Why Broken Age Act 2’s Story Is An Awful Mess

It wasn’t possible for me to get into exactly why Broken Age Act 2’s [official site] story is quite such a betrayal of the first half’s potential in my review. It’s all major spoilers. So, with that in mind, the following article contains plot spoilers up to the very end of Act 2.

While Broken Age Act 2 is a let-down in many ways, not least the dreadful puzzles, for me the complete abandoning of what had seemed so special in the first half is what sucked the most. I’ve explored why.

Broken Age Act 1, as well as being a whimsical, slightly melancholy fantasty adventure world, was a game about adolescence. The two main characters, Shay and Vella, were each in allegorical situations that represented perspectives of teenage life.

Vella’s story took the classical tale of maidens being sacrificed to save a town from a monster, but presented it from the perspective of a potential maiden who wasn’t going to accept her fate. Her family, with the exception of her grandfather, had tentatively bought into the delusion that letting their daughter be sacrificed was a great honour to her and them – something, which when viewed from the daughter’s perspective, is monstrous. Utterly horrific. Her life deemed disposable for the sake of their own.

Vella’s rebellion against that could have been so meaningful. In Act 1, quite a parochial approach to such a large issue is taken, with Vella escaping to explore very small new parts of her world, and attempting to free a few others from the delusion. But it suggests something so much larger for the second part – how will she handle her family once she has the revelation that the sacrifices are in vain, and are made to a mechanical ship from their own world? How will the town she lives in react to the news, the guilt and horror of the truth? How will Vella identify herself now she is no longer “chosen” for this ignominious role, and has a new freedom to be the woman she chooses to be?

Shay’s metaphorical existence is perhaps more overt. Living on an apparent spaceship, monitored by a daytime and night-time robot, Mom and Dad respectively, and entertained by the requirement to complete a series of childish tasks. The whole ship looks as though it were designed by Fisher-Price, classic children’s toys implemented as computer controls, Shay’s entire existence essentially a nursery school. But Shay is no longer a child, and this puerile existence has become a patronising prison. The Mom computer is entirely unsympathetic to his frustration and stupefaction, determined that he stay the same little Shay he always was. The Dad computer seems to understand the issue, but is too impotent to do anything about it.

God, this is such a brilliant set-up. Yes, it’s a heavy-handed simulacrum, but it neatly captures such a common feeling of teenage years. Shay doesn’t simply sit in his room and refuse to do his childish challenges. Part of him is comforted by them. It’s safe, familiar (literally), and unchallenging. But it’s also clearly not enough, and his sense of being held back and infantilised reaches its peak when we start playing as him. We help him to subvert the childish missions, to find his way to secret, non-child-friendly parts of the ship, and then he’s eventually influenced by an unknown figure to rebel against his parents in a way that’s ultimately deceptive. There’s so much going on here, and it is just bursting with potential.

Which makes Act 2’s utter abandoning of every element of it so peculiar and devastating. Within moments, it’s revealed that Dad is in fact not a computer, but actually his dad. And while it holds off for a while on showing you the same is true of Mom, it makes it very clear that their representation as only existing as computers was Shay’s doing. He had reduced them to these roles by only engaging with them via their ability to reach him through communication devices.

And with this, Broken Age stops becoming a game that attempts to explore and understand the realities of adolescence, and becomes a patronising adult perspective that minimalises teenagers to spoilt brats. Shay, as presented in the first half, has good reasons to be annoyed with his parents. His mother is infantilising him, and his father is too enervated to intervene. The fact that they’re both literally doing this, rather than the seeming metaphorical computerised situation, is such a shame, but it’s far worse that we’re now asked to believe that Shay was so cruelly refusing to acknowledge their reality.

It’s a shame that Shay was doing it. It’s utterly bewildering that other characters were too. The game’s story really rather relies on there actually being computers to make any sense. In fact, with any level of scrutiny, the whole concept makes no sense at all.

Shay’s ship, as far as Shay knows, is on a multi-year mission to rescue some sort of space creatures. Built for him as a child, he’s lived on board for his entire life, as is evidenced by the treasure room containing all his childhood memorabilia. Which means his parents have also been on board for many, many years, and also believe they’re on an important rescue mission.

What’s revealed in Act 2 is that they are in fact flying a ship disguised to look like a monster, that captures girls from a town the other side of the “plague barrier” (a concept poorly explained and never explored). A journey that, when done in the other direction, takes a matter of minutes. So we’re asked to believe that the best solution these baddies thought of for raising a boy in the right conditions is to have them fly in circles for fourteen years.

The logic for needing to send teenage boys is some sort of nudge-nudge-fnarr reference to the fact that they have an intrinsic ability to know which girls to select for capture (for what turns out to be something to do with the dilapidated gene pool of a collection of peoples never even alluded to in the first game, and introduced in a clumsy heap in the second). Quite what this is actually supposed to mean, and why the need for such elaborate subterfuge, and on and on is never touched upon. Instead it might as well just be fart sounds, as you’re demanded to still give a damn about any of it.

Meanwhile, Vella’s tale goes in the absolutely-no-direction it always had. She escapes capture, and then… gets captured anyway. On the ship she reveals the stuff we didn’t yet know about Shay’s childhood, without actually knowing she’s doing that, and then spends most of the time rewiring robots and moving them about in clunky, dreary puzzles. There’s no further exploration of her character, or her situation, whatsoever. When she’s finally reunited with her family – the family seeking to see her dead – it’s jubilant, rather than at least sodding awkward.

There’s just nothing else to say about Vella. She was only ever the spirit of rebellion, rather than a rounded individual, and once that’s out of the way she fizzles into nothing. This is most tellingly demonstrated in the completely false relationship she has with Shay’s mother. The conversation options with her are like two people’s small talk at an office meeting, not a terrified teenage girl discovering someone responsible for the deaths of generations of her peers. And as much as she discovers about Shay, she never asks anything significant about him. When she finds other kidnapped girls aboard the ship, there’s not even the option to tell Shay’s mother about it, so utterly disconnected are the events from the characters.

So neither character follows the potential set up in the first act, nor in fact goes anywhere at all. Vella just dawdles about on the ship until she can get off it again. Shay runs about the same places Vella was in last time, completing convoluted and wholly irrelevant puzzles, while not having a thought nor opinion about anything. His entire life being spent in a toddler’s playpen has seemingly had no impact whatsoever on his psyche, how he communicates with people, nor his interpretation of the world. It’s so woeful as to be beyond belief.

And by the very end, we’re expected to believe that they might give a damn about each other. Remember that in the first half of the game, the only connection the two have is to have sat in a similar position in a montage shot. Neither knows the other even exists – it’s crucial to the plot that this be the case. Shay believes Vella is a space creature on a videogame screen, and Vella believes Shay is a giant killer monster intent on destroying her land. In a split second they see each other, then swap places, and so Act 2 begins. And from this we’re expected to believe they have, albeit very minor, an ambition to rescue the other.

Despite the potential for them to communicate, now knowing the reality of their situations, none occurs. In fact, all sense of a connection between the two of them exists purely in frame-breaking nonsensical puzzles which rely on you – the player – having omnipresent knowledge the characters couldn’t possibly obtain. To solve key puzzles in the latter half of the game, you need to gather information from one side and apply it to the other. For example for Shay to rewire a robot correctly (oh gawd there’s so much bloody robot rewiring), you need a diagram obtained from a picture only Vella can see. By the game’s final abysmal mess of a puzzle, you have to coordinate the two characters’ actions in an order that can only be stumbled upon through miserable trial and error and yet more robot rewiring, repeated over and over and over, until you’ve discovered the arbitrary order of things the designers randomly intended. It – and so much else in the game – is only plausible if you, the player, exist in the world.

At one point I optimistically believed this was going to be the case. That the game was going to introduce the player as a character, give meaning to all this haphazard fourth-wall-destroying peculiarity. But no, it turns out this was wishful thinking, and it was in fact just really bad writing.

So when Vella and Shay meet at the end, it’s not a moving moment as you might have expected from the game’s implication that there was to be a connection between them. It’s just two strangers, and indeed enemies, saying hi, and then the credits roll. Although, perhaps that’s fine. They are, after all, strangers. Thank God they didn’t actually fall in love on meeting or similar. But what’s not fine – or at least, what’s not interesting or entertaining – is the complete abandoning of anything their stories were apparently about, replaced with absolutely nothing at all.

Because Shay’s arrested development is entirely abandoned, and because Vella is apparently just fine with having been essentially bred to be murdered, the game just isn’t about anything any more. This “broken age”, a time every single human being on Earth has experienced at least some version of, is miserably unexplored by gaming, and looked as though it might be given a touching, smart look at here. But it was in fact just a set-up for a really fucking stupid plot about genetically altered alien-looking people wanting some DNA.

Broken Age Act 2 is a poor game because of its terrible puzzles in repeated locations with little purpose. But the disappointment I felt playing it is so much more extreme because of its betrayal of everything it implied it would be about. Broken Age is, it turns out, not a game about the complexities of being a teenager, of the transition from childhood to adulthood, but in fact some dumb thing about funny looking birds and evil space aliens. And it’s this that most surprised and let me down.

