Results tagged “episodic games”

Telltale Games has released the first episode of their Wallace & Gromit series, for PC. (Available as a direct download or on Steam.)

I'm not doing a full review, because you can get those anywhere, but I wanted to pick up a few contrasts between W&G and Telltale's previous episodic adventure hit, Sam & Max.

...The first contrast being, Wallace & Gromit isn't an episodic game series. Not in the sense we usually mean. The "episodic" model is: you buy a small game, which doesn't cost very much, and then next month a followup comes out and you buy that, and you keep doing this until you decide you're hooked (either because each episode is awesome, or because they build into a story arc and you want to see the end). Maybe you know you're a fan straight off the bat -- I certainly was when Sam & Max season 2 began -- so you buy a package deal for the whole series. Up to you.

Not this time. Telltale isn't offering Wallace & Gromit a la carte. You have to plunk down $35 up front, and then you get four small games delivered monthly. It's not so much "episodes" as "buy a game that's only a quarter done yet." (Or, I suppose, wait until July, when you'll be able to buy the whole thing at once for the low-low-price of... still $35.)

I'm not sure what spurred the change. The point of episodes is that you can draw in new players with a low-price game. ($9 for each S&M episode.) Not all those new players will follow through the rest of the series, but then how many players do you push away by asking for $35 up front? Maybe the name recognition (and existing fanbase) of S&M is enough to make this work for Telltale. I guess we'll find out what they do with their next offering.

Anyhow, I am the existing fanbase, so I paid up and jumped straight into the pit.

The most interesting interface tweak is keyboard navigation. Unlike in the S&M series, you move Wallace and/or Gromit around using the arrow keys. Now, keyboard movement has been the spurting carotid rupture of third-person adventuring ever since -- I don't know, Gabriel Knight? Steering an avatar around a 3D space with arrow keys is generally as much fun as parallel parking. However, W&G manages to minimize the hassle. You can still click on objects to walk up and interact with them. This is 75% of your navigation to begin with. The arrow keys only come into play when you have to walk across a wide space -- down a hallway, along a street -- so you're really just holding down one key. Obstacles are rare, large, and blunt, so you don't get stuck behind anything. The only place I had any real trouble was the town square, which is large enough that perspective does odd things to the directions.

Why this interface change? I'll hazard a guess: to make the game cozier. In the S&M series, the locations are fairly open, because there has to be floor everywhere. You have to be able to click on floor next to every object.

W&G is centered around a cluttered house. By cutting out the floor, the designers are able to pack more interesting objects into each room. The kitchen, for example, gives you an over-the-counter view with appliances in the foreground and background both. And by the same thought, the characters themselves can be larger; they can take up more of the screen, because you're not trying to click around them.

Another difference: W&G has no dialogue menus. (What, really? A third-person adventure with no dialogue menus? Outrageous!) If you're sharing the display with another character -- Gromit and/or Wallace count, when you're playing Wallace and/or Gromit -- some of the scenery acts as conversation topics. That is, when you're standing near the flower lady, you can click on various flowers to comment on them. It's the same one-click as any other action; some objects can be taken, some examined, some manipulated, and some commented on.

This works so smoothly that players may not even notice the lack of those beloved (or perhaps despised) menus. Mind you, it makes for a less conversational game pace. You're not going to spend as much of each game interrogating people, because the conversation choices don't change or nest. But then, that fits the theme. Sam and Max are cops; they interrogate. Wallace and Gromit are inventors; they play with toys.

So, does the contraptionating part of the game work? Answer: yes. (I told you this wasn't a full review.) Some of the puzzles felt a little awkward, but then I said the same about the first S&M episode. As with that series, I expect W&G to smooth out as the designers get comfortable with the model and build up some running gags.

My only other negative comments are, first, this episode felt a little short. (Perhaps the lost dialogue time needs to be replaced by some other sort of pacing interaction?) Second, I miss Peter Sallis (the original voice of Wallace). This game's Wallace does a great Peter Sallis impression, but it's still an impression.

And, third, I love Gromit -- Gromit is the best -- but he's no Max. The doggy eyebrows can express the perfect shade of exasperation, resignation, or confusion, but they just don't carry the narrative like the rabbitty-thing's awful, cheerful, unsay-that-now-please bon mots.

