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TheUbiquitous

Lengthy analysis of where Double Fine did good [Spoilers]

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Unlike any other adventure I've ever played, Tim Schafer's Double Fine Adventure: Broken Age: Act 1, by the Staff of Double Fine and Illustrated by a Bagel is a beauty. Everything fleshes well thematically and almost everything feeds into the story.

There are many ways where TSDFA:BA:A1btSoDFaIbaB does not push adventure gaming forward. In many ways, it's pretty standard. There's an inventory. One-click, one verb. Not really all that impressive, and I've been spoiled by other indie adventures when it comes to innovations. There aren't any novel little touches to the mechanics, as, for example, I've grown to expect in each new Wadjet Eye game. Resonance memorably used scenery and memories in the inventory, and another (which escapes my memory) used dialogue in the inventory. This dialogue-inventory thing was, frankly, was sort of a refinement of the sword dueling in the first Monkey Island game, a sequence more directly stolen in The Shivah. Still, Wadjet Eye added an interesting twist to the soup of mechanics --- sounds delicious! --- and there are no twists in TSDFA:BA:A1btSoDFaIbaB.

This game is also very pretty, and very well produced, even if the gameplay is really on the easy side. Then again, that's no innovation for Double Fine this side of the Meat Circus. Saying Double Fine has beautifully, impeccably polished flavor hindered by simplistic gameplay is sort of like saying that Bethesda makes large sandbox RPGs, that Rockstar has a potty mouth, or that Obsidian is Latin for "rushed by publisher."

No, where TSDFA:BA:A1btSoDFaIbaB is one of the great adventures is in how carefully it examines, in every aspect of the design, the difficulties of growing up, of coming of age. That's why its art stands out. Though Bagel's paintings are storybook perfection, it isn't the kind of art you'd see in a children's storybook. It has shadows lurking, and the right kind of sophistication, hinting at the increased burdens of adulthood. Its soundtrack, worth a purchase by itself, is in turns intimate and epic. Its puzzles usually mean something to the story, because, as another reviewer pointed out, they often involve helping someone else, an important element of any coming of age story. These puzzles rarely if ever distract from the overall experience, and always --- and I mean always --- logical. There's one situation which comes close to contrivance, but it, almost too conveniently, gets explained away by a helpful woodsman.

All of these elements feed into what is so far one of the most complex coming of age stories in recent memory. Like a Pixar film, it challenges easy storytelling conventions to create a thematically rich and well-fleshed-out story, with ambiguities, with subtleties, with surprises. This richness is really only appreciated on multiple playthroughs, making this game one of the rare adventures worth replaying. This is the sort of element which is independent of having only the first half of the story released --- each of the characters tries to make their way, rebelling against what's best for them, only to find a deeper reality than they ever expected. This haunting subtlety lends itself as even a theme to the story.

For example, whether parents have the best interests of their children in mind is actually a question in this story. That is astonishing only in a sense, because there is a sense where coming of age stories routinely question parental authority. However, in TSDFA:BA:A1btSoDFaIbaB, it actually feels like a question, seriously considered, if not analyzed, by Tim Schafer and his legion of designers. As of the first half of the story, the answer to that question has not already been answered, and there is reason to suspect that a Momputer really does her boy's best interests at heart, and her concern over him his leaving his cradle seems genuine and not at all cynical, not at all calculating. There's also reason to believe she was, at one point, in precisely the same situation as the girl character, sacrificed for a greater good. The boy, working without the supervision of his Momputer, believes he is doing good by some innocent victims --- yet he's stealing girls from their families. The girl believes she's killing a ravenous beast, only to realize that the tentacled monster is piloted, somehow, by a boy her age.

This moment, carefully built up to by a number of hints, in its way represents not just the literal sense --- the boring sense --- of a plot twist. Even this climax --- a cliffhanger for Part 1 of 2 --- has direct relation to the theme, to coming of age. What boy did not treat girls as things to be saved, and what girls did not treat boys as monsters to be avoided? What boy did not ache for danger or challenge, against being coddled? What girl was not angry at being forced into doing something at odds with who she was? Even the title serves the theme: Looking at it sideways, "Broken Age" summons the awkwardness of adolescence, the age of breaking childhood and emerging into adulthood. Man, that's a good title --- you'd think they'd go with "Broken Age" instead of TSDFA:BA:A1btSoDFaIbaB. Hindsight, I suppose.

These few examples, and I'm sure they're only the barest, most obvious examples, underscore the beautiful cohesion of all elements of this game in service to a story. It does not just tell the story of a boy named Shay, a girl named Vella. It tells the story of what it means to grow up, what it's like to finally notice the opposite sex, to rebel against parental authority, and what leaving the safety of that authority means. Not a thing seems out of place, and not a moment draws the player out of the experience. As a result, it's more than just the most beautiful adventure game ever created --- it's also the most true.

Tim Schafer still has a chance to fall into the Dread Pit of Cliches in the second half, I suppose, but after this first half, and after all the hints towards the far-reaching disaster these characters cause, I have no cause to believe he will fail this game, or fail the story.

Forgive its brevity, forgive its ease, and forget its simplicity. Broken Age has a lot to say, and it says it enthrallingly, and --- this is its innovation --- it says it with every part, in every moment.

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Great post, and agreed that this is a great coming-of-age story. I just saw Boyhood recently, and that's the best coming-of-age I've seen in a movie. I'm hoping Night in the Woods also goes along with this theme.

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Agree the story was beautiful and world & characters Tim produced. But the actual game, at least in part one failed in a number of key aspects..

Because of the wonderful animations & full star voice acting, meant i suspect the interactive items and objects had to streamlined. This made the puzzles too obvious as often you only had two items to try and solve the puzzle with... This resulted in some puzzles being solved even before realising there was a puzzle to be solved. Also the system would auto hint a solution, before you had any time to think on things. There for the game felt more like a beautiful work of art and cartoon, as opposed to an actual game.

The second thing I would have loved to have seen is more detail on items examined. Gone home did a wonderful job of this, leaving items to fire up memories, or even written letters that gave a deeper backdrop to the world you find its self. Broken Age was extremely minimal on this, and so the world came across as beautiful but shallow, a tantalising but never fully realised world to truly immerse yourself.

My wish list for Act 2 :

- To make the game tougher, by less auto hints given and difficulty ramped up through having more interactive objects and inventory items.

- Add in a hint system (could be done by adding in a hint buddy robot, talking watch, magical Minish style cap or something. The hints would find that bridge for gamers who like a puzzle, and those more casual gamers who like to just breeze through a game. This way

you get the best of both worlds as you can have the toughness whilst still having easy access to the currently auto hints for those more inclined for that style of game. Broken Age 5, I think implemented this very well.

- Add in back story items such as spoken dialogue reminissing when you look at a warrior painting or find maybe old letters or computer logs fleshing out the story even more.

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