|Dev: Double Fine Productions|
|Pub: Double Fine Productions|
|Release: January 14, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Becky Cunningham
It feels like a long time since Tim Schafer and Double Fine productions put up a Kickstarter for a classic adventure game. When they asked for $40,000 and received $3.3 million, they not only launched their game, they also caused crowdfunding to burst onto the video gaming scene and into the public imagination. Almost two years later, that game has a name, Broken Age, and an upcoming release date. A few video game Kickstarters like Shadowrun Returns and FTL have already launched, but Broken Age will appropriately be the first of the multimillion dollar crowdfunded game projects to see the light of day.
There have been a few struggles and controversies along the way. The original Kickstarter funds weren't enough for the ambitious plans that the $3.3 million inspired in Broken Age's team. When even extra studio funds wouldn't quite cut it, Double Fine decided to make the game's first act available as a Steam Early Access title in January 2014, then use those funds to support the game's full release in March or April. That decision prompted a wave of concern and criticism, though even most critics agree that the course taken was better than going back to Kickstarter or to a publisher for the funds.
What can we expect to see in January? Broken Age is a fantasy/sci-fi game about two young teenagers, Vella and Shay, who live in very different circumstances. Vella lives in a decadent village of bakers, but is about to be sacrificed to a horrible beast. She decides that it's a better idea to find a way to slay the monster, kicking off her adventure. Shay lives alone in a spaceship with his every need catered to by artificial intelligences, but he longs to escape and discover the wide but dangerous world outside. We don't know if these two characters will ever meet, but players will be able to switch back and forth between them.
Broken Age will play like a streamlined classic point-and-click adventure. Simple mouse clicks allow the player to access each character's inventory and interact with the world. Conversations will happen via traditional dialogue trees, a feature that was one of the promises made in the Kickstarter.
Although there will be plenty of puzzles to solve, players won't be able to become irreversibly stuck in the game as was possible in some classic adventures. Deaths and other assorted “game overs” also won't be a worry, although there's something to be said for the humorous death messages found in Schafer's early work. It should be interesting to see how this game handles moments of danger, which have always been a challenge in death-free adventure games. Considering that Vella will be fighting a frightful beast and Shay seeks to return to the war-torn world from which the spaceship is protecting him, there will certainly be danger to be had.
We can be sure that humor will play an important part in Broken Age, despite its serious themes. Schafer (who wrote classic comedy adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle is the lead writer, after all, and he'll be sure to add plenty of whimsy to the script as well as to develop plenty of memorable characters. These characters will be brought to life by voice acting veterans such as Jennifer Hale and Grey DeLisle on staff, plus celebrity talent like Jack Black, Wil Wheaton, and most notably Elijah Wood as Shay. Wood in particular exemplifies the Kickstarter spirit, as he is a lifelong adventure game fan and his casting was kicked off when he contacted Schafer about the Kickstarter via Twitter.
Broken Age is looking quite lovely in the graphics department, as well. The game's style resembles the illustrations in classic children's literature, bearing a style that feels like a cross between watercolor and paper cut-out art. Both lead characters possess that lanky awkwardness of young teens, but Vella has the expression of a determined young adventurer while Shay begins the game with the eye-rolling boredom that befits a teenage boy who is being entertained by robots who believe he's still a child. Vella also happens to be dark-skinned, and it's always nice to see a non-white female lead in a video game.
It won't be long before we get an idea of just how well Broken Age has turned out, though it will be a number of months before we'll be able to finish the game. It's a bit of a risky move to release the game in this manner, though episodic releases have worked well for modern adventure game companies like Telltale. Will backers be pleased with the final result, and will Act 1 resonate with the public at large? What we've seen so far seems like music to the ears of classic adventure game fans like myself, so I find that I'm willing to get on board Broken Age's ride.
Date: January 8, 2014