Hands On: Jane Jensen’s Moebius

By John Walker on July 17th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

As RPS drop-out Kieron tweeted the other day, “We are the generation who funded more point and click adventures, and we’ll get what we deserve.” He was expressing frustration at the woeful lack of funding for Satellite Reign (FUND IT!), while seemingly so many adventures are seeing that green, green light. But what of those adventures? For all of last year’s fuss, little has appeared so far – has it been money well spent? Should the Gillens of the world be quieted by the adventure devotees and their wallets? Well, it’s a pleasure to report that from my time with Jane Jensen’s Moebius, in at least one case the answer could well be: yes.

It took me a while to put my finger on what it was that felt different about playing the first couple of chapters of Moebius. The premise is completely daft – an antiques über-expert gets hired by a mysterious man to assess whether a murder victim shares a significant amount in common with any famous person from the last couple of thousand years. The presentation is traditional – fixed backgrounds around which awkwardly animated characters trot, looking at and picking up items for infinite pockets. The voice acting is pleasurably hammy, exaggerated caricatures barking information at each other. Puzzles involve picking up everything and putting it all down in the right places, alongside the game’s own unique observation skills that we’ll get to. So what is it? What about all the traditional point-n-click elements being exactly where you’d expect them to be makes this feel different from its peers?

It’s good!

It was this that was eluding me. I love adventure games, and as such, I’ll put up with an awful lot. It’s testament to how bad so many are that I still find myself mostly complaining in most reviews. It was peculiar to be experiencing all the silly tropes of the genre, but realising I wasn’t fighting against it to have a good time. It was just letting me.

The ludicrously named Malachi Rector is a genius. His photographic memory, combined with an all-encompassing knowledge of seemingly all of history, makes him expert in both antiques and antiquity, and also an arrogant sod. When the utterly ridiculously named secret government agency F.I.S.T. (Future Intelligence Science & Technology) hires him, it’s time to hot-foot it around the world, analysing things with this analysing brain.

So yes, it’s preposterous. He is to history what Gabriel Knight was to ghoulies, although a distinctly less convivial fellow. Rude to just about everyone, he has that arrogance that seemed to work for House, The Mentalist, and the like. But rather than creating that awkward feeling of being forced to control a character you’d rather not be, as plagues so many contemporary adventures, it’s great fun to be Rector. He’s properly smart, rather than just a douchebag.

Rector’s skills include an ability to scan people before speaking to them, picking up aspects of their character from his observations, that then play in the conversations you have. It’s a bit Sherlock Holmes, as you make wildly spurious assumptions about a person based on some grub on their collar, the shape of their eyebrows, or whatever, and are of course exactly correct because the writers wrote it that way. Don’t look for those things, by the way, and the conversations go differently.

He can also more deeply analyse a particular subject, comparing them to the litany of historical figures he stores in his head. So in that first couple of chapters I was off to Venice, hired to learn what I could about a murdered woman, found hanged from a bridge. As I spoke to relatives, explored her house, and generally snooped, I gathered a bunch of facts about her. That she was married at 19, to a man in his 40s. That she was pregnant a year into the marriage. That she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the area. And so on. And then compared these facts to a dozen or so historical women who shared similar properties. In a sort of lifestyle version of Guess Who, you eliminate potential matches until you’ve got it down to just a few possibilities. Is she most like Cleopatra, Livia Drusilla, Countess Marie Walewska, or Gorgo of Sparta? And why is her being like someone from the past a thing anyway? The early section of the game doesn’t explain, but put together with the title, I have my suspicions.

The second section of this early preview build took me to Cairo, and offered a slightly different experience. It was less focused on a tight investigation, and more open, more like a regular adventure. Exploring locations, meeting various dubious characters, winning a game of darts, and trying to figure out who a mysterious blond man might be, were all on my journey to meet a man about a statue. Again, while the puzzles were absolutely contrived, and the circumstances daft, it was the right sort of contrived and daft, and delivered with a deft hand that reminds why Jensen has such a huge reputation (if you pretend Gabriel Knight 3 didn’t happen).

A lot of work needs to be done to smooth things out, removing odd pauses that break the flow, but then this is early alpha code and shouldn’t be representative of the final game at all. And dear God, they have to do something about the character model’s shoulders. However, one feature which I suspect is in there for debugging would be amazing if it could remain – double clicking moves Rector instantly to that spot on the screen, which does nothing for realism, but everything for speeding up that laborious adventuring trudge of having to walk up to everything you look at. Pinkerton Road – leave it in!

