Part 12Let's Begin Chapter 5. /Backup
This is easily my least favorite chapter in the game, because it has two very annoying gameplay sequences. It was no fun for me, but there is some excellent plot in this chapter so it should be fun for you. We do get to play as April a lot more too, which makes me happy.
Before we go outside, let's talk to Na'ane.
: I'll go alone. There may not be a curfew yet, but the soldiers will still notice two or three where they would ignore one.
Na'ane: This is true. And I need to speak with someone who can supply us with the herbs, potions, and medicines we need.
: Well, with Torbear in Jail and Hamesh doing business with the Azadi, Oldtown's our best bet, but it closes with the sun.
Na'ane: Tomorrow morning, then. First thing.
Na'ane: So be it. I shall make inquiries in Oldtown in the morning. May the stars shine on you and your endeavours tonight, April-an... or what is it you sometimes say? 'Break a foot'?
Personally I like "Fall down backwards" which is what some English Theater folk use. I'm an American actor, but I still like that phrase
Let's head downstairs.
Hey, this place looks familiar!
It would appear that our base of operations is The Journeyman. Let's talk to Benrime.
: Business. I may return late.
Benrime: Well. You know where the key is, April.
: Keep an eye on Brynn, make sure he doesn't follow me.
Benrime: That boy... He takes after you, April. He adores you. You have a responsibility to--
: Responsibility. There's that word again. He's an adult. I can't babysit Brynn forever.
Benrime: You saved his life. You are the only family he has. Do not forget that. You may seek danger - even death - yourself, but do not forget that others rely on you.
Benrime: You have little faith in yourself and others, child. But I shall not bother you with my lecturing anymore. I have work to do. Good luck tonight... whatever it is you are doing. Take care of yourself. If not for your sake, then for everyone else's.
Alright, let's get going on that spying stuff.
Marcuria is pretty at night.
Remember that scaffolding?
Super Stealth Action time!
Listening In aka Meet the Prophet. /Backup
Follow that Ring Wraith!
He's going thataway! So we follow.
Wait a minute, he's going into The Journeyman. That's OUR base of operations!
Let's find out what he's up to, and check in with Zoe. /Backup
And here we are in Japan, in case you couldn't tell by the architecture.
Alright, let's grab a ticket!
But of course.
Well, there's always candy.
The gum comes with a free sticker! Score!
If you've played TLJ, you've probably guessed by now that all corporations are EVIL.
Oh hey, ticket office is closed too. I sense puzzle solving!
This cutscene triggers as we walk toward the tram. This guy looks very distressed.
Let's talk to this little girl first.
: Hello, there.
Riko: Oh! Hello, miss.
: My name's Zoe. What's yours?
Riko: Uh? Oh! I'm Riko, miss Zoe-san.
: Nice to meet you, Riko.
: Are you okay, Riko? You don't look very happy.
Riko: Hmm? Oh! Well, my big brother Ren was supposed to look after me while grandmother and my little brother Hiro went to the museum. But then Ren met this girl, and he left me here by myself. Now Obaasan and Hiro are at the museum, and I don't have a ticket!
: That doesn't sound very nice of Ren.
Riko: He likes girls. More than he likes me, anyway.
: Well, honey, that's men for you. Can't you just call your grandma?
Okay, now let's talk to the shifty dude.
: Uh, sumimasen?
Kenji: Eh? Ah...gomennasai. I thought you were...someone else. I apologize.
: Who did you think I was?
Kenji: Ah, who am I kidding. She probably decided not to come.
: I'm sure that's not the case. She was probably just held up somewhere.
Kenji: You don't know her like I do. She's very fastidious. She would have called. No, I have neglected her one time too many, and now she's left me.
Kenji throws his ticket in the trash, but not before ripping it in half. Damnit Kenji!
Fortunately we got a free sticker that can hold the ticket together for us!
