fandango Remastered. Over the years I’ve tried using the fan made systems to play Fandango on new windows and even tried the fan made P&c scheme, but it just never felt… right. Multiple crashes and other doohickey annoyances made it nigh impossible to finish… even more than the the old tank controls.
While Remastered allowed me to finally play Fandango from start to finish without having to rely on tank controls even then it wasn’t completely easy. The game is difficult and has certain puzzles that were more annoyances then puzzle solving (ex: the section getting past skeleton tigers, and in the same general area, following an arrow). So it wasn’t the game I loved. In retrospect now as I sit here thinking of the experience, the game is actually not fun… but the acting, the script, the characters really just propel you to go forward. Some of the logic puzzles are equally obtuse as any adventure game, but the way they play out are either funny or justified in a way that made me continue and nod in a “allright, that works”.
What really makes Remastered special isn’t being able to play in a new game style way though. It’s the extras and bonuses. The commentary tracks are amazing and cover so much ground. There are interviews with not just Tim or Peter, but also the designers, the programmers, the casting & voice director and everyone in between. The making of the game is truly explored in fun and interesting ways along with a large gallery of design art including unused cut scenes and a full storyboard. On top of that the amazing soundtrack has truly be remastered and in cases re-recorded using a symphony guided by McConnell. It’s a wonder to hear and behold and makes playing so worth it.
The only thing not included (as far I could tell) was the original puzzle document. Fortunately that wondrous piece is still on the internet. Don’t read it till you’ve beaten the game though.
GRIM FANDANGO Remastered is currently available on PC/Mac and Linux DRM-Free and Steam as well on PS4 and PS Vita for $14.99.
When things end, especially serials we hope that even if they end with room for more, they offer a satisfying ending. One we can contemplate and understand what has come and what may come. With so many series recently ending in ways that have left me scratching my head I am glad that COGNITION: An Erica Reed Mystery has concluded with an open ending that brings a MORE than satisfying conclusion to its whole and that its final chapter answers any and all questions developed through the first three chapters.
I had previously written about those first three chapters here on The Spectrum and stated how excited I was for the final chapter. It delivered and in spades, but not completely as expected and with surprising moments and changes that actually make a second playthrough not just good for the acting, music and story but that decisions you make will actually create a different ending.
This new factor the game was fascinating and it’s played through a great mechanism. Through dialogue trees, how you respond to certain questions and sequences will change how a character feels about you. There is no wrong or right answer in these cases, they will just decide which direction the ending will bring you. They are not a solution to a puzzle but an extension of nuanced game playing and upping the ante of play styles that have built through the first three chapters.
The puzzles this time actually do take a part of the pattern that I really didn’t like in the end of chapter 2, but this time around they weren’t as complicated and felt like they fit right into the fact that we are the final complex chapter of this dense mystery with characters who can see the past, the future, read minds, shoot guns and solve complex puzzles without any powers even.
Amazingly one of the most interesting and exciting parts of this final chapter is the tutorial section that delves deeper into some history that reveals the motivations behind the lead characters relationship with an important side character. It really sets up the game well too, guiding you to remembering how the supernatural powers combined with actual detective work really go hand in hand and make Erica Reed a special character.
I must also applaud the acting in this particular chapter. It seemed to be a bit of a step up even though it was the same actors as previous chapters, by the end it really felt like Raleigh Holmes had found a voice for Erica that really is its own. It made me feel sad that this might be the last we see of the character for awhile actually.
Here’s to hoping Phoenix Online Studios decides to work on a followup to Erica’s new mission, there’s plenty of story to be told and so many more intriguing ways to delve into the powers that were actually only touched upon in this final chapter.
COGNITION: The Cain Killer is now available on STEAM, GOG and the POS website and if you act fast you can catch some great sales on the POS website.
Indie game bundles have been the craze for a short while. There’s been Humble Bundle, Indie Royle, Bundle-In-A-Box and the first AGS bundle last year AGS Bake Sale.
