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!
When I think of some of my favorite point n’ click adventures growing up and into my teen years , the list isn’t really that long. Yet one particular game is pretty high on the list and it’s hard to believe it came out eighteen years ago. That game was Beneath A Steel Sky. Taking place in the future, it featured a gruff, wise talking young man raised in a native tribe of Australia and an even more wisetalking, spirited robot named Joey. It became a game much larger than it seemed at first and cemented in my mind forever as a classic.
Now comes Primordia, distributed by the so far no duds Wadjeteye Games and developed by Wormwood Games. This is another AGS masterpiece and the third futuristic, not comedy, not developed by Wadjeteye game from the publisher. Yet, unlike the two previous games of futuristic madness, this is the most futuristic and also the most comedic. It’s definitely has to be a predecessor of Beneath A Steel Sky.
This is not an official review, but just a preview. In what I’ve seen of the game, the puzzles are both maddening and genius. To think you have to pass a difficult puzzle only for the solution to be a simple inventory concept is actually hilarious, because it’ll take you a bit till you realize this. The graphics are pixel awesomeness like in the past and Dave has used his regular team again with the voice acting, but in a way that is very different and in characters that turn things upside down.
Primordia is scheduled to be released later this month and I will review it fully then, but for now, here’s some screen shots and also go over to the Wadjeteye page and the Wormwood page for more.
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
In the world of pop-culture there are many things I enjoy, but two certain interests developed around the same time. My love point n’ click adventure games and my almost addictive enjoyment of sports entertainment/professional wrestling. Both these interests have evolved over the years even if the actual subjects haven’t. The best of point n click games are still interesting, but not heavy intensive art work with quirky dialogue, cool characters, a wacky plot and interesting puzzles. Wrestling has generally been the same since my childhood, quick paced action with some slow down, colorful larger than life characters, story lines that are a mix of reality and the completely unrealistic.
In the recently released game “Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass”, programmer, artist and designer Chris Burton has found a way to merge the two. Although one would say it’s much more Hulk Hogan’s Rock n Wrestling cartoon as classic adventure game, it still makes for a funny, ridiculous and crazy game.
That isn’t to say it’s without flaws. The art isn’t completely polished (but definitely has charm and is a big advance from the 8bit graphics of the first non-commercial gae), some of the later puzzles fall into the trap of being mini-games, but all together it is worth your time along with the original game which is available for free.
I had the pleasure/privilige to shoot Chris Burton a few questions via e-mail before the game officially came out and I’ve been sitting on his excellent answers for awhile. I can only hope that if my short review didn’t make you have interest, the following with links and various screenshots will.
1.) What was the deal with the bear head in the arena in Da New Guys?
That goofy-looking bear is based on my baby brother’s old teddy, who we used to make all kinds of dumb stories about when we were kids. It’s kind of an in-joke that nobody but us would get, which is why it’s not very prominent, but good old Bear’s present and correct in Day of the Jackass too!
2.) What was the original inspiration for Da New Guys? Was it always wrestling based or did the characters come first?
The characters always come first. Wrestling obviously plays a big part, but I think the heart of any Da New Guys story always has to be about the characters – I don’t think it would work if the story was ever just “they have to win the match so they can become champions”.
That said, the trio came about through playing a “true” wrestling game – Smackdown 2 on the good old PSOne. It had a really great create-a-wrestler mode, and then play with them through auto-generated storylines. I made the three heroes, then the game would make up rivalries for them to get involved in. Brain had a stick-on goofy smile, Simon was always grumpy, and so the characters just grew from there.
3.) Defender looks a lot like Cobra Commander, what’s the story there?
Google tells me that’s from G.I. Joe, so it isn’t intentional – though the comic-book influence definitely is. He’s a bit of a comic-book geek, and has a bit of a “hero complex”, so his costume tries to reflect that. His first appearance had more of a “samurai warrior” vibe, but it got refined and smoothed out over time to make it more original. Also, for as-yet unexplained reasons he wears a helmet to stay anonymous!
4.)I believe I noticed Kurt Angle in the first game in the Gym, is that correct?
It is! All thanks to a lack of texturing ability and easy-access to online images. I loved that Kurt was so over-the-top and in love with himself, but unlike Brain he’s actually a decent wrestler.