This is the only place in the game where the dialogue options make more then a minor difference. Depending on your choices this conversation can last anywhere from 1 minute to 10-15 of them. I chose the short path because it really isn't worth it, since there's no real reward and it's not related to the central storyline. In case you're interested, if you keep the guy talking long enough his girlfriend will show up, as it turns out she just got caught in a traffic jam. The happy couple will leave and give you both their tickets. This way you can give one ticket to the girl trapped outside the museum. Alternatively, after he leaves his girlfriend will show up and you can talk to her and she'll go off to apologize to him, giving you her ticket. Once again, this lets you give your extra to the little girl.
Let's get this Tram moving! /Backup
I absolutely love the WATI Museum, because it's damn hilarious.
Here we are in the nice, serene Wati Museum
Go kid, go!
Let's zoom in on Zoe for no reason.
. He's obviously here to get the sword so he can control his powers!
Stop getting in his way woman, he's trying to save New York!
Okay, let's check out the exhibits!
I wonder what liquid it excreted.
Okay, that thing is fucking awesome.
This one isn't very interesting, which is completely made up for by the next one.
Best series finale ever.
I say give the fans what they want!
Hey, it's a Watilla!
Is that even a pun?
This is a good trait for a robot to have.
The old lady is an asshole.
Okay, so we have to get in here.
That doesn't sound good.
So let's text Liv.
Okay, now all we need is a distraction.
Zoe channels /Backup
Next time we have some major revelations, and the two most hellish portions of the game one right after the other.
Bonus ContentMy internet connection is spazzing out and going crazy right now, so here's some filler until I can get the next update working.
This is part one of Ragnar Tørnquist's Dreamfall Post Mortem. In this part Ragnar talks about the critical response to Dreamfall. The next part talks about the story, so I won't be posting that until the game is over.
Ragnar Tørnquist: "A 'postmortem' sounds so final. And it is. It's something you do with a dead body - the dissection and examination of a corpse - and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey isn't quite dead yet. The game's still rolling out, and I'm personally hoping for sales to pick up again going into the holiday season. So I'm going to avoid using the term as much as possible, and focus on what this really is: not a dissection, but a diagnosis of sorts. A look back at Dreamfall: The Longest Journey - the genesis, the development, the response, and the future of the saga.
Keep in mind that all opinions stated in this article are mine and mine alone (my preciousss). In no way, shape, or form do they reflect the official opinions of my employer, Funcom (nor, indeed, those of my nation, Norway). That goes for all posts, not just this one. I'm an army of one.
With that out of the way, I give you this evening's show:
Dreamfallen part (i), in which I talk about the critical and public reception of the game
When the first Dreamfall: The Longest Journey review was posted, on April 17th 2006, I was heartbroken. 7.4, from IGN? IGN, a site that rarely gives scores below 7.5? We weren't expecting a perfect ten, but the general feeling on the team was that we'd done a good job, and that reviews ought to be relatively positive. And while 7.4 (7.5 for the Xbox version, for some reason, pushing the final verdict from 'decent' to 'good') wasn't horrible, the review itself was a bit of a downer. IGN praised the story and the audio, and knocked pretty much everything else.
The next twenty-four hours were tough. We started questioning ourselves and the game, and we wondered if this was going to be a trend.
Luckily, the next day brought some much-needed sunshine. When the subsequent two reviews were as good as they were - an 8.1 from GameSpot and a perfect five-out-of-five from GameSpy ("outstanding!") - that frown turned upside down. We rejoiced. For a while.
The next few weeks were the very definition of a roller-coaster ride. Not all critics were as kind as the ones from GameSpot and GameSpy. We received an ignoble 4.6/10 from 1up and EGM, and a punch-in-the-gut score of 3.5/10 from Play Magazine. (Personal opinions aside, I honestly think those scores were too low - regardless of the reviewer's thoughts about the gameplay or the story. There are, after all, plenty of things in the game that are unquestionably well put together, and there are lots of lazy, ugly, cookie cutter games that get a higher score than that.)