AGS Bake Sale offered a ton of amazing exclusive games built in Chris Jones AGS. Primamrily designed for making point and click games developers have branched out and for that bundle, a shooter and a platformer were designed. Not every game in that bundle was gold, but it gave one some excellent work in Nine Months In and Fragment while the rest were excellent examples of how versatile the engine software actually is and how in many times it all comes down to puzzles, art and story telling… not how the game is made.
Independent publisher Screen 7 out of the UK recently published a brand new AGS bundle titled Summerbatch which features 5 games. Four traditional point n click games with varying art styles and story telling techniques and one very different type of game and a new one to AGS I assume in stealth action ala Metal Gear Solid.
In Barely Floating we are introduced to the best animated/illustrated of the works, with some work that looks way beyond indie, while some of the game mechanics still definitely are hobbled by AGS being capable of what it is capable. Extremely funny with some serious mind buzzer of puzzles invoking old school point n click where one must truly pay attention to dialogue and sentences, it quickly became one of my favorite of the games and it feels like there could be a sequel featuring the protagonist. Or maybe a prequel? It felt a little weird that the only thing we really discover about the lead character is his name while everyone else gets way more fleshed out.
Jailbreak is the stealth game I mentioned above. Of the five games I must admit it was my least favorite. While I really respect and appreciate the work of the developers in trying something totally new and different with AGS, the graphics and gameplay really felt short. Others might actually state this was their favorite game of the bundle and I actually really happy it is in there to add variety to the whole thing. I personally would be happy with the four point n clicks, more than happy, so this game is a bonus.
Patchwork is also impressively in its graphics and feels epic in scope, but is actually the shortest of the games and the only one with a puzzle type that I personally always hate finding. Despite that, it’s writing in top notch and it like Barely Floating and PISS and even Nancy The Happy Whore feel like they could be larger games with prequels and sequels.
Nancy is the most crazy of the games, but I even almost feel like it could’ve gone over the edge. Sure pixelized boobies especially in pixel art aren’t exciting, but they would’ve added some humor and fun. Even without the nudity, despite the Happy Whore title, there’s some very interesting twists and intriguing turns to this adventure which starts small and ends up maybe more epic than PISS even since PISS feels huge and epic from the start simply because of its world.
So now we get to PISS, which has been considered the gem of the batch by some. It is a very impressive sci-fi spiritual adventure fantasy, with some incredible writing and with every character being completely and totally fleshed out. Except for the lead who we get more questions than answers in the end about. If any of the games NEEDS a sequel it’s PISS. The others could have sequels. PISS needs one, the story needs to continue. Be it as a game or a book or a comic.
As a whole, Summerbatch is actually a steal at its “Name Your Price” price. Of course it’s worth at least a minimum $15, especially since it went to charity and the games were developed without budgets from the publisher. The deal started in August and runs till November. That’s a lot of time left, but jump on it sooner than later, there’s going to be some long nights for some players indeed.
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
The following are projects I would love to pledge to for rewards and to see the projects happen. In some cases the projects are at 100% and that just means I wish I had hundreds of thousands of dollars just to be on board, in others they’re struggling or at the half way point and so they need your help as much as mine. All of them are stuff I really think is awesome and wish I was full of disposable income.
Cooking In Heel-A Memoir Cookbook: I absolutely love cook books which are more than just a collection of recipes and this one seems to be just that. Combining some Southern style seafood with pulling up the memories of being black, transgendered and I believe a lesbian in New York City and the troubles of that and that is one amazing read or at least it sounds like one.
Fairy Quest-Outlaws: Paul Jenkins isn’t one of my favorite writers, but he has written lots of stuff I’ve enjoyed. Mostly his Werewolf by Night, his issues of the Tecknophage series with Al Davidson and some of his issues of Spider-Man. In terms of Humberto Ramos, I actually never really loved the guy. He can be awesome of some stuff, the vampire series he created himself was awesome. So you’d be wondering why I’m into this book… well it looks awesome and sounds awesome. It reminds of TELLOS in ways and that book is one of my favorite things ever.
