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Editorial: A Conversation About Broken Age

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As many of our readers will be aware, Double Fine's crowdfunded point and click adventure game Broken Age has finally been released.

Originally overfunded by 833%, what was planned to be a small scale celebration of old school point and click games evolved into an adventure of proportions matching any of LucasArts' much loved classics.

Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, the game is now available for Linux users (as well as people stuck on other platforms), and along with it all of the 19 currently released episodes of the accompanying documentary.

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Rather than write a review type article, I thought it might be more interesting to sit down with fellow GOL editor Flesk and compare our thoughts and experiences of the game. Like myself, Flesk is also a volunteer community moderator on the Double Fine forums and an original backer of the game.

It is our hope that this insight into the things that we personally appreciate about Broken Age, about crowdfunding, and about adventure games in general will be interesting. These definitely aren't the only opinions, and we'd love to hear your thoughts! also accepts submitted articles, so if you have a review of Broken Age or an editorial with a different angle, feel free to submit it!

If you're interested in a TL;DR, you can skip to the bottom for some pros and cons as well as links to check out the game and the documentary.


C: So, what do you think of when you think of an adventure game?

C: (I think I'm going to crank the game's soundtrack while we do this)

F: Well, I my first encounter with the genre was playing some of the first Sierra adventure games at a friend's house in the late 80s. Kings Quest, Leisure Suit Larry.

C: I think for me, it was Monkey Island and Conquests of Camelot first. Quest For Glory 1 (Hero's Quest) was also a huge thing for me. I think that over time I migrated towards LucasArts' side of things. I've always loved the stories that their "classic" adventure games have put forward.

C: The other interesting thing about the LucasArts catalogue of adventure games is that they show very clear tech progression and very clear evolution in terms of their understanding of game design concepts. Monkey Island builds on so much that was learned from Maniac Mansion in terms of structure, pacing, user friendliness and making sure that things can be discovered through reasoning (even if it's not perfect). Between Curse Of Monkey Island and Full Throttle, you can see intentional experimentation with different kinds of user interaction.

F: It's hard to explain the appeal, but I guess the feeling of story books come to life in an interactive fashion might have something to do with it.

C: It's always a double edged sword though - finding the balance between something that is just an interactive story, and something that brings a sense of reward from finding solutions.

F: At the time we had a NES, and it wasn't until a few years later when we got an Amiga I became familiar with the LucasArts games.

C: For me it was Amiga first, and then later on IBM compatibles.

C: Towards the mid to late 90s though, adventure games started to become less and less prominent.

F: Adventure games seemed to have gotten more out of fashion, and the few new ones I managed to find mostly failed to impress me. One of them, Orion Burger, even managed to brick my computer somehow. It might have been a coincidence, but I still blame that game to this day.

C: Ha ha, darn.

F: I don't think I really ever lost interest in adventure games, but things happened in my life, my family moved far away from where I was born, and the Amiga was sold. When we later got a PC and I started playing games again, the golden era of adventure games had passed.

C: I think the demand for adventure games and adventure game-like things never really went away. Looking back, there have always been passionate communities of adventure game fans who care about the genre.

F: So when Telltale Games released their first season of Sam & Max in 2006, that was the first time I'd been genuinely excited about an adventure game in years. At the time I was still mostly unaware of other modern adventure games.

C: I never stopped playing them. I remember being so excited when Sam & Max: Freelance Police was announced, and devastated when it was canceled, then all the ups and downs along the way before Telltale announced they'd be working with that franchise.

C: Back then, episodic stuff felt new (even though it wasn't - there were tons of episodic shareware games back in the 90s), and I think a lot of people were wary of Telltale's approach.

F: Other than the games from Telltale Games, I didn't really buy into the whole digital games market at the time. The first Monkey Island special edition was my introduction to Steam, but it wasn't until 2011 when I was on parental leave for the first time and had a lot of time on my hands during naps that I really started to discover digital games distribution. And that, I suppose, cemented my newfound love for adventure games.

C: Oh yeah, digital distribution was new then too. That also made things hard for early Telltale, I think.

C: I was too big a Sam & Max fan to stay away though. I remember wanting to wait and play the whole season at once. It was hard to do that and still feel like I was a part of the community, so I eventually caved in and came to enjoy taking their games in small bites.

C: So, crowdfunding also became a way for adventure game developers to try to reach audiences. Games like Kentucky Route Zero had been overfunded long before Kickstarter was being seriously considered for games.

