Remembering Adventure Games: Rosemary

By John Walker on August 4th, 2009 at 12:00 pm.

We were contacted by Clara Fernández-Vara to let us know about a short adventure game she has developed at MIT as part of her dissertation on the subject. Now that’s a dissertation I’d like to write. The game, made along with a team of students, is an exploration of memories and nostalgia, and can be downloaded for free from here. It’s called Rosemary, and is worth a look.

It’s about revisiting your past, reliving childhood memories. After routing around through old photographs Rosemary discovers a picture of her and her childhood best friend, Tom. She’d long believed that Tom had been an imaginary friend, as her parents had insisted this was the case. Intrigued to discover he was real, she revisits the town in which she grew up.

The central premise is a fantastic idea. Of course many games have used the two time zones dynamic, but there’s something very special about transferring between today’s day’s run-down and dulled reality, and the brightly coloured optimism of Rosemary’s remembered past. It’s also the device used to puzzle, recalling objects from the past in order to find them in the present day, and vice versa.

The trouble is, it’s not applied in a realistic or logical way. The lunchbox would be the best example: only after you remember that Tom would hide objects for you in his lunchbox does the box appear in the present day. Huh? In reverse this would make sense, remembered in the present day such that it now appears in the memories of the past. This is how the logic is applied with the cinema posters, and if used universally would have made for an intuitive and interesting tool. The hook puzzle almost works well – remembering where something was in the past such that you can find it in the present day. But once again, its modern physical hiding place only exists once the memory occurs. A game in which you explore the town in its current form, discovering things that fill in the gaps in your explorable memory, that then means you can find them in the present day: would have been slick and interesting. Sadly this happens in the opposite direction on more than one crucial occasion.

The other idea that comes so close to being brilliant is the use of verb buttons. Alongside a slightly frustrating technical issue with the buttons not showing as selected as you click on them, there’s the disappointment when you realise that the tactile interaction options are not always greyed out in the past. At first you can look, listen to and smell past items, in ways that the memory could perform. Options to take, dig, open, hit and put are blanked out. This makes perfect sense. When in memories it shouldn’t be possible to manipulate the environment. However, later in the game (which is at most about 20 minutes long), this is abandoned. Even in locations where once they were unavailable, they appear.

This may seem a rather in-depth and ferocious description of what’s wrong with a free game made by students, but there’s two reasons for that. One, it’s made by students! Learning process, and so on. Secondly, it’s because it’s so close to a good idea. With tweaks and changes, and a little more development of the theme, it could be a moving and involving idea.

The art is lovely, reminding me of Professor Layton. The photo album idea is a sweet device for bringing back memories, and for filling in the back story. It’s bursting with great ideas. It comes quite close to delivering on them.

You can read Fernández-Vara’s thoughts and criticisms of the game here, along with some interesting commentary on the testing process, and how the game was used as a means of learning for the students.

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23 Comments »

  1. nabeel says:

    Yeah I saw this some time back though I was not able to try it, looks just lovely.

  2. mcw says:

    I played this a few weeks ago, it’s really a rather refreshing take on the adventure genre.

  3. Vandelay says:

    Neat idea that could really have worked in full length game (in similar vein to the Day of the Tentacle time travelling.)

    Touching story too, albeit a tad predictable. Aesthetically, though, it works wonderfully.

  4. Mike says:

    My god, that entire site is awesome. GAMBIT sounds great.

  5. Alaric says:

    I’m gonna give this game a shot. When I get home.

  6. Clara says:

    (I’m the producer of the game) You’re not supposed to manipulate the environment in your memories. The problems with the menu described are a (rare) bug.
    Thanks for everybody’s comments so far!

  7. Hermit says:

    It’s a nice idea, though the memories suffer from a bout of Cryostasis, in that the outcome of your actions feels a bit random, rather than earned. The discovery of the lunchbox, for instance.

    Felt a bit like they didn’t know how to approach the memories, either. Rather than making you either a disembodied observer or actually giving you control of your past self, they go for an odd sort of halfway point. I wonder if these bits would have worked better with your present self observing your actions in the past.

    That said, it’s a really neat idea, and the art is awesome.

  8. Persus-9 says:

    I think it’s very good when looked on as a prototype but not as a game I’d recommend to people as it stands.

    Another very small problem I found was that there needed to be more signaling when you have a new memory. For instance the game ended rather abruptly the first time I played (*SPOILER* I clicked after going do the well and it didn’t show anything past the reaction shot) so I played through it again very quickly and I somehow didn’t get the toy boat memory at the point I was expecting and I was trying different things but getting no indication that I’d done anything important but then after a while I checked my scrapbook and there it was and I could continue.

    Seems like things like the dirt pile and the lunchbox would have been better if they’d been really small so you could in theory get them just by pixel hunting but in practice the memories would let you actually know where they are and that they’re important. Like if the lunchbox had been in the exact same place but mostly obscured behind some weeds or something in the real world.