A WALL: I checked out Lila Roo’s prevoious art projects and I was really impressed. She has a great visual eye and this project could be awesome. She’s also beautiful and makes beautiful stuff.
NEKRO: This strategy adventure game has some amazing graphics and a conceptually good story. I don’t tend to get attracted to RTS or warfare games, but the premise behind this one with the artistic design really has my eyes open.
Dr. McNinja’s Radical Adventures: I love simple reflex platforming games, combining that mechanic with an original story featuring Christopher Hasting’s Dr.McNinja for mobile platforms is just awesomness and Chris agrees and he’s only marginally part of the project other than giving permission.
Mystery Pets Art Book by Diana X. Sprinkle: I’ve loved Diana’s comics for a long time. True Hue has been a steadfast favorite forever. I of course never got to see the first book she did here cause the internet is too huge, but this larger follow-up looks awesome as all let out.
Wish Pictures: I don’t talk online anymore, least at all webcam… but this could totally make me get back into it. Every conversation to be in a different room? Also this type of technology getting going could lead to it’s inspiration, Star Trek: TNG’s holodeck to becoming a reality.
Rob Schamberger paints professional wrestling’s Heavyweight Champions of the world: I’m curious to see how much he can really tackle here if he succeeds. He’s got Punk, Harley Race, Ric Flair… but will he really go all the way with this? He’s going to have to a Great Khali, and as comments noted, a David Arquette, not to mention a Tyler Black, a Sid Vicious, a Yokozuna, a Vader and when it comes to guys like Big Show and Kevin Nash… will he do Diesel and The Giant or consider those as one painting reflecting them as a whole?
Jane Jensen’s Pinkerton Road: The first official gamne has now been announced for Jane Jensen’s production company, that would be Moebius, but they’re still far from getting the financial backing to making that dream a reality. Jane Jensen is an incredible writer and I believe with no one and nothing holding her back in the publishing area she can do something amazing in this influx of the rebirth of old school gaming as a main stream concept with periphery engines instead of everyone using Wintermute and AGS (even though those games are awesome including everything by Wadjeteye) and having games be American made instead of ports and localizations from Spain and Germany. I want this to happen and so do you. Telltale Games are awesome, but there needs to be more big guys are the market!
Super Powered Revenge Christmas: An original graphic novel with Santa Claus and others as superheroes and villains written by Bill Corbett of MST3K and Rifftrax fame and drawn by Len Peralta. I don’t think there’s much more to say.
Xombie-Death Warmed Over: After sitting in development hell, James Farr has finally got XOMBIE back to do with as he pleases. Unfortunately that means the big movie isn’t happening, but he can now focus on getting a second season of the cartoon finally out there to the adoring public with your help. I was much more into the comic series that was birthed from the Xombie cartoon, but this fact remains… awesome.
Giant Donuts-NYC shop: I’ll never be able to eat a donut shop, unless they go for Gluten free or something. Or if I just have one donut a year, but the charm of their pitch video and the idea behind the shop just makes me excited. Worth checking out.
The Great Chicken Wing Hunt: This documentary looks amazing… it deserves a final cut and the ability to go out to markets to be seen in festivals and picked up for distribution on HBO or Showtime or something like that…maybe Bravo? Anyways, watch the full official trailer too. Also New Yorkers, come see it in downtown Manhattan on April 28th.
Cold and Loud-An Alaskan Rock Anthology: I’m completely unfamiliar with the rock scene of Alaska, but there seems to be a lot of Metalcore going on. Good metalcore at that, well, if you like Metalcore, I do sometimes. It’s not just Metalcore though, there’s some Electronica, Ska, Folk and Poppy stuff happening. Here’s some of the bands on this anthology so you can get a feel of what they’re all about.
