Be Careful, Nikopol Demo Impressions

I'm being as careful as I can.

I’m as cynical as the next so-called “man”, but there comes a time when you have to stop, breathe out, and realise how good we have it. Games are great. Life is good! But the Nikopol demo is rubbish. Ah well, it was a positive time while it lasted.

The above em-pictured quote rather gloriously appears at the start of the demo, which means I’m in no position to comment on the potential of the game whatsoever. It might not be an incredibly dated fixed-point Myst-style adventure, with pixel hunting and endless instant deaths. It could be the greatest adventure of all time! Be careful.

It's a shame, because it makes such nice use of the splitscreen thing.

You’ll remember Kieron going off on one of his comicky rants about Nikopol, which is apparently some super-important comic or other. I’m coming to this from pure ignorance, just as any old game. I can only assume that those who care about the source material are only going to be more cross.

Despite all the warning signs, I got my hopes all pointy-uppy when I started playing this. These silly games where your feet are glued to the floor, letting you pivot around by not actually move, are all just poop. When you change locations, there’s no animation, but instead a faded smear of the two scenes. I know these things, I know it means it’ll suck. But it’s nicely painted, and the setting seemed quite fun, if obvious. It’s a future Orwellian Paris, with a fascist dictatorship controlling everything, and making announcements in floaty cars outside the windows. You’re a struggling artist, and you’ve joined a peculiar religious, anti-religious organisation (hey, I didn’t write it). To meet with them you must, um, paint a picture of your dad. That’s puzzle number one. Its logic is broken, of course, and figuring out what you need to do isn’t enough – you must clumsily get it “wrong” before you can do what you were obviously meant to do in the first place.

It's all from the cutscenes because the static in-game shots are a bit dull.

This leads to puzzle number two, which is a collection of insta-death nonsenses which involve randomly clicking until you stumble upon the thing it wants from you, and repeating about five times. This is while being attacked by a giant mutant monster that calls itself the police. It’s like a masterclass of how to not make an adventure game.

Which is a shame, because the voice acting is top-notch, the background painting very nice, and the story potentially interesting. The thought of playing through its clumsy and deranged puzzles to hear it though – you’d have to pay me. Which is how I make a living.

But of course, be careful people. The demo is not representative of the quality of the game in its full version, and so ignore everything I’ve said. It seems odd to release a demo that is categorically not representative of the game – you’d usually assume that would be the very point of releasing a demo. But this one is not. Not at all. Delete this post from your mind.


  1. Little Green Man says:

    Nikopol Demo Link broken? Oh and looks and sounds pretty crap, and I wouldn’t have bought it anyway.. Good show chaps!

  2. John Walker says:

    Link fixed. Not sure what happened there.

  3. elias says:

    What’s with the AAA Auto Insurance vertical banner ads breaking the page? Seems like almost every time I load a page with Google Chrome, that is the banner I get; with IE7 I haven’t been able to get it to give me one of those ads at all, even with a bunch of refreshes.

    Edit: now here’s another vertical banner ad, this one for Ditech home financing…

  4. Alex says:

    Although it wouldn’t be the first unrepresentative demo, I do think it’s the first one by design. . very peculiar.

    Furthermore, telling people to “be careful” in this regard, is also very peculiar.

  5. Aldran says:

    My mind is in an infinite loop right now.
    If the demo is bad but “not representative”, then it means the game is good, but if the game is good then why is the demo…. aaargh, forget it!

  6. Noc says:

    Aldran: here’s the fix. “Not representative” does not mean “Not like.” The game might be complete crap. We don’t know!

    You’re welcome.

  7. EyeMessiah says:

    This reminds me, I was going to totally Reinvent The Adventure Gaming Genre tonight, but I completely forgot.


  8. Xilnold says:

    No worries Eye, I was going to bring us into a new age of video game story telling.

    I ended up banging some hot alien chick.

  9. Saturn says:

    It’s one of the best Adv. demoes i played,actually. Made me really want to play the full game.

    I dont get the comment about the point of view. Most of the first person adv. games are like these. Faulting the game for the manner of the presentation it chose is weird to say the least.

    About the painting puzzle. It was very refreshing and it it’s really in tune with the great original setting and who the player is. Nikopol doesnt know why the religious groupe wants a painting of his father too, so i dont get the critic of it being unlogical. It’s probably to be explained in the story, but there is nothing unlogical to ask a painter to paint.

    I get really upset with pixel haunting too, but i really didnt have that moments in the demo. Everything was sort of obvious what to do. I may have missed at first glances that there is a screen in the living room i need to pull down to watch the movie (hence, with the backward logic the genre has teached me, i tried to use the white canvas as a screen to project on. lol). It wasnt due to pixel haunting, but not being observent enough, cause when i took a second look, the screen “scroll” is pretty identifiable).

