Published on January 19th, 2014 | by Matt
Broken Age Blind
Almost two years ago in 2012 I was caught up in the storm surrounding Double Fine’s adventure game on Kickstarter. I distinctly remember being sold by the opening video. I paid $30, which bought me access to the game, soundtrack and digital documentary made during the game’s development. The documentary was regularly released in parts and press releases followed leading up to release.
I haven’t paid attention to any of it. I think I watched the first two pieces of the documentary when they came out, but I hardly remember and other than that I have ignored the series.
So going into Broken Age, there were only a handful of facts I knew about the game. I knew it involved a boy and a girl in different worlds, I knew it was an adventure game, and I knew a third thing.
With that said I almost prefer going in blind, because I got to experience the game without any preconceptions. Most games we play, there’s perhaps only a few things we know going in. I am interested to see how following a game’s development so closely could affect the opinion of the game. Hopefully we’ll hear more from Ethan about his thoughts doing just that. As for myself, I’ll go back and watch the documentary after Act 2 is released.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, Broken Age Act 1 was released to backers on January 14 and will be available for everyone else next week.
It’s a fantastic game.
Vella is a girl in a fantasy world and surrounded by people. Every 14 years or so a noticeably Lovecraftian “Grand Mog” emerges and ransacks all the local towns, who offer up maidens picked from their village as a sacrifice for the great beast. Rather than do so out of fear, most people in this world (except perhaps Vella’s grandfather, who remembers the old days) are excited for the event and maidens compete to offer themselves up. The current model is Mog Chothra, and Vella is one of the girls to literally be served up like cake to the monster. Seemingly the only one to consider the concept, Vella fights off the monster and escapes, beginning a quest to take it down.
Shay lives in a spaceship by himself. Nannied (or perhaps “mothered”) by a computer that keeps him safe, he spends his days eating synthetic food, and going on “missions” that are certainly real and not at all fake and designed to keep him safe. Shay pines for something more to do than simply staying safe all the time. When the opportunity arises, he gladly choses an exciting adventure over the monotony of his day-to-day existence.
The stories quite clearly mirror each other. Vella goes from place to place on her journey, while Shay stays in one central hub that slowly expands. Vella interacts with many people on a short term basis, while Shay has only a few characters he interacts with. Both characters want to escape from their normal life and fight against what fate would tell them. And the “fantasy vs. sci-fi” setting is obvious. Though the two characters don’t interact with each other, their stories have similarities in their puzzles and themes too.
The most obvious and striking aspect of Broken Age is its art. The storybook style is a perfect fit, and the scenery and character design is beautiful. Occasionally the animation has its moments where you notice he seams, but the world Double Fine has created here looks amazing. The characters themselves do a good job of matching the style, with nice use of celebrity voices and truly funny dialogue.
While the original pitch for the Double Fine Adventure was an old school adventure game, its obvious that a literal interpretation of that would not work today. While collecting every item you could find and rubbing them all against each other until the next room unlocked worked in the 90s and many adventure games had genuinely clever puzzles and challenges, that kind of endless inventory management wouldn’t fly as well today. I’m sure Tim Schafer recognized this going in, and the item management and puzzles have been simplified to fit today’s design aesthetics.
There is still item collection (sometimes for reasons that don’t seem obvious until you enter the next room) and occasionally unclear goals (I once got stuck because there was an item I needed about 5 screens back that I thought was part of the background) there is thankfully very few instances of needlessly obtuse puzzles or item combining. The downside is some puzzles are a little too easy, but the challenge is there. When it comes to a game like this, I prefer to see the story than get frustrated on a puzzle because I don’t have the exact mindset the developer did while creating it.
Broken Age doesn’t set out to completely change the adventure game genre, nor is Tim Schafer trying to make some grand statement. Double Fine original asked for only $400,000 to make this, and even after the Kickstarter earned over $3 million the humble origins of the game are clear. But honestly I think that makes for a better game.
I am tired of games where the player is “the one” and the entire universe hangs in balance, and I imagine I’m not the only one. In the past year we’ve seen smallers games like this tackle smaller—but more personal—adventures. This plays right into the games strengths and makes the characters and world more personal and believable.
The story (of Act 1 at least) ends in a surprising and truly engrossing cliffhanger that both wraps up the game perfectly and leaves me desperate to get my hands on the second part. While I didn’t see the ending coming, playing the game a second time revealed key elements of foreshadowing, and the person I was playing with managed to guess it without my prompting. Without going into spoilers, I really hope the story of the next act answers the questions that this ending leaves us with.
Act 2 will be the key for Broken Age. If Tim Schafer and Co. can deliver on the promise, I think this will stand out as a great example of the old school adventure game merged with modern day sensibilities. To those who haven’t had the privilege of playing Act 1 yet: It’s out on the 28th, and I highly recommend it.