Saturday, 17 July 2010

Lost Horizon Previews & Artistic Subjectivity

I realised this morning that although I've been doing this job almost four years and worked on nine (nine!) games, the unfortunate fact of long development times means that I've still only had three released, all in the same series. It's strange that in my head I've worked across a load of different genres and formats, on everything from browser-based MMOs to AAA console fair, when all you guys know me for - quite fairly - is Penumbra.

That's about to change. Lost Horizon (trailer) is the new point & click from Animation Arts, the guys behind the Secret Files games, and ahead of its 20th August release date, hands-on previews are flying in.

The Good
The game itself is a beautiful thing of hand drawn backgrounds and cunningly implemented action, set within a tongue in cheek adventure movie. Expect the first reviews to be arriving in the next few weeks, but in the meantime here are some choice preview quotes:
"Lost Horizon just doesn't seem to have a weakness at all and this is one title where I can’t wait to get my hands on the full version!" Twitchy

"The story so far seems to be quite interesting[...] it has a kind of Indiana Jones charm to it, think wartime bars, cabaret singers, and a similar brand of humour. Characters are genuine and believable with some good voice acting." Game On
While I couldn't in any sense call Lost Horizon a 'Tom Jubert story' - in the sense that I only produced a treatment of the original German script, and wasn't involved in casting - I do hope there may be some identifiably me-ish elements to it. While the broad and, sometimes, downright odd humour is not strictly my style - games writers can rarely afford to pick and choose their projects to perfectly match their voice - I do hope lines like "True British workmanship: we can make an indestructible crate, but we can’t make trains that run on time" bring a personal note to the English version of the game.

The Bad
Of course, nothing is ever universally successful, and in keeping with my genuine intention for Plot is Gameplay's Bitch to be as candid as possible, it would be remiss of me not to also quote the only bad preview I found:
"This point-and-click adventure, which has been in development and getting genre fans excited for some time, features – quite honestly – some of the most atrociously bad dialogue I’ve seen in a game for ages." Beef Jack
The Interesting Subjectivity Bit
I could sit here and explain how challenging it is to work within the limitations of a polish job, but the funny thing is I think both the resoundingly positive previews and this one excessively negative example are probably all correct, in so far as art / entertainment is subjective. Lost Horizon is an unapologetic Indiana Jones homage. It's also a game that - quite consciously - doesn't always strive to avoid traditionally ludicrous puzzle scenarios. It won't appeal to everyone. I think Greg Giddens of Resolution Magazine nails it when he says:
"The audience this genre appeals to is specific, and the majority may find the pacing too slow and the experience too dull for their liking. It’s an inherent issue with point and click adventure games that is rarely countered, however, if you can embrace the genre’s style, Lost Horizon will pull you in with its interesting and well rounded characters."
There is such a thing as good and bad when it comes to writing and art: you can try to deliver something and fail. In all other senses, though, what is considered 'good' writing tends more so to be writing that appeals to those with the louder voices: the critics, or the academics, or sometimes the mass market. Writing, in truth, is only as good as the reaction of the person reading it.

No game save for ir/rational has captured exactly what I would do given a blank slate and a budget - that's a luxury reserved for studio founders and novelists. With Lost Horizon I just hope that given the scenario where the player has to manufacture a no-photography sign by drawing a banned symbol onto a camera poster using a bottle of ketchup, the appropriate response, for better or for worse, is:
"Some might say using ketchup to manufacture the 'banned' symbol was unnecessarily convoluted. I say 'Do YOU see any red felt-tips around here?'"


  1. I hope this post comes across as clear and honest. It's quite late at night. Interested to hear your reactions.

  2. I had been wondering what the blazes you had been up to. It had been expected that you were working on Amnesia but after that theory was thrown through a window on the seventeenth floor, it left me with no clue as to what was paying your bills.

    I think you're completely right when you say writing is only as good as its reaction; blank, empty stares isn't usually what I'm planning on at my writing group which I usually read as EPIC FAIL.

    Writing for a different audience requires different things. Russell T Davies' work on, say, Queer As Folk, is colourful, honest and interesting. In contrast, his scriptwork on Doctor Who I found to be the complete opposite: derivative, obvious, subtlety replaced by wallops round the head and prone to deus ex machina. But it achieves so much audience (minus me) for being so deliberately mainstream, that even RTD said "it fucks every writing theory in my head" on Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe.

    You may not be writing for yourself but if the target audience loves it, job done.

  3. I think you're bang on :-)

    I'm putting together an - I hope - equally honest write up on Amnesia, my impressions of the game and the reasons why I'm not involved. Naturally it's a mildly sensitive topic, but hopefully I'll get my thoughts into something vaguely publishable in the next few days.

  4. I played ir/rational as a result of this post - have you thought about putting out a post dedicated to your hopes/failures of this project?

    I didn't expect you to have anything to say on Amnesia, but intrigued if you have some words to commit to blog. Well, provided it doesn't make you unemployable, which would be lose-lose all round =)

  5. I hadn't thought about writing anything up on ir/rational, purely because it's only had around 15,000 downloads total, didn't figure it would be of interest. I suppose, however, that even though it's only a small game, made for fun, it might be a useful thing to disect. Might add it to the list...

  6. Yeah, I wouldn't mind seeing a dissection of ir/rational - I enjoyed my time with it and felt like my brain was being enjoyably massaged by grappling with it's logic and trying to read the intentions and motivations of the antagonist. It reminds that I was going to chuck something your way for whatever that bonus content was as well.
    Up to you if you feel it's worthwhile to blog about for the few, though.