What I’ve played is far too little to give an impression on whether the story and concept will hold up. It’s only hinted at it so far, despite lasting a couple of hours, and that bodes well for a nicely crafted arc. It remains to be seen if it can hold itself together, although early impressions suggest it should.

What’s also interestingly hinted at is a possible relationship between Rector and another man in the game. If that is seen through, then not only would it be a massive step forward in terms of having a gay lead in a videogame, but also adds all manner of potential narrative intrigue bearing in mind who he might be. Again, supposition at this point.

It’s a very gratifying experience to play the first of these big-name Kickstarter adventures, and rather than just have a nostalgic experience, be reminded why it was their games were such big deals in the 1990s. Moebius could still unwind into meandering gibberish – there’s clearly the potential for that bearing in mind the metaphysical implications of what it hints at here. But it could just as easily be a really worthwhile adventure game, with no pretentions to be anything else. And that’s what rather a lot of us have been craving.

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52 Comments »

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  1. WrenBoy says:

    Satellite Reign is going to comfortably make its funding, probably with a couple of stretch goals thrown in.

    You dont trust them when they say it will cost 350K to make?

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      tigerfort says:

      I reckon they’ll make their GBP350k, though probably not all that much more. But I think if they’d gone for a USD kickstarter they’d be well past the equivalent target and into the stretch goals already, given how scared Merkins seem to be of forn currentsey. It seems much harder to get GBP20k than USD50k, despite the latter being a rather larger sum of money. Ho-hum.

      • jonfitt says:

        Their timing sucks. Just look at what you can get for $25 right now in the Steam sale.
        Don’t release a new game during the Steam Sale probably also applies to not having a Kickstarter then either.

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          colossalstrikepackage says:

          The KS started before the Steam Sale, but it doesn’t help that it is competing with it at the moment.

    • WrenBoy says:

      Forget everything I said. I just saw the destructable environment stretch goal. This needs more money!

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    PoulWrist says:

    Look at that man in those screenshots! How are his arms connected to his body!?

  3. Ansob says:

    So, er, has anyone pointed out the terrifying slight resemblance that the bloke in the topmost picture bears to David Mitchell?

  4. Acorino says:

    I somewhat doubt that Malachi and the blond dude will become all gay for each other, though the homoeroticism between them is definitely intended, just like it was with between Gabriel and Baron von Glower in Gabriel Knight 2.

    Oh, and Gabriel Knight 3 isn’t all bad. It’s very much the definition of a mixed bag, including one of the worst and best puzzles complexes the genre has to offer in the same game. Quite the achievement! Its beginning feels like being stuck in purgatory though. It gives me nightmares just thinking about it. Sooo….I don’t like the game. At all. I hate it, actually. But the “Le Serpent Rouge” puzzle complex…it’s excellent. And it’s a unique and innovative game overall. The most ambitious story Jane Jensen told so far, too.

    • flang says:

      If Rector does turn out to be gay, it’s going to be the most quickly-spoiled plot twist in the history of video games. Within 48 hours of the games release, you won’t be able to glance at any significant gaming site without having that detail ruined for you.

    • Venkman says:

      The cat hair mustache thing is so overblown. Nothing about that puzzle, or any of the early puzzles in the game, was unusual for adventure games at that time. I solved it just fine in 1999 without needing hints (one hint for the whole game, on one small portion of the Serpent Rouge); it followed perfectly standard adventure game logic. And it certainly wasn’t the death of the genre as that unjustifiably famous Old Man Murray article says. I’m sure the cat hair mustache puzzle had 0 effect on sales either way.

      • Juan Carlo says:

        That puzzle wouldn’t have been out of place in a classic, 1980s, Sierra adventure game, but it was definitely out of place in 1999.

        Plus, it was jarringly out of place in a Gabriel Knight game. GK1 and GK2 had puzzles which mostly stuck to a certain level of (video game) plausibility and logic. But putting tape on a fence to collect cat hair then gluing that hair to your lip to make a fake mustache is the sort of cartoon logic that might make sense in a Monkey Island or KIng’s Quest game, but it was just fucking stupid in a GK game.

        That puzzle is odd, though, as most of the other puzzles in the game are (relatively) more realistic, making the cat hair puzzle stand out even more. Which makes it kind of suck that it gets so much attention and brings such bad publicity on the game as other than that puzzle I think it’s a really good game.