146 Comments

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    basilisk says:

    Just one point, which you already touched upon in the review – “And from this we’re expected to believe they have an ambition to rescue the other.” This is not the case at all. At no point are they rescuing each other. Their character motivation is rescuing themselves and/or their families. They indeed don’t particularly care about one another, and the game never implies that they do.

    That aside, I still think that this is slamming the game for not being what you imagined it would be. Which is not quite kosher.

    I personally also found the sudden shift in storytelling rather jarring, but the idea is, I think, that everyone in this game has been lied to, and Shay and Vella doubly so. Which explains why Vella isn’t angry at her parents, for example. It’s indeed not a game about adolescence, but who says it has to be? Why is that a bad thing in and of itself?

    (I do agree that Shay’s parents being living people is something that’s very hard to accept even within the constraints of the game world, though. If there’s one really glaring weakness in the story, it’s clearly this.)

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      John Walker says:

      I think it’s fair to say that I’m slamming the game for being terrible at being what it set out to be about. It’s a game about two teenagers, one in an arrested development, the other in a broad allegory for being expected to meet her parents’ expectations of her, both living in antagonistic situations with their parents, and it’s CALLED “Broken Age”! I think it would be at the very least disingenuous of you, or anyone who played the first half, to claim to have assumed this was a game about evil genetically mutated creatures harvesting DNA, and not about teenagers and teenage struggles.

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        basilisk says:

        I’m not claiming anything like that. In fact, I admitted right there that it took me by surprise. As it will inevitably take everyone.

        But isn’t a work allowed to do that? (Successfully or not.) I think there’s a fine line between “it abruptly changes direction halfway through, and I think this hurts the overall experience” and “I expected to see more of this, but I didn’t get that, and I’m angry about it”, if you see what I mean. The former is criticism, the latter is just a reaction. Which you are perfectly entitled to, obviously. But “what it set out to be about” is something the designer decides, not the audience.

        (Thinking about Broken Age, I remembered the other retro adventure game that I backed, and I still feel that on the disappointment scale, this is not even one micro-Moebius. So the strong response genuinely surprised me.)

        • Lachlan1 says:

          John is always right, everything else is just an opinion and the nice guy image means you can’t disagree with that

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            John Walker says:

            This nice guy says: oh fuck off.

          • ribby says:

            Sheesh… People are really having a go at you for this opinion. Kinda makes me want to apologise for their antics…

            Come on RPS community. Don’t be dicks.

        • PancakeWizard says:

          “But isn’t a work allowed to do that?”

          Allowed yes, but John’s right it’s bad story-telling. So what you should be asking is ‘should a work do that?’ and the answer is ‘no’, not unless you’re an infant.

          “turns out, it was all a dream…”

          • Sui42 says:

            “But isn’t a work allowed to do that?”

            To quote from Robert Mckee’s Story (an excellent guide to storytelling):

            “The audience knows intuitively when something is missing. A lifetime of story ritual has taught the audience to anticipate that the forces of antagonism provoked at the inciting incident will build to the limit of human experience, and that the telling cannot end until the protagonist is in some sense face to face with these forces at their most powerful.”

            TLDR; John is absolutely right that the story fails because it doesn’t tackle the issues it introduced in act 1. If a story is about adolescence, it needs to tie up this theme with a nice pretty bow, or people will consider it a shitty story.

            Any published author, any successful playwright, any screenwriter with a film under their belt KNOWS this. They would not have got their work published if not.

            The trouble with game stories is that they are often written by coders / designers, and there is nobody in the development team to tell the writer: “no, this is bad storytelling”.

            revered as Tim Schafer is, he is probably not as good a writer as, like, actual writers.

      • Philomelle says:

        “I think it would be at the very least disingenuous of you, or anyone who played the first half, to claim to have assumed this was a game about evil genetically mutated creatures harvesting DNA, and not about teenagers and teenage struggles.”

        I kind of guessed that a certain degree of an evil human harvesting operation was involved as soon as I linked the creature-rescuing crane game introduced to him by the Wolf and the events in Vella’s story. In fact, that was exactly what people theorised was going on after playing Act I all those months ago. :x

        Also, the arc words of Shay’s story arc are “It’s time to put away childish things,” which is a paraphrase of C.S.Lewis’s “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up”. I’m not sure why you’re surprised by him having selfishly ignored important people right next to him when the key motiph of his story is that it’s very easy to overlook things and people that are actually important when you focus too much on the act of growing up.

        • skyorrichegg says:

          Technically CS Lewis’s quote is referencing Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”

      • ThunderPeel2001 says:

        Your interpretation of the story and the characters is warped. Vella does not have an antagonistic relationship with her parents. The mood during her half of Act 1 is felt throughout the entire family, including Vella, and even voiced by her grandparent. It’s a stupid, horrible waste, but despite their misgivings, everyone goes along with it — because that’s what society says they should do. THAT’S what’s so heartbreaking about Act 1, and why Vella’s story is infinitely more interesting than Shay’s. (Remember: This sort of thing actually happened in real life — and society looked at it as an honour in the past, too. Their child was going to save their entire town from wrathful gods.) There were no arguments between Vella and her parents, where the parents are pushing her into something, and Vella rebelling. It was the pressure of society that weighed on them all, and you have imagined something that simply wasn’t there.

        Also: The game’s title refers to this horrible time in society as being “broken” — they’re living in a BROKEN AGE. It was nothing to do with the age of the characters(!). It wouldn’t even make sense if it did — if anything, their age is what will save the others, it’s not “broken” at all.

        If there’s a crime in the story (aside from Shay’s parent’s actions, as basilisk noted) it’s that the other side of Plague Dam wasn’t explored in more detail. It would have been great to explore the reluctance of those involved in more detail — creating the same moral complexity as Vella’s story — but instead they Shay’s parents were simply duped, so there was little moral grey area there.

        Another reason your argument is clearly based on emotion rather than sound logic is this: You claim the story is a horrible mess simply because it led you down one path, and then veered off down another. It didn’t actually do that, but since you claim it’s such a crime, the best example of a game doing this, and on a much wider scale that was completely disingenuous and harmful to the overall experience and story, was GONE HOME. Which, oddly enough, you loved: link to rockpapershotgun.com

        The bottom line is that you interpreted the story one way — actually misinterpreted — and are now refusing to acknowledge that there was an entirely different reading of events and story from the beginning.

        Of course, I don’t expect you to acknowledge your mistake. Game reviewers are a very stubborn bunch, but I challenge you to play Act 1 again with what I’ve just said in mind. That reading of the events was always there from the beginning. If you play it again, I bet you’ll see it.

    • Tori says:

      Yeah John, the characters never really cared about each other – Shay wants to save his mom, and Vella first wants to kill the monster from the inside, and later on decides to destroy the whole factory instead.

      They do learn more about each other during the game, and perhaps want to help the other one get back to their families.

      Since we’re talking about plot holes – why did the wall stop shooting after the final meltdown? I’m also not sure how creating a bridge would be the beginning of the fall of a super-advanced civilization.

      With all that said, I liked the game! Two puzzles were to hard to me to figure out on my own, and I think they’re pretty stupid, but I guess I’ll take that over too simple puzzles from Act I.

      If anyone has played Act I, and wonders if he should try Act II, I say do it – check for yourself how you feel about it. I think it was worth my time and money.

  2. Runty McTall says:

    I’ve only played about 30 minutes of Act One (probably spoiled the game pretty badly for myself by reading this, therefore :) ) but when I got to this bit of the article

    Within moments, it’s revealed that Dad is in fact not a computer, but actually his dad. And while it holds off for a while on showing you the same is true of Mom, it makes it very clear that their representation as only existing as computers was Shay’s doing. He had reduced them to these roles by only engaging with them via their ability to reach him through communication devices.

    I was pretty disappointed. That sounds… really stupid?

    Was down hill from there apparently. Guess I can at least catch up on the (very good) Two Player Productions documentaries that I’ve been holding off for fear of spoilers now. Maybe that will explain some of the above.

  3. melnificent says:

    So the entire thing boils down to two types of child abuse.
    Shays parents by neglecting him by taking him into space and indulging his fantasies that they don’t exist except as computers. Taking him to kidnap a girl from somewhere else with no human interaction until that point.

    Vellas by being conceived and raised with the sole purpose of killing her. With the psychological and emotional damage they will inflict upon her growing up to make her accept that is what her life is for.

    • Philomelle says:

      It really is about a broken age when you put it that way, no? Not about “broken age” as in teenage years, but about the disconnect – the “break-up” – between childhood and adulthood, as well as between children and their parents, what they want and expect from each other.

      I’m not really surprised Schafer stuck to that angle, given that it’s the core theme of Psychonauts and he’s been clamoring to make a sequel to that for years.

  4. Paroxysm says:

    I think this might be the straw that broke the clickbait camel’s back. Can’t we section off this kind of hyperbolic, sensationalist trash from the main page and feed?

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      John Walker says:

      You don’t appear to know what any words mean.

      You should probably stop using them.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Yeah, this is a very odd article to draw the ire of the hate-brigade. Perhaps they don’t enjoy even the suggestion that someone can not like things.