C: This is where Broken Age comes in, although at the time, it didn't have a name, or a concept really. The original pitch was to have a documentary that followed the game's production from beginning to end, and supporters would also be able to get the game as well and give some input into its development.

C: I caught it when it only had like $40k, and remember thinking "Wow, Tim Schafer isn't getting much love."

F: I hadn't even heard of Kickstarter before the DFA campaign was launched. I was familiar with Tim Schafer from his work on Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle. I also knew of Double Fine as the developers of Psychonauts, which is one of my all-time favourite games, so I immediately backed the campaign.

C: The next time I looked, it was up over $300k. I'd never backed anything before, and since there were a few of Tim's games in the past that I hadn't personally purchased, I figured I'd throw some money their way. I hadn't really paid much attention to Double Fine up until that point, as they hadn't published anything on Linux and seemed to be pretty console oriented.

F: I think the campaign was approaching its first million by the time I caught wind of it, and so it was obvious it was going to get big. Still, I didn't have the faintest idea at the time how huge it was going to get and how crowd-funding would explode as a phenomenon in the wake of it.

C: I remember sending a message through asking if Linux support was something they were considering. At the time, I didn't get a response, but a day or so later, they announced that Linux support would be available to everybody \o/

F: Since this Kickstarter campaign I have backed around 100 other projects, so it's safe to say this one whet my appetite for crowd-funding. And though not all of them managed to get funded, and most are still in the process of being developed, I'm still happy to take a small part in making sure games I'm interested in have a chance to get made.

C: I've only backed 43, but every experience has been really positive, with the exception of 6 that didn't make their funding goals, and one that was canceled part way through (I got a refund for that one though).

F: And though I've had many crowd-funding experiences since, this is still the one that really stands out. The documentary has been an unprecedented insight into the development of a video game. And though there have been rough patches along the way, I think most of that inevitably came with the role of being a pioneer in crowd-funding. The exclusive nature of the documentary has lead to a lot of unfair speculation about mismanagement of money and time by people not in the know, and when Double Fine launched their second Kickstarter the following year, they made all video content and every update open to the public. It's clear that this strategy has worked out better for the company, since there hasn't been anywhere near as much outcry around development of that game, and it's easy to see the game is coming along nicely.

C: Yeah. There was a vote early on about whether stuff should be freely available or private. I tried to convince people that public information would be better for the project and better for the community, but it was hard. In the end that caused some other problems too, like when the press embargo thing got sour and some backers who were also press were publishing stuff about the game. I'm really glad to see that Double Fine has learned to be more open from that. It feels like the easy response would be to just lock things down more, but Massive Chalice shows that they recognised that making things publicly available would help avoid those sorts of situations.

C: I've seen some people claiming that larger studios or bigger names making use of crowdfunding platforms takes money away from smaller developers, but I think the opposite is true. Kickstarter published a blog post that same year about how people who came onboard to fund games went on to back more projects, so the knock on effect is that it helped grow the platform and make crowdfunding in general more accessible to game developers.

C: So the Double Fine Adventure ended up pulling in $3.3m worth of Kickstarter pledges by the end of its campaign, with no details or work done on the game itself. How did you feel as the end approached?

F: That made me very excited, as I figured it would give them a chance to make a fully fledged adventure game. Something reminiscent of the LucasArts classics. Beyond that, I just felt awestruck I think.

C: I remember feeling glad to be a part of it. They did a countdown stream where everybody was over excited. People were taking suggestions from chat, and at some point people started putting shoes on their heads >_<

F: I didn't catch that until afterwards. I might have been at work or asleep when that happened.

C: It was a fun time. Full of silliness and promise before the actual work started :D

C: From then on, the documentary and a bunch of forum posts were our window into the game's development.

F: I think for some that might have been sort of a cold shower when the initial hype from the campaign died down, but for many others, they found a new community full of like minded people who were excited about adventure adventure games. As an old regular at the Telltale Games forums, it was that for me, since the games Telltale Games had started making by that time didn't really catch my interest anymore.

C: It's funny, a lot of the old Telltale community migrated across to Double Fine's forums. I found a lot of familiar faces there :)

C: I really wanted to see the documentary get made because I know that there's a lot of misconceptions out there regarding what goes into game development. The most rewarding aspects for me though have been getting to be a part of the community and coming to know the people at Double Fine.

F: Yeah, that has definitely been very rewarding.

C: It's also been gratifying to see other developers come out and say that the hurdles and challenges that the documentary show are similar to some of their own experiences in the industry. I think those sorts of comments really add a lot of weight to what's being shown.