        Plus, I don’t know if that puzzle shares any of the blame, but apart from a couple bigger titles done by smaller European studios (“The Longest Journey,” mainly), adventure gaming as a genre was dead for nearly a decade after GK3 and GK3, being Sierra’s final adventure game, is generally seen as the last of that initial era. It wasn’t until the late aughts when digital distribution became big and allowed indie developers to easily exploit niche markets that adventure games are now a financially viable and popular genre again.

        • Venkman says:

          Yes, I agree that it’s arguably out of place for a Gabriel Knight game, but I think that adventure games in general had puzzles just as silly well into the 1990s. GK3 does have more of a “silly” feel to it in general though due partly to the funny looking 3D models, so that puzzle might be fine with the overall tone of GK3. Maybe not the overall tone of the series, but with GK3 specifically. I don’t know, I’d have to play it again.

          Adventure games were already dead at the time of GK3’s release. I remember asking the clerk at the store how the game was selling because I knew the genre was in trouble. GK3 was an excellent attempt at a full 3D adventure game, but it was rejected by the niche adventure game players because they hated 3D (and in fact the core adventure game fanbase still leans heavily against 3D for some asinine reason) and because it required a powerful computer to run well at that time.

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        Didn’t Jensen say in an interview once they had planned an entirely different puzzle originally but ran out of time and a producer suggested the cat hair thing? I actually liked GK3 a lot… while the visuals have not aged well, one bad puzzle does not make a bad game.

        • Acorino says:

          It’s true that Jane’s original puzzle idea was replaced with a suggestion by the producer. Jane didn’t divulge this detail herself, though. Scott Bilas, the Technical Lead and System Architect on Gabriel Knight 3, did, in an interview with Adventure Classic Gaming.

          • SD says:

            She did talk about it further.

            I can’t precisely remember where, but it was during the Kickstarter campaign. Turns out that the original puzzle gave you a lot of information from observation alone (Gabriel notices a bird that gathered a pile of black fibers to line it’s nest from a rug that was aired-out all day; you use a garden hose to spray the nest down from the tree).

            This is corroborated by the unused audio clips in GK3, which you can check out in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA25IgQdLMY

            They cut the puzzle because the graphics team couldn’t get the water to look right. I’m not sure the above really redeems the puzzle, though :-/

            Personally, I think that the whole moustache bit should have been reworked, but I can’t think of something good without involving the usual new-character/dialogue-puzzle/fetch-quest combo. If they didn’t have time to get the water right, graphically, then adding a new character is probably out of the question. Ah well.

    • dkatrencik says:

      I would not be surprised if Malachi is a gay character. What I am unsure of is if Jane will just allude to it, as she did with Gabriel Knight’s bisexual tendencies, or will reveal it outright. As we play through the game, I guess we will see. On a side note, back in the day, Sierra writers had a tendency to hint at or portray gay or bi curious characters, main or supporting. By today’s social standards, an openly gay character would not be a shock or even frowned upon, but more a fresh and welcomed concept.

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    airknots says:

    I remember playing the entire Gabriel Knight series around 3-4 years ago. Gabriel Knight 3 might be considered the weakest amongst the three, but it still is an amazing adventure game if you’re willing to look past the graphics, controls and the cat hair moustache puzzle. I found most of the puzzles in the game really interesting (my favorite was the map puzzle).

  6. Noviere says:

    It’s going to be really hard to ignore the horrible names… But it does sound like it could be a good adventure game!

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    Bluerps says:

    I remember that I once played an adventure that included the double-click quick-move feature Mr Walker mentions (I think it was The Riddle of Master Lu, though I’m not sure). I’ve missed that feature in every adventure since then.

    • tobecooper says:

      Double-click teleport is actually in a number of adventure games, but it really should be in every single one of them. The previous Jensen’s game – Gray Matter – suffered quite a bit, because of the characters’ clumsy movement.

      Also, I’m quite confident in Moebius being quite cool, I think Jane Jensen has so much experience in playing with metaphysical plot that pulling it off again shouldn’t be much of a problem.

      • Josh W says:

        I imagine to make it look plausible you’d need to add the impression of a time jump into it: Pausing or skipping ahead with people’s idling animations should give the right sort of “comic book frames” impression. In fact, you might be able to do both, adding a split second pause, yet running the animations underneath so that they seem to jump.

