Everything wrong with the first three minutes of Thimbleweed Park

My very first interaction in Thimbleweed Park [official site], and most likely anyone else’s, was to “Look at Willie.” I don’t know who I’m playing yet, nor who Willie might be, but my German accented chap has appeared on a screen with two interactive items: a gate, and a slumped drunken man called Willie. So I looked at him, he being potentially more interesting than a gate, presuming that my character would inform me that either he knew this man and needed to speak to him, or that he did not. I got neither. Because “Look at Willie” speaks to him.

The classic adventure games were classic for a reason. It wasn’t just the stunning animations, background art, and hilarious writing. They were crucial, but it was more than that. It was about a level of care that went in to making sure things worked. When I hark back to those formative early 90s, it’s not with blinded nostalgia – games I enjoyed playing were so often enjoyed despite themselves. I loved Police Quest 3, but good grief, what a scrappy mess it was. I devoured all of Westwood’s half-arsed wannabes too, complete with all their dead ends, dialogue mistakes, and weak puzzles. But I don’t pretend they were perfect. However, a couple actually were. And when people attempt to make games inspired by (or scarequoted “inspired by”, as we say when we don’t want to open ourselves to litigious responses from people who just copied) that era, it’s my expectation that they not repeat the litany of issues that plagued the genre back then, but mimic the best of them.

Now, this isn’t new to adventures. My opening complaint is one of the most tiresome tropes of the genre, in fact, achingly familiar to anyone who’s played them all their life. And hey, let’s be fair, as the genre slips further and further from anything anyone actually wants it to be, even having “Look at” as an option is becoming a rare treat. (Yeah Broken Age, you half-finished anticlimax, I’m looking at you.) But when it’s there, and it’s the first interaction in the game, and when looking at someone to get the player character’s information makes complete sense, it’s really bloody annoying that it just overrides your choice.

“Push Willie” also talks to him.

For fuck’s sake.

So I exhaust the conversation options with this sprite, until he falls asleep, presuming I’m now tasked with getting him whiskey before he’ll talk. Whoever he is. Whatever he might Look like. I go through the gate. Then think, hmmm…

“Look at gate.”

“It is a gate to the trail above. I just came down from there.”

You have to be kidding me. I can look at a gate, and be informed not anything useful about what it looks like beyond what I can make out in the murky pixels, but am instead told of literally the only thing that’s happened in the game so far. In case, I presume, I had a severe head injury from my frustration at not being able to look at the drunk guy. Whatever, I walk right onto the next screen.

There’s a pretty sunset/rise, purple metal bridge dark across the colour gradients of the sky, and a rippling pool reflecting the last/start of the sun’s light. And in the water is a rock. I’ll look at that.

“I wonder if I can use this rock to put out the light.”

And wow. In two screens it commits the two most wearying crimes of point-and-click adventures. It hasn’t written responses for obvious interaction choices, AND it has my character pondering solutions to puzzles it knows it’s yet to introduce.

There’s a sign to the left of the pool reading, “TRESTLE TRAIL 1.7”, with an arrow pointing to the left. That’s the path I just walked down, I didn’t need to immediately look closer at the sign as I could read it. Going back and looking again, there’s a light over it. Looking at the light I’m told it’s very bright (it isn’t), and touching it I’m told it’s too hot. Fine. The light isn’t doing anyone any harm, nothing wrong with that light. Except of course I have been bestowed with the knowledge that I, for reasons it knows I haven’t learned yet, want to put out the light.

There’s a reason. There’s a note in your inventory, an innocuous piece of paper that the game hasn’t mentioned, let alone suggested reading it is a matter of immediate urgency since it explains who you are and what you’re doing. There’s also a teddy bear pillow and a room key for a hotel you’re not in. The inventory, in this opening scene of the game, isn’t an obvious priority. Look at the note, see that step 3 is the turn out the light, and yes, the puzzle makes sense.

Of course you should look through your inventory. Of course. But oh dear god, script the game so that it knows whether the player’s looked at the note before declaring puzzle solutions! That’s just the most basic essential of adventure design. “Has player looked at note? If no, don’t talk about light.” And, you know, suggest that the scrap of paper is of some import at some point?

Look, you’re right, these aren’t the biggest deals in the world. These aren’t game-breaking bugs, nor issues worthy of a thousand word rant. Except, you know, maybe they are. Because I care. I really care, about adventure games, about the genre. I played text adventures from the age of four. I still parse the word “exam” to mean “look closely at something”, and as I approach my fifth decade it’s apparent that’s not going away. I played every single adventure my dad bought, borrowed or copied throughout my childhood, as they gained line drawings, interactive art, dropped their parser bar and grew their verbs, lost their verbs and gained their cursors, and then struggled through the next twenty years of their flailing attempts to stay relevant. I know how ordinary these issues are, I know how common they are, and I know I’ve enjoyed many an adventure game that has committed such enormities. But it doesn’t make it fine, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t stick in my craw.

And you know what, when it’s the guy who sodding invented the verb-based adventure format, the guy who kicked the whole LucasArts classics off, it matters even more. I want this game to demonstrate to me that it cares too. When it bounces from one mortal sin to another in the first three minutes, it really feels like it doesn’t.