        Conversely, while I quite often don’t share your tastes, John, I enjoyed reading this – I haven’t played Broken Age and have little desire to, but I’m always curious why people think a story or part of a story is good or bad, whether or not I agree. I can’t completely say if I’d judge your reasoning to be sound – and some little things here grate just a tad – but it seemed pretty well-argued, it reassured me I did myself a favour not buying into the game and I’d love to see more articles in the same vein.

        • Runty McTall says:

          Seconded – it seems pretty well reasoned to me. In the review John mentioned that he thought that the story was poorly but couldn’t expound on that for reasons of space and spoilage.

          People queried it so here’s an article, with spoiler alert at the top, laying out the reasons. Seems pretty legit to me. You can have a different opinion to his but not sure why people are angry about it. Didn’t strike me as hyperbolic in the least.

          Specifically, as I mentioned in another comment, having his parents be real people rather than computers makes just zero sense based on my (admittedly limited) time in the game.

          Seems like quite a shame really – not like they haven’t had time to work on fleshing out the story and the internal logic – I remember bits in the documentary from way back where the producer was asking Tim about elements of the cross-over between the two story arcs. Also seem to remember Chris Remo saying that the two headed structure was perhaps being too tricksy for its own good. Seems he was right.

      • metric day says:

        I can see what he means. It is pretty hyperbolic!

      • Paroxysm says:

        You can’t really deny the hyperbolic framing of this article. Awful? Most of your complaints boil down to that you thought the story would be about something that it wasn’t instead of discussing what the story actually was. It doesn’t come of as a thoughtful critical look at the game rather just an article trying to get clicks from the how Broken Age controversy.

        Admittedly I’m not delving into the details here to avoid wall of text conversations and I’m sure you’d rather not waste your time when you obviously don’t agree with me but I do wish you’d think a little more about what you present as discussion in what I’ve generally considered a pretty thoughtful website.

        Just so this isn’t totally without focus one thing you discuss and presented as terrible, nonsensical, awful, etc was the fact some puzzles are only solved by the player being able to see into the other half of the game whilst the characters themselves have no knowledge of this. This also led you on the think of the possibility that the player could be a character themselves in some kind of clever meta twist (which isn’t a bad idea and I loved it in games like Contact). But why do you think the player being present in the world is necessary? The player moves the story along but why does that mean it must be because the characters themselves are clever. For instance when Vella charts the course the attached achievement is named “Go With Your Instincts”. The puzzle was for us, in the game world it’s presented as luck on the character’s part.

        I really like the game. I thought the puzzle design was fantastic but I did grow up as an adventure game fanboy. I think all Broken Age and the re-release of Grim this year have done have shown that most people actually don’t like that style of game play. Story wise there is still plenty to criticize. The third act is way too condensed and “the plan” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but I think the story previous to that has so many interesting points just dismissing it as “awful” does a disservice to any discussion.

        • S Jay says:

          Did you like the robot rewiring and the final reseting puzzle? Wow.

      • Dachannien says:

        I clicked on this link expecting to see a well-thought-out review that actually understood the real motivations of the characters and didn’t miss some of the basic clues as to how the use of supposedly omniscience-obtained information was actually credible. But then the review abandoned all of what I was hoping to see, and instead treated me to a mess of emotional response based more on disappointment with the reviewer’s own expectations rather than an analysis of the story that was there, and then followed that up with reactionary and defensive comments because other people didn’t like what he was saying.

        The author missed two things besides that: one, his disappointment was akin to the disappointment that some people had with Matrix: Revolutions, inasmuch as it abandoned all of the high philosophy presented in Reloaded and ended up just being an SFX fest. And two, SHAY WAS THERE WHEN THE FUCKING PHOTO WITH THE FUCKING ROBOT WIRING CODE WAS TAKEN IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE.

  5. ChiefOfBeef says:

    It’s Double Fine; you get what you pay for.

    Oh wait…

    • JarinArenos says:

      Schafer and Double Fine have been on my “Molyneux List” for a while now. (i.e. “be extremely skeptical and wait for long after release before even considering buying anything”)

  6. ribby says:

    Wow… John you totally killed any enthusiasm I had for this game…

    Act 2 seems like such a shame!

    • HerschelTheGod says:

      Pirate it and buy a copy if you liked the game.

      John seems to have a huge, spiky hardon for this game.

  7. blind_boy_grunt says:

    i liked the first act and i will still have to see for myself, but the conclusion sounds like “meh, kids will grow out of it”, which is not the most insipiring story ever told.

  8. Premium User Badge

    John Walker says:

    Gosh, why are people reading this before when they intend to play Act 2?!

    I put the warning in bold and everything! Goodness me.

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      Because i don’t care about spoilers? Also i was kind of lukewarm on playing it, now i actually want to see how mich i disagree with your frothing.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        You people are hilarious sometimes, really. “Frothing”? God help you if any of RPS actually publish something that would actually qualify as frothing invective or whatever. Your heads would probably explode.

        I’m being partly serious, here: I honestly wonder if it’s a side-effect of the internet that kids these days think any negativity at all now counts as frothing rage, because I mean oh goodness why would you ever say something so mean? I enjoyed (Game X), that’s all that matters, so why on earth would you want to tell me that it’s not any good? What’s your hidden agenda?

        Or maybe they just do it for the lulz, I dunno. I r not a sociologist.

        • JarinArenos says:

          I mean yeah, the review was negative as hell, but… Frothing? I’m an avid follower of Jim F***ing Sterling; this article was downright civil.

        • D70CW6 says:

          MOCK INTERNET RAGE IS A THING! BWAHAGWEHAGWEAB!

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          X_kot says:

          Men are so melodramatic, it’s funny (and sometimes scary).

          • Distec says:

            I’m sure that comment was a big hit on some XX Chromosome subreddit, or similar.

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            X_kot says:

            And defensive to boot!

          • Distec says:

            Do we… Do we want to play the game where we both reply to each other and act like we don’t give any fucks? My body is ready.

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            X_kot says:

            Whatevs bro. I’m commenting on how emotional men get about minutiae. U do u.

            (fyi i am a spy guy)

          • Distec says:

            It’s like women getting hysterical, yeh?

        • blind_boy_grunt says:

          probably should have put a smiley at the end. I assumed the possibility that i could agree with his opinion means i can’t mean frothing literally (well, figuratively literally), maybe frothing is a harsher word than i thought. I didn’t like parts of the article because it was too much about how the game should have been (in his opinion), but that’s about the worst criticism i can offer.

    • RobF says:

      I’ll have forgotten what you said by next week when I go to play it so look forward to coming back and comparing notes.

  9. Xocrates says:

    Ok, why is this article a thing?

    I’m not questioning your right to post it, I’m not questioning your opinion (even if I largely disagree with it), I’m trying to understand what was so important here that it needed a separate post from the review.

    The review has published 2 days ago, and with the exception of the spoilers this adds nothing to it. There has not been any controversy surrounding the game’s story, even if it’s quality is not quite consensual. The game has not been such a major hit, or had such marketing presence, that addressing it feels relevant or important in the larger context of videogames.

    Are we supposed to take this as good journalism when the only real reasons it seems to exist is “Because I can”?

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      Harlander says:

      Wouldn’t this be comment, or possibly editorial, rather than journalism?

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      basilisk says:

      Why shouldn’t it exist? Someone felt like writing it, and wrote it, and published it. What’s wrong with creating stuff simply because you can? Does any piece of writing have to have a reason to exist? Does this comment? Does yours?

      • Xocrates says:

        I’m not questioning it’s right to exist, I’m noting it’s too soon for it to come across as relevant.

        Like I said, the review was just published, and this adds nothing to it. Were it to come out in, say, a week or two – after people had time to play it and for people’s thoughts to settle down and coalesce, then sure.

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          John Walker says:

          How odd. The game’s about 4 hours long, and it’s two days later. I’m not at all sure how time adds relevance!

          • Xocrates says:

            Times adds relevance in the sense that it actually gives people time to play it and come to their own conclusions, so that an opinion piece like this actually offers an alternative as opposed to being the only one.

            Also, your job is to play games, my isn’t. The only reason I’ve finished the game is because I had early access to it, and quite frankly I’m still processing what’s I’ve played.

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      John Walker says:

      First of all, this is an article explaining why I was disappointed with the story in a game. I’d never use the word “journalism” to describe that, beyond the broadest sense that “Top 50 ways to enjoy a sandwich” is journalism. It’s an article about a game, on a website about games.

      Secondly, I’ve written this because I wanted to expand on something I couldn’t write about in the review. It’s odd that you claim a detailed explanation of why I think the story is poor doesn’t “add anything”, since it clearly adds a great deal of explanation for what had to be a throwaway line in the other piece. It’s my job, as a critic, to critique things – that’s what happened here.

      Since the game has been receiving wildly uncritical reviews that only say, “The story is great!” without explaining what is great about it, it also seems pretty relevant to put this article out there for discussion.

      No, Broken Age isn’t the biggest game of the year, but it’s a significant high-profile cultural event in PC gaming, from a world-renowned developer, that has always been a popular topic with our readers. And since it’s an adventure game, and therefore its core is its story, this felt like the most sensible way to “review” this element of it without spoiling the game for people who want to play it.

      I hope that addresses your question.

      • Xocrates says:

        Honestly, I think the red bold “Feature” text at the top made me think this was more than the review addendum it probably is.

        • pepperfez says:

          I think a feature is just anything that isn’t news or a review.

