By EuanDewar 0 Comments
February saw the start of the 2014 installment of Double Fine's kinda-annual game jam, the Amnesia Fortnight. If you want serious detail on what AF actually involves I recommend reading Tim Schafer's explanation on the AF Humble Bundle page where you can also, if you are so inclined, pay for access to the finished versions of the prototypes. If you don't wanna read the big wall of text I recommend you just head over there now for yourself.
This year was the first time I've actually payed any attention to the Amnesia Fortnight as it's been going on. I had previously appreciated the novelty of the process as well as enjoyed some of the full games that started as AF prototypes such as Iron Brigade, Stacking and Costume Quest. Actually watching it all unfold however is a whole other level of fascinating. The proceedings are being documented by 2-Player Productions, the same people who did Indie Game: The Movie among other things, and they have been producing great daily recaps you can watch on Double Fine's YouTube page in addition to livestreams featuring interviews and demonstrations of the latest versions of the prototypes. You don't need to have an interest in game development to find these things enjoyable. The employees at Double Fine are all really fun people who seem really talented at their jobs. Watching the interplay between the various creative roles and the highs and lows as they all try to achieve their goals is cool as heck.
Anyway I thought I'd take this chance as the fortnight begins coming to a close to lay out the general gist's behind all four prototypes and give some of my thoughts on them, in the hopes you get just a little bit intrigued. Bear in mind these are all being developed in 2 weeks and you have to view them as really well refined pitches more than anything else. Ultimately though I really just hope this encourages you to check out the Amnesia Fortnight on your own. It's more than well worth your time.
- Pitched and led by Anna Kipnis
Dear Leader is easily one of the more complex and ambitious sounding ideas that has been pitched at an Amnesia Fortnight. In it you play a despotic ruler guiding the path of an un-named country that is just coming off of the back of a revolution and is understandably rife with all sorts of turmoil. As the target of all this anxiety you must cultivate a positive public image for yourself through the use of propaganda and whatever other political weapons you have at your disposal. In addition to the concerns of the people you must also contend with unrest among your own political party, every choice you make will likely piss off one of the two. Again it's only a prototype so it isn't quite able to explore all of the complex ins and outs of a situation like this but they're trying their best to get as much in there as they can.
A lot of the game is viewed from your desk in your palace in a way that is somewhat visually reminiscent of Papers Please, a game that team lead Anna Kipnis was apparently quite inspired by. From here you'll go through your daily despotic workload, sort of like a more serious Tropico. Actually in it's current state Dear Leader seems on the whole more serious than most previous Double Fine games, which is understandable given the nature of the task you are given and recent real-world events in the same vein. However I think as Tropico has shown with it's own stylized take on a despotic leader this setting also has ample room to fit in some of that recognizable DF charm, or at least I hope it would if this was given the chance to evolve into a full retail product. Visually though, it does capture some of that splendour. It appears to be trying to make the actual game look as much like the concept art as possible and that concept art is downright beautiful. If there's one thing I've learned from watching the videos Double Fine and 2PP produce it's that the studio is stacked from top to bottom with fantastic artists.
Personally speaking, this is the prototype I'm most intrigued about in terms of what it could accomplish in the scope of a full-on development cycle. The whole idea is just bristling with potential and I think if they approached it with their head's in the right place they could accomplish something really cool and maybe provide some good political commentary along the way.
- Pitched and led by Derek Brand
Oh man do I find it hard to remember how to spell the name of this one.
Mnemonic is most easily described as a first-person noir adventure game. You progress through stark black and white environments, solving puzzles and delving further and further into the circumstances behind the murder of your lover. Beyond that, I have no bloody clue what is going on with this one. Suffice to say, they're playing it pretty close to chest with the story of Mnemonic, which is of course understandable. But they've also done a pretty bad job of actually explaining what the gameplay, specifically the puzzle-solving element, involves. I think there's something to do with the perspective from which you view puzzle-related objects in the environment having some effect on how they function or what they are. I think. It seems more complex than Gone Home but less intellectually stimulating than say something more traditional like Monkey Island. The closest analogue I can think of in that regard is... Jazzpunk? I guess? Have to admit my knowledge of the adventure game genre is pretty limited. Maybe the Walking Dead is the more apt comparison.
It also doesn't help that the team themselves didn't seem entirely sure how the game was going to play at first. Although thankfully they seem to have pulled it together in that regard and the game seems to be moving along with some confidence now. It's been neat seeing team lead Derek Brand evolve pretty quickly over the course of the fortnight from an unsure shy dude to a pretty open and competent project ringleader. The early conflict between his very ambient view on how the game should play out and the ideas of the more mechanically focused Brad Muir (:D) was fascinating. Although referring to any of the clashes that take place during AF as 'conflict' is a bit of an exaggeration. Everyone at Double Fine just seems too nice. Visually, they've really nailed the noir styling. The tricks they're pulling with the lighting to ensure it recreates the look of classic films in the genre are really impressive.