  8. DeFrank says:

    It might seem petty, but The Satellite Reign campaign kind of turned me off with the “Early Bird Special” approach. Making people pay 25% more for the game because they didn’t back it the first few days of the campaign stings a bit.

    It makes me wonder if there are a lot of others like myself that didn’t back it for the same reason. I mean… it’s a digital product that is asking for monetary support to get made, and bleeding backers for an extra 5 bucks feels disengenious. The game isn’t going to be complete for a year… as far as I’m concerned everyone that backs it on kickstarter is an “Early Bird”.

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      tigerfort says:

      Yeah, I don’t like “Early bird” rewards either. I didn’t mind so much when Project Eternity did it, because 25,000 early bird specials is enough that I think they might plausibly not have expected to run out (and certainly not halfway through the campaign), and also enough that you don’t have to decide the first instant the campaign is mentioned whether to dive in or not. Once you’re down to 1000 (or smaller), it feels too much like kicking people in the face for not being permanently glued to kickstarter checking for new projects. In the end, I did back Satellite Reign, because I really really want the game to happen, but it’s put me off more than a few others.

      • nindustrial says:

        Yeah, I ended up backing it too, but it was rather dispiriting to go over to kickstarter as soon as I heard about it, yet every early-bird slot was already sold out. I finally pledged today because I am starting to fear it won’t be funded. I actually probably wasn’t going to otherwise, and just have waited for commercial release.

        • Sparkasaurusmex says:

          Way I see it is if early-bird has “sold out” they don’t need any more funding.

      • abandonhope says:

        It’s becoming clear that the Kickstarter-for-games model has some issues to work out. When I first started backing projects in March of last year, I assumed it would follow the Minecraft model of consistent equitable exchange: the earlier you buy in, the less you pay, on until release. Not so, apparently.

        Now that Kickstarter projects are being delivered and coming to Greenlight, I’m beginning to see pre-release sales for less and in some cases much less than what I paid, as well as plain old price drops down from what they asked on Kickstarter.

        Granted, not all games can have compelling gameplay in alpha/beta the way Minecraft did, and it’s probably hard for them to acquire funding outside of the campaign environment through individual sales. However, as much as I want to be an active participant in making the games I like possible, I really don’t want to be treated like a ripe sack of money.

        Six months ago, I probably would have backed Satellite Reign for $25. I adored Syndicate Wars. I consider Syndicate FPS a tragedy. I should be a backer. But I’m considerably less inclined to participate if a developer can’t demonstrate that they place at least a slightly special value on getting money for their game a year or two before it exists. A thousand early bird spots and a $25 asking price says the opposite to me. If it gets made, I’ll buy it on release for whatever it costs. I imagine that’s going to be about $25. For the sake of all those who’ve backed, I really hope it’s not $20.

        • DeFrank says:

          Yes. This exactly. If I were articulate this is what my post would have said. :)

        • flang says:

          “Now that Kickstarter projects are being delivered and coming to Greenlight, I’m beginning to see pre-release sales for less and in some cases much less than what I paid”

          Do you have any examples of this? I’ve backed around a dozen projects now and haven’t seen any indication of the price being reduced for non-backers after release. Broken Age, for instance, is going to turn out to be significantly bigger than what was originally promised (assuming they actually finish the thing).

          • abandonhope says:

            I do:

            Flight Suit Zero was $15 early and $20 regular. It saw a pre-release sale on Steam for $18. It pissed a lot of people off.

            The Dead Linger was $25. It’s now selling for $20 as an alpha buy-in.

            Kinetic Void was $10, and was recently a little over 5 bucks during the summer sale for early access (it’s $20 regularly). I paid $55 to get the game and the first expansion pack (and also because I wanted the project to succeed), which I imagine have a combined value of about $30. I did get some other stuff though, so I’m not butt-hurt.

            Some developers are quite careful not to do this. Some aren’t. I think it’s just a case of some of them misjudging what they’ll be able to sell their games for, and constant sales and bundles seem to have driven indie prices down since Kickstarter first became viable for games. I don’t think anyone was or is trying to pull a fast one, but I really don’t want to participate in a model that charges people more for the “privilege” of making a game possible.

            An ever-increasing price as a game progresses toward completion seems fair and sustainable. If a lot of devs squeeze more out of their base-tier backers than subsequent near-release buyers–intentionally or not–people are going to take note and projects are going to fail because of it.