      • Jayblanc says:

        Am I correct in my reading of this, that you are deciding this is a bad game because a) the story does not go in the direction you wanted it to go, b) the puzzles required knowledge the player has but the characters don’t have, c) the final puzzle required trial and error to work out the right sequence of events.

        To my tastes the story hung together well enough for me to enjoy the game, it was the same kind of tilted-logic that Schafer always has. I particularly enjoyed the individual character resolutions in the credits that tied into things you could very well have missed. Not sure if you saw those? Again, I have concerns you speed-ran the game. For me, had Schafer chosen to tell the story you wanted, that would have been the obvious cop-out story-line. It’s one that’s *exceptionally* well tread, and I can’t imagine why you think it would be fresh and original. And the complaint that not everything is explored or explained is just annoying. There doesn’t need to be, or should be, a hand holding explanation for everything in a story. That’s an important thing that writers have to learn pretty early on.

        The puzzles were no more frustrating than those of DOTT or Monkey Island. I actually thought the cross-over solution part to be clever non-linear gating, and could suspend disbelief over the meta-aspects of it. I never, at any point, felt that the puzzles were any more ‘arbitrary’ than any of the ‘classic’ Lucas Arts adventure games, and certainly no puzzle reached the heights of JoJo the Monkey Wrench.

        Yet apparently this was so bad a game you have to write a feature justifying your review? I think for some reason this game has inspired a passionate hatred in you that exceeds simple differing-tastes. I’m reminded of Charlie Brooker’s review of The Avengers.

    • Runty McTall says:

      Have you considered that maybe John wrote in his review that he didn’t care for the evolution of the story in Act 2, people asked him why he didn’t like it and and this piece is here to explain that?

    • JarinArenos says:

      I’m still trying to figure out what “consensual quality” could possibly be.

      • Xocrates says:

        Consensual merely means agreement between all parts, therefore consensual quality means agreement on the quality of something.

        Or in simpler words, what I meant was: “Not everyone agrees on how good it was”.

        • bonuswavepilot says:

          Yeah… I can see why JarinArenos was confused there – consensual means that is is “relating to or involving consent”, sure, but “consensual quality” would imply that the quality is a result of agreement. I think “consensual opinion” of the quality is probably closer to the mark…

  10. Michael Fogg says:

    I think answer to the question from this article’s title is: because it was so rushed. With such a complex and high minded plot it’s often necessary to allow it to germinate for maybe years. In the documentary we saw how Schafer was basically forced to lock himself in his office and race against the clock of fading Kickstarter budget to deliver the writing. All the while being distracted with his Team Lead and company CEO role. No wonder the final product ended up so disjointed. This was compounded by the perfectionism and drive for Disney-tier production values.

  11. omf says:

    Well, this explains why your review of Act 2 was so bad, John. I actually agree with everything you say here, and still think your actual review was badly put together and included poor justifications. But, yes, your words here are accurate.

    (And I can’t believe people are reading this while only being part way through Act 1! If nothing else you could’ve enjoyed Act 1 and the potential it presented for Act 2!)

  12. D70CW6 says:

    thanks for the spoilers you femnazi shitlord

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      If only there had been two warnings, one in bold, at the top of the article!

      • D70CW6 says:

        oh yeah? OH YEAH?!

        oh
        yeah.

        well. your face should have spoilers.

        P.S. loved you in PC Gamer!

      • Craig Stern says:

        What? And read words? Not on my RPS!

      • Widthwood says:

        Oh wow. So someones post calling you childish for the amount of your comments gets removed (and indeed, this is the reddest comments section I have ever saw on RPS), but “femnazi shitlord” is cool?…

        • D70CW6 says:

          it was used in the post-modern sense.

        • Machinations says:

          I agree; but he must be one of the ‘in crowd’ and its all nudge nudge wink wink amirite?

        • silentdan says:

          I didn’t see that comment, but I would just like to say, there is ***nothing*** childish about participating in the discussion of the article you’ve written. This isn’t a newspaper column, and I love that you guys don’t pretend it is. Hearing from your readers in near-real-time, and engaging with them, is one of the great things about the internet. RPS writers are really good about that, and I sincerely hope it you keep it up. It shows that you care, which in my view, makes you One of Us, and not just some cynical clock-puncher with a quota and a deadline.

          • Widthwood says:

            This isn’t about discussions, it’s about arguing with EVERY SINGLE person who doesn’t agree with you in any way – it does sort of looks childish. Thankfully you don’t see this in pretty much every other RPS article.

            As a sidenote.
            I’m all for discussions and engagement, but as was mentioned previously, timing of this article is really weird since most people didn’t even had the chance to start playing Act 2, let alone finish it, he published it on the next morning after public release. He could’ve at least waited until after weekend, 4-8 hours is not that much playtime, but very few people can just spend entire workday evening playing games on a whim.

            And indeed right now ‘discussions’ look more like “do I believe John or not”, there’s hardly anything substantial being said about Act 2.

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            John Walker says:

            Um, I’ve been rude back to people who were rude, and politely answered questions or responded to statements from those who were polite.

          • Widthwood says:

            I agree and never said otherwise.

            Just wish that lots of comments from author, 100% of those being confrontational, don’t become new norm around here. There are now lots of thoughtful posts agreeing with your points, yet you still ignore them and engage only in (semi) negative tone.

  13. magistern says:

    Thanks for the article I enjoy this type of content and I wonder why a lot of websites didn’t call this game out for what it is

    • Machinations says:

      Because at its heart, most games ‘journalism’ is really just marketing and promotion, or at least thats how it is perceived by the industry. Even in the old days of beloved EGM, it was always about promotion, and it remains thus. Not to impunge anyone’s intentions, but its a fact; its industry journalism.

      I am more disturbed by how many ‘gaming’ sites will take editorial stances entirely against the views of the majority of the consumer base and in-line with the major publishers and walled garden owners, like Valve. I mean – the stance on paid mods was beyond limp, it was completely devoid of anything meaningful to say.

      I get sites are afraid to bite the hand that feeds them, but it needs to be done. People want honestly.

      • Machinations says:

        honestly, they want honesty.

        I think.

      • Frank says:

        Yo, I think you mean to call it the “games press”. Not everything written by a professional games writer is journalism. Are you under the impression that reviews and previews pretend to the title of journalism, for example?

        I believe that almost everyone who calls the games press writ large “games journalism” is a gamergater. Take that for what you will.

    • briktal says:

      It doesn’t feel like a lot of people care about part 2.

  14. Doomsayer says:

    I’m gonna give a guess and say that the writers prioritized the overarching story of the setting over the two main characters… even though those characters were the focus of the game itself.

    • Silvarin says:

      Not true at all. It’s the characters that save this game. The story is meh and doesnt make a lot of sense, but i liked Vella a lot and Shay did grow on me. Also, the voiceacting is really wonderful.

      There’s a lot of charm to be found in Broken Age, i smiled often during my playthrough, but don’t expect an overarching and meaningful plot, because, well it’s not there. If that’s what you want, don’t play it.

  15. Machinations says:

    Thank god, the sheen is finally coming off these ‘chosen one’ developers.

    Double Fine’s work deserves to be judged on it’s merits, or lack thereof. Of late, there has been an almost ridiculous level of pandering to the anointed houses of indie development.

    There are a lot of indies out there struggling and whom deliver at a far higher level than DoubleFine, who is frankly looking exactly like Molyneaux.

    Maybe pay some more attention to those, and stop boosting these has-beens who are trading on past successes, and a rapt, uninformed audience.

    Good review by the way, I would avoid anything by DF, honestly.

  16. xfstef says:

    Good article John !

    The second part of this game sounds lazy as fuck, from all points of view.
    It’s crazy how much hate you get for telling the truth. I guess people who kickstarted Broken Age don’t want to feel like idiots for believing in it and giving up the money, so they just blindly defend it no matter how bad it turned out to be.

    I personally never really liked the first part, except for the story, but let’s all be (brutally) hones here: You don’t buy games just for their stories.

  17. silentdan says:

    This kind of confirms what I’d feared. Act 2’s release window kept getting pushed back, and then it was (I think) late last year that we learned Tim had finished the *writing* for Act 2. I was astonished that it had taken so long. I kind of assumed that had all been done already, and they were smoothing out puzzles or trying to schedule voice actors or something. I could write the script to a four-hour game in a couple of months, tops. Now, a year and a half after the release of Act 1 (I’m starting to feel really silly about yelling at Telltale for the 4-month gap between Wolf Among Us chapters 1 and 2) we get … disappointment. Sigh.

    Thanks for the review, John. I think I’d have gone half mad trying to actually play that, and now I get closure on the storyline without having to wade into the muck.

    It turns out, I own, but have barely played, about 1/3 of the titles on your 50 Best Strategy Games list. Gonna spend my precious gaming hours chasing down some overlooked treasures instead. :)

    • TheManko says:

      I’ve watched the whole Double Fine Adventure documentary, and looking “between the lines” it’s clear Tim has taken on too much responsibility to write effectively. He locks himself in his office with “do not disturb” notes when writing, and every time he goes outside he’s bombarded with questions about every little thing. In the last documentary episode just before the launch it was clear they were barely finishing animations and stuff to the release, with no time to tweak the puzzle designs based on tester feedback. They’re working in a comfortable creative environment, but one that seems horribly inefficient.