F: Yeah, but there has also been a number of comparisons to developers who are working on a shoestring budget by using unpaid interns or working on games in their spare time. That feels very unfair, since Double Fine obviously can't expect their employees to go without pay.

C: Right - that's a pretty big thing too. Lots of crowdfunding campaigns have funding targets which might let the game be made, but aren't really achievable without people working from home or without pay. It's been a testament to Double Fine's integrity that they've documented the creation of a game that is by a studio that looks after its people.

C: So as a backer, what has been the most rewarding aspect of the Double Fine Adventure/Broken Age?

F: I think I'd have to say that it's the feeling of being a part a major change of course in video game funding, and getting a front row seat in the process of recapturing the magic of the games from my childhood. It's kind of hard to put words to, so I'll have to make do with those cliches.

C: For me, like I said, it's been about the community and about getting to know the people at Double Fine. At the time I backed, I think Tim Schafer was the only person I was familiar with. Today I have a lot of friends there :)

C: I've organised three community meetups at events like PAX Australia, I've been running the Double Fine Game Club for nearly 3 years, coordinated a community made Amnesia Fortnight game and done a bunch of other smaller things. It's been really rewarding to be a part of all that.

F: Yeah, they are certainly a lot more to me than just names now. And it felt genuinely sad when those 12 employees had to leave the company.

C: Oh man, that was really distressing. It was hard, not only to see people I'd come to know move on to other things, but also to see the impact on morale that that had at the studio. It's a really cliche thing to say, but I've gotten a really strong sense of that "family" aspect from everybody there.

F: Yeah, it feels like a very close knit group of people. More like a family than any company I've ever worked for.

C: Three years later, we're at the other end of this. The game was released earlier today for Linux, Mac, Windows and a few other platforms.

C: Broken Age's plot follows the story of two young people from very different worlds. They're both at odds with the roles they've been given and are searching for ways to escape and be in control of their own lives.

C: Vella has been selected to take part in the Maiden's Feast ritual in which young women are sacrificed to a giant monster to keep the town save. In her culture, it's considered a great honour, but she wants to fight back.

C: Shay is stuck on a space ship, coddled by a motherly character who wants to make sure that he feels and is safe. His mission is supposedly important, but he's more interested in finding some way to make a difference and have some meaning in his life.

C: Do you think that sums it up?

F: Yeah.

C: This game was the first game that Tim Schafer has been the creative lead on for a long time. Since Brütal Legend I think.

F: Yeah, I think that's true. He's only helped a bit with writing on other games as far as I can remember.

C: In addition to Brütal Legend and Psychonauts, Tim is really well known for the adventure games he's worked on (Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango). Most of those have really strong worlds and characters that play on some existing elements of popular culture, like bikers in a dystopian post-apocalyptic-like future or film noir sensibilities or college roommate shenanigans.

F: I don't know if I have anything to add to that.

C: One of the earliest things that became clear about Broken Age (long before it was called that) was that it would be inspired by the character and style of Nathan "Bagel" Stapley's art. I think that makes it a little harder for Broken Age to feel as grounded as Tim's previous games, but when viewed from that angle, it's easy to appreciate the whimsy and juxtaposition that the world(s) of Broken Age portray.

F: And the fact that the worlds Vella and Shay live in are not the same as ours, feels like it lends itself well to lots of very interesting and unique locations.

C: It feels like the game borrows a little from Day of the Tentacle in that it has multiple characters who have concurrent stories that you can switch between. There's a little bit of gating that goes on to make sure that one character's story doesn't get too far ahead of the other. What did you think of that?

F: I think they work really well as puzzles, but they're hard to explain in terms of story.

C: It raises an interesting point that I think has been a point of discussion around adventure games for a long time, and that's whether it's a bad thing for the player to know more than the protagonist.

F: Yeah, exactly. From the characters' views, they have no way of knowing those things.

C: There are some points in the story where the "intuition" of the protagonists is talked about and alluded to as being important. It's an interesting interpretation to view the player's broader awareness as representing that.

[At this point, we got a bit rambly about different puzzles. We talked about our appreciation for knot and wiring puzzles amongst other slightly spoilery things.]

F: I also really enjoyed the first "boss battle" puzzle. And though I'm not done with the last one, I think I can see where it's heading, and I think that one's really nice and complex too.

C: At the end of the first act?

F: Yeah, I'm referring to the end of the first act as the first "boss battle" puzzle if that makes sense.

C: Yeah. I liked the way that tension was maintained in that piece.

C: In general, the gameplay feels like it follows that trend that the LucasArts point and click adventure games. You can imagine that the progression of UI that they were on would have eventually brought them to a single verb style interface.

