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Nikopol demo critique Part II

And we are back with the second part. Enjoy.

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I move the canvas to the living room for … well, I don’t know yet. I try to paint the canvas using the painting equipment but apparently this guy needs a model to be able to paint his own father. Maybe Nikopol never saw him before? Probably. So I’m supposed to find some kind of picture of his father. There’s nothing more in the apartment so I guess I already have what’s neccessary. Mmhhh, only the old movie could possibly have something to do with him, and there’s a projector in the living room! How perfectly convenient.

Nice bathroom, very private.

Nice bathroom, very private.

This is where my real complaints start: It’s unneccessarily cumbersome how this puzzle is managed. One would think that using the film with the projector would result in problem solved. Well, no. You can move the projector between two different positions: facing the canvas and facing a screen over the fireplace. Neat. Now why exactly do I need the projector to be in one of these positions to open it’s case? I didn’t realize I could open it until I started to suspect a bad puzzle design and then clicked on several different parts of the projector in boths positions. Once opened, I placed the film inside, closed it and started the film, which strangely turned the camera away from the canvas, facing the screen before playing the movie. I already figured this one out, you know? The film is going to show a portrait of Nikopol’s father and I will have to paint over the projection. It was a clever puzzle, I have to point at the canvas, why the game doesn’t let me?

To be fair, this could be attributed to a lack of feedback. Having the cursor change when pointing at something interactive is the minimum feedback required but the information given to the player is so little that sometimes you have to add a context so the player knows what he’s pointing at. In this example I’m always pointing at the projector but I never know when I’m pointing at the whole thing and when I’m pointing at some particular part of it. I don’t know what I’m pointing at since it’s not intuitive enough. To fix this there are a number of different ways already implemented by other graphic adventures. For instance, when pointing at something interactive, put a text below the cursor describing what’s been pointed at. Or higlight the object itself, making it clear you are pointing at the film case instead of the whole projector.

Moving on, the film is in black and white and it pictures nothing but Nikopol’s father’s head. Oh, how unexpected, can I turn the projector now? Yep, now I can. Why exactly couldn’t I do that earlier? Ah, yes, because the designer wants me to do everything in a especific order. Sound the alarms people! This is poor puzzle design, there’s no way around it. “Think like the designer” type of puzzles are not entertaining. It never is, it never was and it never will be.

Where was I? Oh, right, minigame time! I didn’t expect this sort of thing at all. The player now has to select between black, white, and various different shades of grey and then select what part of the painting will be covered in it. It’s fairly simple, too simple actually once you learn how it works. No big deal, it’s just a neat distraction. It doesn’t make much sense that the guy always uses the same canvas and if you don’t get it right before trying to leave, the painting magically resets. It’s rather inmersion breaking but I can live with it. From bottom to up the colors are white for the shirt, from dark grey to light grey for the face and black for the hair. Once it is painted correctly Nikopol will express how pleased he is with it and we leave the minigame automatically.

So… what now? I guess we could try to leave, right? Yep, except after you open the door you see a nice policeman comming after your blood. Ooops, gotta go back I guess. For me, this is another big nono in game design. It’s a sad example that shows clearly how the enviroment was designed: Nothing happens unless the player triggers an event, and sometimes the event triggered doesn’t have anything to do with what the player did. The police wouldn’t come to the door if you didn’t try to get out, how… artificial. Nevertheless, this could be a minor pet peeve if the rest of the game doesn’t employ this kind of trickery too often.

Police! You are under arrest!

Police! You are GRAWWunder arrest!

Oh, did I mention that the “police” is not human, but actually a blind hideous monster probably inspired by lovecraftian mythology? No? Oops, my mistake. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense, but it also doesn’t make it any less awesome. I’m rather intrigued by it, but I have no time to think, that thing is going to take down the door and me with it. So I try to use the chains on the door for which I get a reply from Nikopol like “I can’t do that”. I’m sorry, what? How… but … but I have the chains for a reason, if it’s not for this I can’t imagine for what it could be. It would probably be a lot less jarring if Nikopol said something different other than the default “no action available” response. Maybe a quick explanation of why the chains wouldn’t get the job done? *sigh* So I look around the room searching for anything to block the door. I don’t remember anything interactive here that would get the job done, but I look around none the less. 5 seconds later the thing get’s through the door and I’m dead. The end.

Wow, that did not just happen. It couldn’t be. Don’t tell me someone in this day and age still thinks that killing the player in an adventure game is a good idea. And the game doesn’t have a save feature implemented yet! Oh god, please let these developers burn in hell if I have to do this all over again.

Thankfully, the game resets at that exact point, with the monster tearing down the door. May I ask why? I’m still baffled by the decision of killing the player if he doesn’t figure out what to do in 5 seconds. If I’m going to “respawn” inmediately after a cutscene where I die of fear, would it be possible to, you know, skip the death part? The solution isn’t obvious at all and the game only gives 5 seconds to do it. It’s literally impossible for the player to do the task without dieing a few times first. You are suppossed to block the door with a huge pipe and then run away. Running away directly or just blocking the door isn’t enough, it will always result in the same death cutscene.