    Same thing about the action timed events, the only touble i had was at the front door, recognizing the pipe. Other than that, it was clear to me what i needed to do and how to. Chaining,moving furnitures etc.
    Being put to the pressure of time was,again, refreshing. You dont get alot of those scenarios in adv. games.

    I really cant realate to the writer’s thoughts about that portion.
    I tend to play adventure games and alot of times i dont find myself motivated to continue playing. I usually get fed up with most of them half-way through.

    The Nikopol demo made me want to play the full game. Setting is great, Voice-acting is top notch and i found the puzzles refreshing and challenging but not in the rip-your-hair-run-to-walkthrough way.

  10. Dracko says:

    Oh well.

    Just read the comics again it is, then.

  11. Sir Unimaginative says:

    Okay, so if the demo is not representative of the game, then WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE DEMO!?

  12. newt says:

    The more Sokal games I encounter, the more I think the Emperor is naked.

  13. Dave says:

    Sir U:

    Publisher milestone, maybe?

  14. Zeewolf says:

    “I dont get the comment about the point of view. Most of the first person adv. games are like these. Faulting the game for the manner of the presentation it chose is weird to say the least.”

    Agreed, definitely. I haven’t played this yet, but that comment just seems a bit… odd.

    I have to admit that I used to think like this myself. There was a time when first person adventures were pretty much all Myst-clones (as far as I knew, at least), and Myst was never my thing. At all. To say that I hated it would be a massive understatement. But then came Return to Mysterious Island and a bunch of other games like it, and I realized that the viewpoint doesn’t really matter. What matters is how you design your puzzles, how you design your world, story, character interaction, et.c. Just like with 3rd person adventures.

  15. Nullh says:

    I must admit that I’ve not played the demo, but to be honest I don’t think I’m going to now. Is there still a market for this kind of well drawn yet vacuous monotony?

  16. John Walker says:

    Even Cryo built a 3D engine that could move before they died. There’s no reason for games to leave you glued to the floor any more.

    Any how, the point remains, I had hoped this demo would be good despite this. However, it was not.

  17. Nick says:

    What exactly is the point of a demo that isn’t representative of the full game?

  18. Tunips says:

    It’s a shame Syberia was so wonderful. It would make it easier to accept that all Sokal’s subsequent games are not masterpeices I don’t quite get, but are in fact shit. Very pretty shit, but still.

  19. Alex says:

    Even Cryo built a 3D engine that could move before they died. There’s no reason for games to leave you glued to the floor any more.

    Well, personally I would’ve liked a 3D engine too, where I could fully explore the world, but when I tried the demo (while being careful, readers!) I quickly accepted the fact I could not. In the end it’s a design choice and a game doesn’t need the whole 3D engine malarky to be a good game.

    Now, if that were the only hurdle this game has to stumble over, my argument would be a lot more convincing..

  20. Tei says:

    Sad thing. Because Nicopol history is one of the most original.
    I really love the france creativity on videogames!… these guys really have something to add to the table.

  21. Saturn says:

    There is a reason for that choice. Publishers and developers who support this genre don’t have big budgets so they cant allow a full blown 3D engine with free movement and maintain the same quality.

    Most of the devs. cant pull it off so i prefer them to stick with this method. It works.
    Apart of the Tex Murphy series i dont recall alot of full 3d 1st person adv games. Alot have changed from then and i’m not totally convinced it will work. Just like some other games and genres who made the jump from 2d to 3d and failed.

    Anyhow, back to the game. Nikopol is one of the best adv. this year (from the demo). I usually check out most of the games that are coming out and Nikopol grabbed me.

  22. Zeewolf says:

    “Even Cryo built a 3D engine that could move before they died. There’s no reason for games to leave you glued to the floor any more.”

    Well, you could say the same thing about IF. There’s no reason for games to be text-only any more, but you know, sometimes it works very well. And yes, I would definitely consider paying for a well-done IF-game – as I suspect I will, later this year.

    Variety is the spice of life, they say. I appreciate node-based adventures, if they’re done well. I appreciate full 3D (Tex Murphy, Penumbra, et.c.) adventure games if they’re done well. I appreciate 3rd person fixed camera (Monkey Island, Syberia) adventures if they’re done well. And so on.

    (and this year, I’ve played several node-based adventures that were very good. Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy, for instance. so I guess I should download this)

  23. Ozzie says:

    Node-based 1st person adventures and action or chase sequences don’t mix well though, as Nikopol shows.
    I was annoyed by this scene and didn’t know how to figure it out. Turned out I wasn’t too dumb for it, but didn’t see the iron bar which I apparently had to pixelhunt.