No, this isn’t our review. Adam wrote that, and he adored the game. He’s been enthusing about it all day on Twitter too. That’s our review. I am absolutely not saying this is a bad game, because I’ve literally played three minutes of it. I am in no position to form an opinion about the overall game. But I am in a position to rage about these constant bugbears, and how infuriating it is to see them occur immediately upon starting the game.

I want a game that cares about whether it declares solutions to puzzles that haven’t been introduced, a game that cares about the very first thing a player is most likely to do when playing. That matters! It can’t just be me who thinks so.

Oh, and when I looked at the rock, he fucking picked it up.

106 Comments

  1. Mumbles says:

    John Walker, aka Grumpy McGrumperson. =P

    • Kolbex says:

      I find John’s grumping very refreshing when compared with the fire hose of “positivity” that is the games press and associated comments and which stems, in my opinion, from just being willing to swallow unending amounts of garbage.

    • Naiko32 says:

      :p

  2. TheManko says:

    I agree! Your expectations aren’t unreasonable.

  3. xrror says:

    I have to agree, what’s the point of even having the verbs if the game can’t even be arsed to hide the action railroading it’s doing.

    If they really only have one viable action per object + that action also auto-spoilers then why not just have released this on some app store somewhere, for the tablet interface it seems to really have been designed for.

  4. Mr Underhill says:

    Might be a dumb question was this on “easy” mode? If I recall correctly going that route hugely simplifies everything, auto-selecting the most useful verb for the object. I think right-clicking does that, too. Bought the game yesterday but saving it for the week-end, can’t wait to sink my teeth into it.

    • ymgve says:

      Even on Hard it auto-highlights the most logical verb so you can right click. But I think he’s playing on Easy, because no amout of left or right clicking makes me pick up that rock on Hard.

      • ansionnach says:

        Had thought some of these were valid, if overstated gripes (“look at gate” excepted). This invalidates them. Sounds like the interface is similar to the one they perfected with Monkey Island 2, Fate of Atlantis and Day of the Tentacle. Think those first two defaulted to “look at” for the right button, but the last did something obvious like open or close a door.

        • Mr Underhill says:

          I personally find the whole 9-verb to be a contrivance that is still necessary if you’re pitching it as a spiritual successor to Maniac Mansion. Not a fan of Broken Age’s one-click oversimplification, either. Verb coin is definitely my favorite, and it also solves the whole mobile port problem elegantly. Alas, Gilbert games are not known for their verb coin usage :)

          Still exciting and a little surreal to see a game that is so oldschool in its concepts, aesthetic and sensibilities reviewed on the likes of IGN and Kotaku (RPS was a given).

          • ansionnach says:

            I’ve been railing against the dropping of the nine-verb interface on various forums since around 1998. Couldn’t believe it when this one elected to go with one. The funny thing is that Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken had more than nine verbs. I think MM had 15. Both of those had a horrible interface requiring you to select the component parts of an action and then perform a confirming click. That’s an extra click for no reason. While I don’t think that all popular movements in interface design have been for the better, needless extra clicks seem pointless. This is different from a no-verb interface, which, of course, has only one click for everything. There’s a difference between one click to mindlessly do something and two to do one of nine different actions. At one click you barely have a game.

            I have a major problem with the coin interface and anything else that requires the opening of a separate screen or dialogue to do something. Since a lot of interface elements in early games were really a way of hiding the fact that full screen was not possible there was a rush to drop it all when it was technically feasible. The problem is the extra clicks introduced. As screen resolutions become higher, there should be more room for keeping useful interface elements on screen at all times. Don’t talk to me about the new Google Maps that hides a lot of useful stuff – I still use the old version.

            Another thing that could be good for interface design is to somehow reintroduce the text parser for those who can type really fast. Could even work a little like the Windows 7 search box so you can use a combination of typing and clicking. Would be better than scrolling through the inventory for something, for example.

        • LionsPhil says:

          I thiiiiink right-click-for-obvious-verb was in Monkey, too. It’s a good system, because the hot path is one-click, but you still have scope for puzzles to involve the less-obvious verbs, or just hide jokes and character there.

          That said they always had too many verbs to fill the huge combinatorial space with interesting content. A lot of them could be collapsed together without actually losing anything.

          • Sic says:

            Yes, it was.

          • ansionnach says:

            It’s in Fate of Atlantis as well. I think the difference between Monkey 2, Atlantis and Day of the Tentacle was that DoTT defaulted to use when you left clicked on an inventory item. The other two looked at them.

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      John Walker says:

      Not playing on Easy, no.

  5. salasq says:

    Wait, isn’t that note literally the first thing the game mentions?

    • Sic says:

      Yep.

      It sort of suggests that the note only said that he should go and meet someone under the bridge, though.

      It would have made more sense to have the character say it also said something more, and that he didn’t remember what, if one wanted the player to look at the note.