So now that you are in a different room, you can have a little more tranquility, right? Wrong. You now can move around some strange type of forklift to pick up a stone but the monster always gets inside when you are still toying around with it. So, naturally you have to use those flimsy chains you have to lock the door, those ones that you couldn’t use earlier, remember?. It all makes total sense, a huge pipe couldn’t hold the monster for more than 3 seconds but a pair of chains does the job indefinitely. Oh, why couldn’t I use these pair of indestructible chains on the main door? You see Nikopol what you have gotten us into? Stupid protagonist … Anyways, I pick up the huge stone with the forklift, get the chains out and move a big piece of furniture to block the entrance and to open an exit. It sounds particularly odd but it makes sense, I promise. Then you move again the forklift and exit the room and again you are greeted with instant death if you don’t figure out what to do in 5 seconds *sigh*. You are suppossed to lock the monster inside the room with the chains. Finally I can resume normal gameplay without having to worry about some monster killing me every 5 seconds.

Whoa, damm neighbours.

Whoa, damm neighbours.

I suppose now I have to get out of here. I don’t get new comments or new things to interact with so I suppose I have to go to where the beast came from: the main door. Except, now after the attack there’s an inexplicable mountain of crap that fell from the ceiling and the other floors. From the mountain of things nothing is usable or movable or worthy of comment apparently. So I’m left with a brick wall, literally. Acording to Nikopol there used to be a window there and he remembers there was a fire exit behind it. I have to break those bricks now don’t I? Brute force is not what I expected, but I gladly welcome it. So I grab my hammer and start pounding on the brick wall.

Minigame time again! And again, I didn’t expect it. It’s a nice distraction and change of pace so it doesn’t feel too disconnected from everything else. Apparently I have to select which bricks to brake, so I click around, smash a few and by the fifth click or so Nikopol says “I need to brake all the bricks” and then the wall magically reappears. What the hell? That makes absolutely no sense at all. Since when I have to brake all the bricks to be able to pass through the hole? It’s huge! I would only need half of them removed to be able to go through it. And how exactly is the wall reconstructing itself if it isn’t completely destroyed in 5 hits?

I get the abstract logic of the puzzle and how cleverly they applied it to the situation, but you can’t stretch reality to the point it makes no sense. Alright it’s not so bad, but it pulls me out of the experience and worst of all, the puzzle is difficult to the point I just gave up and resulted to brute force.

Let’s see, there’s no point to the puzzle, it makes no sense and it infuriates the player because it apparently lacks a logic solution. All this things combined a good minigame does not make.

Why? Just, why? >_>

Why? Just, why? >_>

After this horrible, meaningless minigame, the demo ends in a cutscene, and some screenshots of the later enviroments which I should remark, are gorgeous. There’s even a screenshot with another character! I’m very interested in the design and gameplay of the dialogs… if there’s any. Multiple choices, please be there in some form or other, don’t let me down. Oh god please be there, this game wouldn’t be of much worth if you aren’t present.

He better not be a deaf-mute

He better not be a deaf-mute.

As a final comment I should say that this critique was supposed to be only one blog post, but since the word count is now around 2750 and counting, I thought it was wise to break it up so the sudden giant wall of text didn’t murder anybody and take their children to the glue factory were we know happy babies live forever as… well, you don’t want to know (glue!).

Is that... Jack Thompson? O_o

Is that... Jack Thompson? O_o

(I think it is, look at the center picture glued to the wall with the yellow lighting)

I may do yet another part on this, exploring further the mistakes of the overall game design, but for now I’ll go to bed with that happy fuzzy feeling of “I just wrote to my heart’s content”. Oh, and props to you if you somehow read all of this, you deserve an internet cookie.

Here, take it.

Here, take it.

4 Responses

  1. I really love this article! :) I seriously do. I was so pissed after that “wtf am I doing with that monster?” part and then I read this, I was simply laughing :) Great opinions, nice thoughts, simply awesome :) Thank you very much.

  2. Just to let you now… I temporarily HATE the blog authors that made me write ‘/feed’ by hand…

  3. @Kwoky: Glad you liked the critique, and thanks for the compliments :)

    @Novack: Believe it or not it took me a while to get what you meant xD
    There’s a link to the RSS feed on the sidebar now. Sadly, it’s the only way wordpress.com has to let me put something like that anywhere. Ugh, I hate this host. It’s for things like these that I want to get my own server, but that will have to wait a little longer.

  4. Absolutely agree with the total nonsensical puzzles.
    I had to remove a rock from the shelf to be able to move it, only to hear that the monster will come in if I move the shelf, so what did I move that rock for?
    I’ve simply deinstalled the demo and will forget about this game.
    Benoit Sokal does great graphics and did some outstandingly new puzzles in Syberia but this is just ridiculous.

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