Wot I Think: Primordia

By Nathan Grayson on December 7th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

Fact: robots and adventure are my two favorite things. I like the former even more when they implicitly worship me, so Primordia seemed right up my alley. Oh, and I suppose a gorgeously retro sci-fi aesthetic also helped to sweeten the deal. But can this partnership between modern point-and-click maestros Wadjet Eye Games and fledgling upstart Wormwood Studios teach my icy, robotic soul how to love? Here’s wot I think.     

I sort of love the fact that Horatio Nullbuilt – the cold, mechanical heart of Primordia’s point-and-click adventure – absolutely, positively despises the idea of going on an adventure. He just wants to find his damn power core and be done with it, and he despondently grumbles about that fact constantly. The entire first act of the game is devoted to his quest to stay as close to home as inhumanly possible – home, of course, being a busted-beyond-repair ship in the middle of a lifeless desert wasteland. Problem is, when Horatio drags his feet, so does the game. And even though I found his single-mindedly selfish – sometimes to the point of near-heartlessness – pursuit fascinating, it never managed to build enough steam to hook me.

Granted, it was hardly all Horatio’s fault. Primordia’s rundown, dust-and-rust-encrusted future hides a point-and-click adventure that’s firmly rooted in the past. Now, as other Wadjet-published games have proven in exceedingly delightful fashion, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. But there’s a difference between learning from gaming history and slavishly clinging to it. Unfortunately, Primordia leans more toward the latter – especially where interface and puzzle design are concerned – and that ends up being its brilliant setting’s undoing.

Here’s the basic setup: Horatio and his hovering snark bucket of a best friend Crispin are going about their ordinary desert dystopia business (read: scavenging, wondering why all of humanity’s dead, worshiping said dead humans) when a giant bruiser of a machine busts down their door, shoots Horatio, and takes their power core – which they need to stay alive. However, instead of tracking the ‘bot behemoth back to Metropol – the legendary city of glass and light and top-hat-clad British robots (sorry, Jim) and intrigue – the duo first opts to cobble together a backup power generator.

So begins the thrill-deflating puzzle-palooza, and it never really lets up. Happily, most events in this Brainolympics made sense within the context of the world’s fiction, so it’s not like I was leaping through a series of arbitrary hoops or anything. But it’s like Newton would’ve said if he got bonked on the noggin by an old-school point-and-click adventure instead of a fruit meteor: for every action, there is an equal and opposite progress-halting puzzle. So building that backup generator required all sorts of parts, and finding each part was a puzzle in itself. What ensued was copious amounts of directionless pixel hunting and random item combining. Because of course it did. And then there were more puzzles to do yet another thing that didn’t involve going to Metropol, because of course there were. And so on and so on and so on.

Few of them were truly difficult, but Primordia’s reluctance to clearly communicate objectives made everything more obtuse than it needed to be. For example, one character requested that I bring him “something shiny” to trade for a crucial tool. After a bit of tinkering around in my inventory, I realized I still had an old lamp, which had pretty much ceased to be useful in a place that billed itself as “the city of glass and light,” so I handed it over. “No,” said the gravel-voiced ‘bot, “I want something shiny – not something that shines.”

Fair enough. But after that, I was stumped. So I wandered around the city for a while – aided, thankfully, by a handy map-based fast travel system – until I got fed up and started clicking Crispin, who doubles as a highly reluctant hint system, for help. After his usual protests of “I’m just the sidekick, boss. Why do you keep asking me for help?” he eventually pointed out that my severely busted energy sensor (which had exploded earlier due to reasons) still contained an energy-filled rock. So I extracted that, traded it, and went on my merry way. Here’s the problem, though: it was also technically shining (brimming with energy, you see) – not shiny. How does that make any sense? Also, the energy sensor? Really? The game hadn’t even referenced the crystal inside it for hours. That’s reaching a little, I think.

It’s especially unfortunate, because a few of Primordia’s puzzles strike a perfect balance between high-flying mental gymnastics and “I feel smarter for having solved that” lateral thinking. You know the type: those puzzles where you scratch your head in confusion for ten minutes, toss your hands up in rage, and then suddenly put two and two together only to say, “Oh, duh! How did I not figure that out sooner?” Sadly, a good many instead left me feeling like I hadn’t really done any of the heavy lifting. Instead, I just blindly pixel hunted through all the places until some crazy thing happened, or I waited until one puzzle – in an exceedingly convenient coincidence – coughed up the solution to an entirely unrelated one elsewhere.