  18. kincajou says:

    The story seems to be suffering from quite a… fracture?

  19. caff says:

    I must admit I enjoyed part 1 and was looking forward to part 2. I must also admit I’ve only seen the two headlines of the “Wot I think of Part 2” and this story “Why the story is a mess”. I have deliberately avoided both articles, given I’ve been looking forward to part 2, but curiosity is my curse and the headlines speak volumes. I’ve just clicked “comments” on this article to jump down, naively hoping for some reassurance that the game isn’t shit.

    I’m afraid that’s the way it is with articles sometimes. You try and warn people away, but blunder in hoping for action. I’m not really hoping for action – I just want to hear something good about this game, which I’d pinned my hopes on.

  20. Vincere says:

    Okay, so I’ve read both this post and your review. I have to say, John, I feel like you’re overreacting. Or, more accurately, I think you finished the game and quickly hopped into writing the review without taking the time to digest your disappointment and look at the game objectively. Now, I don’t think Act 2 was very good, don’t get me wrong. Plenty of the puzzles were totally infuriating – but there were clues and hints around the game, which is better than many point-and-clicks that I’ve had to suffer through. But to label the game an “awful mess” really just makes this whole thing feel like a childish tantrum about how the toy that looked so good in the commercials is really just a plastic toy.

    The mechanics are nowhere near “awful”, they are workable, but not polished. And the unpolished feel is totally permissible in this case because you are never overly reliant on the mechanics to work in a pinch. There are no reflex games, so the failures of the UI are workable, if unpleasant at times. The story does become pretty poor, but again, it’s not an awful mess. The over aching plot still is cohesive, although it also feels very unpolished, and doesn’t carry the same themes that the first act did. Broken Age didn’t take a sudden change in direction, it simply shed the deeper meanings and became a generic adventure tale.

    I would struggle to say Act 2 is good, other than the art and voice acting (which in fact had varying audio quality, I’m surprised you didn’t notice that) everything was just acceptable. The game is a poor, disappointing ‘sequel’, but an ‘okay’ game when viewed separately from Act 1.

    To those of you who already own Broken Age, it’s a waste of money not to play Act 2, and it’s not nearly as bad as John says it is. To those of you who have not bought Broken Age, wait until there is a sale. $5-$10 would be a reasonable price point, but the game is not work the full $25 pricetag.

    To John – I encourage you to wait a few months and then to replay the game. I had the same reaction to Mass Effect 3 when I beat it the first time, but after playing it again recently, I was able to notice the stronger points of the game, even though it still wasn’t what I would consider a “good” game.

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      Harlander says:

      That kind of reads like “If you look at the game dispassionately, it’s not as bad as you think – but it’s still bad.”

      • Vincere says:

        The tldr; would be something like: “Act 2 wasn’t as good as act 1, but in my opinion wasn’t as bad as John seems to think it was.”

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      John Walker says:

      Just so you know, I finished the game about three weeks before the review went up, and wrote this piece the day before it was posted, so no, there was no rushing. And yes, Act 2 is an “awful mess”. Act 1 was not.

      And I am pleased to say I was able to identify just how great Mass Effect 3 was at the time, despite the wall of noise. I’m brill.

      • Vincere says:

        I guess our definitions of “awful mess” are different, then. I tend to think of an awful mess as a game that is totally unplayable. Fable Anniversary, for example, was an awful mess when it first appeared on steam marketplace, as it was actually unplayable for a lot of (most) people. Act 2 wasn’t like that for me. Thank you for responding though, I appreciate it.

      • Jayblanc says:

        I still think you rushed through the play of it, based in huge part on your saying that the spinning boots puzzle gave no explanation for why the boots in your inventory did not work. An explanation is actually given in dialogue from the knife-buddy, but you missed it, and decided it was just refusing to allow a logical solution. The Grabbers are the safety system for retrieving Shay from Act 1, so they’ll only grab at Shay’s stuff. Obviously if you miss that, the puzzle seems ‘nonsensical’. So again, I think you’re basing a huge amount of your opinion on playing Act 2 in isolation of Act 1, and rushed play of it that ignores the link-backs to Act 1 and the subtler explanations for what’s happening.

        You didn’t like the story, fine. But your description of some of the puzzles was actually inaccurate.

  21. Frogacuda says:

    While I agree with a few of the points here, particularly the clumsy exposition at the end that only half-explains the Lorunans needs and motives, some of the other complaints are outright absurd. This game is a whimsical comedy, and to ask for Shay to show psychological damage, or to explore Vella’s fractured relationship with her family is just plain dumb. There’s nothing about this game that should have ever indicated it was going to be any kind of deep, penetrating exploration of its characters’ minds.

  22. OmNomNom says:

    I actually thought this was a well written opinion piece.

    Well done.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Thirith says:

    John, your WIT rubbed me the wrong way; partly that’s because I’m just watching the documentary and feel protective of Tim and his team, partly it’s that I’m a backer, but largely it was that there was a gap between the strength of your feelings and the evidence you presented, and as a result the vehemence of your judgment felt disproportional to me.

    Having read this post, I have much less of an issue with your WIT. Your post provides the evidence that was missing beforehand, and as such your opinion in the WIT feels substantiated rather than a more immediate, gut-level reaction. Thanks for posting this, as it makes sense of your earlier post – although it does raise the question of how best to do a WIT, because I would say that as a reviewish thing and on its own the WIT is lacking. How to argue your point effectively if you have to be hyper-sensitive towards readers who in turn are hyper-sensitive when it comes to spoilers?

    (I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t mind spoilers; I haven’t yet played Act 2, but I don’t mind reading about plot points. I rarely find my enjoyment of stories affected negatively by knowing what’s going to happen, and when I don’t I rarely feel that the surprise of what happens next outweighs the dramatic irony that foreknowledge affords.)

    • RQH says:

      Yes, I’m with you. I do not like the hypersensitivity to all kinds of spoilers. I can understand holding back certain twists under very specific conditions. (I think, for example, that the twist in the original KoTOR transforms how you approach the last part of the game, so it’s important that a player at least plays like they don’t know what’s coming, and not actually knowing is the most effective way to do that.) But on the whole, the best stories can be enjoyed over and over, and manage to build tension in spite of–or even because of–the fact that you know what’s coming. The spoiler fear seems to spring from a consumeristic craving for novelty, more than anything.

      But, on the whole, fear of spoilers makes it very difficult to actually talk about the art we’re consuming in an intelligent, constructive way.

  24. skullopendra says:

    I think this is a fair assessment, and I appreciate you putting my disappointment with Act 2 into words.

    While people suspected the human-harvesting plotline with the introduction of the crane game in Act 1, I think it was more along the lines of “to extract their consciousnesses to make more mother-computers”. The Lorunians came completely out of left-field, and are they seriously “refining” a bunch of young women for their genetic material? And like… That whole plotline is so borderline fucked-up that I’m not even sure if I want explicit elaboration on what their “trueing” of the gene pool would entail.

    Let’s not neglect to mention how sexist it was that Marekai implied that “adventurousness” and “curiosity” are traits only inherent in boys, and that some ~ineffable~ aspect of Shay’s raging male hormones enabled him to detect the most fitting woman specimen — like, the Lorunians need to get their shit together. Even if Shay could “sense” which women were more appropriate, could he really do that through a crude and simplistic video game representation of the Maiden’s Feast?

    The one-off fanart I’ve seen of Marek being an eldritch abomination in a shitty wolf suit would have been better than this reality.

    Any ideas for how Act 2 could have proceeded, and still been in keeping with the themes of Act 1? There are some theories floating around, but a disquieting number of them involve forced pregnancy. That seems unavoidable with the sacrificial maiden bit, but I don’t think it’s impossible.

    • ach3ron says:

      John, I was just about to ask the same question. As someone who enjoyed Broken Age, I think this article is an interesting and thought provoking piece. It doesn’t make me hate the game, but it does make me wonder what it could have been if there had been more focus on the themes from Act I. Off the top of your head, was there some direction you were expecting it to go or think it should have gone, or in retrospect was it an impossible check to cash?

  25. Premium User Badge

    kfix says:

    This comment thread has everything. Pearl clutching over insults from obvious concern trolls, “y u no liek wut i liek” fanboy tears, John’s yo momma comebacks to poorly worded whining, ignorance about what is journalism and what goes on here at RPS, and the general John Walker Derangement Syndrome that’s been noticeable for some time. Highly entertaining, keep it up internet.

    I have no interest in adventure games or Tim Schafer so won’t comment on the review in detail, other than to note that having a mostly spoiler free WIT and a separate piece a few days later that spoils the hell out of something to investigate it a little deeper is a excellent idea. And John’s writing is good enough for me to have enjoyed it regardless of my lack of interest in the game. Thanks John.

  26. JoeX111 says:

    I’m really thankful for this article, Jon. I love anything that takes a strong look at writing and storytelling, for good or for ill, and I think you did a fantastic job of breaking down why this didn’t work for you. I’d love to see more of this kind of in-depth analysis in the future. Fuck the haters.

