Monday, April 27, 2015

Gemini Rue and The Meta Puzzle in Adventure Games

I'm probably a bit more than halfway through Wadjet Eye Games' cyberpunk-ish point-n-click adventure, Gemini Rue at the moment.  Before you read anything else, go fire up Steam or GOG or even better, buy this game directly from Wadjet Eye because it is possibly the best adventure game I've played that's come out in the last decade or two.  It's solid story and storytelling, hardcore sci-fi trenchcoat noir.

The gameplay is spot-on -- where a lot of p-n-c adventure games get bogged down in details and bucketloads of case notes, Gemini Rue is super tight and to-the-point.  Whether you're rollicking through the beautiful interstellar noir-Pittsburgh or you're figuring your way out of the supremely creepy whitewashed-lab and the ever-present sound of the nameless "Director's" voice -- there's never a point where things make no sense.  The puzzles are all logical which is a big deal in adventure games.   (Yes, I'm looking at you, Gabriel Knight 3 and you're goddamned cat mustache!!!)  

I particularly like the main dude, Azriel Odin, (What an awesome freakin' name, right!?)  and his torn character.  It's tough to convey a sense of empathy and ethical doubt in a character, especially in the retro, lo-res format, but creator Josh Nuernberger pulls it off in GR.

I love the game to death, and I think it's the open-ended, multi-room puzzles that only occasionally gave me a tough time.  The times I started fidgeting for the 'Esc' key in Gemini Rue are mostly when I leave the game for a day or two, then come back, and have no idea what the mission was, on one of these bigger puzzles. It's like you've got all of these variables stored up in your mental RAM, "evil space Yakuza want x", "Screwdriver needed to fix that iPhone", "Call the drug runner that sounds like Han Solo about smuggling you to Taurus", and then you hit the hay.

Six hours office work, family birthday party, troubleshoot your Ford Taurus' solenoid, and you sit back down to play again and...

 "What the fuck? Why are these Japanese dudes shooting at me, and why do half of them sound like Woody Allen? Why the hell is a detective slogging around 2090 interstellar LA with a SCREWDRIVER!? WHY DO I NEED TO BE SMUGGLED TO A CAR!??!?!?!!!"

This isn't particular to Gemini Rue, though, it's pretty common, I think, for me, in the point-n-click adventure genre.

It's like you're the Chandler-esque detective, but with no leads, wandering from 320x200 pixel Blade Runner setpiece to the next, clicking mindlessly on every 1920's lamp fixture, conveniently placed wooden crate, and femme fatale, to gales of condescending laughter from an invisible audience. Or maybe you're like the dude who doesn't even have a name (barcoded as 'Delta 6'), just woke up in some creepy secret prison/research facility, and has transcranially-induced retrograde amnesia. "Who am I? And why do I have a carrot and a piece of conduit in my inventory!?!? Goddamnit, I need to Google a walkthrough!"

The biggest puzzle in point-n-click adventure games, sometimes seems to be the meta-puzzle. As Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye (maker of Gemini Rue) once put it, "In adventure games you often don't know the puzzle you're supposed to be solving." Which I guess is an interesting philosophical mindstate to explore in our goal-oriented late-Western culture -- that of goal-lessness. But not knowing wtf to do can also make for an intense desire to rage-quit.

Which is why in Neofeud I'm definitely going to be adding extra hints, guidepointers, or maybe even some kind of simple journal-mechanism that briefs you each time you restart the game. Doesn't need to be a hand-holdey "waypoint" system a la 20-teens first person shooters, but just a simple summary of what you were recently doing, key objects / figures at the moment, so you can "restore" not just the save-game state, but also your mental-state. Put the short-term memory back in your brain RAM so you don't feel like you just had a stroke or a brainwipe from the MiB.