Primordia’s world and story never really seemed as though they were constructed with these puzzles in mind. Rather, it felt like something truly fascinating was always just over the next junk-strewn hill, but that hill turned out to be a tedious mountain of obligatory puzzles. And most of the time, the payoff for success wasn’t some incredible plot revelation or juicy bit of info about this mad, human-worshiping mechanotron society. Instead, it was just another time-consuming puzzle. Another setback. Another roadblock. Heck, half of Crispin’s dialogue consists of fourth-wall-cracking variations on “Oh hey, another door,” “Great, what does this guy want,” or “Yeah, OK, we’ve heard all this before.” Sorry, though, Primordia. Making fun of a glaring problem doesn’t excuse it. Not by a long shot.

Speaking of, Crispin’s constant chatter vacillates wildly between much-needed mood-lifter and nigh-felonious mood-killer. He’s a wise-cracking sidekick to the tiny mechanical core, and he pretty much never relents. Sometimes, his banter with Horatio makes their friendship feel real, but it often goes too far – to the point where I started to wonder why the pair hadn’t gone their separate ways ages ago. With Horatio, though, it’s at least understandable. The real problems arose when Crispin piped up during moments of actual dramatic consequence – and that happened far too often for my tastes. It almost seemed as though the developers didn’t have enough confidence in the strength of their writing and setting. Like they felt the need to hide behind faux-humor instead of letting their best work shine in the spotlight.

That’s a tremendous shame, too, because – once Primordia finally kicks it into not-doing-its-best-impression-of-a-two-legged-turtle gear – it hits some fantastic high notes. Are its characters and world the most inspired adventure gaming’s ever seen? Hardly. But Horatio’s barely contained loathing for pretty much everyone and everything makes for an interestingly atypical main character, and a few extremely interesting themes at least get some lip service – if not full-on dissertations. A cast of thoroughly insane-in-the-short-circuited-membrane side characters keeps the ride nice and lively as well, complimenting the oppressively dreary setting with a strong mix of mystery driven drama, Old West frontier charm, and dark humor. Again, it’s not a tale for the ages, but I certainly don’t regret seeing it through to its (exceedingly telegraphed, but also well-done) twist ending.

That, then, is the central paradox of Primordia’s journey: I felt satisfied once I reached my destination, but I can’t say I had an incredible time getting there. The lows – obtuse puzzle design, Crispin The Tonal Wrecking Ball, an exceedingly slow start – don’t outweigh the highs achieved by characters and the game’s overall atmosphere, but neither do those lows get completely eclipsed. Instead, the end result levels out somewhere in the middle. So Wadjet’s been involved with better, but Primordia could’ve been much, much worse.

Primordia’s available now on GOG and Steam.

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46 Comments »

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  1. pilouuuu says:

    Where’s the WOT I Think for The Walking Dead Episode 5 or the full game?

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      Stellar Duck says:

      You could argue that it was in the Advent Calander piece Adam did a few days back. But I don’t know, really. Perhaps a stand alone piece is coming.

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    Stellar Duck says:

    Hmm. I seem to have had a complete opposite experience. I found most puzzles satisfying and in the couple of instances where I was stumped Crispin hinted at the solution and that did the trick.

    But I guess I’ve got a high tolerance for that sort of thing. Back in 98 I spent 4 months being stuck at a Monkey Island 3 puzzle (I didn’t have internet and knew noone who had) so 10 min of idle speculation in this game once in a while is not really a problem for me.

    • int says:

      Yeah I was thinking about that sort of thing earlier today.

      How ever did I manage without the Internet? If I got stuck I could only hope a friend or relative knew how to get past or to help out. I never bought strategy guides.

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        Stellar Duck says:

        I used to play with my brother but that particular MI3 puzzle had both of us at out wits end. In the end it turned out to involve bubble gum, a gold tooth, a puddle of mud and a sieve if my memory serves. Damn fast food captain.

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          Hanban says:

          I remember being stuck for ages in MI3 at a place. I don’t remember the solution anymore, but I do remember I ended up inside of a snake after I had solved it!

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            Stellar Duck says:

            And then you have to use the ipicak (sp?) flowers to make the snake barf you up again.

        • int says:

          Ha. Captain Blondebeard. I’d like to shake the hand of someone who figured that one out on their own.

          You also needed to use the helium from the balloon to make the bubble float off!

      • James Kulas says:

        I agree. Primordia isn’t perfect and Nathan makes some valid points of course, but playing a point-and-click adventure and not expecting roadblock puzzles is a bit like turning up at a football match and being surprised to see a ball.