  27. S Jay says:

    I played the game and UNFORTUNATELY John nailed it. My god, so many point and click adventure sins: infinite backtracking, timing puzzles, nonsensical story, brute force puzzles, gigantic puzzle reseted because you didn`t follow the devs correct order, rooms being used over and over again… oh my, that was very bad.

    I don’t regret backing it only because the documentary was quite nice. But the game is no doubt the worse writing and puzzles I’ve seen in a Tim game (and most non-Tim adventures too).

  28. Fuz says:

    All of Walker’s points are valid.
    I actually had the same thoughts once I finished act 2 and was disappointed by the lack of the themes hinted by Act I and by the wasted potential.

    But still, they don’t make the game “crap” and it didn’t deserve that bashing. It’s still a very good game.

  29. Insignus says:

    I think this review is fairly accurate. There were times in the game where the two pronged story approach broke the puzzle solving, and in fact made the puzzles get in front of the appeal of the story. The lack of even basic, gentle prodding or direction further broke it. I’m all for puzzles being hard, but Broken Age Act 2 has precious little in the way of difficulty detection. The game is not conscious of whether or not a player is finding a particular puzzle too hard, thus needing a comment or suggestion from the game. It prompts the player during the robot rewiring if you get close to the solution, but never really tells the player how to get close to the solution in the first place.

    This pattern repeats. It hints if you’re doing it right, but doesn’t hint at what you are supposed to be doing. In a linear story line in which there is only one way to complete the story, this isn’t really fun. It felt like I was flailing around a mud puddle looking for a non-talking spoon.

    This leads to trial and error episodes that obstruct the flow of the story. This is compounded by the story you get well, being kind of crappy. Frankly, to be mildly insulting, this is a story that’s supposed to be about teenagers that feels as if though it was written by 7 year olds. The appeal of the first act was that yes, it was about a teenage experience, but it captured it in a knowing way, that depicted real, authentic perspectives accurately, as Mr. Walker alludes to. It then hand-waves us into a more incompatible story arc that ties things up in the way that an adult mind thinks would capstone the story. Things suddenly HAVE to be more complicated.

    To whit (Deep Breath):
    THERE HAVE TO BE EVIL EUGENICISTS WITH NONSTANDARD HAIR PATTERNS. VELLAs GRANDMOTHER WASN’T BEING A TOTAL HAG IN THE FIRST ACT, SHE WAS REALLY AN EVIL SPACE NAZI NANA. IT WASNT REALLY A HEROIC FIGHT ABOUT MONSTERS AND MISUNDERSTOOD YOUTH, IT WAS A FIGHT TO BRING ABOUT WORLD PEACE THROUGH MAKING A BRIDGE BETWEEN WORLDS WE DIDN’T KNOW EXISTED. BECAUSE POLITICS AND STUFF. ALSO THE YARN PEOPLE ARE MADE OUT OF NANOFIBERS. AND THE HEXAPALS HAVE CRUMMY WIRES IN THE BACK. ALSO THERE’S THIS HUGE DAM THAT IS HUNDREDS OF MILES LONG THAT KNOW ONE BOTHERED TO MENTION AS A DEFINING LANDMARK.

    I used caplocks there because that’s what the story felt like to me. It rubbed all these “revelations” in your face without asking. Like a carousel of M. Night Shymallamafailponies. It feels like a huge bait and switch. This would be disappointing if this were the first time, but this is Double Fine’s blown second chance for me. Everyone gets two chances, three if you’ve got mitigating factors. Double Fine has no good freight with me, so I ain’t got no freight for them :/

    Based upon these an other factors, I am once again motioning that as gamers, we collectively blackball Double Fine. No more. End of line. They’re great at producing ideas for games, but they are horrible at following through. They repeatedly produce strong openers and engaging initial drafts that then repeatedly disappoint people. Until they learn some lessons, I would encourage my fellow gamers to direct their dollars elsewhere.

    Not a boycott, mind you. I would never invoke absurdist ragepoints by using that word. Merely a period of absurdly high standards that cannot reasonably be met by this company in any current frame of reality. Think of it as a market forces wormhole.

    • PegasusOrgans says:

      Doublefine has been at this for too long. It makes me
      happy to hear people see what I’ve seen with all the
      Costume Questing and other halfassery. The delays
      I can forgive, the outright spitting in my eye, I cannot.
      And I backed this on Kickstarter, so I did used to
      believe in them. No longer.

    • zipdrive says:

      The Plague Dam was indeed mentioned several times in Act 1, so you’re wrong there.
      In addition, the old lady who turned out to be the evil Lorunian was NOT Vella’s grandma, or a relative at all, and that was made clear in Act 1 as well.

      Please keep your details straight as you rage.

  30. Dracology says:

    I see people saying you went to hard on this game but honestly I feel like you were rather restrained. There is a lot more you could reference as to how the story of this game makes no sense and how the puzzles are of an equally poor caliber.

    As to why this is… I really have to wonder. The game now has a very obvious seam in it even if your not aware of its dual kickstarter production. Did they even have the 2nd half figured out before making the first half? One would assume they did however it almost feels like they couldn’t have. Too many things do not line up and the break between act 1 and act 2 is very very jarring for it to have all be written as one story.

    I honestly have to suspect that like with Act 1 of Broken Age.. they simply ran out of time and money and threw this out here. Again. Double Fine seems to be very bad about this as of late, DS9 for example was just.. basically thrown up and then abandoned. I suspect there was originally going to be more but the money was mis-managed once again, which perhaps explains the games very frugal decision to heavily lean on the use of resources from act 1 rather than expanding the world in a very significant way.

    I feel that Tim might need to re-assess his priorities. We used to forgive him and his games for their gaps and holes because of the whimsy and story telling. Now they cannot even lean on those features to prop them up. I do not know what it is that is currently distracting him and his team from doing their jobs well. All I know is that it might be a good idea to fix things before they screw up Massive Chalice as well.

    • PegasusOrgans says:

      It’s like the people that defend Lost and say the whole thing was planned out even though it makes no
      sense, when taken as a whole. People hate feeling like they wasn’t their time and “love” on a garbage
      piece of entertainment made by very cynical designers that view their consumers as subhuman rabble.
      It makes these subhuman rab… I mean consumers defensive, because it undermines their self esteem
      (which studies show the USA is number 1 in worldwide).

      The truth is most writers/designers are cynical and feel about their jobs like any working shlub does, they
      hate their job and half ass it when they can. Doublefine might have coasted on old classics, but it doesn’t
      mean they don’t squeeze out poo when they are really sick of a project and just want it over with, like
      they did with the abortive fantasy Broken Age.

      • mred209 says:

        But people who defend Lost saying it was planned out from the start are wrong because the writers have said it wasn’t. And yet it’s still perfectly possible to defend Lost: I thought it was absolutely bloody brilliant. Let me know your specific complaints and I’d be able to tell you if that bothered me personally or not. Because sure, it did some dumb stuff. And yet I still absolutely loved it.

        It’s possible to recognise the flaws in something and still like it. I recognised the flaws in Act 1 and still liked it. I recongised the flaws in Act 2 and without even noticing stopped playing well before the end. It’s just boring.

        John here has decided his opinion is the right one and wants to share it. That’s fine. I disagree with him on some things, and agree with him on others. He does so love to tell it like his is the only objective truth though, which is what riles people up and likely why he does it, perhaps even without realising it: because it’s a good trait for a writer who makes his living from a website to have! ;)

        • zipdrive says:

          Emmm…isn’t it implicit when you have an opinion that you think you’re right, without disallowing other people to have their opinions?
          Or do you think people hold opinions they know are wrong?

  31. Booker says:

    Really good points. I just finished the game and I too am a bit disappointed.

    I too felt that Shay’s parrents weren’t real/actually computers and was really floored when those actual people showed up. I was under the impression that this was retconned somehow. I cannot imagine that anyone would write Act 1 in the way it was, if they had intended this all along. The parents are super-weird, at the very least. After not having seen their own son for so many years that he thought they were only computers, they don’t even hug him, or whatever normal people would do. They basically continue to ignore him. The father only patching the hull while they were being fired upon was… really stupid.

    Other than what you said, I thought the biggest problems were that Act 2 introduces all kinds of new things that were at best hinted at in Act 1, but then doesn’t resolve them.
    Okay, the ships melt down, but why would that make the bad guys stop firing at them? Why are they just standing around, right in front of the hostile city? They could come out and kill everyone any moment. I at least would have expected them to run for safety. And we have no idea how this conflict ends now. These genetic monsters surely won’t stop, since their survival seemed to depend on their scheme. Ultimately, we have no idea what becomes of Shay and Vella. There’s not even a hint, the game just ends. All of this makes the ending very unsatisfying. I don’t know if that means that DF wants to do a sequel, but I’m afraid they are just going to leave it like this. And even if they do a sequel, there were questions this game should have answered.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Ultimately, we have no idea what becomes of Shay and Vella. There’s not even a hint, the game just ends.

      Well, there are hints. The game credits have a bunch of sketches like girls attacking the main villain, Shay’s and Vella’s parents sitting together, people celebrate annual bridge crossing festival, etc… but it’s hardly a very satisfying method to wrap up everything.

  32. Amarand says:

    I really enjoyed playing the game through, and I also enjoyed reading this article.

