Give Me Some of Those Funky Fresh Beats

What if I told you a game could truly deliver almost everything and deliver it in package that explored almost every visual style that video gaming has used? What if I told you this same game could use recycled jokes, tropes and find brand new ingenious spirited ways to make them feel new and inspired and make you laugh with joy & excitement all over again?

What if I told you in 2017 the adventure game point n click scene was still alive and flourishing more then before and thistime it was being kept alive by Germany or some other European country but that America, the UK and other countries where they speak English… like… um… erm… Australia.

Well it is and they do… this time I’m talking about a post apocalyptic mutant genre bending humor escapade called Paradigm, an eponymous title of the hilarious adorably gross disgusting cute lead character you will “control” throughout this adventure (does one ever truly control or do we just guide them through predetermined conclusions of the dressing of puzzles and interaction to deliver a story but in an interactive environment? A discussion for another time perhaps.)

Jacob Janerka, ALMOST solo creator of this brilliant, stupid, silly, wonkers, what am I doing here, I love this, oh my god I’m going to throw up art project is an amazing illustrator and designer. Every painting in this is lovely even when it’s showing a super weird creature, every pixel piece lovingly developed and boy is there a lot of 2D pixel goodness, but not in the point n click game genre. The way the game used 2-D is so almost mind-bending because it’s unexpected and needs to be experienced to truly appreciate it utter ridiculousness yet perfection.

Just one of the ugly pretty mutants you’ll meet.

To get a really good idea of how wacky, wild, weird, funny, silly and also how awesome an artist he can be, other than Paradigm one just needs to scope the proposed Seinfeld point n click he started developing while finishing the game. It went a tiny bit viral and Nerdist featured it last year.

The fact alone that Jacob wants/wanted to bring a show about nothing, in which you’d basically do nothing and yet for some inexplicable reason laugh at things that aren’t funny gives you some hint into maybe how his mind works… or maybe doesn’t work.

An example of Janerka’s amazing painting skills. Look at this vastness. Look at that crazy pigeon.

There are some “what are you serious?” ideas in the game where you wonder if he’s crazy with skills or just really talented. Here are some ideas you usually don’t expect in a point n click without actually spoiling the game itself.

  • Multiple Endings
  • Pay Window
  • Beatboxing
  • Boss Battles
  • Computer Crash
  • 2 Headed Cat (oh wait… nevermind)
  • Art in the corners that looks awesome and adds enjoyment but has nothing to with the game….wait… nevermind. Still it really is done well, I personally found myself staring at every corner.
  • You actually can TALK, PICK UP, and USE every sincle interactive item. Maybe not in the way you expect, but you can. Especially the TALK and… Pick Up? Well, if you don’t try to pick up EVERYTHING and I MEAN EVERYTHING? You are not giving yourself the fun.

    Just on the 2D bits in the game and an example of how the game goes unexpected places.

Another great addition which will having you play multiple times so as to not ruin your immersive experience the first time around, or maybe you will ruin your immersion and just do it on every screen, but you’ll probably forget so you better make saves or yes, you’re playing all over again is the Developer Commentary. These are thing that have existed throughout time but traditionally only remastered games (like the ones Doublefine has done of LucasArts) get them. Very few games have them on release of a brand new Intellectual Property. I honestly can only think of the games by Wadjeteye/Dave Gilbert to have done this. Jacob takes it another step though and does it is as a visual treat on top of the audio. It’s just a thing… a very artsy thing. There’s commentary also from the game’s musician Jonas Kjellberg (which I haven’t even brought up… it’s another layer all together).

Jonas Kjelberg created sounds, beats, synthwaves, guitar hooks, belly slaps, snores, boops, blips, and more. The music in this game is so wonderful it needs an entire article of its own to be truly explored. Luckily there is a soundtrack coming at some point, as it needs dissemination, deconstruction and reverberation. To be truly appreciated. Each piece works within the construct of the game, but also sound like they’d be amazing on their own.

Another piece of 2D pixel work. Here you are dating a toaster. Yes, you read that correctly.

One of the things I really love about the game is how original it is while doing BLATANT tributes, self deprecating itself to what came before, while acknowledging how different and special it is, while at the same time being ludicrous and a waste of time. Yet isn’t what all entertainment is? Something to appreciate and waste time? What else would we do? Be productive? To what end? To the end to be able to sit down and waste time with others creations and then be inspired to make our own creations and then the cycle begins again. Mundanity, Insanity, Back to 1 till we die. Yet till that comes, take some time out of your schedule to play PARADIGM.

Paradigm is currently (released April 5th, 2017) on Steam for $14.99.
You can also get it at GOG.
Or if you prefer The Humble Store.
And if you’re reading this week of April 5th, it’s 10% off… if not… it’s more and still completely worth it.
It’ll run on PC and MAC (Linux is in the pipeline). Jacob Janerka also wants you to know that he unironically listens to ABBA regularly and thinks about if dogs have internal monologues.