Anchors Alive, City In Ashes, Bolt Action Beaver, Kallahanak, Pretty Birds That Kill, The Rocket Surgeons, T.I.A..
It’s important to note that all the tracks on this anthology were recorded new in a session at one studio with each band, they are all unreleased which makes it extra special.
Altruistic Complex-Book 1: This manga-esque anthromorphic comic by Zilford is really cool looking and reads well too. See for yourself right here.
: I can’t believe I’m just discovering this awesome webcomic now. You can see the thing yourself at Acekilroy.com
, but this collected edition sounds awesome. A little hefty in price but that has to be because of the Kickstarter feeds and just making it available in the format they want with having their full colors being printed in color and such, which has to be expensive at a lower print run. Good stuff.
Road Trip with Bibi the African Grey Parrot: Hilarious pitch video. This could turn into an awesome webseries. I’d be curious to see where the bird ends up and how it reacts to new things and if she can really learn new phrases and words. Bibi hates New Jersey, it stink. Bibi want La Brea, tar…tar… don’t belong. I don’t know.
The Car: This almost finished short looks pretty cool. I’m curious to just follow it.
Franklin, The Ladies Cat: Now this is some serious fun right here. This cat looks great and the voice is hilarious. I could see Franklin easily on Comedy Central or Adult Swim.
PuppeTyranny!’s Beans, Beans, Beans: This is one of those weird things where the pitch video really caught my eye that I just had to include it in this list.
Plastic Galaxy-A Documentary About Star War Toys: I still have a ton of my Kenner’s. The pitch video on this is actually weak, but the premise is really good. I hope they speak more to the actually Kenner folks on this then the collectors, because I really don’t need to hear from more collector’s and fans, but stories from the folks at Kenner who basically created toys from production sketches for a live action that hadn’t even been cast yet like Bobba Fett would be amazing.
2D6, geek rap group’s second album, Hey Fartface: Do not go by their pitch video. It shows a badly filmed live performance. Go to their Last.FM page and download the free mp3s. These dudes are really good and really funny. They deserve to expand their act, especially their live act which needs work.
Eryn Woods West Coast Summer Tour 2012: This Kickstarter is more a case of discovering a musical talent in Eryn Woods that I was not privy to before this. The tour is all west coast and I can’t see myself getting out to Cali anytime soon without a bigger deal involved, but for those out in Cali and the West coat, worth checking out and those not, just check out her music. She’s also absolutely stunning which is just a bonus.
The Many Worlds of Mr.Diddlewit: There many good children’s series up on Kickstarter, but this one in particular caught my eye so here I offer it for your information to check out.
Over at my Livejournal I used to take various links I found and collate them all into a collection that I called “Nerd Notes”. These links could contain anything from videogames to wrestling to movie trailers to news articles. I have decided that it was an excellent concept and am migrating it now for use at Pop-Culture Spectrum. This is just the first up many to come and allow me to relay lots of information in short bursts instead of full fledged reviews or articles when something may warrant it, but would take up ample time before getting the product information out there.
AGS Bake Sale: A collection of fully cooked to perfection games built inside of AGS and bundled for charity, it is available for $1.50 or more based on your choice of donation to Child’s Play. If you are familiar with the Humble Bundle this is very similar but allows you to play games that are completely exclusive to this pack. I have played portions of 9 Months In, Red Volition, Indiana Rodent and Abner so far and they are all excellent and worth the price.
Nurse Quest: This free pixel based point and click adventure developed by Robot Lizard for Adult Swim Games is hilarious, crafty and well constructed. It isn’t a time waster though, so be ready to sit down for a good half hour to hour to enjoy the hilarity.
Da New Guys: Back in 2004 Chris Burton put out an AGS game built around an imaginary wrestling federation and a team known as “Da New Guys”. It was a critical success and Burton also made a short animated feature with the characters called “For The Winnings” in Blender. Announcement came of a game sequel but they were continually delayed. Finally in 2012, Morton teams up with Wadjet Eye Games for “Day Of The Jackass”. A demo is available.
