Hands On: Jenny LeClue – Detectivú

Last year saw the extremely pretty pitch for adventure Jenny LeClue [official site] perform rather well on Kickstarter. Aiming for $65k, they finished with a whopping $105,797. And they also broke new ground by setting a realistic release date! December of 2016. In fact, they’re looking likely to beat that by quite some months, maybe even close to a year. And in order to demonstrate how far they’ve come already, a short demo version of a portion of the game has been created, and will soon be released into the wild. I had an early peek at it last week, and am delighted to report it’s looking really rather good.

It’s immediately obvious how many artists there are making up the independent team behind Jenny LeClue. It’s ludicrously good looking, 2D hand-painted backgrounds, with absolutely gorgeous animated characters. What’s also revealed in this little snapshot of the game is that the writing could end up being pretty strong too.

The demo that will be put out isn’t going to be wholly representative of the final game. Lots of elements are missing, most notably the promised ability to inspect characters while talking to them, look for clues (such as bugs in their hair, I’m promised) that will influence the conversation as it takes place. But you can already see that this genuinely is an attempt to approach point and click adventures in a fresh way.

The main prong of this is an attempt to avoid the vocabulary of adventures. If you’re me, and there’s only a six percent chance that you are, then you were a child in the 80s, playing text adventures, then graduating onto graphic adventures in the late 80s and 90s. And as part of that generation of games players, you will have learned a secret language. A language where it makes sense to stick the chewing gum to the chicken feather and attach it to a ladder. As a native tongue, when faced with similar puzzles in modern adventures, it comes naturally. But people not of that era, and indeed people who were but didn’t play adventures, such thinking is the absolute gibberish it plainly is. And it’s fair to say that too many contemporary adventures are made by those who grew up with the genre, unable to realise that to most people, they’re barking nonsense. LeClue wants to avoid this entirely.

Instead the focus is to be on telling the story. In the demo build, interactive objects were permanently highlighted with little diamonds. A system that even in the 15 minutes it lasted (the final demo should be twice as long), it managed to get gags out of. The notion being, Jenny has extraordinary detective powers, and these diamonds represent her keen instincts for what to investigate. The game also plans to recognise when you’ve been staring at the same puzzle for too long, and start to introduce in-context clues, nudges, and eventually outright explaining what to do. (I assume, and hope, there will be the option to switch this off, for those of us who enjoy getting stuck.)

In the short section I played, Jenny is attempting to search a study without getting caught, stumbling around in the darkness, seeking light, and avoiding making too much noise. But all from a fairly traditional 2D point and click perspective. What it was really about, however, was demonstrating how the game intends to muck about with storytelling.

There are three main protagonists in LeClue: Jenny, the narrator, and you. The conflict between the first two becomes apparent, with Jenny able to contradict the story being told by the narrating voice. There’s a lovely moment where when trying to use a radio, the narrator points out that Jenny wouldn’t do that, as the noise would attract attention. Click again, and she defies the narrator, causing him umbrage. As the game goes along, apparently the power struggle between the two of them is explored, and potentially the role that you take in it will come into play.

Talking of clicking again, what most stood out to me was something I’ve been wishing adventures would consistently get right for years. In the study in which this segment took place, there was a deer skull on the wall. I “looked” at it, and got an excellent surprise zoom in on its face, eyes lighting up red, and an orchestral sting. A lovely, silly gag. And because I am mean and was trying to find fault, I looked at it again. And blimey, if it didn’t do a variant on the same joke, but with different angles, and a different piece of music. It worked, twice. A third look, and a new gag appeared explaining why she didn’t want to look at the scary thing a third time. Kudos. That’s exemplary. If the game is capable of consistently offering multiple takes on gags, and of blocking off viewing the same joke twice without losing necessary information for the player, then it could really shine.

With strong intentions to break the fourth wall, lots of mysteries for Jenny to solve in the order the player chooses, and the exploration of authorship through how it’s all presented, this is shaping up to look pretty darned interesting. You can make your own impression when the full demo build is released some point around the end of March/beginning of April.

7 Comments

  1. Jamesworkshop says:

    nd they also broke new ground by setting a realistic release date! December of 2016. In fact, they’re looking likely to beat that by quite some months, maybe even close to a year.

    Lt. Commander Jenny La clue: Look, Mr. Walker, I’d love to explain everything to you, but the Captain wants this detectographic analysis done by 1300 hours.
    [La clue goes back to work; Johny follows slowly]

    Johny: Do you mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.