F: I agree that in hindsight the early LucasArts classics had a lot more verbs than necessary. I'm still fond of the verb coin, but I think act 2 of Broken Age proves that if you design your puzzles well, you really don't need more than one verb to create puzzles with the same complexity as those old games.

C: Personally I love verbs - the more the merrier, I say. I miss text parsers too :D

C: That said, I'm working on two single verb adventure games at the moment, so I can understand the appeal of that too.

F: It might have been nice with a second verb to look at and get a description of objects of interest though, but playing the second act, I haven't really missed that. The talking kitchen utensils you carry around as both protagonists do a good job at filling in for that.

C: Right - inventory items are effectively verbs.

C: So earlier we said that the game draws inspiration from Bagel's art. That's not just in the attitude and character of the game, but the game also echoes his visual style

C: The art is really charming, though sometimes it can be hard to know what's interactive and what's not (particularly for people who aren't familiar with adventure games or don't appreciate "pixel hunting").

F: Yeah. I'm not sure how to describe that, but it has this certain vibrant expressiveness that is also brought out in the somewhat theatrical gestures of the character animations. Or something. Not sure how to put words to that.

C: The animation style is neat. It wasn't really the sort of thing I was expecting. They've got for a mix of skeletal and sprite based animation that feels really distinctive.

F: Yeah, I agree. I guess part of that is the choice of using 15 FPS for animations.

C: There's also some nice subtle stuff they've gone with rotating geometry away from the camera. Most characters faces feel much more detailed and more animated than the rest of their bodies or the environments though

F: That's interesting. And it's probably a deliberate choice to draw attention to their faces.

C: The audio is pretty good too. They brought Peter McConnell onboard to score the game. He'd also worked on a number of previous Double Fine and LucasArts titles.

F: That music when Vella flees the Maiden Feast really gave me goose bumps. That was the first point in the game when I felt that tingle of something special, and there has been more moments like that since.

C: Yeah, it's a really nice soundtrack. You can tell that a lot of love has gone into it.

C: The voice acting also sets a pretty high bar. Masasa Moyo and Elijah Wood both play believable characters, and rest of the cast delivers some nice performances too.

F: Oh, yeah. It's probably one of the best casted and acted games I have played. I often end up reading subtitles and skipping over spoken dialogue in most games, but this game has had me listening to every spoken word.

F: Some of that is undoubtedly due to Tim Schafer's terse and eloquent writing, but the voice acting is also to thank for that.

C: I think Khris Brown's casting/directing helped a lot there too. She'd also worked on previous Double Fine and LucasArts games. It felt a little bit like getting the band back together :D

F: Yeah, it's apparent that she has a lot of passion, not to mention skills, for what she does.

C: I think the strongest performance was given by Wil Wheaton in a bit role that came out of backers getting excited for a piece of concept art that was later used in an animation test.

F: Yeah, that was a nice role.

C: So all up, do you think that Broken Age fits within the "classic point and click adventure" pantheon?

F: In my opinion, it absolutely does. Some people only seem to remember the stereotypical 12 verb, pixel graphics classics, but they forget that even LucasArts experimented a lot with design and style. All in all, the whole package – story, puzzles and atmosphere – to me feel like something that could have come right at the heels of Grim Fandango if LucasArts had kept at it, and continued to evolve the adventure game genre.

C: To me, it's probably not my favourite point and click adventure game, and probably not even my favourite Tim Schafer game (Full Throttle and Grim Fandango are very, very hard to top), but it's right up there.

C: It has some quirks and foibles - like that stuff with whether the player should know more than the protagonist, and there's the introduction of two characters at the start of the second act that takes a little bit to swallow, but at the end of the day, I don't think they make the game any less enjoyable.

C: So far as Linux support goes, I think Broken Age was the first title that Double Fine committed to, and it eventually led them to getting all but one of their PC games ported across (Microsoft published Iron Brigade and it sounds like they're not interested in bringing it to us).

F: I was slightly let down by the linearity of act 1, but act 2 remedied that with a greatly improved complexity in puzzles that gave reason to stop and spend time with the game world. As a whole game, it feels like the puzzle department has a nice upwards curve in difficulty and the story remains captivating up to the point where I'm at. I'll have to reserve final judgement for when I'm through the game, but right now I'd also rank it among my favourites. At least top 20.

C: :D

F: Yeah, it's really awesome that they've ported pretty much everything in their PC portfolio to Linux, and most of it runs great on my computers. I've experienced some graphical issues with both The Cave and Psychonauts and audio issues with Costume Quest 2, but none of the issues have been game breaking.