      • Mandrake42 says:

        Eh, I don’t know. Looking at the items in my inventory was the first thing I did. I figured that the game had me carrying meant they must be important.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Ditto. I can maybe see that complaint from someone inexperienced, and the “game should have realized” is valid (support players who aren’t in the Secret Old Boys Club), but it’s odd that decades of adventuring haven’t given John the same reflex. It’s odd that he hit that case.

          • Jabb Stardust says:

            Without having played the game yet, I can empathise with John. I’ve played my share of old Lucasarts classics, and what John described here feels completely at odds with the level of polish they had. Checking if the player has read the note is basic stuff.

            And looking at my inventory items was probably the last thing I wanted to do when a whole new landscape, a whole new character(s) and a whole new set of possible actions were put in front of me. People are different, and that is okay.

            Not replying to any of you in particular, here, but it seems odd that people feel the need to defend the game. That John is being unreasonable – on his own forum. One comment far below, saying basically “the game’s not for you, move on” was gruellingly out of place.

            I think people who don’t get why the article author feels at all upset should perhaps think if it’s them who are missing something important, here…

        • Sic says:

          I’m not saying the dialogue should have said otherwise to cater to me, you, or any other experienced adventure-gamer.

          I, personally, didn’t have a problem with it. Obviously, looking through the inventory was the first thing I did.

          I’m just saying that if the intention of the dialogue was to function as a part of the tutorial, and give you a nudge towards checking out the note, it failed.

  6. Aristotlol says:

    Well, I think some of the complaints above are perhaps a little overblown; as the start of the game, one might naturally expect it to do some hand-holding, it’s what we’re used to these days in terms of soft tutorials, is it not? But fair enough.

    My only real complaint is that the voice acting is terrible – which is to say, it’s not awful, but it’s bad in the sense that the delivery, in terms of humour, completely falls flat. Maybe this is just a personal thing, but I’m having to play it with the voices off to find writing funny (which it certainly is).

    As a second note, none of the music seems to be enjoyable or catchy… Has some nice-sounding instruments doing nothing memorable. In terms of enjoyment factor, this is a huge let-down in comparison to the old LucasArts games, where for once this is a fair comparison since it very much wears this lineage on its sleeve.

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      John Walker says:

      I’d agree if it were that. But it’s not. Look at/push resulting in “talk to” doesn’t teach or simplify anything. And yes, were the light puzzle in your face, the rock comment would fit that role, but the issue is specifically your character talking about something the game knows you don’t know yet.

      • Aristotlol says:

        Sure, I think you’re right, too… I don’t think it’s entirely fair to suggest, though (not that you were necessarily doing so in all seriousness) that this indicates a lack of care. The Thumbleweed blog has a screenshot of a help screen they forgot to include, too. It seems more likely that they were understaffed; given the time and budget involved, multiple platforms etc etc, I think it’s an impressive job all the same. It is *very* rough around some edges, though – once you play in a bit more, there’s a shocking amount of dialogue recylcing. They tout their five different playable characters, but the dialogue they have in shared scenes is pretty much identical. And I mean that literally – it’s just different actors reading the exact same lines almost every time.

        • Aristotlol says:

          Also – and I’m conscious of trying a little too hard to defend them, here* – while the game didn’t realise *you* didn’t know about the light, 1) it highlights the to-do list, which says you need to turn off the light, and more important on a philosophical level, though perhaps less important on a mundane gameplay-experience level, the character’s mentioning the light was at least fictionally coherent. That is, you as a player didn’t know (despite 1), but nonetheless the character you were playing *did*.

          Er, cough.

        • Ragnar says:

          I think seeing such issues in the very beginning of the game does suggest a lack of care and attention to detail.

          The beginning of the game is your introduction to the player, and should show the highest level of polish and attention to detail. If you’re going to give me 9 verbs to choose from, I’m going to try as many as I can, and expect to see relevant responses to my actions. I’m going to try to Look At, Push, Pull, and Open Willie before I ever talk to him. Otherwise what’s the point of giving me the 9 different verbs? If it’s going to default to Talk To regardless, then you might as well not have the verbs at all.

          And towards the end of the game this would be more excusable, since I may be tired of trying every verb by then. But at the beginning? If you give me 9 verbs and only two objects to use them all, they all better do something or give an appropriate response.

      • Josh W says:

        If anything, swapping the meaning of verbs should be anti-teaching; if you’re going to start with a simplified beginning in order to guide players into the game, what you are seeking is interpretive clarity; players need to be able to clearly read the tools available to them and how the game reacts to them using them. And from there, they need to know the kind of skills the game requires. and so on.

        If you break that clarity by mislabelling your UI, you make the game less able to teach itself, at the point that that is most important.

  7. RobbieTrout says:

    I just want to congratulate John for actually using the word “enormity” correctly!

  8. Mr Underhill says:

    I’m just happy there’s a second article on TP, because the review seems to have flown under everyone’s radar (and it’s good John linked it in this one, too).

  9. Laurentius says:

    I started playing this tonight and this criticism doesn’t make a slightst snese to me. It’s classic point and click adventure game. It starts with charm and is approachable from a get go.

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      John Walker says:

      So the things I described were in my imagination? Or it’s charming when games so stupid things?