    Lt. Commander Jenny La clue: Yeah, well, I told the Captain I’d have this analysis done in an hour.

    Johny: How long will it really take?

    Lt. Commander Jenny La clue: An hour!

    Johny: Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?

    Lt. Commander Jenny La clue: Well, of course I did.

    Johny: Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

  2. Lars Westergren says:

    We have a Kickstarter thread in the RPS forums for those interested.

    There are at least 4 point&click adventures doing campaigns worth taking a look at right now, plus at least 4 RPGs, including TSI with Seven Dragon Saga, which is basically SSI reborn. (the Gold Box RPGs – Pool of Radiance, Champions of Krynn, Buck Rogers, etc).

  3. KestrelPi says:

    I totally get what you mean by the secret language, but I still think it’s a little unfair on adventure games. I don’t know why adventure games as a genre aren’t allowed to get away with having a learning curve in the same way that everything else is.

    I can’t make head nor tail of MOBAs nor am I particularly inclined to. I can find my way around an RTS but I’m not exactly a subtle tactician. It took me a while to become a confident platform gamer and FPS … guy, I didn’t come into it armed with the skills needed to succeed easily.

    And I don’t really think it’s much different with adventure game puzzles. That’s not to say that there aren’t adventure game puzzles that are complete NONSENSE, of course there are, but on the other hand just like there are certain things you need to either learn about or become skillful in with any genre, so it is with adventure games.

    So there’s the big stuff, like ‘try to pick up everything you can’ and ‘talk to everyone’ but there are also more subtle things. Common sorts of puzzle logic which are picked up intuitively as you play adventure games, but might not be easily explained. Which seems to be just like learning a particular technique in a game and getting good at it, but not necessarily being able to explain in detail how to pull it off, because it’s part-intuitive.

    And that’s how even a game like Act 1 of Broken Age, which is very easy on the scale of adventure game difficulty, still occasionally stumps people who haven’t played many adventure games.

    It’s not for everyone, of course. I don’t expect everyone to enjoy picking up these skills, just like I’ve no interest in learning how MOBAs work, really, but I don’t see why ‘the secret language’ of adventure games is any less valid than the secret language of dozens of other, more popular genres.

    That all said, unlike many adventure purists, I’m perfectly content with a game that doesn’t want to do the traditional adventure puzzle thing and wants to focus on story or dialogue or other kinds of challenge. There’s room in here.

    • Haplo says:

      Fair points!

      I wonder if that’s what’s really meant by ‘secret language’ though. I mean, you’re right in that a lot of games have ‘ciphers’ that you learn and can be applied to other, similar games. A lot of things in 4X games seem intuitive to me, even if the game’s one I haven’t touched, but I’ve had friends totally baffled by that.

      But what I thought of first of all was less about the… Transferable mechanical skill? And more about things like understanding the ‘meta-convention’.

      For example, when it comes to crime or detective television shows, you’ll have those viewers who solve the crime by carefully considering all the clues in their head and then finding the logical path.

      Then you have the other viewer who fingers the culprit because they’re the special guest star of the week.

      Of course, where ‘adventure game logic’ falls is up for debate. What do you think?

      • KestrelPi says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

        To answer your question, I do think getting good at adventure games is something more akin to someone being ‘good at’ detective shows because they have, perhaps not even consciously, an awareness of the tropes and know on some level what they should be looking for and mental processes they automatically go through when they play through.

        Like, even structural stuff is something that many adventure games have in common, and that can give one a headstart. That three-trials sort of structure where you find out the handful of things that you have to do to move the plot along, which in turn allows you to break down the tasks in your head, and think clearer about what you’re actually trying to do.

        I watched a lot of play throughs of Broken Age where people completely missed that they were just given a task to complete, but it seemed obvious to me. Or conversely, people would know exactly what they need to do, and have all the pieces of information they need to do it right in front of them, but just not be able to connect the dots. And I don’t necessarily think that’s it’s bad signposting, or a bad puzzle… it’s just that they’re not quite used to the flow of adventure games and it takes longer for the penny to drop.

        Although, sometimes obviously it’s just a bad puzzle.

    • Rae says:

      True, a lot of the old adventure games had strange puzzles. I don’t miss them at all nowadays. I still love IF but just I hated having to rely on a guide for everything just to find out what happens at the end…