    And the problem with the painting puzzle wasn’t the question why you had to draw the picture of your father, but that first you have to do it wrong before you could do it right. And the protagonist doesn’t even nudge you in the right wrong direction.

  24. Zeewolf says:

    Both of those sound like game design flaws, though. I’m going to play this demo later on tonight, but what I’ve objected to is this: “These silly games where your feet are glued to the floor, letting you pivot around by not actually move, are all just poop.”

    Because that’s just wrong. :)

  25. John Walker says:

    Well, I want to be pointed toward the examples that prove otherwise, as I’ve spent a fair portion of my ten year career suffering at the hands of these “node” games, and I’m struggling to think of one that didn’t make me want to die.

    Well, maybe Return To Mysterious Island to some degree. It stuck out from the crowd by not being abhorrent, despite being yet another nonsensical interpretation of a Jules Verne novel. Very short, but the survival stuff was kind of fun. And you befriended a monkey! Sadly this all rather fell apart by the point I was shooting flying robots with a bow and arrow. But it was definitely one of the more interesting attempts. I gave it 59% when it came out, which while obviously not good, was a league ahead of its peers.

    You have to remember – I come at this with a passionate love for adventure games. And I’ve played a hell of a lot of them. Key word: hell. There were, and occasionally still are, so many good ones, that there is no room for the dross that appears in this demo. The projection screen/canvas puzzle is demonstrative of very poor design. The idiotic chase scene is just dire. I’m not willing to compromise good design and intelligent solutions because there’s not many games like it about.

  26. Janto says:

    The thing about first person node games, having pondered them for a while, is that they’re not really good at anything. Oh, they can make do, but there’s almost always a far better way of getting information across.

    Let’s consider two key issues, identifying with the protagonist, and directing the player’s attention.

    In terms of identifying with the game’s protagonist, there’s no way a node-based system of spinning in circles can compare to either a 3rd person perspective, with free or fixed camera, or a free movement first person game. None. Unless maybe your character was a Dalek. You have no sense of physical presence, not even a floating gun, and the lack of any movement is even more alienating.

    Alright, text-based IF is effectively node based, but it’s not the same, because your character can wander around and interact with objects within that node freely, and the game talks to you, typically in the first person. You go there, you combine these two items. First person perspective is even more about ‘You’, it’s where it’s strongest. Consider Thief, the classic first person game of robbery and bashing people on the head with black pudding. The first person perspective makes it scary, because you can’t see a damn thing, but it also makes the game more involving. Apart from the storybook cutscenes which set up your missions, you’re always in control, and Garrett’s not some dude you’re controlling, you’re Garrett, because you see through his eyes and you make his every move. In first person games, if you want to look behind the tree, you can look behind the tree. First person games should celebrate and use their perspective intelligently or reconsider their approach.

    Ultimately I don’t think anyone can seriously argue that being able to control your avatar and express some form of creativity with them isn’t much more powerful than being limited to a fixed position. The really silly thing is that node based games would work fine in third person perspective, where you have a panoramic view and a character that can wander backwards and forwards within the view and walk off towards the next node. That is, literally, 1000% better than teleporting around the place. (Oh, and that doesn’t mean you have to show characters walk off screen. watch some movies, learn some editing.)

    Which brings me to point two, directing player attention. Now adventure games are often quite bad at signposting, but at least with a fixed camera angle, you can guarantee that with some planning, you can create the best possible scene to create an emotional response in the player and also show them a clear hierarchy of information. This stuff here, this is important. That stuff over there? Not so essential to the plot. And yes, you can do something similar with 360 nodes – but it’s not as good, there’s less control of where the player looks, you can’t really do things like put detail in the foreground. The player has more freedom to look around, but so what? It’s like saying Robert Jordan is good because he wrote lots of books in which not a lot happens. Free roaming first person perspective on the other hand (and ass-shot third person perspective) also runs into problems for the designer directing the experience, but allows the player to genuinely explore their environment, and as Half Life 2 showed, it’s still possible to make it obvious enough, most of the time where to go next and where side missions are.

  27. John Walker says:

    I think the sensible conclusion is: adventure works very well as a third person medium. Whether this is in a 2D background, or the pseudo 3D that is awkwardly used now (although very well by things like Strong Bad and Sam & Max episodes), it’s ideal for the nature and peculiarities of the genre.

    Also, I’ve noticed that an adventure in third-person is over 20120% less likely to replace its story by making you read appallingly written ‘books’.