      • Laurentius says:

        Not your imagination no, as I also did try to look at that drunk dude and ended up talking to to him. Games speak their language and point and click advantures speak theirs. You said you care about these thinks but you care too much. At least I can understand now why you don’t play strategy games,their first three minutes can not and never will be as perfect as you expect them to be. Sure Thimbleweed Park internal language probably could have tried for another level of polish, but it is so tiny thing, you tried doing that and you move on, you have whole new game ahead of you.

      • Eazy123 says:

        None of the above. Older Lucasarts games had the same issues, and this is a love letter to that era, and an incredible one at that. It just clearly wasn’t made for you, so why stress yourself out so much over the course of an entire game when the first three minutes already grind your gears so much?

        • Kolbex says:

          I find that “is a love letter to” is more or less synonymous with “lazily steals from”.

          • Mandrake42 says:

            Lazily steals from his own games? Can you actually steal from yourself? How does that work?

          • Rikard Peterson says:

            Are you saying it’s Ron’s love letter to himself? ;)

          • Mandrake42 says:

            @Rikard Peterson: Pretty much, we aren’t the only ones getting a nostalgia kick from this game :)

        • Ragnar says:

          Way to completely dismiss his criticisms without addressing any of them.

          If this game wasn’t made for nostalgic point and click adventure gamers that grew up on such games, then I don’t know who it it’s supposed to be for. John is the target demographic.

          And while it’s admittedly been a while since I last played an adventure game with a verb list, I don’t remember any of them talking to people instead of looking at them.

      • SBLux says:

        It’s a question of perspective. Labeling something you don’t like as ‘stupid’ is very childish. The game is not stupid, you just don’t like it.

        • Ragnar says:

          He never said the game was stupid, that’s you creating a straw man just to fight it.

          He said that having the game Talk To someone when you Look At them, instead of actually looking at them, is stupid. That telling you the answer to a puzzle you haven’t yet encountered is stupid. And they are. These are rookie mistakes, and call into question why they bothered to bring back the 9 verbs system.

          If you’re going to do something different from the norm, and call attention to it, then you better make sure to do it well.

      • RatofDeath says:

        Dude, the note that explains everything and mentions the light is literally flashing and shacking from the very moment you start the game. You not noticing that and not clicking on it is definitely on you, and not the game design’s fault.

  10. salty-horse says:

    I totally agree about the unimplemented “look at” interactions, especially on characters, and would add the inability of the agents to talk to each other. And it’s really weird that they have the same responses when they look at the same item – they even repeat the jokes. It’s like they have no individuality. How a character reacts to things is a good way to show off their personality, and it’s a shame it wasn’t taken advantage of.

    • Laurentius says:

      They don’t have the same responses.

      • salty-horse says:

        They do in MOST cases. I tried looking at many things with each of them.

        • Rumpelstiltskin says:

          They have responses that mean the same (in most cases), but they are not completely identical, and since they are all voiced, I don’t think the reason for that was laziness. Most likely they just didn’t want to force OCD players (which most adventure gamers have become after decades of playing old adventures) to try all conversations with all PCs.

          • salty-horse says:

            >”not completely identical”.
            The text is identical in many (if not most) “look at” responses, even if the actors’ deliveries are slightly differentiated.

            I didn’t say it was lazyness. I agree it’s a tough problem. Whenever you have multiple player characters walking around the same rooms, you’re going to have issues. For example, it makes no sense that the agents want to talk to Delores so much, but once she’s controlled by the player and standing next to them, nothing happens. You can even give each other items and only elicit a “thanks” or “whatever”.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      I know how much work it is to write meaningful (useful, funny, atmospheric or otherwise adding something to the game) “look at”-responses for everything in a game, but if you add that option then you pretty much have to do it. If you don’t want to create interactions for “Look at Dick” or “Look at gate”, don’t give us that option.

      Speaking of interfaces, I really liked how Double Fine made the interface context sensitive in the Day of the Tentacle remastering. Sounds like this game (and any game that wants a number of verbs) would have benefitted from something similar.

      • Mandrake42 says:

        Yeah, I miss having a good lot of “Look at” commentary in a game. Even when it’s just incidental observations. It helps greatly with adding richness to the game world, even if the comments are just jokes or asides. I always find adventure games that have little in the way of that kind of thing end up feeling empty. That said, Thimbleweed Park has been stuffed with examinable stuff so far, so I’m happy with it.

        • Rikard Peterson says:

          That’s good to hear.

        • Mr Underhill says:

          The examine thing is also a great way of adding depth to your character, since seeing the world through their eyes is one of the best ways of getting a feel for who they are.

  11. tour86rocker says:

    John, you’re not crazy. During my lunch break I got in about 3 minutes myself and the same things annoyed me a little. I thought they were going for old school but they hire voice actors and don’t listen to your verb choices…well, I’ll play it but I’ll have some opinions…

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      subdog says:

      How is hiring voice actors not old school?

      • tour86rocker says:

        The visual style of this game as well as the way they pitched it was very intentionally evoking Maniac Mansion, a game from long before “talkies”. I’m playing it with music and voice off, sfx on to try to get an experience somewhat like I remember from the floppy disk days.