    Sometimes I think stories, and storytelling, are a deeply personal thing. When I look at the Shay/spaceship/parents loopholes, I realize I only know these are loopholes because I’m a normal human being, living in the real world. If you were stuck in a “spaceship” from birth, you really wouldn’t know any better. It’s common to have teenagers rebel in a story, so they added that in on both sides. Not saying it was all inspired writing, or an epic tale (like [in my opinion] Grim Fandango was – at least for an adventure game), but it -was- fun to play.

    I don’t think it’s necessary for a story to be airtight, or even believable, but I do think that a story should be fun. I think the story was fun, from beginning to end, although it could have had a better ending. Perhaps a third act where we learn more about what’s on the other side of the plague dams, and you could work with Shay and Vella together to actually destroy the machinations on the other side of the wall. I didn’t feel like the ending was a proper ending.

    Having said all of that, if Tim Schafer offers to make another game, I’ll buy it! *Laughs* Take my money!

  33. drobile says:

    I guess, in a way that makes me feel weird, I should thank you.

    I finally got to read your article, since I just beat the game. You see, it’s been staring me down from the moment I started playing Act 2, as it is the first article that shows up on Steam every time I try to play it. “Broken Age A2’s Story is an Awful Mess”. Yikes. Made me pretty sad, as I’m a backer, love adventure games and the work of Tim Shafer and Doublefine. So I played over the course of a few days, often taking breaks to be reminded of that headline.

    Here’s the thing, I see where you’re coming from on a few points, but I don’t agree with any of it. And that’s okay. I think I enjoyed it so much more because I was expecting things to degrade and, for me, they never really did. I had such a blast.

    So, thanks for helping me enjoy the game maybe more than I would have, although I feel like it’s super weird and sad how Steam collects and chooses to highlight certain articles right under the “play” button. I would have never seen or cared about this article otherwise. I guess maybe I’ll come back to rockpapershotgun to feel super weird about games before I play them.

    • PegasusOrgans says:

      Awww, the perfect target audience. Even when you insult them directly, they defend you.

      • autopsyblue says:

        Right. Us “subhuman rab” not getting as worked up as you is the problem.

  34. retroquark says:

    So let me get this straight. You do accept that Act 1 is more abstract than it appears at first. But won’t accept that the second act has just as many metaphors. Because when the helmets are off, all abstract helmets must be taken off and the curtain should be drawn back. Not really sure about a review basing it’s criticism on how the reviewer ran out of imagination halfway.

    And I don’t think the reveal of Shay’s father at the beginning judges Shay at all. Instead it justifies it, since when they are on the ship, they’re bound by the set routines and pampered by the robots. So Shay’s view of his parents in that context isn’t really wrong in the first place. And both Shay’s mom and dad don’t turn into actual humans until they step outside the ship – Vella sees the same machine-like behaviour when Shays mom deals with ship-problems, after all.

    Basically, if Shafer didn’t have this reversal in Act2, what he would have suggested is that Shay is just a dupe. He’s easily fooled, and would only break out – like you say in the review – because he’s a self-destructive fool. But when we learn that the machine-like behaviour is actually real, that it’s layers on layers with rationalisations that have led to the family working this way inside their “house”. Then Shay is justified in actually wanting to destroy it.

    Marek’s role as well fits perfectly inside that – because it’s a contrast to the routine and fake behaviour. It’s not free of subterfuge, but it’s not obviously fake.

    And the same is with the aspect of subterfuge and effortless semi-lying that Shay has when he’s outside the ship, that Vella doesn’t, for example. Shay learns that from somewhere, and it says something about how perceptive he is, but also where he comes from.

    So it’s necessary that his parents are real, and that the ship, with it’s mechanical routines, exists in reality as well (or that this isn’t LeChuck’s Island).

    Because without that gradual transition between the metaphors, Shay would be a completely self-destructive moron, driven to insanity by a computer program, for all kinds of good reasons. He would either have imagined the entire routine world on top of something else, and genuinely invented a fake reality. Or, he’s an escapist! He’s probably imagined breaking out of it all as well. And that wouldn’t be very flattering. Or else the fake reality would be 100% real, and somehow he’d be that one single person that didn’t fit in there. Making him just a misfit alienated by a crazy world where only robots exist. And either of those cases wouldn’t be leading to a very interesting story either.

    I mean, you’re basically complaining about something that’s necessary to avoid exactly the problem you’re describing. Why in the world would this run past an editor, anyway?

    That being said – why aren’t you ripping into the issues with the writing in Act 2 that do exist? Like the endless loose ends and free-falling metaphors that aren’t hinted into a meaning through the story. That some of the dialogue trees are extremely meager, that we’re at the level of interaction known from Skyrim, or Mass Effect 3, where you’re effectively just running through a list of topics? Those are actual problems with the game, even though it’s interesting enough to play through. Puzzles that resolve, not as a joke, but as a rule, when you ask for the item you want. That’s a bit weird, to design several puzzles like that without a commentary around it, like that it’s put into a specific village where they’re extremely weak against good manners, or something like that. That the entire game plays a lot like it was initially designed for a tablet, with extremely few hotspots, and very few combination puzzles. That some of the puzzles are too repetitive, without any good narrative wrapper. So that the segments with those puzzles drag on needlessly.

    But those are pretty bad problems. And, unlike the problem you describe, actually exist in the game.

  35. Opellulo says:

    I just finished Act2 and, after a bit of thinking, i totally agree on your point: Act 1 it’s also a wonderful example of gender behaviour on relationships: Shay hurts girls he believe to “save” while Vella has to face an horrifying “relationship” that everyone thinks it’s good for her. Act 2 instead of following the path it started simply drops every theme and go for an action ending against an enemy never explained properly; with every bit of dialogue simply costrained to puzzle objectives. I liked the idea of exploring the same areas after the disaster, but even this clever idea is never used to reflect on consequences but simply for trow away jokes.

    Gorgeus art style, incredible voice acting but sadly the story of Broken Age is its weaker part.

    • autopsyblue says:

      I disagree on the gender part, actually. It’s implied that the entire reason Shay’s decision-making is held in such high esteem is merely because he’s a young boy, while Vela is viewed as an inexplicably powerful object because the villains have no inkling of what “female agency” could possibly mean. Meanwhile Shay and Vela fall into reversed gender roles: Shay works by subterfuge while Vela is direct and action-focused. There are real problems with this game but that is not one of them, and I really despise the implication that Vela’s arc failed somehow because it didn’t live up to the usual expectations of a Strong Female Protagonist.

  36. MrBehemoth says:

    I’m beginning to suspect John doesn’t really like games.

  37. PegasusOrgans says:

    And FINALLY you are all beginning to see what some of us have realized a long time ago about Doublefine,
    that they, and their lead designer, have coasted on an undeserved reputation and “Emperors New Clothes”
    bandwagonry that has finally got belly up. Whatever LucasArts adventure games Tim worked on, it was a
    long time ago, and, most likely, more the work of his fellow designers than Tim’s own. Nothing Doublefine
    has made has really been that good, well written or intelligent. Mostly playing off nostalgia and combining
    kid-level aesthetics with some lite sarcastic humor. Hopefully, this wakes everyone up. I was grossly let
    down by Broken Age part 1. It was nothing like what was promised, and the second half does even worse.
    Doublefine is a sinking ship.

  38. Janichsan says:

    Quite what this is actually supposed to mean, and why the need for such elaborate subterfuge, and on and on is never touched upon.

    There’s actually a (missable) dialogue with the chief baddy where the whole need for this ruse is explained. It’s a weak explanation, but there is one.

    That said, I agree that Act 2 was a major disappointment.

  39. BTA says:

    I played through the entire game in the past couple days (I had been vaguely spoiled for the end of Act 1 but hadn’t played any of it before) and I agree with most of this, though I didn’t feel nearly as intensely about it, and I’m not sure why people are giving you shit for this when it’s all reasonable criticism.

    And I could say more about where I’m coming from and context and such, but instead reading the comments here reminded me that Alex mentions that Marek was on his ship too and as far as I can tell they completely never explained that and it’s really bothering me. Was there some relative of Marekai on his ship that crashed with him? Or something? Did they ever resolve that? My initial theory during Act 1 had been that Marek was just part of the ship’s systems just like the parent AIs (especially as the utensils were used to make his costume), tricking kids into thinking they were rebelling when they were really just taking over their intended adult duties, but that got squashed pretty fast once Act 2 started, obviously.

  40. autopsyblue says:

    I don’t really understand why you’re upset. I mean I get that you are, I know that you find Act II disappointing, but I don’t understand why. Everything you have to say seems subjective.

    • Baf says:

      I may be the only person in the world who liked the “telepathy” puzzles. The realization that it was possible — that the author was audacious enough to break the implicit rules of Act 1 — was one of those “Oh wow” moments for me. And it’s completely thematic: the two sub-games are no longer self-contained once the two characters have crossed over into each others’ worlds. They may not communicate directly, but each is suddenly the most important person in the environment the other is exploring. Shay meets Vella’s family, Vella looks at Shay’s old baby pictures, and so on. Puzzles that cross that boundary are an extension of that theme.

      And I like it because it calls into question the player’s role in the story. Throughout Act 1, you can subsume yourself into the roles of Shay and Vella, but in Act 2, you become something else, distinct from them both: the conduit that links these two special people and coordinates their actions when they themselves don’t understand what’s going on. And the end result is a bridging of two worlds.