5.)Who are some of your favorite wrestlers? Also what are some of your favorite wrestling stories/angles?
I’ve been out of tune with wrestling lately – most of my memories are from the late 90s. Macho Man’s up there at the top – who can’t laugh every time he shouts? I loved any moment William Regal would try to “educate” the fans by showing them proper table manners – wrestling’s known for its stereotyping but I think that’s all part of the fun. The family issues between Vince and Shane McMahon were also great – I think that was the main dramatic angle I was genuinely swept up in. Also: Doink the Clown!
6.)Who/What inspires your brand of comedy? Films/TV/Comedians
I like humour that’s got the right mix of being wacky but also based in reality. In the same way that the game’s art style has caricatured people in a perspective-correct world, I try to push things over-the-top but still have clear “rules” that ground it all (the characters can get hurt, for example). I used to watch a lot of British sitcoms like Only Fools and Horses, which was very character-based and had a simple but charming humour to it. Unfortunately though, my cynicism’s growing and these days I’m more into comedians like Doug Stanhope.
Wallace & Gromit‘s more of a direct influence, I’d say, because of how well they manage to blend action and comedy together. The chase scene in A Close Shave is a perfect example of that: it’s wholly entertaining, and it’s got a very good mix of genuine jokes with geniune thrills.
7.)What are your full aspirations for Da New Guys? You’ve developed an animation and now finally have the second game, is there a next step or did the process of over 9 years betwen games drain that dream?
My ambitions grow with each project, and each one takes more and more effort, so I think any potential “next step” for Da New Guys would really be huge. I’ll never say no to anything else DNG-related, but I think another game would be so ambitious I’d have to really think hard about how to go about it properly. If people respond well to their first sequel, I’d certainly be very enthused to do another one!
8.)In terms of construction, how much of the game is all you(not counting the music) and what did Wadjeteye bring to the table?
Wadjet Eye got involved very late in development, so up until the middle of last year it was all me. That said, I think having Wadjet Eye on board massively improved the game. The story and pacing was final, but in an adventure game it’s the small moments and details that matter, and I got a ton of feedback. Not just from the excellent testers, but Dave and Emily were both very open about what they liked and didn’t like, which really helped me bash the game into shape. There were a couple of moments in the game where, looking back, the puzzles really weren’t so intuitive, and they were great to bounce new ides off of.
Wadjet Eye also gave me a whole bunch of voice actors! The first Da New Guys game was all voiced by myself, and it’s pretty obvious. While there are a lot of new characters in the sequel, there are some returning as well, but Dave was able to get some great replacements who I really wish I was able to get at the time I made the first one.
9.)I noticed in the art gallery that the characters started out as 3D models which you then drew over for Day of The Jackass, what was the thinking process for this decision?
The main reason the game took so long to make was because for a long time it really lacked the polish I wanted it to have, and the low-budget was painfully obvious when it came to animation. I can’t animate 2D at all, so when – after having learnt 3D animation – I discovered a way to animate in 3D space and rotoscope the frames into the game, the answer was obvious. It was a very elaborate and time-consuming job to convert the 3D to 2D, but I think it paid off really well, and let me come up with new puzzles that took advantage of it. Whereas before it was difficult enough to make a character hold their hand out, now I could make them kick, climb ladders, and do whatever I wanted. That freedom really meant I didn’t have to cut a puzzle or be less ambitious in a cutscene, just because I wouldn’t be able to portray it.
I’m really glad you’re enjoying it so far, and thanks for the interest!
I finally finished the game various times since that interview and slowly but surely getting this article up for print since the game became officially available at the end of February/almost beginning of March. It is currently on sale from Wadgeteye Games and for $10 is worth it for anyone who enjoys funny point n click adventures with full stories and enjoyable characters. There are arguments that can be made that NO ONE would want to help The Brain and that’s true, but I can think of many popular comedies full of annoying, stupid characters that we enjoy following… Mr. Bean, Peter Griffin, etc. and luckily for most of the game one plays the more enjoyable courageous, interesting guy that you wonder why he even hangs with these guys and the tough, grumpy, gruff guy that makes you wonder why he hangs with these guys. It’s that awesome triumverite we’ve seen before and done well in an animated indie cartoon adventure.
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.