From most other websites and magazines, we were handed sevens and eights. We received quite a few nines and a couple of tens, but as things evened out, we were left with an average review score in the high 70s for both Xbox and PC. Which isn't bad. In fact, it's pretty good. But it certainly wasn't the massive critical success of The Longest Journey, and to be honest, we were expecting - or at least hoping for - more.
Here's the thing, though: I can't recall any other recent game with as many diverging review scores as Dreamfall - from 35% to 100% - and it all seemed to boil down to whether or not the reviewer was engrossed by the story and the world, and found the (perhaps simplistic or too-easy) adventure gameplay to be interesting enough to propel him or her through the game. Most did - some obviously didn't.
There were some reviews that mattered more to me than others. Greg Kasavin's write-up in GameSpot was the first to really warm my heart. The timing was perfect, coming off the almost-pan in IGN (as far as you can call 7.5 an 'almost-pan'), and his review was thoughtful, personal, and well-written. He obviously had a hard time nailing down a score, and felt bad that he could 'only' give it an 8.1. I think his opinion summed up that of a lot of reviewers: Dreamfall was a tough game to rate.
There was a very late write-up - and essay on the role of narrative in computer games; it was more than 'just' a review - in the July issue of Computer Gaming World, which was very, very positive. Seeing as that came from the same publisher as 1up and EGM, not to mention that this was CGW, the classic PC gaming magazine that I read cover to cover back in the 80s and 90s, it felt like a vindication of sorts. Unfortunately, the review arrived without a score (why, CGW? Why?), and while I don't necessarily see numeric scores as the be-all and end-all of reviews, they are important to people making buying choices - I base most of my purchases on the average review score - and the positive criticism didn't do anything to increase our average.
The Edge review wasn't by any measure gushing - they gave it a 7 out of 10 - but addressed the issues they had with the game in an intelligent and articulate manner...and besides, a seven from Edge is like a nine from most others: they work on a different scale, and they're a whole lot pickier than most. The same went for John Walker's PC Gamer UK review, where John was almost apologetic for having to give it 77% (and he emphasised that by saying that Dreamfall was the best 77% game he'd ever reviewed). Neither review was a straight-up rave, but they highlighted the positives and explained the negatives in a way that made me nod my head and say, yup, I get why they write that. Not that I agree with all of their opinions, but I respect them.
The Eurogamer review was also one I was looking forward to, because I think that, for the most part, their reviews are more intelligently written than anything else online - and again, I respect their opinions - but their review was pretty much a straight pan, with 5 points out of 10, and the use of the phrase "complete failure". Again, I felt it was too harsh, all things considered, but that review still broke my heart a little - like getting a failing grade from one of your favourite teachers for writing an essay you were proud of.
Of course, the reviews from established adventure gaming sites like Adventure Gamers, Just Adventure, and Quandary - to mention a couple - were very important to me, although I also knew that those critics were more inclined to understand, approve of, and enjoy what we were trying to do. Not that their opinions mattered less, but I really did want people beyond the core adventure segment to discover Dreamfall and enjoy it, and those players don't necessarily read the specialist sites. That said, I was ecstatic to receive an 'A' from Just Adventure based on their earlier misgivings about the title, and the 4/5 from Adventure Gamers and 5/5 from Quandary were certainly uplifting.
Finally, a few of the more mainstream write-ups from papers like Chicago Sun-Times, The Guardian, and the Sydney Morning Herald - and sites like CNN, The Onion, and Yahoo! Games - were important to me because they fell outside of the traditional gaming channels, and were more inclined to appreciate the focus on story and characters. All of these had plenty of positive things to say, without getting too hung up on the perceived lack of 'gameness'. Particularly the Sun-Times review, which concluded that Roger Ebert really needed to take the game for a whirl, was one that I took pleasure in reading.
