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.