      • ansionnach says:

        Hmm… the Lucasarts games that had voiced versions before Full Throttle were bad. The voiced version of Fate of Atlantis made some minor compromises with certain dialogue (directions characters give you in a desert). For a low-budget game it’s best to focus on reactivity and descriptions than have to consider the cost of the voice acting. Actually, even with a higher budget they should forget the voiceovers. It’s a niche genre now and costs like this affect their viability, especially when they limit the use of the written word, as the game suffers. Poor voiceovers put me off and they’re common in adventure games. Those in Full Throttle, The Dig, Grim Fandango as well as The Curse of and Escape from Monkey Island were superb but these all died out.

    • Mandrake42 says:

      My problem isn’t that they have voice actors at all, it’s that their timing can be off. I mean off in a way that can affect the meaning of a sentence, in the same way that stuffing commas into the written word can alter how it’s interpreted. It’s by no means the worst voice acting I’ve heard. Not by a long shot, but it IS rocky in places.

  12. RottenDotCommala says:

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

    • nocarrier says:

      One of the briefest insightful comments I’ve ever read. Hat off.

  13. Sic says:

    I completely agree.

    While I love the game so far, it does have its annoyances.

    If you make a game in 2017 with a verb system last seen in the mid nineties, for the love of god, make use of the verbs! Being able to “look at” everything is absolutely essential.

    That being said, the thing that really cooks my noodle is why they’ve gone for a multitude of resolutions in their artwork. Will people ever learn?

    Pick a resolution, and stick with it. Pixel art will never look good otherwise.

    The use of high resolution fonts in everything from menu text to “sentence lines” is really quite jarring. So is the characters getting more high res as they are further away (for instance). Or the different resolutions used in the very same background art.

    It just looks, well, not as good as it could have looked.

    Don’t get me wrong, the art is beautiful, it is simply held back by bad design choices.

  14. LukeW says:

    Had the same issue at the start where I took the light out before realising I had to, then read the note as an afterthought.

    My kids kept bugging me while I was trying to play though, so I figured I’d just missed something. Got to the coroner and the kids were still being annoying, so I just stopped playing because I wasn’t enjoying it.

    Man, don’t remember that problem back in the 90s.

    • Mandrake42 says:

      Don’t give up on it. I’m about 5 hours in and really enjoying it.

  15. Eazy123 says:

    Hey now, let’s not cut ourselves on all this edginess. I grew up on Lucasarts/Sierra games and have not even remotely had any of the gripes you guys have. Keep on reaching, though.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Aquarion says:

    One of the single most irritating bits of the “Classic” adventure games was when you wanted to do a thing but couldn’t because the parser was pedantic. “Use lever” not working because this lever needed to be “push”ed, Blinds that could be “Pulled”, that kind of thing. That TWP in the first scene with the first interactable objects are forgiving with which verbs you use and won’t let you fall out of the opening sequence I don’t believe is a 1300 word fault.

    • Ragnar says:

      While I absolutely agree with you regarding such verb ambiguity, Look At is not ambiguous at all. Looking at things, and reading a description of them, was an adventure game staple.

      The inability to look at one of the first two interactive objects in the game is not a condemnation of the game, but absolutely a valid criticism of a game that advertised bringing back the verb list. Context sensitive actions are fine, but this game went out of its way to have context separate action verbs, and then turned them into context sensitive actions in the very beginning of the game – it’s a problem, and confusing for players. It’s something developers should note to rectify in the future, and it’s honestly a very easy fix.

      And giving away solutions to puzzles that haven’t been encountered yet is as inexcusable as it is common.

      Neither fault ruins the game, but they’re both disappointing, and finding both at the beginning of the game is somewhat shocking – especially coming from a developer that should know better. It gives adventure game fans such as John and myself a negative first impression that the game than has to recover from, which is the last thing you want in a game trying to appeal to adventure game fans.

  17. LionsPhil says:

    Which “dead ends” did the Westwood games have, John? Legend of Kyrandia 1 and 2 will kill you if you’re dumb, and technically if you’ve learnt nothing from Sierra you could overwrite your only save just before that happens (the Serpent’s Grotto in 1 with the glowing berries comes to mind if you’re trying to engineer an unwinnable savegame and refuse to use separate slots), but there was nothing even near King’s Quest or Leisure Suit Larry levels of “hope you like starting over because you solved a problem in the wrong way hours ago”.

    Honestly, they’re far-and-away better than most things that have come out for a very long time, and the magic system is an interesting complexity substitute for verbs. Maybe you ought to go give them another shot, because this sounds like you’re still holding the “THIS ISN’T LUCASARTS SO IT SUCKS D:< " opinions of the day.

    (I miss Westwood.)

  18. aircool says:

    Totally valid complaints by the sound of it.

  19. pistachio says:

    I wasn’t annoyed in the slightest by this. Actually i completely fell in love with the game when I found out you can call about 150 different phone numbers from the phone book, all with unique voice lines. They really put a lot of effort in this and i’m a little surprised by the grumpiness here.