        In addition there are also quite a few puzzles which are optional or can be tackled in different ways and even with different items causing a ripple effect. Those decisions effect how subsequent puzzles are solved, or even how the multiple endings are handled. I’m surprised none of those elements were mentioned.

        Shameless plug for my review: http://www.funsponge.net/2012/12/primordi-me-primordi-you-primordia/

    • pilouuuu says:

      Wow! That puzzle was a real killer!

      I remember that The Secret of Monkey Island lasted months for me. I was stuck for a long time in the ship and then I was stuck for a long time in Monkey Island.

      I also remember being stuck for days in a puzzle in Indy & The Fate of Atlantis, which involved crabs in the sewers and finally I got the answer in a dream and I tried it as soon as I got up in the morning and it worked!

      Good times, you really felt joyful when you achieved to solve a puzzle after a long time, but I guess people (including myself) don’t have the patience or time for that kind of delayed experience this days.

    • lokimotive says:

      I remember actually writing to LucasArts when I occasionally hit a particularly difficult roadblock. They had a tip line, of course, but you could also write to them for the cost of a stamp (which my parents were willing to foot the bill for). Of course, you had to wait two weeks for the answer, by which time you very well might have found the solution on your own, but that was the beauty of it.

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      Carra says:

      And once I had internet it became the other way around. I had to force myself not to look up a solution until I was stuck for half an hour.

  3. webwielder says:

    > obtuse puzzle design

    Pretty much why I end up hating every adventure game, despite being drawn in time and time again by the promise of low-stress gameplay and rich storytelling. I think Broken Sword is the only one I had an unequivocally good time with. The Longest Journey and Machinarium got pretty close with some good puzzles and lovely characters and worlds, but plenty of head bashing against desk in those.

    • Shazbut says:

      DId you try Gemini Rue? I think it’s one of the best in the last decade, maybe the best. I remember the puzzles fitting beautifully into the narrative. You aren’t unable to open your bedroom door because you didn’t use the shuttlecock with the bikini, for example. None of that crap.

      The story is dead good too

      • webwielder says:

        I did try Gemini Rue. Loved the first part in the noir city with the detective. But I found the part in the asylum (or whatever) to be extremely tedious; going up and down the elevator over and over, bland hallways, unlikeable character. Then it turned out that (as far as I got anyway) that the city and asylum were the only environments. So started off well for me, but ultimately not a positive experience.

        • Bhazor says:

          I had a similar experience with Gemini Rue. Dull story told by dull characters with disapointingly few good puzzles. Most puzzles were of the lock/key style. You find an object that obviously has a single purpose and use it. There were no “Of course!” moments where you manage to solve a puzzle with clever reasoning or lateral thinking.

          I did have a better time with Resonance though. Similar lack of decently hard puzzles but with a much better story.

          If you’re looking for story focus adventure games you might try Shiva and the Blackwell games.

    • The First Door says:

      As much as I love Broken Sword, that goat puzzle is a legendary dick move from the creators. In fact the whole ‘time sensitive’ design on some puzzles in that game is infuriating as it just broke so many rules the game had set up already. I spent hours wandering around, convinced I’d missed something.

      • webwielder says:

        I must have been having too much fun asking every character about every object in my inventory to be bothered about that.

        “I have here a used tissue.”

      • lokimotive says:

        I think Broken Sword Three was the one that had some puzzle involving a secret door, where you had to remember precise directions from some seemingly random story a character told in a cutscene well before you got to the location with the puzzle. That was nuts.

      • kalirion says:

        They greatly nerfed that puzzle in the Director’s Cut version. George even says something along the lines of “hmm, for a second there I thought this goat would give me much more trouble!”

    • Risingson says:

      I thought The Longest Journey was terribly unbalanced everywhere, from dialogues to puzzles. Anyway, adventure games are about that: lateral thinking. I’m terrible at RTS and I don’t like their gameplay mechanics, though I like the rewards (the story moving forward, other kind of missions). But I know they aren’t the kind of games for me, so I don’t play them. There is a game for everybody, and I love well written adventure games. And arcade games. And simulators.

      Anyway, the problem with Wadjet Eye is some kind of overhype that alienates the player: it seems that either the game is a masterpiece of adventure games, or the adventure games are bad, because if you don’t like Gemini Rue or Resonance you don’t like the genre. And maybe, something few people have mentioned, those games are not that good. Just average. Just not as good as other Wadjet Eye offerings, as the Telltale games, as “Book of Unwritten Tales” or other wonderful exceptions. Because it is very difficult to design and make an adventure game, after all.