A fascinating investigation into the difference between a web-comic's subject and its audience. By which I mean this: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 1 -- and what am I supposed to call it for short, anyway? -- is a game which will frustrate most readers of Penny Arcade. Just because the comic is about hardcore gamer geeks, doesn't mean the game should be built for them.

Episodic gaming has broken through with Sam&Max, and once again everyone is trying to storm the breach. I could go on about whether that is a good idea, but instead let me clear up the misconception that snared me: OTR-SPoD (this game, I mean) is not an adventure game. It's a CRPG. A Final Fantasy style CRPG -- you walk around the screen, until bam you get into a fight, and then the two teams face each other in a tidy row and select combat options from a menu until one team is pulp.

Now, it's not quite Final Fantasy -- it's the subgenre which is real-time. (If I were a hardcore CRPG gamer geek, I would know what games to compare it to, but I'm not -- I just read about them in webcomics.) Each of your characters has a little timer that builds up, and after twenty seconds (or thirty, or whatever) he can take a punch. (Or fire a gun, or whatever.) And you can block enemy blows by hitting the spacebar at the right moment. So to fight effectively, you have to hover over your controls and react quickly. But it's still selecting combat options from a menu.

I have not yet mentioned the exploration or adventure aspects of Rain-Slick (as we may call it). This is because there aren't any. You meet characters who want items, or you find items which are used in places; but they aren't puzzles. (Except in the broadest sense of "something which requires you to interact with the game".) They're the plot tokens you get for clobbering enemies. Each part of the story is "kill ten or twenty of those monsters", either explicitly or with a plot token pasted on. It's unquestionably a Penny Arcade script -- amusingly moronic characters, ceaseless obscenity, and fruit-violating robots -- but these things are in no way integrated into what you do.

I personally prefer adventure games to CRPGs. That's not my point in this review. My point is, Sam&Max is fun for non-gamers. At least, it can be fun. Because if you get stuck in an adventure game, you find a walkthrough and then you're unstuck. If you're enjoying the jokes, you can plow on through with the hints -- you may not feel clever, but you'll appreciate the cleverness that's in the game, and you'll be engaged with the plot. Plus, you can put down the walkthrough at any time and think "Hey! I can solve this next bit myself!" Sam&Max doesn't get harder as you progress through it. (I'd argue it gets easier, as the designers get better at smooth puzzle and clue flow.)

You can't do that with Precipice (if I may call it that). The entire game is combat, which means your skill at the combat system matters. It's real-time, which means you can't go ask the Internet for help. If you aren't good at clicking, whacking the space bar, and managing your items, you just won't get very far.

I'm not saying this is a hard game. Devil May Cry 3 was hard. Penny Arcade (you know what I mean, right?) is designed for experienced, moderately skilled action gamers. That's me, and I enjoyed the fighting. I rarely felt like I was getting stomped.

However -- I bet most web comics fans aren't experienced, moderately skilled action gamers. I'm sure Gabe and Tycho are. Maybe the people who post in the forums are. But is that their audience? I have a lot of friends who would be happy to show up for the fruit robots and the bad jokes, but who would never reach the third scene of Oh I Give Up Already (better known in these pages as the Lamb).

And the other "however" -- the thing gets harder as you progress. The last monster is a colossus with 32000 hit points, or some silly number. And I don't mean a Shadow Of The colossus with hidden weaknesses and exciting paths of attack. You slug it out. And if you fail, you reload and slug it out again.

Or you don't. I got stomped the first time I tried it. And I thought, do I want to try this again? Gather twice as many combat items, and then blow another fifteen minutes seeing whether I can cope with this thing?

No, I did not. I put it down, as Alton Brown likes to say, and just walked away. The game was too hard for me. And I'm an experienced, moderately skilled action gamer.

So why should I buy On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 2? Answer: I shouldn't. I'd like to read the comic of it, but the game is not for me. And the problem with an episodic series is, you have to hook your audience for the long term.

I'm sure ... has an audience, and they're probably laughing it up on the forums, mocking the rest of us. But I bet it's not the audience that the creators should have gone for.



Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Warnings and Log Messages