Sumo Cyco: Canadian sweetheart and former pop rock darling Skye Sweetnam first became a totally different type of artist with her colloberation “Action” recorded with Tim Armstrong and the bulk of her album, Sound Soldier, but the project she began in 2009 has started to become fully unleashed with 4 very disturbing videos and a sound one would never think that the girl who sang “Billy S.” would lead a band that covered Oingo Boingo along with some really hard metalesque rock..
All-American Rejects first official single “Beekeeper’s Daughter” off the forthcoming studio album “Kids on The Street” is available on iTunes. I’ll be waiting for the entire album myself and hope that the entire project is a worthy successor to the phenomenal When The World Comes Down
A Stream of Paul McCartney’s forthcoming Kisses On The Bottom, a collection of old standards covered in only the way Sir Paul could.
Jon Adams excellent Truth Serum had a tenth anniversary and posted a new strip, guest pin-ups and a cool contest in celebration.
Finally a list of books I plan to read and review in the very near future:
Fun & Games + Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski
Snitch by Booker T. Mattison
WinterTown by Stephen Emond
I shall also being doing an over of all 22 issues of the Marvel comic Agents of Atlas + the Gorillia-Man miniseries written by Jeff Parker.
An overview of the new iPod/iPhone/iPad App and web series Totally Amp’ed is also planned.
I was twelve years old when Law & Order began its long run on NBC. The show didn’t really hit its stride till the late great Jerry Orbach joined the cast in the second season along with S. Epatha Merkeson in my personal opinion and truly didn’t reach excellence till Sam Waterson joined as Jack McCoy. All that can be easily argued, but suffice it to say I’ve been a fan since day one. Criminal Intent was quickly my favorite show because of the awesomeness of D’Onofrio’s Goren and Kathryn Erbe’s Eames, but SVU always held my interest through and might actually top CI as a favorite with Meloni’s Stabler, Hartigay’s Benson and Wong’s Dr. Huang. Through the new shows though I still always loved the original and it’s various pairings. Logan was the original guy, but once teamed with Brisco he just reached levels of awesomeness and anyone who teamed with Lennie was automatically awesome, especially Rey Curtis. The way they wrote Benjamin Bratt’s character out was tragic, but the return to who he was in 2009 was just as tragic and never had any followup.
All this build up brings us to be able to discuss the new Telltale game for iOS and eventually PC, Law & Order: Legacies. Written and developed by Ryan Kaufman with production from Dave Felton, the game attempts to actually create in many a season of Law and Order that could’ve made it to the airwaves, alongside the fantasy of stories never told. It’s definitely a professional approved fan fiction, but it’s a well done one with creativity and an attempt at as much accuracy as possibly allowed by the production’s budget and limits. I found it interesting that Arie Kaplan who worked on the HOUSE M.D. games and is an accomplished journalist worked on Episode 2.
Unlike Telltale’s Back To The Future which featured the talents of original BTTF stars Christopher Lloyd, and Claudia Wells, the Law & Order game were not able to procure talent such as Benjamin Bratt, S. Epatha Merkeson, or Linus Roach among others such as obviously the dearly departed Jerry Orbach. Yet despite this, between quality voice acting and top notch art, the original actors are surely missed, but do not result in causing a distraction. Among the talent are voice over actress Cissy Jones, poet/musician Kid Beyond who has worked for Telltale previously, musician/voice actress Rashida Clendening, and many of the people who have worked with Telltale on other productions. The one voice they were able to retain was Steve Zirnkilton, the Voice of Law & Order, as well as that pretty critical Mike Post composition.