    • Lemming says:

      Discworld wins for most obtuse puzzle designs. They are sheer nonsense most of the time, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s Eric Idle as Rincewind for a few hours, and that’s worth every moment.

      Machinarium is hard, but doesn’t use obtuse puzzles, instead it combines traditional point and click puzzles with serious brain teasers, so you might want to check that out. I loved it, but I was screaming at my screen for ages not because I couldn’t work out what to do in the traditional way, but because the brain teaser logic puzzles were tough.

  4. InternetBatman says:

    I have this problem with most adventure games, Monkey Island excluded. Too often you’re not solving a problem; you’re figuring a way around whatever asinine impediment with an arbitrary solution that the developer put in your way. I think Stacking showed a much better way to do these kinds of things. Think about all the obvious solutions you can find, and then reward the player for figuring each one out. I would get stuck trying to find all the solutions, but I usually avoided getting stuck trying to solve a single puzzle.

    • Dervish says:

      I’m very wary of people criticizing puzzles as “obtuse,” because that all-too-often means something along the lines of, “I couldn’t figure it out easily, so it must have been badly designed.” Not that there aren’t any badly-designed puzzles in existence, but people are very resistant to admitting that maybe they aren’t as clever as they think they are.

      EDIT: reply fail, sorry

  5. wccrawford says:

    I’m only 30 minutes in, but the puzzles have been pretty logical so far. No batshit crazy stuff like the point-n-clicks of old. If they say you need a data cable, there’s an item called ‘data cable’ somewhere.

    If this changes, I’ll be sad. But so far, it’s great.

    • m3metix says:

      I finished it and, while I’m no adventure game expert, I think the puzzle Nathan mentioned is really the only one that’ll make anyone annoyed.

  6. Sic says:

    I’m sorry, but I think Nathan is way off on this one.

    First of all, why would Horatio want to go to Metropol when he didn’t know the bot that stole his power source went there?

    In the beginning you’re trying to find that bot to restore power to your ship, but before that you absolutely have to get the backup generator working so that Horatio and Crispin can recharge.

    It’s all very logical.

    So are the puzzles. They are not even in the vicinity of being hard. In fact, most criticisms against this game pegs them as too easy.

    … which brings me to the fact that it seems Nathan has entirely missed that you can get through this game in may ways, and get one of (I think) seven different endings. So, not only are the puzzles easy, you don’t even have to do a lot of them.

    All in all, a review that completely misrepresents the game.

    Shame, shame.

    • Charles de Goal says:

      Indeed, it looks like Nathan only scratched the game’s surface here.
      I’m also surprised by statements like “Horatio’s barely contained loathing”. I did not find Horatio was overly cynical or antisocial, and he does not seem as obsessed with his power core as Nathan makes it to be. Perhaps that’s because I’m not expecting robots to be sentimental anyway. But he (Horatio) is no Cioran, and his pessimism is quite reasonable given the devastated world he lives in. And how could he be a loathing machine, when he believes religiously in Humanism and the perfection of Man, the creator of machines?

  7. DoctorBrain says:

    I finished the game yesterday and I feel as though this review is pretty much spot-on. It’s got a really great setting and great characters, but the game itself is lacking in some areas. It’s a shorter game; it definitely leaves the player feeling as though there should have been something more. Some of the puzzles are interesting or well-constructed, but far too many of them rely on obtuse pixel-hunting. This is especially apparent because of Primordia’s very bleak color palette; at times it’s extremely difficult to distinguish an object from the surrounding post-apocalyptic waste and rubble.

    The player isn’t really given enough time or space to explore this well-crafted universe. As Nathan said, the game is just puzzle after puzzle, without enough fluff or backstory in-between. You always feel as though there’s more around the corner, but there really isn’t. It’s a shame, because it feels as though the game doesn’t quite live up to its potential. It’s still fun, and I would still recommend it to others, but it could have been better.

  8. biggergun says:

    Interestingly enough, I didn’t find the puzzles confusing at all, despite the fact that I usually loathe puzzles. Most of the time I felt sort of relieved, like in “wow, this is… actually logical”.
    Although I agree that start-stop point and click gameplay doesn’t really do the gorgeous setting and the fantastic art justice.

    • Danopian says:

      I heartily concur with this and the other comments that said the same. I was refreshed by the fact that, when I got stuck on a problem, the answer didn’t come from frantically trying to use every item on every other item, although I would do that anyway out of habit and it got me nowhere. I felt like the answer was always something logical that would occur to me after observing the puzzle and considering it long enough.

