Friday, March 27, 2015

Hahaha Kayla doesn't know what Broken Age is.

Kayla's evolution, as a gamer and geek has come in great leaps, throughout the course of our relationship.  When we met, Kayla had no problem telling you that she loved Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed - which I had to admit, all alone, was a pretty cool aspect of an all-around pretty cool lady.  I told her so, and we began dating shortly thereafter.  At the time, she was one of the mass-market gamers.  One of the gamers who ensure Call of Duty: This Year breaks records, and keeps Ubisoft's coffers full - but the word "Ōkami" or the phrase "Shin Megami Tensei" may as well have been... well, Japanese.

Through me, Kayla's been introduced to gaming as we know it (and, honestly, I love being able to share this passion with her).  The somewhat-insane degree to which folks like you, dear reader, and I consume, absorb and retain information about this industry has permitted (and, often, required) her to become familiar with games she would have never, otherwise, heard of.   After being forced to watch me play it, for example, she went out and bought herself Dark Souls.

That's some hardcore shit, right there. But part of what we, dear reader, do is parse huge quantities of information, chat about the super important stuff, and ignore the rest.  Hideo Kojima's leaving Konami?  Yawn.  That'll be important when he hooks up with Platinum and makes Anything Other Than Metal Gear: A Hideo Kojima Game.   Broken Age exists?  That's cool - but Broken Age is coming to Vita?

Well, shit, that's worth talking about.  And for all the Kaylas out there who read the phrase "Broken Age" and are unfamiliar with its implications - this one's for you.

Once upon a time there was a very nice teddy bear of a man named Tim Schafer.

Tim Schafer was a developer at a studio named LucasArts, which - in addition to (some pretty gott-damned awesome) stuff like TIE Fighter and other Star Wars titles - was an industry leader in the adventure game genre.  Y'know those games, heavily story-driven, lots of comedy in the writing, where you move your little hero around a room, examining stuff, and you find a wrench, and with that wrench you can manipulate a motor in the next room which will turn on a light which will frighten a bat which will drop a key which will let you into the next room?  Games like that.  Between Sierra Entertainment (which was later purchased and subsequently euthanized by Activision) and LucasArts, the adventure genre was big business, and the two publishers put together some of the most cherished titles of all time.

From Sierra came King's Quest,  Space Quest,  Quest for Glory and Police Quest.  Sierra wasn't big on creativity, when it came to their titles.  Lucasarts, meanwhile, put out stuff with a bit more... flavour.

The Secret of Monkey Island, Manic Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango - all written or directed by Schafer - were instant classics, which are referenced to this day as (in the case of Grim Fandango in particular) the greatest adventure games of all time.

In 2000, a few years before LucasArts was shut down, Schafer left the company to found his own.  He started Double Fine productions, which... had some trouble finding a hit.  It's not that they didn't make great games - they made amazing games - incredible, fun, creative stuff like Psychonauts and (personal favoriteBrütal Legend.

But they never made much money.  Critics loved it, but Double Fine never struck into that infinitely-lucrative vein of popular consciousness that Activision and Ubisoft enjoy.  The studio began toying around with smaller projects - endearing, download-only stuff like Costume Quest and Stacking - and by then, 2012 was rolling around.

Schafer went to Kickstarter and put up a video that basically said "I'm the guy who made Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, and I'd love to make another adventure game like the ones you grew up with - but publishers keep telling me you don't want one, and won't fund one.  If you want one, give me enough money to make the game, and I'll make a new one for you!  I have no idea what the game is or what it's about, yet, but I'll do my best."

He asked for four hundred thousand.  The internet gave him about three and a half million.

It shattered all previous records, established Kickstarter and crowd funding as a legitimate avenue for creators,  and remains one of the largest hauls of any crowd funding venture ever.  Double Fine then got to work on what would become Broken Age.

Gorgeous art direction, clever writing, lovely animations, triple-A voice talent (Elijah Wood, Jennifer Hale, Pendleton Ward - yes, that Pendleton Ward), Schafer reckoned the funding would permit him to exceed all of his previous ambitions for the game.  He pulled what some still argue may be a dick move - splitting the game into two chapters - and released the first half of Broken Age in January of 2014.

It was well-received by critics (though not as well-received as Grim Fandango), and the consensus was that Broken Age is a title that manages to be both funny and heartfelt, and a welcome return to a cherished genre.

On December 6th, 2014, Schafer announced that Sony's Third Party Productions would bring the game to the PlayStation 4 and Vita in 2015, and yesterday it was announced that the launch date is April 28th - about four weeks away!

When it drops, it'll come with the full game - both Act I and Act II - coinciding with the release of Act II on PC.  If you long for the days of point-and-click adventure games with zany plots, endearing characters, funny writing and beautiful worlds, Broken Age was made for you.

And I think Kayla will love it.

In our new living situation, she's been able to indulge her gamerness a bit more than before - she snagged South Park: The Stick of Truth when it was down to $5 on PSN and burned through it in a week.  The other day, we had an email conversation about a work friend who'd asked her to recommend a great upcoming PS4 game, and she said "Bloodboooooooorne!"

It occurred to me that that... may not be the best advice, for someone who's never played a Souls game, so I asked her,
DAVID: Something just occurred to me, Your friend who asked if any good PS4 games are coming up and you recommended Bloodborne... did you mention that it’s incredibly hard? ‘Cause I suddenly realized if someone had recommended a Souls game to me without explaining that part, I might feel a bit burnt.

KAYLA: Yeah I did – I explained that it was going to be incredibly difficult and he might get really pissed off at it but to keep at it because how you feel after getting through a particularly difficult section is worth it.

DAVID: That... is a perfect explanation. 

And I have not yet played it.  Picked it up on Tuesday, and refused to touch it.  I had the Dying Light review to write, and I knew - I knew in my bones that if I took one step into Yarnham, it would become my all-consuming obsession.  That I'd try to write about Dying Light after playing it, and find it impossible - and that would be a great disservice to Techland's latest orgy of gaming pleasures.

But the review is writ.

But it's Friday night.  And this plague of beasts must be addressed.

I bid you goodnight, dear reader.  I go to my death.  And my death.  And my death.  And victory.


  1. Once upon a time there was a very nice teddy bear of a man named Tim Schafer. And his job was to do every thing he could give the world joy, whimsy, laughter, and a bottomless hole in your heart the exact size and shape of psychonauts.

  2. No! Good lord, I played it till my fingers bled. I got rank 101 by accident.

    It just set up such an obvious sequel and back in 2005 I was so young and naive. I didn't think bad things happened to talented people.

    1. Yeah, but Double Fine survived - that's a lot more than most teams in the industry get after two commercial flops in a row (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend). Most studios would just shut down after something like that (see: Radical Entertainment). The fact that Double Fine kept it together, drastically altered their focus to smaller games and survived is... well, it's a real outlier, in the industry. I'm not sure I can point to another studio that's done it.