As for the rest of the reviews - I read most of them. Almost all of them. Twice. I'm obsessive like that, and critical opinion matters to me. If it's one person's personal grudge against the game, then it's easy to ignore it - but the more people point something out, the more likely it's something we need to think about and take a serious look at. Game reviewers play a lot of games, and they know how articulate their opinions about why something works or doesn't work. And based on what the reviews say, there are things we would want to take a look at and do differently when making a sequel.
Yes, Dreamfall had its flaws. Obviously. Yes, the combat and stealth elements were somewhat lacking. Yes, the story did end abruptly. Yes, the game was too easy for some. And yes, those choices were intentional, and I will defend them. We were going for something different, we wanted to move the traditional adventure into a new era without the gameplay and interface complexity of non-adventures, and we were focusing on story in a way that few games have ever tried to do. And we did that latter part quite well. The reviews I respected weren't afraid to criticise the things they felt didn't work, while at the same time praising those that did work - and acknowledging the fact that a game doesn't have to fall squarely within a preexisting category to be considered a game.
So what about the feedback from players? That is, after all, the most important measure of success. Reviewers... Well, they review lots of games. They play everything. They play everything quickly, for money. And sometimes they have to review games that they really don't want to play or aren't inclined to like. Players buy the games they want to play, and their opinions are entirely subjective and heartfelt. If they hate it, they really hate it - after all, they've spent $40-50 on it, and hours of their leisure time. If they love it, they often love it to death, warts and pimples and all. Even the ones who land in the middle are outspoken about it, and they often find things to both love and hate. They're rarely, if ever, ambivalent about a game. And anyway, if that was the case, they wouldn't go online to post their opinions.
Funny thing with the player feedback for Dreamfall was - still is - how passionate the comments were. There were lovers and there were haters, and there were people on the fence, but common to all the comments I've read and the mails I've received was the passion. The game obviously made people feel something, and that, to me, was the best response I could have asked for. I remember reading about this one woman who turned to religion because of the story - because of the theme, about how important it is to believe in something, to have faith. Whatever she felt about the mechanics, the game touched her in some deep and profound way, enough to actually change her life. How many times do you hear a story like that? How often does that happen?
The haters were equally passionate, and some people have been very outspoken about how disappointed they were, and how Dreamfall didn't live up to their expectations after playing TLJ and waiting six years for a continuation or conclusion to the story. Because in a majority of cases, the players who felt really let down and disappointed by Dreamfall were those who were big fans of the first game. This is a thorny subject, because obviously we weren't making a direct sequel - story- or gameplay-wise - and you could argue that some people were destined to hate it, regardless. But that's a subject for a subsequent post in the series.
Like I said, however, the passionate response to the game from players is what made the three years we spent working on this game worthwhile. There are still lengthy discussions going on in the official forums, talking about everything from the plot - and the theories are numerous; some have gotten pretty damn close to the truth - to what people liked and disliked, lists of all dialogues, locations, and characters, analysis of names, dissection of themes, and so on. If I ever feel down about the game, a quick trip to the forums gets my spirits back up, because it's obvious to me that we've created something of value, something lasting and living and deep. Not perfect, not to everyone's taste, but something that has sparked discussions and, most importantly, passion.
Would I have liked it if everyone had loved the game? Well, yeah. But it doesn't happen that often. There are only a handful of games every year that are universally loved by critics and players, and although I have to admit that I was a bit spoiled by TLJ, not everyone loved that game, either. There were haters - there are still haters - and they're definitely entitled to their opinions. TLJ wasn't perfect, and neither is Dreamfall, but on the whole the response to the latter was satisfying. And the criticisms - at least those that I respect - will help us make a better sequel.
If, you know, that ever happens.
Next time - at some point in the coming week - I'll talk about the genesis of Dreamfall; how we first decided to make a 'spiritual successor' to TLJ, how the design came together, and what our vision was. In the following post, I'll talk about the actual development of the game - the ups and downs and pitfalls of using new technology and doing PC and console cross-development. And in the final (?) two postmortem articles, I'll talk about my personal thoughts regarding the game - in response to specific criticisms - and the future of Dreamfall and the TLJ universe."