FIVE GO-OLD RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINGS! (trad.)
The happiest time for Horace worshippers is the ritual of the infinite ritual, where we nest small things inside large things, until everything in the universe is inside something else. It’s a tricky business, but one that we take great pleasure in. No surprise, then about the fifth game on the advent calendar…
A theory: Double Fine are the Pete Doherty of videogames. Everyone wants to discuss them, the media is obsessed with them and their frontman is highly charismatic (though, to the very best of my knowledge, Tim Shafer is not a heroin addict) but, well, no-one seems to be saying all that much about the things they make, the things they were supposed to be famous for in the first place. Even on this site, the bulk of our coverage is LOOK AT THIS CRAZY THING DOUBLE-FINE HAVE DONE NOW rather than what’s actually in their games. Stick a red banner and topless pictures of Kate Middleton on the front of us, basically.
It’s hardly surprising, and I suspect it’s at least somewhat deliberate on their part. This is a studio that, after a rocky few years of B-list status, has successfully picked up a series of zeitgeist balls and run with ‘em, and essentially become A-list as a result. They’ve become expert at being on the forefront of online trends – indeed, establishing some of them – and bringing mass focus and devotion onto themselves as a result.
There’s one big huge reason why I do lament that the story is forever ‘Shafer does funny video’, even though Double Fine’s viral shenanigans are unquestionably a ray of light in the often conflict-fuelled gaming quarter of internet. That reason is that, just before they shot off into the skies of sensationalism in a Kickstarter rocketship, they were turning out some quietly brilliant games. Bafflingly, not too many people seem to have played those games, let along hailed them as they deserve to be hailed. Indeed, I believe am the only RPS staffer to have played either the game behind today’s festivus door or its slightly more recent and also splendid stablemate Iron Brigade. Superficial observation of comments upon my write-ups of those games seem to imply not many of you have, either.
What’s going on? How did it come to this? How we can we be so obsessed by this company and the things its hairy frontman says, but apparently so uninterested in its games? Something has gone badly wrong, much as we may be entertained by Double Fine’s social media hi-jinks.
Iron Brigade put a smile on my face and appropriate sleepless compulsion in my brain, but it’s the lack of web-wide euphoria about Stacking that most baffles me. We give Double Fine millions to make us a point and click adventure game, we hang on every implication that they can bring back The Good Old Days and yet, there it bloody is. There they bloody are doing it already. There is their delightful Stacking being witty and smart and weird and alternative and a puzzle-based adventure game and oh-so-pretty and characterful to boot, and yet the world only looked up from Twitter briefy, smiled vaguely then got its head back down to shouting and moaning and accusing the industry of dumbing down all over again.
Stacking, as I wrote in more detail here, is old-fashioned and modern at the same time, not a game with its nose shoved firmly in the musty feedbag of nostalgia. It has inventive puzzles that cleave to a strict logic based around the nature of its Russian Doll world, rather than abstract use custard on ballgag gibberish, yet it hardly flees from absurdity. It has an evocative Victoriana visual style twinned with bobblepeople cartoonishness. Every character in it positively screams a story and an identity from their look alone. It might not quite reach stone-cold classic status but it does what so many people keep calling for, and new things too.
It is funny. It is sweet. It is surprising. It requires some use of a human brain. It is the Double Fine game you want Double Fine to make, so why didn’t you play it?
I know Stacking is old news now – its PC version was out way back in March and that arrived a good year after the initial console release. But it’s not too late. It is still there, waiting to charm you into pieces. Don’t make Double Fine be Pete Doherty.