      But then, I also liked the ending to Monkey Island 2.

  41. Rogueywon says:

    “Introducing the player as a character and using that to explain shared knowledge and perspective between two playable characters” has been done – Ar Nosurge (recent-ish PS3 game, albeit a digital only release). A very clever story, which explores all kinds of interesting concepts about player-agency and the morality of assuming control over characters with their own thoughts and emotions. It’s a game about the fourth-wall and it is remarkably effective at making the player feel guilty.

    Just a pity that a) playing it pretty much requires knowledge of the Japan-only Vita prequel Ciel Nosurge and b) the engine and RPG mechanics are absolutely terrible.

  42. lupinewolf says:

    I rushed throught Act 2 trying to get to the ending as fast as I could so I could read this article (which is the first thing to show up on Steam when clicking on Broken Age). Now that I did I really don’t get why you hated this game so much, but you know, that’s just fine. I don’t get why people say “you’re being subjective” on this. Well no shit, every criticism is subjective. For an objective review let’s wait for the machines to take over and ask them, in the meantime, you read critics’ opinions, find out which ones you prefer to read (probably they ones that resonate with you, sometimes the complete opposite).

    I’m sad that you’re so disappointed with it, I really never saw so much into Act 1 to care about the lack of depth in the story. To me it was always a silly and SIMPLE little thing about a boy and a girl. I love Double Fine stuff for the little “what ifs”, for the exploration of whimsical and ridiculous premises, but don’t expect to end up thinking about it too much. They all seem to exist in Wonderland logic, and the more you think about it rationally the less real it becomes. Maybe that’s what protected me from disappointment in this case.

    And the puzzles made perfect sense to me, for some reason. I hated that I couldn’t hug the mayor myself, I fully agree on that. Not even a comment on why. But the spoon does mention “constricting” force, and the only other mention of the word constricting happens when you go see the snake. That’s how I linked the two. While I didn’t find the puzzles specially gratifying, I did come into all the solutions ingame, with whatever hints they provided I guess.

    So in short, my experience was completely different than yours, and I wonder if having read the title of this articles before playing the game unhyped me to the point that I quite enjoyed Act 2, more than I did Act 1. In any case, even with a completely opposite view and opinion on the game, I fully support and defend your right to express your disappointment with such emotion. It’s how you felt! How can telling us be wrong?

    Cheers

  43. Pazguato says:

    Finished today. Couldn’t agree more with the article. The game is a broken mess: broken story and broken, repetitive, boring, disconnected puzzles. I’m totally disappointed. Sigh :'(

  44. baba44713 says:

    I saw the title of the article weeks ago, but I refrained from reading it until I got a chance to play through Act 2 myself and witness if it’s really “an awful mess”.

    Well now I did.

    And, yes, yes it is. Oh, how very much it is.

    But let me first address the puzzles. I may be in a minority here, but I actually enjoyed them. In fact, I think the puzzles in BA:Act 2 are the closest thing in years to the good old Lucasarts games from long ago. They were sometimes frustrating, sometimes illogical, but the followed a good old principle of rewarding a player who pays attention to everything. Yes, you need to get in the head of the game designer, but that is somehow the point. I hate hate hate the recent thread of point-and-click adventures which are essentially interactive storybooks with a few insultingly easy puzzles thrown into the mix just so you have something to click on between cutscenes. A good adventure game gets you stuck, and if you don’t like that, you are playing the wrong type of game. In fact, the only thing I disliked puzzle-wise was the “telepathy” puzzles where one character solved the puzzled using knowledge gained by the other character, but even that I think was explained narratively in an original version of Broken Age, one we will sadly never get to play.

    Which brings me to the meat of the things. I am almost completely convinced that at a certain point in time a completely different version of Broken Age: Act 2 existed, at least conceptually, and that the utter trainwreck we ended up with is an unfortunate result of heavy rewrites and budget cutbacks. I have no proof of this, of course, except for my belief that this is the only explanation which makes sense. There is soooo much wrong with the game’s narrative, I honestly cannot write it off merely as “pulling a LOST” where the writers come up with a neat setup but have no idea what the resolution should be so they just throw a bunch of random stuff and hope something sticks. Act 2 is in such a contrast to what Act 1 established it just may as well be a different game altogether. Aggressive reuse of locations, nonsensical plot “twists”, narrative solutions that cannot withstand even the tiniest scrutiny, continuity errors and an absolute dreck of an ending, it all screams “rush job” to me, which is even more absurd giving how long it took to get it out. This game is not a result of incompetence, it is a result of aggressive compromising which ultimately caused the game to implode unto itself.

    This is one of the very few games which made me feel sad after finishing it, but not because the game aimed for that emotion, rather because of what it is… and what it might have been. All things considered, the game isn’t bad, it actually accomplishes what it set out to do, and does it competently – we got a point-and-click adventure which evokes the golden era of Lucasarts games. But it so easily could have been something great, it could have had taken its place with the best entries from the genre. I almost wish Act 2 never happened, whatever the real-life consequences for Tim and Double Fine might have been. Having never know the ending, or even getting the “proper” version in a comic-book form or something would be much better than what we ended up with.

    Such a damn waste.

  45. Sivart13 says:

    I acknowledge that John is entitled to his opinion, which I disagree with utterly.

    I think the biggest shame in all this is that the first news item you see when bringing up Broken Age in Steam is this article, “Awful Mess” title and all. Anyone playing the game on Steam has that title breathing down their neck, setting expectations whether they’re wanted or not.

    This is probably more Steam’s fault than anything, I just think it’s notably unpleasant. It would be like having an article titled “Why you’d have to be a real asshole to enjoy Pillars of Eternity” show up whenever you wanted to play that game.

    Though from looking at other games in my library, it doesn’t seem like the “Recent News” section shows up for every game; I wonder if DF can just turn it off?

    • baba44713 says:

      I actually like that it was (is) up there, right in your face. I had extremely high expectations for this game, and seeing the title of the article immediately warned me that I shouldn’t be too enthusiastic about it. In fact, I’m pretty sure it helped me enjoy the game much more than I would without seeing it.

      Forewarned is forarmed and all that.

  46. WallyThePirate says:

    Have to agree with this article. Story was a real let-down. Particularly the ending and how it felt so jarring when the game just stopped after Vella and Shay escaped the ships. To be fair, I went along with the game’s sudden twist of alien mutants harvesting DNA, but, as is pointed out, that never really gets resolved.
    Vella bombs the city, throwing it into chaos. We clearly see that the leader of the mutants is still alive and is likely to retaliate, but, as soon as the group escapes the ship, everything stops. The credits seem to imply that they all got along after that – which makes no sense. These mutants have been both lying to the city they ruled, and harvesting young girls for centuries. I expected them to at least be in jail, not holding hands and smiling with everyone.

    I thought it would have been interesting if, now that they’ve escaped, they split off again – each with their own plans. Vella returning to her home of warriors to rally the people against the town behind the plague dam, and Shay going into the city and trying to convince people that the supermutants leading them were actually horrible monsters. There could have been conflict between the protagonists as they try to decide on a course of action. Maybe, since Vella bombed the town, they’re seen as terrorists and Shay and Vella have to work against the propaganda of the mutant group.

    There’s just too much about the ending that demands more and inspires “What could have been”, that, just stopping at, “Okay, we escaped the immediate threat” feels completely anticlimactic.

    Also, maybe I missed something, but when was it established that Vella’s grandma was one of the supermutants? That seemed to come out of nowhere, and Vella’s response was reminiscent of saturday morning cartoons. She may have well just said “Shredder!”, in her gruffest voice. No one in the family has any dialog trees on this. You don’t even get to know it unless you explore all the dialog with the main bad guy at the end. That’s sloppy writing.

  47. Pazguato says:

    “This is one of the very few games which made me feel sad after finishing it, but not because the game aimed for that emotion, rather because of what it is… and what it might have been.”

    So true :’C

  48. mred209 says:

    A Pedant Writes: is the headline incorrect? It says it explains “why” the story is a mess but I think it means to say “how”.

  49. Oregondanne says:

    It’s funny how it says “we will not tolerate spitefulness or rudeness”, then every other reply by the author in the comments section of this angry mess of an article is just that. But I can see now how he cares so much about the teenage phase of our lives… That being said, I do agree with some of his story points, but to question the logic of a Tim Schafer game is like questioning the heat of the sun. It’s not supposed to make sense! And you’re supposed to go for rides, the more unexpected the better. In terms of the puzzles, Act II truly felt like a trip back in time to the old days of point and click adventures (yes, frustrations included!), especially the Lucas Arts ones Schafer was involved in. Puzzles that don’t seem to make any sense at all, but if you look and think carefully all the clues are always there in front of your eyes (with one or two exceptions). In the new age of adventure gaming, it seems like puzzles have stopped mattering, all focus now on story and atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, I love that. But I also love finally being able to challenge my brain with smart puzzles in quirky worlds full of quirky characters only Tim Schafer could make possible. And Broken Age is just that. One heck of a gaming experience that I’ll never forget. And for a great and meaningful story? My Dostoyevsky is always waiting on the bedside table.