    So far it’s the best adventure game I played since Obduction.

    So if people are put off by this article then really don’t be, chances are you may like it a lot!

  20. Ricktor_Black says:

    These are some of the whiniest, nit-pickiest, dumbest comments I’ve ever read on this site and actually make me think less of the site in general (which I’ve been visiting off and on for years). It sounds like it’s written by a 50-year old grandmother who has never played games before. It kind of sounds like somebody assigned you to find a few things wrong with this game and then publish it to the world.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Why? I’ve never been a fan of these types of games but even I can see why these would annoy someone who was a long time fan of the genre.

      I mean not putting a check in to see if the player had read a key item seems to me like something only an incompetent or amateur would do.

      It would be like portal making it so you could miss the portal gun room when you go to pick it up, then Glados just assuming you had it.

      • Mandrake42 says:

        The to do list that tells you that you have to break the light flashes on and off. While it could be made more obvious by having a klaxon play until you click it, missing it is still kind of weird. And unlike your example of skipping the portal gun, which would make the entire game unplayable, this problem is just going to be little for someone who hadn’t clicked the flashing icon telling them what they need to do.

  21. RezRez says:

    I gotta say: I wholeheartedly agree (and I’m 40, btw). I couldn’t put my finger on it, as I was playing the proglogue, but you’ve identified the problem. I would like to add that I didn’t like the clunky way all those title cards kept showing up, hurting the flow of the first act. The opening is a fragmented mess, to be honest. It DOES get MUCH better once you’re over the prologue and that intro character is dead. One last thing, and then I’ll shut up: I thought the voice-acting of that German was sub-par, also from an udio quality standpoint. Rant over.

  22. Don Alsafi says:

    I’m surprised no one else has brought this up yet, but the reason that this sort of thing is especially egregious is because decades ago, Ron Gilbert himself wrote up list of adventure game sins. Including:

    Backwards Puzzles

    The backwards puzzle is probably the one thing that bugs me more than anything else about adventure games. I have created my share of them; and as with most design flaws, it’s easier to leave them in than to redesign them. The backwards puzzle occurs when the solution is found before the problem. Ideally, the crevice should be found before the rope that allows the player to descend. What this does in the player’s mind is set up a challenge. He knows he need to get down the crevice, but there is no route. Now the player has a task in mind as he continues to search. When a rope is spotted, a light goes on in his head and the puzzle falls into place. For a player, when the design works, there is nothing like that experience.

    And yes, the “discover the solution before you’ve discovered the puzzle” thing is something that equally completely grates on me. (I’ve been playing through Telltale’s “Sam and Max Season 1” this week, and it’s astonishing how that happens constantly in it.)

    • LionsPhil says:

      Relevant!

    • Mandrake42 says:

      Eh, in this puzzles defence, that you need to break the light is written in your to do list that you begin the game with (And that flashes large and small until you click on it, right from the games beginning). It’s also written in a note in your inventory so if you somehow miss the flashing to do icon, if you examine the item in your inventory you know that you have to break the light. The other thing to remember is that the character himself has come to this location to do this, so even if the player ignores the flashing to do button AND the note in their inventory, the character themselves knows very well what they came to this location to do.

      • MrBehemoth says:

        All of what Mandrake42 says, and the fact that this occurs in an early tutorial-ish stage of the game, and especially the fact that the character knows what to do, is why I’m going to ignore John’s grumping and play this game that I am still looking forward to, and not let any preconceptions influence my experience.

        If the converse were happening, and the we the player knew something that the character ought not know (like that infamously contentious moment in Broken Age) we would likely all be complaining about that too. This situation, on the other hand, makes sense, especially in a game with multiple protagonists, where the player is not role-playing a particular character.

        I do enjoy reading John’s opinions as I find them informative and insightful, and they help me to form my own opinions on games I have played, and to predict how I will feel about games I have not yet played, despite the fact that I never actually agree with him. Thank you, you cantankerous git.

        • Mandrake42 says:

          That’s good to know, I was kind of worried that people would be turned off of the game by this rant (In fact, a few comments above lead me to believe this will be the case). While I have my own complaints about the game, mainly the patchiness of the voice acting, there is nothing that should keep fans of this type of game from looking into it. It’s a solid game with an interesting world and characters, and it has the puzzles that so far are entirely logical.

  23. Optimus6128 says:

    I had the exact same reaction. I like in adventure games to lookAt things, even things I know are irrelevant to the solution, just to see what the character say, reveal a funny dialogue and so on. So, I did the same and I started a dialogue with the drunken dude while all I want to get is a first impression about him.

    That irked me, first because it’s inconsistent that I give a command and expect that but get something totally unexpected I never asked, secondly because I assumed they might have done that just to make it easier for new players in their very first moments who might not understand the verb system. Not sure about it, maybe they ran out of dialogue lines though? But why not just respond with “I cannot do that” instead of skipping to the talk command I never asked?

    And then the rock, even though I read the note before and saw the lamp and interacted with it, the riddle was so obvious and I was like yeah I’ll use the rock. But of course I did a lookAt first and got the solution for the so obvious thing I wasn’t needed to be told.