      I actually believe this contributed significantly to how quickly I was able to complete the game – 5 hours? 6 or 7 tops. My wife and I were surprised I was done already, as I just started a few days ago. The game was too short, but I also think it went by fast because I wasn’t being held up for half-hours at a time stuck on illogical puzzles as with most other adventure games I’ve played.

      • Risingson says:

        You played the game with your wife? :’) That’s the way to play adventure games: with four eyes instead of two :’)

        You reminded me of old times. Now I’m crying.

  9. bill says:

    So, standard point and click ‘adventure’ problems then.

    I do wonder why it isn’t possible to make adventure games that have more dramatic and forward moving puzzles in them. Why does every adventure game involve walking slowly around places and spending 3 hours working out how to do something very minor like open a door. Only to then walk into another room and spend 2 hours working out how to turn on the light.

    Why can’t designers create puzzles that feel more dynamic and forward moving. Maybe instead of combining items to open a door in a street, I’m combining items to repair an engine in a space ship that’s crashing to earth. And after getting the first part of the solution it turns on the anti grav, but then the hull blows out and after getting the next part it turns on the emergency force field, and so on.

    So each solution would feel like it actually meant something and moved the narrative forward. I’m sure there must be adventure games that do this, but I can’t say i’ve ever played one.

    • sinister agent says:

      It is a bit weird that (as far as I know) nobody’s done one where you’re, say, an engineer on a spaceship, who would have a good reason for some plausible, logically sound puzzling/repairing/jerry rigging of items.

      • bill says:

        Did the Space Quest ones do that kind of thing? I never played them. I get the impression it was a nix between what i described and mindless minor puzzles. Even in that game they felt the need to make you a janitor.

  10. Danopian says:

    *POSSIBLE SPOILER*

    I just finished the game today, and felt dissatisfied by the lack of resolution regarding Horatio’s past. I decided to give the game the benefit of the doubt and looked up what possible endings are available, and was surprised/relieved to find that a decision that I made near the beginning of the game had locked off the ability to access something late in the game that explains some quite important back-story.

    There’s an achievement for doing this, and it’s somewhat interesting to see a game take a risk like putting major plot elements in a divergent path, but I think everyone should know that it’s there, because I find the story and ending much more satisfying now having seen this thing. If you have an encrypted thinger at the end of the game and no means of decrypting it, this walkthrough explains how to do so: Primordia Walkthrough

  11. MarkYohalem says:

    Hi, Mark Yohalem, writer/designer on Primordia here. I just wanted to pop in to thank RPS for covering the game, and all of you who played it for doing so. There’s a lot to take away from Nathan’s review, and I think it’s mistaken to say he’s “way off” — de gustibus, and different strokes, and all that. We tried to make a game that had a range of solutions, the easiest of which would be fairly easy to cruise through — and, in fact, I thought the game was too easy (as many reviews have said). My sense is that it’s too easy in some respects, and too difficult in others. I never thought the pixel hunting was particularly difficult, since there are hotspot tooltips and animations and whatnot, but obviously a number of players have gotten hung upon it. To the extent a player comes away from the game unhappy, that’s my fault as a designer, not the player’s fault.

    One major lesson I’ve gathered is that there really is no pleasing everyone, at least, no way that I’ve found. For every review like this one that bemoans Crispin, there’s another review saying that Crispin was hilarious and the player’s favorite part of the game. For every review like the Gamespy one saying that the kiosk puzzle is impossible and terrible, there’s another one saying that it’s the most satisfying one in the game. For every review that says the story is sublime and the themes deep, that it’s a brilliant science fiction story and so forth, there are others saying that the story is shallow and rather cliche. I’d certainly be happier if everyone loved the game, but I didn’t expect that to happen, and it hasn’t!

    I do think it’s unfortunate that reviews haven’t mentioned the multiple puzzle paths, or that puzzles are optional (as the kiosk puzzle is, contra Gamepsy). And I would also clarify that Crispin wasn’t a product of lack of confidence in the story’s content. The tone I took with him might have been the wrong one, but it wasn’t an effort to play for laughs or back away from the serious content. Rather, it was a conscious decision to offset that content, for a variety of reasons.

    Anyway, not here to quarrel with the review, which I think reflected a thoughtful if critical playthrough of the game. Just here to thank you guys for playing, and to shed maybe a little light on some of the decisions we made!

    • bill says:

      Haven’t played the game but I think it’s rather nice to have a designer pop in.

