Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Common Denominator

What happens if you break stuff?

Take the latest installment of the Shiver series: Vanishing Hitchhiker.
The emotional topography is single-minded; the environments are hackneyed to the max; the HO scenes are dark, the items miniscule, and the hints flawed; the journal and the strategy guide are last minute affairs devoid of class; deus ex machina rules the world, felling yet another tree with another bolt of lightning - only, this time, you won't need to put out the fire and chop up the trunk because the bloody thing simply vanishes; puzzles/mini games are virtually non-existent, and where they are existent they really shouldn't be - the gameplay is a string of lacklustre inventory item tasks, laying down planks of wood to make a staircase and dusting a piano with a wetted rag. Man, on paper it looks like a disaster. And, to me, the trial hour (in which I completed half the game), played like a caravan of dessicated hinnies. (Um, somehow you can get 'dry and tedious' from that. A hinny is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey. I didn't know that. It was on Eggheads. [Actually, it might have been some other quiz thing that played in the background].)
(Think that full stop is right. Yes, I'm sure of it. Hmm... I was.)

Intermission: M3 is about to go into retail in the States. The marketing bods were unhappy with the word 'severed', and also wanted to return the word 'manor', so look out for Margrave Manor 3: The Curse of the Blacksmith's Heart. Sigh.

So, as you can imagine by my distaste, Vanishing Hitchhiker has gone down a storm with the public.
Huh? What happened? Hey? But... deus ex machina I cry! Deus ex machina!!!
I kinda know how all those YA authors felt when JK Rowling sauntered onto the pitch and urinated over their years of hard work and study and then went on to tear the publishing world asunder.

As ever, I'm actually cool and pragmatic. (Man, I'm really surprising myself these days!)
Firstly, there's no single way to make a good iHOG.
Some achieve success by using lots of puzzles/mini games. Some have very few, or none.
Some have loads of HO scenes, and some very few. Some HO scenes are hard, and some are easy.
Some recline in the 'horror' salon, others in the 'fantasy' lounge.
Just compare Phantasmat with Vanishing Hitchhiker. Some of their scenes are almost identical (bar Phantasmat's bolder colour aesthetic)! They both endeavour to achieve the same results in the same genre through similar narrative tactics, but they share little in common when it comes to gameplay.

What Vanishing Hitchhiker does do well is it creates a strong, immersive atmosphere. Sure, it's a desaturated cliché from start to finish - a shameless hybrid of Shutter Island and Silent Hill, with a Hitchcockian sensibility running through it - and, yes, that is Mozart's Requiem crackling on the record player - but for all its technical faults, it achieves the key functions.
Hook player > create immersive atmosphere > keep player busy doing stuff > keep developing > end with resolution or cliffhanger.
Same with Jo Rowling: she might wave a dismissive hand at people far more learned than her, but she does achieve those key things, and she achieves them with great panache.

So back to my question...
You can break loads of stuff, provided that you hook the player and keep her actively entertained in an immersive world.
So why learn stuff then?
Because, if you're good, you can use that stuff to wield total control over those key functions - indeed, over the entire experience.

Please forgive me, but I do have one recent review to share with you. It's embarrassing, I know, but it does illustrate my points very well.
And I really do have to shake this peculiar sense of disbelief: I have to stop thinking that every super review is some kind of put up job.
(Also, as noted in the review, I've been thinking lately about how I've never created an evil antagonist. They might seem evil at first, but they're always pitiful, abused, misunderstood creatures. How odd.)

And before I get back to making characters speak, may I ask you, my delicious maggoteers, to press that voting button on the right there? You don't have to. It'll just make me feel a bit better about everything. Hugs and kisses.

* * *

User review on gamezebo, posted by Jaxxy, March 27th.

As an MCF and Hidden Expedition fan... this game blew me away. I cried, too... twice, to be exact. I'd be hard-pressed to think of another game that moved me this well.

Oh, the puzzles are so original--and plentiful! I'm no slouch, but I really had to think. This was a *dense* game, and still quite long enough.

The game is most definitely immersive, as well--and it does this without much gore (only somewhat insinuated and v. rare)--no AAH! startlings!--no genuinely evil horrible criminals--nothing seems too based on the "creep factor" (nothing big, anyway--I mean, nothing NEEDS it, to impress upon you).

The story is very intricate and unexpected, the length is perfectly lengthy (no filler--not for a second), and the characters? are just SO lovable. *Real*.

And sorry, Gamezebo, but I would never call the bonus content "thin"--while there are no wallpapers or video thingies, there is a great, also-immersive follow-up story adventure. A complete story in itself, and also heartwarming/heartbreaking (it was responsible for the second time I cried during the course of this game!).
--I'd trade all the "I'll-never-use-'em" wallpapers & soundtracks in the world for the above. In a game, for bonus content--especially if I'm like "NO DIS ROX'S PLZ GIMME MOAR"--I find I want... MOAR GAIM. =D

Very dreamy--I will not forget this title (as, sadly, I normally do for current HOGs). Way to think outside the box! And I'm sure Helen Lawson will enjoy a great boost from her song being the theme of this game--as she deserves, as the song is also very special.

Tons of puzzles, strong Adventure bent, challenging hidden-object scenes...
NO cliff-hangers, whether you finish at the game's finish *or* after the bonus content...
DO at least try this memorable work--it is a breath of fresh air for both the imagination and the noggin.

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