Sunday, August 18, 2013

Click and Play

Just wanted to share a hint if you are looking for a click&play adventure. Normally I'm not really into Indie or Casual games. A: because I grew up with large/long/hard games, and B: as the Duke would say, I don't have time to play with myself. Even not if the games are small. Oh and C: because I'm just not familiar with the "scene". Hundred years ago I used to read games magazines or the internet scouting for new hot stuff, but these days I only know about the super-announcements, such as a GTA V.

Anyway, about a year ago, one of the guys at T22 gave me a "HumbleBundle" link (a download of some games) as a gift for my daughter. The two main games on the bundle were "Botanicula", and "Machinarium". Both click&play puzzle games from Amanita Design. Quite a while ago we finished Botanicula, and during the last vacation we finally finished Machinarium as well. Well, we... I did the thinking, and Julia sat on my lap instructing me. The puzzles are way too hard for a little kid, but that is not the point. What really charmed both of us -Julia young & open minded, me old & boring- was it's design. Despite the ultra budgets and teams behind games these days, you don't see them coming like this anymore. It was like watching a classic Disney movie over the shoulder of your kid, weeping a tear, remembering how you once sat their with an open mouth staring at the television.

Those who played Monkey Island or something similar, know that the click&play adventure has died a long time ago. Well, pretty much any game that involves thinking died. Maybe not totally in the Indie game scene, but as said, I have no idea what's on the market there. For those who don't imagine a hint-label when hovering the cursor above the word "Click & Play", this style of adventure game usually gave you control over a character, using the mouse only. You would walk from one to another, usually hand drawn, (static) scene, solving puzzles by clicking the right area's on the screen. Clicking would let you pick up an item, have a look, use an item from your inventory on the environment, or start a conversation with one of the characters on the screen. Often in a cartoonish, humorous context. Though the horror genre produced games like Phantasmagoria, Myst or 7th Guest. But most famous is probably the Lucas Arts line up, including Monkey Island and Grim Fendango. The puzzles in these games varied from extreme hard to extreme ridiculous (use "bubblegum" on "dog" to get the jail door open). And including that with the lack dodging bullets or other fast paced gameplay, maybe that's one of the reasons why the genre died a bit. Nevertheless, I bet quite a lot (older) gamers have fond memories.

Botanicula and Machinarium aren't exactly follow ups on Monkey Island. They play a bit different, and aren't as lengthy (but you don't pay a full wallet for these Indie games either). Nor very humorous. More a bit scary actually, but in a way how some older cartoons could be a bit dark. Botanicula lets you take control of a group of, eh... twigs, nuts, and other kind of tree tiny stuff. Your world (read a tree) is being attacked by giant spider like creatures, so you'll be on your way fixing this situation somehow. I can't really explain the plot because it's well... weird. The game feels, but especially sounds (listen!) like a mushroom trip. You'll be walking around between twigs and leafs, saving your other tiny tree friends. Away from button mashing, concrete buildings, blood, machineguns, sniper rifles, mega jumps, monsters, aliens, humans.

Machinarium focuses more on solving puzzles on devices, but a more obvious difference is, of course, the style. Instead of trippy nature world, you'll be walking in a somewhat depressing robot populated city. The beautiful hand drawn backgrounds and animations will make you love it. And even though the puzzles are a bit hard, your kids will love to watch it too. A very healthy fantasy impulse in days where hyperactive 3D super-nonsense is bombarding our kids on TV.

Of course, both games are a bit short, but they come at fair prices. So if you want to taste something different, or if you look for something you can show to your kids on the widescreen without getting battered by your wife, try this. And no, I'm not paid to promote their game, although I do hope people with such fantasy & drawing skills join Tower22 hehe.

Anything else to report related to the game? Not really, except that I'm working on a new particle editor. T22 already had GPU particles, but I wanted to use a more efficient Compute Shader solution. And more important, a better editor that allows the artists to produce the VFX themselves.

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