      As someone who has said for years that adventure games should have multiple solutions and paths it seems a little sad/strange that it isn’t getting mentioned in reviews. Maybe it’s not something you’d notice in an adventure game unless you are explicitly told about it.

      It actually makes me want to try an adventure game for one though.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Hi Mark. I wrote the Gamespy review. Just a quick heads-up:

      “I do think it’s unfortunate that reviews haven’t mentioned the multiple puzzle paths, or that puzzles are optional (as the kiosk puzzle is, contra Gamepsy)”

      I had no idea the kiosk puzzle was optional, because nothing I saw in the game hinted at that – at least, not effectively enough. With Goliath, it’s very obvious that there’s a right and a wrong way to handle that situation – or at least that there was a better one available after blowing it. The kiosk, not so much. As with much of the story, I suspect – and this isn’t intended as a slam, it’s very, very common in adventures – the problem is that over development, you guys might have lost track a little of how much you as designers know about your world and characters and how much of that was being transferred to players going in cold.

      Even looking back, and Googling a walkthrough right now, I don’t see how else to get that information short of just trying every word in the English language until you strike on it. Apologies if I’m missing something incredibly obvious, but you can’t expect people to psychically know something just because it’s in the design.

      (Also, TBH I’d also actually ding rather than praise the Goliath thing, because I think letting people get to the end of the game without the item you get for doing it ‘properly’ was a mistake. It cuts out a big part of the story in an already narratively problematic ending, and completely severs a vital plot thread that will otherwise seem like it’s just been dropped – an equivalent in Resonance being missing the chance to find out what was on Bennett’s letter if you don’t ask him at exactly the right point. On paper, it’s a nice idea. In execution, not so much, especially as there’s no apparent connection between that scene and the final one that I remember, without the knowledge you only get from not having screwed it up in the first place.)

      People who don’t like Crispin are mad though. He’s great.

      • Sic says:

        I don’t see how else to get that information short of just trying every word in the English language until you strike on it.

        What information? Are you talking about what words to input?

        If that’s what you’re talking about, I’m honestly stumped.

        You know that Memorious is inside the kiosk, as that is explicitly told to you.

        The words are highlighted in all sorts of ways. How could you not try inputting the only word in capital letters? There are even hints from Crispin between most of the layers.

        I completely agree with criticism of silly things like the duck puzzle in TLJ (that doesn’t make any sense), but even by modern standards, the kiosk puzzle is easy. I can’t see how anyone can argue otherwise. I would even argue that it’s the most straight forward puzzle in the game. It’s set up as a game of riddles between a machine and you. You know there is something to figure out in each text and you go actively looking for it. Every piece of text has a specificity to it that reveals the next layer (capital letters, first letters, spelling errors etc.).

        As for the Goliath puzzle, I completely agree that it was a harsh deal, and that eventual divergent solutions should have resulted in appropriation of the device.

        I think that’s a general problem with the game, that the unorthodox puzzle design (especially the puzzles leading to differing endings) isn’t just related to the puzzles themselves (that is, being varying/alternative puzzles, making solutions seem less constructed), but is used to make alternative universes that, quite frankly, aren’t that engaging (one of the endings is a lot more elaborate than the others, for instance).

        I don’t think this is a huge deal, though. The theory of it is sound, at least in the case of the differing endings. A bit more work on the more obscure ones, making them “legitimate” choices, would go a long way in making that design work.

        The Goliath deal is a lot more complex, though. It’s basically a case of “will the player understand that he did something wrong?” (and therefore load a previous save and try again). It’s a bit like the Sierra games, without the obviousness that is death as a pretty stern hint in the direction of “you did something wrong”.

        Still, anyone as experienced as Nathan or you, actual game journalists, should, in my humble opinion, pick up on these things and write about them. Nathan didn’t. I think it’s fair to call him out on it.

      • Richard Cobbett says:

        “If that’s what you’re talking about, I’m honestly stumped.”

        Uh, no, it’s not. Read again. I said I thought the kiosk puzzle was bad in my review (I never said impossible – in fact, I specifically said that it offered no real challenge, just that it was tedious). Mark said it’s optional. I said I didn’t see how you could get the information it provides without solving the puzzles, short of typing in every word in the English language. What he meant was that you didn’t need the information in it anyway, though in my playthrough that wasn’t made clear.

        “Still, anyone as experienced as Nathan or you, actual game journalists, should, in my humble opinion, pick up on these things and write about them. Nathan didn’t. I think it’s fair to call him out on it.”