  28. Ozzie says:

    I actually liked Salammbo. Not enough to play through it, but it was fun while I wasted my time with it.
    I also had many prejudices towards node-based 1st person adventures, but they can be fun.
    You don’t have to walk around so much which can make the game experience more succinct.
    On the other hand, it kinda takes the sense of exploration away and some prerendered 1st person games have the bad habit to teleport you to places where you didn’t expect to arrive. Can be confusing.

    Afaik Nikopol is a node-based 1st person game for budget reasons. The transitions aren’t animated, the scene you came from just fades out and the new one fades in.

    Oh, and The Quivering may also be a good node-based adventure. It has some weaknesses in the technical department, though. I barely understood the voiceacting since the sound files are so badly compressed and the graphics are also annoyingly pixelated. And it’s hard impossible to get it running on modern systems But you should try it out!!

  29. Zeewolf says:

    “Well, I want to be pointed toward the examples that prove otherwise, as I’ve spent a fair portion of my ten year career suffering at the hands of these “node” games, and I’m struggling to think of one that didn’t make me want to die.”

    I would say Return to Mysterious Island was a very good game. If it hadn’t been so short, it would have been a clear 8/10 in my book. I’ve also mentioned Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy, which I found very enjoyable. Also, to complete the Kheops-trio, Journey to the Moon. Great stuff, though a bit more Myst-y than the other two here. Actually, I can’t think of a single post-Mysterious Island Kheops-release that I would have scored below 5, though there are clearly some average/somewhat uninspired games in their lineup as well (Cleopatra, for instance – mildly enjoyable, but never anything more). I could also throw in Amerzone, which was the first game from Benoit Sokal. It wasn’t as polished as Syberia, and it was terribly short, but I did enjoy it.

    But, see, the problem is this: You obviously don’t like the games I like – we have different tastes (another example: I don’t think the new Strong Bad-game is nearly as good as the later Sam & Max-games). So, as with Mysterious Island, you might just dismiss these examples as poor or mediocre, because you didn’t like them as much as I did. There’s not much I can do about that, except to say that I disagree.

    “You have to remember – I come at this with a passionate love for adventure games. And I’ve played a hell of a lot of them. Key word: hell.”

    I don’t know. Why do I have to remember this? I have the same passionate love for adventure games, and I’ve also played a hell of a lot of them – both good and bad. Like you, I review games for a living (and done so for many years, though my reviews are in a language you’d probably not understand), and like you, I play (and cover) many genres. I’m no more eager to forgive a bad game – regardless of genre – than you are.

    Anyway, having played the Nikopol-demo, I think there are two main problems with it. The first problem is the mouse pointer is very small, making it harder to identify important stuff (so we get some pixel hunting, and that’s pretty much never fun).

    The second is the chase sequence, which is just horrible. It doesn’t give you any freedom to experiment, the solutions are contrived and it doesn’t give enough clues as to what to do. The monster has no problems waiting for you to do all sorts of crap, but the moment you do the one thing any sensible person would do (run), it instakills you. So here I agree with you.

    As for the painting puzzle, I didn’t think it was that bad in itself, just poorly clued.

    But my main point is that these are game/puzzle design problems, and haven’t got anything to do with the fact that the game is a 1st-person, node-based adventure.

  30. Ozzie says:

    The problem with the painting puzzle is that it isn’t a puzzle. I already realized what I had to do, but the game didn’t let me do it and didn’t tell me why. First I should do something else for no reason.
    That’s just bad design!!

  31. John Walker says:

    “I don’t know. Why do I have to remember this?”

    Because I’ve had this argument before, and the usual first response is, “You obviously don’t care about adventure games. Go back to your FPSs, scumball.” I wasn’t addressing you directly, but rather the larger dissenting voice in the thread.

    I agree that being noded does not mean a game cannot be good. I meant, originally and now, that it tends to indicate that it won’t be.

    Re. this painting puzzle, I think there’s some confusion over which bit sucks. Painting the pic itself is fine, if rididulous (he paints a black and white painting?). It’s the idiocy before it, where you’re forced to project onto a screen you can’t use, even though anyone with a third of a brain knows to project onto the canvas.

  32. Zeewolf says:

    Fair enough.

    As for the painting puzzle, I guess I approached it a little different than you did. My first priority was to set up the projector, so it made sense to me that I had to do this first. I thought I was going to look at the projected image and paint from that, instead of painting directly on the projection.

    (I haven’t tried doing anything like this in real life, but I would have thought that unless the PC is the invisible man, the actual solution would be a bit impractical, as he’s standing between the projector and the canvas. but whatever. i agree it’s not a very good puzzle).