Broken Age Beta Starts Today! [Updated: No more review embargo]

Broken Age, Beta

So, hey, remember how sometimes I periodically mention Broken Age, the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter that funded March of 2012? And how I listed it on my Top 5 Games I’m Really Looking Forward To In The New Year? I mentioned how I wasn’t even sure Broken Age was going to be dropping in 2014. Being almost 2 years since it funded, you can see how I would be worried.

Well, the good people at Double Fine yesterday released an update and posted a date for the beta of Broken Age: Act 1 to start: Today. TODAY?! Well, this is certainly a surprise. I, like a great number of others, will be jumping in head first as soon as I get home. This is great timing as I’ve been on an adventure style gaming kick lately, from the old-school Gabriel Knight to the new indie UnEpic. Putting down one of them isn’t going to be the easiest of feats, but this certainly qualifies as “the new shiny”.

But, see, I hate betas. Most times when I’ve played in a beta, I find I come to dislike whatever game it’s for. For example, I played in the Rift beta and haven’t played Rift since because of it’s beta flaws. I remember the graphics having been terrible, the combat lackluster, and the rifts annoyingly got in the way of the questing! Blargh! But this doesn’t feel like a beta that we’ve come to understand. There are no server load tests. There aren’t any character wipes. They aren’t giving us fake cash to use in the game’s store. They aren’t making it feel like we’re working for them but not getting paid for it. This, instead, feels like the product is complete, and the primary tests will just be for system compatibility. The ins and outs of playing the game itself should be good to go. This feels like a real complete game (or at least Act 1) and so doesn’t feel like I’m just donating my time to them.

Of course, I can’t tell you anything about the game yet. They are releasing a press release today (Though the trailer was posted to YouTube yesterday, having since been rescinded. We all know when you want to keep something secret, posting it to YouTube is the best thing to do. In case it’s still down, here’s an older trailer.), to announce the public ship date of the game. A “formal review” embargo, though, is also being placed until January 27th, so I won’t be able to tell you any thoughts until then.  I don’t consider this post anything even close to a review, so I’m assuming this is hunky-dory. [Update] Strike that. They’ve changed their minds and according to the last update, they’ve lifted the embargo entirely. According to the update:

‘The decision to set this originally was not made with any sort of malicious or controlling intent, but rather to keep spoilers to a minimum and give press time to enjoy the game, reflect on it, and write a review without feeling rushed to get it out first.”

I didn’t see it as overly controlling personally, but I’m guessing others did. I agree with keeping spoilers to a minimum, though. I guess the only thing that’s stopping me now is just playing it!

So, anyway, YAY! A new adventure game to prove the world still likes adventure games! Or… at least us older gamers who like to read and explore do, anyway.

I do wonder, though, what the point of truly fiendish puzzles are in this age of Google? Will people appreciate the challenge, when the answers are literally a couple of keystrokes away? Will they make the puzzles so easy that people don’t feel compelled to cheat? If they make it too easy, then what will be the draw to play? Is this why the adventure game is considered “dead” in the first place? I hope not. Not all of us cheat first and play later. This is going to be either the first step in a resurgence, or the last breath of a dead genre.

I may be a little on the old school side, but I hope the adventure game never dies.


P.S. – Update: It looks like Broken Age, Act 1 will be releasing on January 28th fully (not a long time to post reviews), is currently available for pre-order on Steam, and the trailer has been put back up. Can’t wait to start kicking some ass with Vella!


A Tale of the Darkness in All Our Hearts [The Cave]

I won’t lie, this past week I’ve been a little obsessed. Sometimes when a new game comes along that really piques my curiosity, I get like that (kinda what defines us as gamers). My recent obsession: The Cave.

The Cave was released on January 23rd, 2013 as the recent offering from Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, and Double Fine Productions and is fantastic. Presented in a 2D/3D platformer, the graphics are beautiful, the iconic Schafer & Gilbert branded humor throughout the game mixes puns and bad jokes as only the duo can, and the game drops significant doses of nostalgia throughout. In a surprise twist on the adventure genre, though, the game can be fully completed in about 3 hours.

The format goes a little like this: You choose 3 different characters at the start of the game and then lead them through 7 different puzzles. Every playthrough has 4 puzzles that are the same: The Introduction, the Miner, the Zoo, and the Island. On top of that, each character from the Knight to the Twins to the Time Traveler has their own individual puzzle. The purpose of each puzzle is to tell the story of how each character acquires their greatest desire and how acquiring these desires changes you. So underneath all the funny one-liners and puns are the very morbid acts you have these far-from-lovable characters commit to acquire these desires.

Launching nuclear missiles. Burning down a carnival. Poisoning your parents. Committing Stone-Age murder. Good times.

At the nominal price of $15, and a completion time of 3 hours, this game is a straight up appetizer. A delicious appetizer, but an appetizer nonetheless for the yet-to-be-officially-announced Double Fine Adventure. Having successfully completed it’s KickStarter last March, and seeing how the unofficial initial timeline was estimated at October of 2012, The Cave has only whetted my appetite for the final product. The vaulted herald of the return of the adventure genre.

I do worry, though. On my multi-playthroughs of The Cave (3 times as of this writing), the difficulty level didn’t even register on my scale. I’m not meaning this as a brag, but a true concern. If the modern version of adventure games is a game that is so easy that it’s filled with only elementary-level puzzles, maybe the adventure genre is gone for a reason. A difficulty of “Hard” is only at the will of the player to not scour the internet for a walk-through, which appear barely minutes after a game’s release. And what true value does a point-and-click adventure game have aside from it’s difficulty of puzzles? The draw of cheating is very strong if the puzzles end up being too devious. However, deviousness is a part of why I buy these games in the first place. Without the difficulty, is it even a game?

I don’t envy Gilbert, Shafer, and the entire crew at Double Fine one bit. Walking the line between what is too easy and what is so difficult that it’ll immediately send people scouring the internet for a solution is very tricky. But if there is a team that can accomplish it, it is them.

And If I may impart some advice as the casual adult gamer I am: err on the side of devious. Like The Secret World does with it’s investigative missions, expect a percentage of people to look up the puzzle answers, but know that a decent percentage of players aren’t ponying up money and expecting a walk in the park. We’re paying for a challenge. Maybe not Gabriel Knight 3 “impersonate a man without a mustache by adhering cat fur with maple syrup to your face” type challenge, but please amp it up a little more than this.

Please take your time on the Double Fine Adventure, guys and gals. Polish is good. But realize that The Cave has us now salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs for the main course.

\\ Ocho