        Honestly, optional puzzles aren’t exactly an innovation in adventure gaming. Resonance alone had several of them. The Goliath one is also tricky because simply by talking about it, you’re in spoiler territory. Had it particularly impressed me, or the big revelations you get as a result of it made a staggering difference to my view of the ending, I’d have talked about it. It’s not an inappropriate thing to discuss by any means. When I was writing my review though there were simply other things I felt my wordcount was better spent on, like the story sweep, Horatio/Crispin relationship, and the general puzzle design.

        Now, fail to mention the branching in something like The Walking Dead, and absolutely that’s an eyebrow raiser…

  12. MarkYohalem says:

    Gadzooks! I’d written a long reply, and then inexplicably closed the window. Let me try to reconstruct it! Apologies because the reply will now be much less polished than it was.

    Regarding the kiosk, it’s not that the route through it is optional, it’s that the kiosk itself is completely optional. You only need two of the three code fragments to solve that puzzle, provided you’re willing to solve it on your own rather than going to Primer for help. A hint, which autotriggers once you’ve got two pieces if you’re stuck for too long with the third, has Clarity specifically say “”I believe we now have enough to attempt assembling [the Council Code].” A fairly large percentage of testers (perhaps even the majority) solved the game without doing the kiosk puzzle, as have a fairly large percentage of players. I realize that perhaps we could have cued the fact that you only need two pieces more — the modern approach would probably have been to have a pop-up window describing your mission and a HUD showing how many pieces you’d finished! — but I think you’re mistaken that the game is without any suggestion that there’s another route. The player could also experiment with solving the code without any cue whatsoever, though that is perhaps less likely.

    Regarding the Goliath point, I have to respectfully disagree. To begin with, your argument rests on a premise — that the ending is narratively flawed — that I (and plenty of reviewers and players from around the world!) disagree with. But even setting aside that premise, I don’t think that the information you’re referring to is as critical as you think it is; the player can still find that information out other ways (intuition, the tag on the ship, the information kiosk). It may make the endings somewhat less satisfying, but I don’t think it leaves a gaping hole. A perfectly accepting ending, narratively, is that Horatio does not know himself. In addition, I think the game cues that the player has done the wrong thing by closing off that path (RUINED! RUINED! RUINED!) so much so that a large number of players think that the game has become unwinnable at that point. (Indeed, the first fan-made walkthrough said that reloading was required there.)

    That said, I think part of the problem there — a problem that I had as a designer! — was that I underestimated the extent to which many of our players were going to play the game simply through trial and error. That’s not a complaint! Post-Lucas adventure games, where death and dead ends are impossible, have taught that random experimentation is not merely *a* viable approach, but the *most* viable one. That’s especially true with, say, flash games. So it seemed to me fair to say, “If the player is just going to start smashing things with the plasma torch, or guessing his way through a riddle, or spamming items on top of each other, it’s not my obligation to help him out.” In hindsight, two things: generally it *is* my obligation to help players out, and the players I was critical of actually are pretty large in number. It’s not that they’re dumb or asinine or whatever some posters say; players have the right to expect games to play similarly, and be annoyed if — say — one game has A jump and B shoot and the other flips those. The one thing that we didn’t have time to do, which I wanted, was a tutorial that would run separately from the game itself where a robot (probably Cornelius) would lecture you about how to play Primordia and advise you of the basic ground rules of the game. Alas, we didn’t manage to make it.

    This may sound defensive, but I think the sin that you’re seeing is the venial one of expecting players to think more about the game than they actually will. A designer has an obligation to meet players where they are, even if he wants to take them somewhere else, so I agree that it’s a failing with the game. But better that games ask too much of players than too little! Still, perhaps this is just self-justification.

    Anyway, I appreciate your advice and your coverage of the game. If there were one piece of advice I’d give in exchange, it’s that I think to some degree you are making the mistake you’re identifying in our design: that is, assuming that the “right” way to think is the way you think, and that any other way of thinking is just error. Thus, it strikes me as quite wrong to say that the dozens of positive reviews we’ve gotten are the product of people not having played the game, not having played other games, or simply reading into the game their own expectations of its being great. Certainly here and there a positive review (or a negative review!) can be written off that way. But it’s pretty clear that a large number of the glowing reviews we’ve gotten are from people quite familiar with Primordia, with adventure games, and with WEG’s opus, and quite able to find flaws. They just happened to really like the game, the story, the puzzles, even the kiosk! They’re no less entitled to their opinions than you are to yours, even if cursed Metacritic gives yours more weight! :)

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      “A hint, which autotriggers once you’ve got two pieces if you’re stuck for too long with the third, has Clarity specifically say “”I believe we now have enough to attempt assembling [the Council Code].”

