PS2 Adventure, Revisited

This week I went back to play a PS2 title. Sit­ting on my shelf for a cou­ple years, Indi­go Prophe­cy rep­re­sent­ed one of those “You have to play this!” pieces of enter­tain­ment that I duti­ful­ly buy, but nev­er find the time or suf­fi­cient desire to play. This past week­end, it made its way into my Christ­mas video game sea­son.indigohidethebodyindigofindclues

What a good time. My com­pa­ny over the hol­i­day was a great inter­ac­tive sto­ry, with lit­er­ary sto­ry­telling devices sel­dom seen in games. And inter­est­ing char­ac­ters. I killed some­one and tried to solve the mys­tery of why. When I entered Del’s Din­er as Car­la, try­ing to solve the mur­der that I had just com­mit­ted as Lucas, my mind flipped over.

Don’t know Indi­go? Indi­go is a near-cur­rent gen adven­ture game, almost a point-and-click adven­ture game, with a lot of QTE to spike up the action. More about that in a moment. As far as the adven­ture side goes, it stood out a as a good game of that genre. While attrac­tive, the envi­ron­ment isn’t real­ly that inter­ac­tive, and the game design­er has a sto­ry to tell that’s whol­ly lin­ear. As far as I could tell, the sto­ry doesn’t branch sig­nif­i­cant­ly until its epi­logue. It’s all pass-fail progress. This is fine — one school of thought on game design expressed ful­ly. This game intends to take you for a ride, and pro­vides only a mod­er­ate illu­sion that you’re the one in con­trol.

A crit­i­cism I do want to talk about are those less-open moments: the QTE. But it’s not the one you think. I don’t mind but­ton-mash cin­e­mat­ic game­play sequences, either here or in any of the dozen games I’ve played that have them. To be hon­est, if they are done well, I enjoy them. No, they are not the height of inter­ac­tive game design (Dragon’s Lair is call­ing), but–look, here’s the deal. As best I can tell, today’s audi­ence with its big screen TVs and spe­cial-effects laden action films (which I also enjoy) wants sim­i­lar pro­duc­tion values–awesome art, great real­is­tic char­ac­ters and animation–in its video games. For games to look as good as film.

A rea­son­able desire, but it comes at a cost. If you want all that beau­ty, you have to accept some lim­i­ta­tion on the game­play side. We can’t yet stage a close-quar­ters fight from the Matrix movies with two high-res, 25k-poly, 100k ani­ma­tion, ultra-real­is­ti­cal­ly shad­ed characters–at least, not if you want free con­trols over the action and a spec­trum of pos­si­ble out­comes. Shoot­ers we can do, but brawlers? No. And even if we could, those con­trols them­selves would be a big issue…

So today we end up with the com­pro­mise seen since laser disc games to the more recent Force Unleashed (yeah, I went there). We get game choic­es scoped to a small range of pre­de­ter­mined results. You get your cin­e­mat­ic moment, but you don’t get to real­ly dri­ve the game. Until some game proves me wrong, any­way…

/rant off

indigoquicktime

Back to Indi­go Prophe­cy. The prob­lem with its QTE is that the inter­face hogs the damn screen. If you’re going to do cin­e­mat­ic sequences blend­ed with light game­play, fine–then let me watch the motion-cap­tured cin­e­mat­ic action you’re so proud of! Also, don’t lay this thick UI over the screen for every moment of the action. Put up the UI, make me mash some but­tons while the char­ac­ter looks chal­lenged on screen, then get that UI gone for a while so I can see the pay­off. In Indi­go, the sequences are fre­quent­ly so long, and so per­sis­tent, that you just can’t focus on or enjoy the visu­als. It wasn’t until I watched the “bonus mate­ri­als” footage includ­ed on the disk that I got to see the sequences that were play­ing. I was too busy pay­ing atten­tion to the stick-input UI game.

The good news is that the devel­op­er appears to have learned this les­son too, judg­ing by the pre­view footage of Heavy Rain.

To my friends of the last few nights, Lucas and Car­la, I am sor­ry I’ve been neg­a­tive for a while, but I’m not quite done. [SPOILER WARNING] Lucas, you had a girl­friend that died dur­ing the game, because of your actions, and you seemed bro­ken up about it… but I guess not so bro­ken up to stop you from get­ting involved with Car­la a few days lat­er. Car­la, it’s weird enough that you ally up with the mur­der­ing perp who you just col­lect­ed all the evi­dence against, but, .… why do you sud­den­ly want to sleep with this cold guy, much less fall in love with him? The love sto­ry was pret­ty forced and unnec­es­sary. If you just have to have the male lead and female lead get togeth­er, the romance should have been sold as, and seen for the char­ac­ters as a carpe diem, the world is end­ing, so for this one-night sort of thing.

So there we are. Typ­i­cal­ly, I’ve spent more time dis­cussing game­play issues and find­ing faults with the game I liked instead of extolling its virtues. Go read a three-year old pro­fes­sion­al review or some­thing. Me, I loved it. So, if you haven’t already played it, the last thing I have to pass along is: “You have to play this game!”

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