    In my opinion the biggest problem as it stands, but not really a problem when it’s looked on as a prototype, is the plot. That’s what ruined the game for me. There aren’t many things worse than a simple, obvious, sad story that’s draw out over the course of 10 or 20 minutes. It’s just depressing, I don’t want all my games to have happy endings by any means but seeing the sad ending coming from the opening cut scene and the hackneyed details within a minute of the start of the game removes all interest, adds a feeling of awful inevitablity and just makes it very very depressing.

    If it was turned into a full game by: stretching it out; lengthening the plot; removing the cheating mechanics (i.e. no more magically apearing lunchboxes or ropes); added some indication of when you get new memories and added a little bit more technical polish then I’d buy a copy. For a prototype I can’t think of much higher praise than that.

  9. Hermit says:

    @Persus-9

    (“Plot spoilers ahead” warning)

    There’s nothing wrong with a sad plot, although I agree the ending is pretty much forgone from the outset.

    The problem for me was that everyone notices Tom was missing in the past, and you even get sent to look for him by the Well. But yet he’s still down there in the present day, suggesting noone (Not even the inevitable police search) was able to put two and two together. And in that case, why would your parents deny he ever existed if they didn’t actually know he’d died?

    Course, this is being pedantic when at the end of the day the plot isn’t the main point of this game so much as the gameplay mechanic.

    Plus, there’s always the possiblity that “Tom reached the bottom of the well” actually means that he got down there and became some sort of Pirate Lord with a subterranean lair. Maybe he’s hijacking oil tankers and getting rich doing it. It’d be one heck of a plot twist.

    Might spoil the mood somewhat, though.

  10. Mike says:

    Visually wonderful. I’m finding the set of verbs to be a bit against my pre-learned adventure gaming, but that’s not the game’s fault. How do I attach the rope to something, for instance?

  11. Mike says:

    Also, is Clara’s dissertation available online?

  12. Clara says:

    @Mike: I’m still working on my dissertation, I’m defending this coming fall. So you’ll have to wait a bit. ;)

  13. MtotheThird says:

    While you’re at it Clara, please please please push to make Gumbeat 2.0 available for download. :D

    I played a prototype of it a few months ago. Hilarious and cute casual game where you must foment a schoolgirl revolution by blowing huge bubblegum bubbles to attract a crowd to march on City Hall while avoiding the jackbooted anti-bubblegum militia.

  14. MtotheThird says:

    While you’re at it Clara, please push to make Gumbeat 2.0 available for download.

    I played a prototype of it a few months ago. Hilarious and cute casual game where you must foment a schoolgirl revolution by blowing huge bubblegum bubbles to attract a crowd to march on City Hall while avoiding the jackbooted anti-bubblegum militia.

  15. MtotheThird says:

    Why are my comments being aggressively spamtrapped? I keep trying to post a link to a GAMBIT game that I quite like, but I’m told it was dropped on the floor. :(

  16. MtotheThird says:

    Anyway, looking forward to the release of GAMBIT’s Gumbeat 2.0. I played a prototype of it a few months ago. Hilarious and cute casual game where you must foment a schoolgirl revolution by blowing huge bubblegum bubbles to attract a crowd to march on City Hall while avoiding the jackbooted anti-bubblegum militia.

  17. Vandelay says:

    @Persus-9

    Glad to see I’m not the only person who clicked through the ending by accident. I was actually quite thankful that the game only took me about a minute to re-complete.

  18. sfury says:

    I like the art a lot, also the photo album, but the interface – especially the buttons were clunky (without further evidence – Wintermute engine, I blame you).

    Also I happened to miss the ending twice – part of the fault is mine – I’m a recovering clicker, but still – the game would just vanish if you just click before the final titles? Come on, that’s crazy.

  19. Mike says:

    Clara: Ah, okay. I’d be very interested to read it. GAMBIT’s website is fascinating – I’m part of a group that organises the GaME Event in London and we’re always looking for research like GAMBIT’s. I guess getting you guys over here for a talk would be quite a tall order though!

  20. Alaric says:

    I played the game and thought it was incredibly lovely. You are really onto something there, Clara. If you make more games, I would love to play them as well! Hope you do well this fall!

  21. pilouuuu says:

    I love the art style!

  22. Matthew Weise says:

    @MtotheThird

    (I’m the lead game designer for GAMBIT.) We are putting the final touches on GumBeat 2.0 right now, so it should be going up in a few weeks. There will be a post on the GAMBIT main page when it goes up, so keep checking!

    When you do play it, be sure to let us know what you think. We made a lot of changes in 2.0, adding among other things new levels and features, so we’d like to know how you feel it compares to the original.

  23. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Sad and lovely. Very atmospheric. The handling of verbs could be a bit smoother, though.

    I disagree with John on objects in the ‘present’ appearing when something is remembered. Items could be ‘there’ in the present but overlooked (and therefore practically undetectable) because of the lack of knowledge which is then later uncovered through memories. Of course they could also be really in the present prior to the recollection but merely so hidden as to be uninteractable.