            If a base tier is priced at or more than what I suspect the release price is going to be, I’m just not backing. $25 almost always falls into that category. Paying for a game that might not get made is risky enough–I don’t want to risk paying more than its actual worth on top of that.

          • flang says:

            I guess I see what you’re saying, but I think this comes back to what people should expect when backing KS projects. If you see it as a preorder store, then you’re probably going to feel burned when you end up paying a little more than the eventual price. But I think a better way to approach it is at least partly as a “donation” to support the developer, because you want to see the project succeed.

            (Although I have no defense for the Kinetic Void devs – maybe not because of their pricing scheme, but because they act like assholes who do not tolerate criticism of their game at all.)

        • SanguineAngel says:

          I think, judging from your wording that you already understand this but I do feel it needs highlighting:

          When you fund a game on kickstarter you are not buying a game, you are directly contributing money towards its development. If you have picked a reward package that includes a copy of the game then you are being given the game free of charge as a thank you for helping get the game made.

          Having said that, I do understand your feeling and there are many devs out there who will do their best to ensure that their backers are treated with extra special care for the faith and generosity they have displayed. But they are not obliged to. Once I have given my money to a kickstarter I consider my part done – i don’t care if they later release the product for free because what I gave them money for was to make it in the first place.

          • Sparkasaurusmex says:

            Ah but the assumption that you are buying a game is what gets a lot of these funded. If everyone realized they were just donating, and the rewards did not feature the actual game, many would not have reached the funding they received. So perhaps it is just donation, but that is not how it has been working and that’s not what funded many of these games. It’s the “preorder” notion that has so many gamers giving their money to unfinished games.

          • DeFrank says:

            Yeah, technically that’s idea. But I’ll put it this way, I have zero interest in “donating” to a game getting made just for the sake of donating. I am, for all intents and purposes, paying for a game. :)

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    Andy_Panthro says:

    As someone who has funded several point-and-clickers, I’d just like to pipe up and say I’ve backed loads of other stuff too! (including Satellite Reign)

    So if it fails it’s not my fault. (but it won’t fail, because I have faith in people to cough up enough).

  10. Ysellian says:

    It’s good!

    Yay!

  11. tossrStu says:

    As RPS drop-out Kieron tweeted the other day, “We are the generation who funded more point and click adventures, and we’ll get what we deserve.”

    Yes he did and I’ve had that bloody song stuck in my head since then DAMN YOU GILLEN

  12. Morte66 says:

    Never liked point and click adventures much.

    Liked Syndicate a lot.

    Not thinking much of The Walking Dead. Can’t reach that brick, my arse — it’s about a foot from the bars.

    • jonahcutter says:

      I’m playing through Walking Dead right now and had the same reaction in the same spot. Along with that reaction in multiple other places. There’s been many points where I think “I could easily climb over that fence/through that hole/reach that whatever/kick that door open/etc”

      I’ve never been drawn to point and click games much in general. There are just too many contrived moments. Especially in realistic settings (zombie apocalypse aside) like The Walking Dead. Something like Machinarium I loved though. Probably because it’s so fantastic in setting, the puzzle contrivances don’t make me roll my eyes.

      That said, I am really enjoying TWD. But far far more for the choices I have to make in conversations, and some genuinely compelling character interaction, than the puzzles. Basically, enjoying it as an interactive movie.

    • Kaira- says:

      That bloody brick. I spent more time than I’m willing to admit on trying to get the cane from the back of the shop to get the brick.

  13. Sardukar says:

    And they made the SR 30 pound KS entry point only for 200 people, which filled up. Not sure I want to spend $55 US on it and i would like Early Beta if I’m going to kick in, sooo…

    Open up the Assassin Price Point again!

  14. Keyrock says:

    It’s a Jane Jensen’s game, it will be very well written.

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    jrodman says:

    At 25 dollars, I’ll “fund” satellite reign after I read some reviews. Games with “emergent” gameplay are usually not my cup of tea.

  16. seamoss says:

    For someone who loves adventure games, I’m surprised you haven’t encountered the “double-click to instantly move to that location on the screen instead of laboriously walking there” feature up till now. It’s been in many “moden” adventure games (and some older ones as well).

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    I was very skeptical of this based on the somewhat confused -vote on a game- Kickstarter and the earlier trailer, but this actually sounds kind of interesting.

  18. Berto says:

    Screw you John, Gabriel Knight 3 is great!

  19. jfrisby says:

    Hope Cobbett reviews the finished game.