C: The game itself runs solidly for me. I haven't had any problems, though I have seen people who have had trouble with the game's mouse acceleration. It also doesn't use XDG_DATA_HOME for saves [for the Steam version], and doesn't have user specific save files.

F: Yeah, save and config paths are a mixed bag, but that's unfortunately the case with most games on Linux.

F: So, to sum things up a bit, for me these past three years have been a blast. Not only have I followed the development of a game I've been very excited about, but it has also made a crowd-funding addict of me and introduced me to several people I now hold in high regard. Indirectly, it also introduced me to GamingOnLinux, since your involvement with GOL was one of the first things that made me curious about the site. The finished game has also lived up to my expectations, and though it has its flaws, that I've mentioned before, I'm overall very satisfied with the game.

C: Oh! I didn’t realise that I’d gotten you into the GOL community. I assumed you’d always been hanging around in some capacity and crept over into the Double Fine community from there :D

F: I’d been reading some articles every now and then, but it wasn’t until last year I started visiting GOL more regularly. And it wasn’t until the first call for help last year I started getting involved with the community.

C: It’s really hard for me to separate my feeling for the game from my feelings for the project as a whole. It’s been a long road and enjoyable road. I was hoping for a lot more community/developer interaction, but when the pledged amount blew so far past the funding goal, I could see that it wasn’t really a possibility. It was great to see people pitch in with brainstorming threads and help vote on some character designs and stuff though. All up, I think Broken Age is special. It has its flaws, but they’re not big enough to make me appreciate it less, and it’s been wonderful to play a new Tim Schafer adventure game for the first time in many, many years. It’s great to have played a small part in making this game possible, and now share it with the rest of the world!

C: Thank you to everybody who’s still with us. We hope it was an interesting read!

Cheese's Summary
* Charming graphics
* Solid pacing
* Strong puzzle design with good balance between logic, dialogue and exploration
* Lovely score
* Great documentary
* 11 hours of playtime feels like a good length for an adventure game

* It's finished!
* Some puzzles don't quite have the right prompts (eg: Vella's tube cutting puzzle points players in the wrong direction)
* The game would benefit from cues to remind players to switch back and forth between characters for extra perspective
* Mouse acceleration is a little funky
* Lack of proper Steam Cloud integration

Flesk's Summary
* Audio and visuals are top notch. The grandeur of McConnells music and the stunning Bagel art.
* Has taken me 15 hours up to the last puzzle, which puts it in the ballpark of the original Monkey Island games.
* Act 1's ending knocked me off my feet and the strong continuation in Act 2 has kept me glued to the screen.
* The wiring puzzles in Act 2 are now some of my favourite puzzles and there's overall a nice puzzle complexity.
* The Video documentary is something I've enjoyed immensely and it's given me a new understanding for game development.

* Puzzles again, but in Act 1. Blew past most of them, and that made it hard to get invested in the game world.
* Could have wished for more written updates from the Broken Age team the last year or so of the project.
* Some of the finer plot details seem to have been a bit overlooked in hindsight.
* There’s only 8 save slots; which is way too few for my taste, as I like to save often.
* Not having the game to look forward to, now that it’s complete.

If you've been holding out for Act 2 of Broken Age, you can now buy and enjoy the full game. For a DRM free version, GOG or the Humble Store have you covered. If you rather play the game on Steam, you can either buy it from GamesRepublic (which will send some money GOL's way) or directly from Steam.

The unique documentary covering the development of the game is also available for purchase. You'll get the full set of 20 main episodes (currently 19) from VHX in 1080p, with the option to buy a deluxe edition with a ton of bonus material. If money is tight, you can also watch the main episodes in 720p on YouTube:

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About the author -
author picture
Game developer, Linux helper person, and independent writer/interviewer.

Currently working on Winter's Wake, a first person text adventure thing and its engine Icicle. Also making a little bee themed base builder called Hive Time :)

I do more stuff than could ever fit into a bio.
See more from me
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flesk May 1, 2015
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  • Contributing Editor
Thanks for the positive inputs on the article. :) I have to admit that I was a bit curious about how this might work out as an article when Cheeseness approached me about it, so I'm glad to hear it's appreciated. It was an interesting experiment for sure.
Cheeseness May 4, 2015
Glad to hear you enjoyed it, drmoth! As with Flesk, I was unsure about how it would pan out, but it seems to have had a generally positive response, which is nice :)

Anybody looking for an actual review can check out Norbert's impressions over here.
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