      Nope, never got that. I just collected all four pieces and handed them over to Primer because that’s what it looked like I was supposed to do and it had been set up as a complicated thing that would require assistance. The only clue I got during the kiosk section was Crispin saying “Hey, go check the kiosk.” When a game asks for four map pieces, I typically look to get it four map pieces.

      “It may make the endings somewhat less satisfying, but I don’t think it leaves a gaping hole”

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point then, and the importance of Horatio not knowing himself by the end. But then, one of my big problems with the story sweep is the emotional disconnection I felt from the drama, even with the late reveals. Against that, anything removed is going to leave a bigger hole than it otherwise might.

      For the Goliath thing though… uh… you’re kinda making my point :-) The game’s way of indicating things to the player often isn’t very clear – I know that I had the same ‘wait, have I screwed myself?’ feeling when playing the preview code. Instead of a bonus, this turns the decryption puzzle into a last minute screw-you to the player who’s operating – as far as I remember – without the knowledge of a key item’s existence, as a punishment for an unrelated failure. To me, these are mistakes, just as when Blade Runner thought that the absence of a clue could be as effective as its presence.

      (As a counter, something like “Hey, Goliath could fire a missile and help us… oh, but we fried him, didn’t we? Never mind…” would have a direct causal link and seem fine. Maybe a little cruel, but nobody ever said things should be easy. Alternatively, if Goliath had handed him his background in encrypted form as a mystery, but he’d found the decryptor itself in Metropol, there’d have been more sense of a pay-off to it, or possibly the lingering question “Okay, who do I know who might have something to decrypt?”, even if I’d argue against locking up anything on the scale of the big reveal. But that’s just armchair designing, and thus hardly relevant.)

      “I think to some degree you are making the mistake you’re identifying in our design: that is, assuming that the “right” way to think is the way you think, and that any other way of thinking is just error.”

      Always possible. But for the sake of a review, it’s part of the deal. They’re always inherently subjective, the online benefit being able to see what everyone things and take opinions in aggregate, even if Metacritic has unfortunately stuck nails in that by making the world see things as a number rather than contrasting arguments. I see flaws, I’m going to report flaws. I see things I love, I’m going to say they’re great, rather than “If you like this sort of thing” type prevarication. If other people disagree, that’s fine. All anyone can do is try to provide enough context to help guide people however they see fit, and let the chips fall where they may.

      “Thus, it strikes me as quite wrong to say that the dozens of positive reviews we’ve gotten are the product of people…(snip)”

      Yeah, pretty sure I didn’t say any of that stuff. It’s usually a bad idea to try and work out someone’s detailed views from a couple of off-hand tweets to another reviewer, but just to be clear, the incredulity wasn’t aimed at more positive reviews per se, but a number of the early ones that read like cheerleading rather than criticism. Since then, there have been plenty that are absolutely fine, whether or not they agree with me on the story having issues, Crispin being great, or whatever else.

      Suggest we drop this at this point though, not because I don’t enjoy debating this stuff, but we’re never likely to agree on specifics. The more it goes back and forth, the more it’s going to end up reading “YOU’RE WRONG!” “IT’S SHIT!” “YOUR MOTHER!” and so on, and it’s and it’s not like I actively disliked Primordia or wish it ill. As an adventure fan, I hope it does well, both for you guys and Team Dave’s sake, and that the next game clicks with me as much as this one clicked for others.

      • MarkYohalem says:

        Agreed! No sense in debating things further! (And happy to give you the last word!)

        –EDIT–

        The one thing I wanted to add, though, is that I hope you didn’t infer from anything I said that I wanted to discourage honest criticisms of the game! That is exactly the opposite reason from why I posted, which was that there had seemed to be unfair hostility toward this review and yours, which I hoped to discourage. Obviously, if critics aren’t honest about what they don’t like, the whole enterprise becomes a farce: useless for consumers, useless for creators, and soulless for critics.

  13. cowardly says:

    I for one had a great time with this adventure. All puzzles were quite logical and you pretty much knew all the time what was to solve to advance. I like the setting and characters, the sometimes snarky and sometimes funny banter.

    I think the sidekick idea with the little robot helping you along is such an great idea. You never feel left alone and stuck with that, theres always progress.

    Also theres several ways to solve some puzzles, how refreshing! And then there is the multiple endings!
    For 10$ its an excellent old school adventure game (without the tedious mad puzzles and interface of old adventures!)

    Cant really agree with that review much.