    Maybe it’s really made up this way in the first few minutes just to not drive away new players? It lets you a bit more free later on, I don’t remember such instances later on except in few occasions. Yet, the riddles are still too easy so far. I do enjoy the graphics art, atmosphere, plot, music and dialogues at least.

    p.s. I notice some possibly casualizing trends lately, even with games that are for oldschool gamers and new players wouldn’t even bother playing just by looking at the graphics anyways, so why trying to make the genre palatable for everyone?

    • Mandrake42 says:

      I definitely think its weird that you can’t look at characters, this is universal for every character I’ve encountered so far. Odd design choice. Almost everything else can be looked at though, just so long is its not an NPC.

      As for the casualizing, are you playing it on hard mode? The puzzles are tougher there. The only thing I can see between the puzzles here and the ones in older games is that there is nothing truly logic breaking. Nothing that just shatters the idea that someone could actually come up with the solution outside a hintbook. Everything so far has had a logical connection.

      • Optimus6128 says:

        Yes, of course I am playing the hard mode. I don’t mind as much for easy puzzles as I do for skipping a command to point me to the correct verb or lookat revealing an already obvious riddle.

        In a new game later on, I tried the easy mode just out of curiosity and it made me glad I did start on hard mode. It’s even more casualized with a tutorial mode, blinking cursors, etc. I just hope this is just because it’s a first tutorial screen, but anyways I am not playing this mode..

    • Naiko32 says:

      The funny part is, the “look at” verb is actually REALLY important in the whole game, the thing is, is not in the tutorial, because is just a “scene” to get the game going, so i dont think this complaint is valid.

      Not saying that the puzzle complaint is not valid tho…I guess is important?

      Just play the rest of the game, you would see that this problems are not present at all besides the tutorial, lol.

    • Ragnar says:

      I too wonder if this was done to appeal to a wider, more casual audience. But I fear a casual audience might be put off by the mere presence of a verb list. And if they did want to ease players into the game, there’s a much better way to do that. For example:

      Look At Willie – “Willie’s eyes were closed, his grey beard unkempt. His rumpled coat bore many stains, the canvas of a haphazard and careless artist who’s medium consists of liquids and bits of food. The stench of alcohol wafted out with every every breath.

      I should talk to him.”

      Look At Rock – “The rock is smooth and round – terrible for skipping, but great for transforming solid glass into broken shards.”

  24. monochromatic says:

    This article is an obvious April Fool’s.

    The game eases the player into solving problems and even being lenient with the verbs and throwing hints at the player at the beginning before slowly cranking it up a notch.

    • Mandrake42 says:

      Eh, it was published before April Fool’s day. Considering the things he complains about could be overly sulked about as actual game breaking faults, I think the article is genuine.

      • Mandrake42 says:

        Hmmm, I wish I could have bolded “overly sulked” as I think that as it is this reads like I actually think these are game breaking faults. They aren’t, John just makes them out to be.

  25. frinconm says:

    I’ve just read the three first lines man, not a review of your not review, just my opinion so.. don’t take it personal. I think that writing this after three minutes explain a looooot. Seriously, who does that? I suppose the kind of person that just judge things a first sight even if he doesn’t know anything about the person or thing he is judging.

    • wldmr says:

      How is criticism of an idiotic thing in the first three minutes going to be erased by playing further? Does something happen in the game that somehow makes it sensible that the main character talks when told to “look at” or knows about a thing he doesn’t yet know about?

      • Mandrake42 says:

        Look, even if the player doesn’t know what they came to the location to do because they somehow missed the flashing to do list that tells them, the character absolutely knows why they came here and knows that they need to disable the light. It would be weirder if they didn’t comment that the rock could help them achieve the goal that they came to this place for.

    • Ragnar says:

      First impressions are important for a reason.

      We all know not to judge a book by its cover – and is why John linked to the actual judging – but if the cover looks like crap with a misspelled title, that’s a problem that should be pointed out so that it can be recognized and avoided in future, or even corrected in a revision for future readers.

  26. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Personally, the beginning of the game felt to me as a disaster. Then it gets better. Though it goes from holding your hand to pushing you to the void.

  27. faycandle says:

    Who was it, David Simon, who complained about how TV recappers should wait till the end of a show’s season before writing their review?

    That’s a little extreme – but writing a review after playing a game for *literally three minutes* is puzzling.

    I’ve found niggles with the game after an hour or so of play, but they all fall under the “who cares?” bracket.

    Anyway – I only read this review as it was linked on my Steam homepage. I normally steer clear of games writing. Think I’ll continue to do that. Yeesh. The proviso below mentions having a “friendly… constructive” community – that’s great. Maybe it should extend to the writers too?

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      This isn’t a review. The text says so, and links to the actual review on this site (which is positive). And it clearly states — even in the header — that this is just about the first three minutes. If you mistake this text for something it isn’t, that’s on you.