I'm taking a pretty wait and see approach with Mnemonic. I find the idea a bit dis-interesting to be honest but I cant tell if that's the fault of the concept itself or just the way it's been presented on camera. Though, I suppose Mnemonic represents what makes the whole Amnesia Fortnight thing so compelling. Watching how these concepts that people have had rattling around in their heads hold up when they come into contact with the realities of game development.
-Pitched and led by John Bernhelm
Now here's where things start getting a lil' more Double Fine-y, yeah? Steed is an action-adventure game set in a fantasy storybook world where you are a HORSE.There's been plenty of games that have provided memorable horse-riding mechanics, Shadow of the Colossus, Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us. Steed is trying to differentiate itself from those games by approximating what a horse is capable of when it is not under the control of a human, when it doesn't have to wait and react to it's master's needs. It also has a pretty goofy looking (I think purposefully) combat system that seems to be emulating the Arkham games or maybe God of War. At some point the horse encounters a sort of unlikely-hero character who from then on rides on the horses back but crucially, again, does not control the horse. This character has the ability to cast spells but is fairly bumbling and isn't always able to do it. The horse can however give the guy a bit of a jolt and he'll freak the dude out to the point where he'll inadvertently fire off a lightning bolt or something else. They seem to be approaching the whole thing from a typically Double Fine tongue-in-cheek perspective.
Steed strikes me as the most traditionally game-y of the four prototypes, the one you can envision easily without having to think too much about it. It's taking on some pretty standard systems and ideas from a slightly off-kilter angle and as a result I kinda don't have much to say about it. It's also had the smoothest time in terms of its development. There's been no real serious snags for the team as far as I can tell from the recap videos. That's not to say that I don't think it has any potential though. If controlling the horse feels right and the world is well developed it could be a really fun experience. Double Fine started off with an incredible talent for creating interesting worlds but struggling with gameplay. Their last few titles however have subverted this association, combining their great writing with really solid systems. Hopefully Steed will end up being a similar success.
- Pitched and led by Pendleton Ward
Pendleton Ward, for those of you that don't know, is the creator of the hugely popular animated series Adventure Time. He's also good friends with Tim Schafer and actually has a speaking role in Double Fine's recently released Broken Age. In addition to the normal community voting on the various game pitches for AF2014 the community also voted on various pitches submitted by Pendleton, an outsider to game development for the most part, and the game the community eventually decided it wanted to see was Little Pink Best Buds. The idea of having someone who is a very creative person but still not really familiar with how games are made actually come and lead the production of one is a really cool idea and at least here it seems to have resulted in something really, really unique and bizarre.
You play an apparently normal sized dude in a world populated by the titular little pink dudes. They all have distinct personalities, characteristics and voices, some of which are funny, some of which are tragic and some which are both. There's one who has one leg bigger than the other, he's called 'Big Leg'. There's one whose eyes are constantly dripping with water, he's called 'Wet Balls'. You get the idea. The thing all these dudes have in common however (besides their pinkness) is they all wanna be your best bud. Why? They're keeping that one on the down-low. The dev team has even gone as far as to refer to whatever big secret the game is hiding as the "Potato" whenever on camera so as not to spoil it.
You interact with the buds in two ways. You can poke them with your Godgame-esque outstretched finger, provoking them to react in all sorts of silly ways. The other method of interaction is through a fairly ambitious sounding text chat system. It seems reminiscent of a more advanced version of those chatbots you can say all sorts of goofy things to and see what kind of reaction you get. I haven't watched much of Pendleton's other stuff but even from what little I have seen I can tell the writing here is very recognizably his. The way the buds respond is wacky but not in a grating way. It's far more considered than that and even seems to get a little melancholic every now and then. Your mileage may vary of course but I've found it pretty funny so far. The artstyle also resembles a 3D take on the kind of stuff Pendleton is known for, very bright and colourful.
LPPB strikes me as the one prototype that could stay as just that and I wouldn't be too upset. It's a lot of fun to watch but doesn't seem particularly like the elements it currently has could go beyond what they've come up with so far. Like I said though, the point of all the messing about is still under-wraps right now so it's hard to properly get an idea of how far this game's ambitions could possibly stretch. Maybe there's some whole other layer to it that is totally mental and mindblowing and will have me eating my words when I see it.