Population 81 (strike that) 80

In 1987 at the tender age of 10 I had owned a Commodore 64 for a few years, falling in love with Infocom, Sierra, Tellarium and other individual games in the adventure genre. It was in October of that year that like many others my mind became warped, disturbed and happily pushed on a path of no return with the release of Maniac Mansion. The SCUMM system developed Ron Gilbert, Garry Winnick, David Fox and the rest of the team at Lucasarts changed gaming as we know it so many ways. My love for adventure games and point and click grew from that day, getting my hands of everything from LucasArts as it came out, but I’d actually follow Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick as closely as I could as they moved onto other works. Humongous Games was for kids, but dang it if you couldn’t find enjoyment in Freddi Fish, Pajama Sam and Spry Fox you didn’t like fun. Especially fun, while less a Ron Gilbert game and more Dave Grossman, was Moop & Dreadly. The Cave was definitely something new, different and unexpected, but Ron’s concepts were still clear. His out there thinking for puzzles and his abstract writing. Yet still nothing he had done ever felt like it captured the spirit of his early work.

That all changed with Thimbleweed Park; and not just because it literally feels like a lost Lucasfilm game from say 1992 (the game takes place in 1987 but Pixel art was definitely not at this level yet) right after Lechuck’s Revenge but before Day of the Tentacle with Double Fine’s Tim Schafer. Having the team that developed Maniac Mansion come back together to devise a truly new, but old classic point and click adventure born from the new fundraising and therefore self publishing platform of Kickstarter has allowed for something that was probably just like Broken Age was once envisioned into something bigger, prettier, more vast and more impressive then ever imagined when originally conceived. In fact as I played through the game I could not believe how epic it became. While only taking place in a small town, the scope of the story and the way it is told will blow you away and catch you off guard in surprising and wonderful ways.

Thimbleweed Park is beautiful. Every inch of it despite being pixels is dazzling. The characters truly become alive with powerful animation, true detail and grit. Helping this is of course the scripting of Gilbert and David B. Fox. Making these characters truly real is the amazing cast though. Thimbleweed Park is through and through a true puzzle game in which hard mode, your brain will get twisted and twizzled to the point of maybe being fried, but at the same time, you are never truly stuck. The solution is probably staring you in the face. You must remember this a game of five distinct characters and you play them all and can switch between one. Like Maniac Mansion you rely on each other to solve certain puzzles. It’s a fun and exciting thing that can really only be experienced in a video game. Helping yourself out by helping yourself but as two people? In the real world or in most video games that involves another actual human, but in adventure games, you get to be both people. It’s amazing… and as I said while it’s a game through and through, the cast really brings it to life.

Acclaimed voice director Khris Brown put together some amazing folks for this. Nicole Oliver, an anime American adaptation legend, who most recently is known for her work My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and has worked on another Ron Gilbert game in Death Spank plays the tough as nails FBI agent. Ian Garret, the most popular voice of Dragon Ball’s Goku and the voice of multiple characters on Ninjago and a long list of roles brings Ransome the Clown, the game’s most interesting, funniest, and wildest character to life invoking a bit of Norm MacDonald, Gilbert Gottfried, Bobcat Goldwaith and Sam Kinison to create a guy you can’t but love to hate and hate to love. Our wayfaring ghost without a chance, who whines and whimpers but is a joy to play as is given a bit of gravitas and sympathy by Alex Zahara, a longtime character and voice actor of stage, small screen, anime, games and most recently Amazon’s hit series Man in the Highcastle as Diehls. Rounding out our main cast are Javier Lacroix, a Spanish actor with a long list of commercials to his credit as deceptive to his actual age, as he sounds perfect as the young, seemingly mysterious other FBI agent and Elise Kates, a sound designer who has worked on Girls Makes Games The Hole Story as what could be considered our lead protagonist Delores, a game developer who returns home to Thimbleweed Park just as the mystery begins who is right in the middle of it all.

One of the cooler parts about Thimbleweed Park is once it’s said and done there are so many reasons to go back, especially on Steam as there are a few wonderful achievements. Yet, on top of that, unless you plan to sit through them all on a first play-through drastically causing pacing to the story to go to a crawl there tons of books to read as well as phone messages to listen to for the completest in you. They just add another layer to the actually to the game and it’s creation from day 1 to release and should truly not be skipped to feel fully immersed in the town and world created.

Thimbleweed Park is available for $19.99 on Steam, GOG, Xbox Live, and Mac App Store as of Launch, with other platforms coming in the near future.

(This review was built from an advance copy of Thimbleweed Park, which I finished days before launch and has kept my mouth shut about even though I want to talk and hear from everyone about it. Go play it folks, beat it, then talk talk talk talk talk and then talk some more)

 

PRIMORDIA Review

What came first? Robots or Man? Was there even Man? Is Robot Man actually Man Robot? Can a Robot wear a Monocle? Can a machine have emotions? Is anyone above the law? Is the law truly the law? If you don’t know your own past, does it really mean you aren’t who everyone thinks you are? Can a robot fly, be sarcastic, and funny, but still really helpful and a great friend?

