Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Best of All Possible Primordia

James and I are nearing the end of work on the latest -- hopefully last -- Primordia patch.  I can't say that the next version will be perfect, or "the game as it was always meant to be."  For one thing, we can't record new VO, add new sound effects, or add new graphics.  Where something was missing, we've sometimes found another part to slide into place -- a sound effect here, an animation there -- but some issues are irreparable.

But I can say that when this patch is done, the game will be appreciably better.

It's been over a year since I last played the game, maybe longer.  I went in assuming I would hate the game and find the experience horribly unpleasant, but in fact I've been pleasantly surprised.  Many small details were unexpected: conversations between Crispin and Horatio that I'd forgotten, ways in which I'd anticipated player actions (e.g., using the printout of Metropol's laws on Scraper draws a custom response).  Things that I remembered being really bad weren't so bad.

Moreover, things that *were* so bad -- for example, the Scraper vs. Clarity cutscene, which had no audio at all -- turned out to be fixable.  For example, I also discovered what I believe to be the source of one of the major criticism of the game (i.e., the Crispin is a "tonal wrecking ball").  I had always written that off as reviewers not really understanding the character and the scenario, but I found that there is a scene -- when Clarity learns the fate of Arbiter and Charity -- where Crispin's quips are totally inconsistent with his general behavior (namely, that he has been more sensitive to Clarity's dismay than Horatio was) and really do kill the scene's mood.  Fortunately, they're so off-the-wall and out-of-the-blue that neither Horatio nor Clarity reacts to them, so we were able to just cut them out without needing to change any other dialogue.  (FWIW, I also cut the infamous "99 problems" line.)

In hundreds of little ways, the game is tighter and smoother.  The hint system seems finally to really work.  Crispin almost always faces the right direction when talking.  UIs are more keyboard friendly; hotspots are a little bigger, sometimes, exits are a little clearer, the scrolling rooms scroll a little better.  A couple dozens animations that lacked accompanying sound effects have them; the effect is slight -- no one is going to say, "Wow, there's now a clanging sound when Horatio knocks on that door!" -- but some of the strange hollowness that the cutscenes had is gone.

The cumulative effect is a game where -- compared to either the release version or the first patched version -- the flaws distract much less from the strengths.  There are endless things about the game that are still screwed up, ranging from slurred dialogue, critical lines that somehow went unrecorded, scaling problems, pathfinding problems, etc.   But it's easier to look beyond them.

In a separate post, I'll be discussing a few thoughts I have on how the game could've been better, now that I've seen it from a more distant perspective.