In playing this I had really wanted to replay the Vivendi/Legacy Law & Order games which had the use of the real actors, but as I remembered featured mail it in performances as well as writing and tons of bugs, yet, I wanted to try and do a track record of these type of games, as well as comparing them to Telltale’s CSI games. Yet in terms of style, content and conception, Legacies is its own entity based much more in paying attention to clues and having a good eye, while the previous games were based more in choosing the right random dialogue tree and beating annoying minigames like tile, match and also match and sometimes peck and hunt.
While I’ve only gotten to play the first two episodes, I wanted to reflect on the plot as there was a real attempt here to create something original here. The game in the first episode seems to take place shortly after season 12 and before Season 13. Detective Rey Curtis after a few years since his wife’s passing in 2009 and moving back to NYC is prompted by his daughters to return to the force instead of moping around. He someone gets automatically put back on the 27th Precinct run by Lt. Van Buren where he and Lennie Briscoe partnered. His first case in which he hasn’t been given a partner is a murder which also turns up rape evidence, Detective Benson from the 16th is called up to join the investigation as her partner is “on leave”, which is probably Benson not wanting to accept that Elliot actually quit, that is the only thing that makes sense unless Ryan Kaufman messed up his L&O timelines . That now gives us the Legacy of two major L & O characters becoming temporary partners on a major case, which once the suspect was revealed probably should’ve been turned over to Goren and Eames, but that’s splitting hairs. That case takes a quick left turn during trial and it is up to Michael Cutter and Abby Carmichael to clean up the mess. This must be before Cutter ends up as the new Bureau Chief of ADAs who work on SVU cases. A sidenote in the story reveals a connection between this case and a cold case Briscoe and Curtis worked on years ago.
In chapter two we are sometime between 1995 and 1999, probably closer to 99 based on the statement that the cold case took place 10 years ago from the first episode’s story, although for the time line to work it had to be at least 11-12 years ago, but one can say I’m nitpicking. This is an untold case of Briscoe and Curtis looking into the possible murder of a young father who died steps from his door step. The investigation follows all logical steps and Jack McCoy and Abby Carmichael have to use everything they can to convict in a case that isn’t not exactly as clear cut as one would hope. During the episode we discover a little more information on the Cold Case mentioned in Episode one and that it wasn’t just cold but closed, and that Lennie had been working on it on his own time. I spoil this information here so that fans and potential gameplayers who have yet to try the game out are aware there is an over arching storyline which seems to promise that while each episode is playable on its own, the full purchase will be definitely worth it.
Plot out of the way a very quick discussion of gameplay. So far the game is broken into two sections much like the TV show. We open with an investigation which includes listening to answers, hearing stories and a bit of a “find the item” type of minigame which actually has some thought put into it and allows for some cool looking backgrounds. The questions section will ask at certain points if you believe someone or feel you’ve caught them in a lie or that information provided was accurate and if you answer that correctly, a multiple choice will ask you the why of the answer. These mulptiple choices can be tricky as they can be worded incorrectly. Getting an answer wrong won’t end your game, but it may lead to a different result when it comes to the trial. Once all investigations are done, you go into court room mode. Here when interviewing a witness on the stand it is much like the interview investigations, but the twist comes in the properly placing objections and doubt when the defense is up at bat. There is also a closing arguments segment where you must properly choose what subjects to bring up. There are chances of losing, winning by jury or even offering a plea bargain which allows multiple gameplays just to see those scenes play out.
While I have not yet played the just released episode 3 which introduces Detective Logan to the story as returning to the force after quitting Major Case, trying out the real world and deciding he had to be a homicide detective, I definitely look forward to it and seeing where else the game and story go. Maybe with four episodes to go we might even get appearances from Lupo or Munch. Since this game was supposed to originally be a Law & Order: L.A. game there’s a chance will get a cameo from Connie Rubierosa who has decided that California just wasn’t doing it for her. Either way Telltale has shown that they can handle telling original stories, with gameplay that should be acceptable for all levels of gameplayers from the beginners to the veterans and a plotline that should be satisfying to all levels of fans of Law & Order as well.
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.
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.