All these questions and more are asked, but not answered in PRIMORDIA... or more exactly they are given multiple answers, in which your own spiritual moral code will let you decide the answers.

In my preview of Primordia I said it reminded me of Beneath A Steel Sky, but once you really get into the crux of the game it feels both its own beast and yet even more a true predecessor and that is an actually great thing. There’s no denying the genius of Beneath A Steel Sky, no matter how hard one might try and there’s no denying the genius of Primordia.

It is an excellent point n click adventure with truly inventive puzzles that make you think as much inside the box as out of it. You are introduced to Non Player Characters who become extremely fleshed out as the story progresses, maybe more fleshed out than any I’ve seen before and in some cases more fleshed out than even your protagonist. In that it’s more link hints, little smattering, things to put together the puzzle together yourself.

All together the game presents a very large and over encompassing story about a post apocalyptic (or seemingly so) world in which only robots remain and these robots live in a 1984 lifestyle in which your character invades, upturns and rearranges in surprising ways. All along the way you’ll laugh, cry, be amazed and question your choices. These are meant more to convey the impression, they are not red herrings. There is no way to not finish the story. Actually there are multiple ways and that is just an added bonus to everything.

As a perfect ending to this short, succinct, but loving review I thought I’d share with you my also short but with brilliant answers via e-mail interview with the developers of Primordia and an extra bonus question for publisher Dave Gilbert of Wadjeteye.

1.) How much of Beneath A Steel Sky was an inspiration?  It felt throughtout the game and up to the ending even that it was being heavily referenced, but that could be my own nostalgia fog invading.

Vic: Yes, Beneath a Steel Sky was definitely an inspiration for me during the conception of the game. I recall that in some respects I wanted to make something in a similar vein, tonally. Metropol I think had the most direct graphical influence from BASS, but that said, I don’t really think of Metropol as representative of the art style in Primordia, which I feel is essentially more of a kind of Ray-Gun Gothic style you see around the UNNIIC and the Dunes – a melange of technologies flowing into ruin.

Mark: I played Beneath A Steel Sky years ago, and I remember somewhat liking it, though less so than Revolution’s later games — the Broken Sword series — which had a definite influence on my puzzle design.  Of course, people subconsciously assimilate ideas all the time, so I’m sure I drew from BASS.  Still, the strongest connection that people have been noting — Crispin to Joey — is misplaced.  Crispin is directly inspired by another sidekick, but it’s not Joey.  It’s Morte, from Planescape: Torment (along with some others like Cedric in King’s Quest V, Orko in He-Man, Zzyzzx in Sacrifice).  I don’t remember Joey at all from BASS, other than that there was a robot sidekick.  By contrast, I can can point to a lot of Crispin that was directly inspired by Morte — his refrain of “boss” (from Morte’s “chief”), his implausible amorous declarations, his skepticism of epic motifs.  But if people want to draw comparisons to BASS, I’m certainly not going to complain!  It’s a beloved game with a strong following.  I’m even more perplexed when people say that Crispin was based on Wheatley from Portal 2, a game I didn’t play until after the Primordia writing was done.  But, again, that’s a nice comparison for people to draw!

2.) What was the development process, did you complete the world/history/background before designing puzzles or was it a side by side creation.  Is there a large bible detailing the whole Primordia world?

Mark: There is a design document, but frankly the game is probably more expansive in content than the design document.  I spent a lot of time thinking about the world, of course, but like Sean Connery says in The Rock: “It was in my head!”  All along, we wanted the puzzles and the setting to complement each other, so we designed them in tandem. One of the reasons why I didn’t do some vast setting bible — which I’ve done for other games — is that I would rather that players fill in the blank areas on the map with their own imaginations, which I see some have already done.  We tried to include a lot of evocative references to places the player never goes, but left them vague enough that, say, Steeple’s Cathedral or the fractal network of robots in Civitas or the vast Factor complex are left to the player to create.

(Added side note by RHC post interview: The actual quote is “The blue was in my head”.)

3.) What was the creation style for the pixel art still paintings?  Are they originally paintings and then pixelized or straight from “sketch” to pixel?  Is there full on beautiful concept art that was done before all the pixels?

Vic: Almost all of the graphics and sprites for Primordia are hand painted in high resolution, then re-sized and touched up to create what is seen in-game. I did a lot of concept art and illustration for Primordia too, both to work out specific designs in detail, and also to create works that would inform the style and the overall look of the game. I probably did a lot more illustration than was necessary for Primordia (I even did some aerosol art toward the end too), but with all the low res graphics I had to do, it was a nice break to be able to make something a bit more, well, illustrative once in a while. I still think my best work in Primordia was the in-game graphics though. For me, an animated environment with characters etc will always win over a still image; at least in my mind and when it comes to my own work.
4.) We now have another sci-fi inspired Wadjet Eye published game with multiple endings… are we creating a pattern?  Is there any chance this style could influence Blackwell?

Dave: Hah – I’d love to do multiple endings in a Blackwell game, but since it’s an episodic series that could get very problematic. Maybe in the last installment!

A batch of AGS totally worth more than the price!

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.