      • Premium User Badge

        Risingson says:

        Yeah, but John tends to make up things and sometimes be awfully insulting to the game developers. He is a mean spirited writer that always plays the victim role in his writings, and you have his opinions on Discworld 2 or Lost Eden, games that he never played but that did not prevent him to give his strong opinions of the crap they were and give the strong opinions to everyone on how hard and insulting we were with him.

        Otherwise, he can be a brilliant guy.

      • Mandrake42 says:

        @Rikard: My problem with this is that I know it isn’t a review, you know it isn’t a review. But holy shit this is the internet and this kind of takedown is just. Harsh. People are going to take this as a review. In fact if you read above, they have. As If it was a proper review rather than 3 minutes gameplay.

        Anyway, I couldn’t imagine writing this after just a few minutes of gameplay.

        I honestly hoped John went on to enjoy it, it’s good and those first few minutes aren’t really reparative of the hours to follow. Which I guess is my problem.

        • Mandrake42 says:

          reparative = representative. Heh, as autocorrects, go that one amuses me.

        • Ragnar says:

          You’re right, and this article gives a very negative impression of the beginning of the game.

          Why? Because the game have John a very negative impression of itself in the first three minutes.

          The take away, to me, is that developers should spend extra time and attention to make sure the beginning of the game is as flawless as possible to give the best possible first impression.

          • Mandrake42 says:

            But you are justifying writing an article after 3 minutes. I call bollocks on that.

        • PegasusOrgans says:

          Haven’t people rippled Mass Effect Andromeda up over a very short play time? And those WERE reviews. ME:A gets much better and I have yet to see peple defend it like the Gilbertites defend this.

  28. Hank says:

    Wow John, what a depressing Grump. You appear to be very easily frustrated. Putting up this article after only 3mins of playing a game, is beyond harsh, and for something so petty too, and yes to all you John-kissbutters, what he’s whining about is a petty thing, get on with it and enjoy the rest of the game. The Developers spent over 2 years on this, and you’re happy to trash it on the internet without even giving it some decent play time…3mins. Shame, shame.

  29. nocarrier says:

    Really? C’mon…The points are valid. Even R. Gilbert would agree, I guess. But making this a rant? In the context of a freshly published game with the possibility of affecting the sales (because is not a review, but who cares, really)? Over such petty little details? And coming from a person who played from text parsers to this day? Like the author, I have age enough to have enjoyed tons of glorious crappy designed games. Sometimes I had to punch every key on the keyboard just to know which were the control keys. UX would make for a rant when there is nothing else good behind it or when it seriously gets in the way of finding out the good things. This is definitely not the case, so I don’t get what is the bile about. Besides, games are developed in reality not in financial fairy land: comparing polishing between Lucas Art games made in the heyday of point&click adventures with a crowdfunded game published now don’t make sense either.

  30. PegasusOrgans says:

    Who the fuck are you? And how’d you get in my head?! I honestly thought I was the only one peeved by these things, and reading this makes me smile so damn hard. I haven’t been a graphic adventure or text adventure buff quite as long, being 37, but damn do I remember games having rich descriptions upon use of the look icon/command. THANK YOU for this article. Preach on.

  31. Argion says:

    Judging a 20-hours-to-beat game with playing 3 minuets.
    The game journalism is dead.

    • Kala says:

      But he didn’t judge all of the game by playing 3 minutes. He judged the first 3 minutes of the game by playing 3 minutes. As clearly stated.
      Reading comprehension is dead.

  32. freak-o-mator says:

    I liked the “I wonder if I can use this rock to put out the light.”

    It made me discover the notebook and then subsequently realize that in this game the character knows more than the player. He already read the notebook and even marked off item 1 of the to-do list in the notebook knew he would have to take out the light somehow.
    At least that was my interpretation… ^^

    Also the first interactions of the game have to be pleasant for everyone and should not remind players of the annoying aspects of adventure games. A lot of ppl that havent played Point&Clicks in a while would be turned off otherwise.

    So avoiding the “I can’t do that”, “It’s too heavy too push”, “I don’t want to” by defaulting to actions that have results is an okay choice for the first part of the game.

    Even: Look at Willie -> “That must the guy i am supposed to meet”
    Then you have to select the “Talk to” command and click again.. its okay for the main part of the game, but avoiding the extra click within the first seconds of gameplay is a good thing to give players a smoother introduction (or return) to the Point&Click genre.

    And as to your suggestion on how to handle the hint to the rock->light-puzzle:

    Having the “look at”-description of at item in the inventory triggered by me doing something else in the game would be horrible design imho. At least in my understanding the description of items in the inventory should be static, i dont want to have click through my inventory all the time when i get so solve actual harder puzzles later in the game, and playes should not learn that they have to do that, especially not so early into the game.

    Having the hint as part of the “look at”-description of the light would be another solution, but in order to look at the light some “pixel searching” has to happen first and that will probably hinder or annoy some players. So all in all i think its not a bad solution.

    You get introduced to scanning the screen later in the game when you play as the agents. For example you follow a long road and pick up all sort of easy-to-spot items along the way. All in all the game does a good job of (re-)introducing the player to Point&Click-gameplay while avoiding annoyance at first.

    Also, having “Look At” at all is luxury, ZakMcKracken didnt have it… ^^