Broken Age

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Broken Age
Broken age logo.png
Developer(s) Double Fine Productions
Publisher(s) Double Fine Productions
Distributor(s) Nordic Games (retail)
Director(s) Tim Schafer
Producer(s) Greg Rice
Programmer(s) Oliver Franzke
Anna Kipnis
Artist(s) Lee Petty
Nathan Stapley
Writer(s) Tim Schafer
Composer(s) Peter McConnell
Engine Moai
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Ouya, iOS, Android, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Point-and-click adventure
Mode(s) Single-player

Broken Age[6] is a point-and-click adventure video game, Tim Schafer's first return to the genre since 1998's Grim Fandango. The game is produced and distributed by Schafer's Double Fine Productions for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita platforms. The game was developed in two acts; the first was released on January 28, 2014 (two weeks earlier for Kickstarter backers), and the second was released on April 28, 2015. A retail version of the complete game for Windows, OS X, and Linux, published by Nordic Games, was released on April 28, 2015.[7]

Broken Age began under the working title Double Fine Adventure (internal codename "Reds")[8] as a Kickstarter crowdfunded project promoted by company Double Fine and 2 Player Productions in February 2012. Originally a goal of $400,000 was set to cover the costs of development and documentary filming, it became the largest crowdfunded video game project at the time, raising over $3.45 million from more than 87,000 backers within the month. It remains one of the highest-backed crowdfunded projects of any type, and its success helped to establish Kickstarter and other crowdfunding mechanisms as a viable alternative to traditional venture capital and publisher funding for niche video game titles. The game's development was chronicled by an episodic series of documentaries produced by 2 Player Productions.

Gameplay[edit]

Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure game, where the player-controlled character can be directed to move about the screen, examine objects, and talk to non-player characters to learn more about the game world. The game features two playable characters, each located in separate worlds; the player can switch from one character to the other via the game's interface at any time, but otherwise these characters do not interact in any direct way. The game employs context-sensitive actions instead of using verb lists as early adventure games would use, as Schafer stated that in essence, "there really was always one verb, which was 'interact with'" and opted with the more modern approach.[9] Each character has separate item inventories as they collect objects; items can then be used by dragging them onto context-sensitive areas on the screen or combined with other inventory items.

Plot[edit]

Broken Age‍ '​s plot involves two teenagers: Vella (left) who is to be sacrificed to protect her home village from a giant monster, and Shay (right) who appears to be the only passenger on a spacecraft monitored by an overly motherly computer. The game's art has been praised, and called "lush and gorgeous, with the feel of an interactive children’s storybook".[10]

Act 1[edit]

Broken Age tells the story of two teenagers with no immediate apparent connection, each "seeking to break the tradition with their lives".[6]

Vella Tartine (voiced by Masasa Moyo) is a young woman living in the Badlands, a land ravaged by Mogs, giant creatures that come from beyond a wall called the Plague Dam. They are appeased through the sacrifice of young girls at a number of Maiden's Feasts held at various villages. They appear every 14 years for those maidens. Vella is chosen to be sacrificed to Mog Chothra at the feast in her hometown, Sugar Bunting (It used to be called Steel Bunting - a town made up of warriors), but concludes that if the monster could be killed, the rituals could be ended. She finds a way to escape the beast's attack, and ends up in Meriloft, a small colony which rests on a cluster of semi-solid clouds. They are dealing with the aftermath of their own Feast, affirming her belief that the rituals are disastrous to their people and should be ended. She then finds her way to the local port town, Shellmound, where they are preparing their Feast. There she discovers the Dead Eye God's temple, which turns out to be an ancient spaceship, the Maloruna, half-buried by the sand. She is able to wake its pilot, Alex, from his three hundred year stasis, and he helps her to rig the ship's scanning system to fire a laser at Mog Chothra when he shows up for the Feast. Vella's plan works, and she is able to bring down the creature.

Shay Volta (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a young man and seemingly the only passenger on the spaceship Bossa Nostra (Bassinostra), an "incubator vessel". The ship's computer's daytime artificial intelligence (AI) acts as a mother figure to Shay, occupying him with infantile "missions" and boring routines, while preventing him from learning about or exploring anything farther than the outside of the ship. The computer's nighttime AI acts as a father figure to Shay and is more understanding of Shay's desire for independence, but appears to be too busy to spend time with Shay. The computer asserts that he is part of Project Dandelion, a last-ditch effort by his home planet, Loruna, to protect Shay (the only survivor of his race following the planet's destruction) and try to find a home for him. When Shay sneaks into the bowels of the ship, he finds a stowaway named Marek wearing a wolf costume. Marek claims that, unbeknownst to him, a war rages in the galaxy, and tells Shay that he needs his help to save some innocent creatures who have been imprisoned in different areas of the galaxy as a result. Marek guides Shay through various missions against the computer's knowledge and control, trying to rescue a number of the creatures at each location before their position is discovered by an enemy force. During one of these rescues, Shay refuses to leave the last creature behind, causing the ship to be attacked, and trapping Marek under a pile of debris. In the ensuing chaos, Shay is knocked unconscious.

Act 1 ends when Vella discovers that Mog Chothra is mechanical. Shay emerges confused from inside, revealing that his belief of being in space was merely a part of an illusion, and that he was unwittingly controlling Mog Chothra. Vella attempts to punch Shay, but misses and falls into Mog Chothra's mouth. The mouth closes behind her, leaving them both trapped in each others' worlds, uncertain of what to do in their new surroundings.

Act 2[edit]

Shay, trapped outside Mog Chothra, discovers that what he thought were the ship's AIs are actually his real parents; his father, Ray Volta, stuck outside with Shay, warns that his mother is still trapped within. As they try to find a way back inside, the ship takes off, stranding them there. Shay meets Alex, learning that he was a previous subject of Project Dandelion. Alex was born on his ship, the Maloruna, a Diamond Age Dandelion Cruiser. His parents never showed him any pictures of Loruna. They lived for about 20 years after the crash (280 years ago), and then died three months apart from each other. That is one of the reasons why he went into crysolation. Before his ship’s crash, Alex had a talking cello named Marek who told him to hack the controls and rescue innocent creatures, just like Shay, who realizes that they both were capturing girls.

Shay offers to help repair Alex's ship to return to Loruna, where Alex believes Shay's ship is heading. Meanwhile, Vella works her way into the ship and encounters Marek, who is still pinned under debris. Marek directs Vella to get into the control room as to stop Shay's mother, Hope Volta. Vella pretends that she is Shay to trick his mom into opening the door, but they are both quickly locked inside. Marek reveals himself to be Marekai, a member of a race called the Thrush. Marekai told Hope that their world was dying so she went forth and found salvation, as so many have before her: they were the mogs. It turns out that Loruna is not a planet but an empire beyond the Plague Dam. He then directs the ship to deliver Vella there. Meanwhile, Shay makes his way through Shellmound and Meriloft to find parts to repair Alex's ship and go back to Loruna. He retraces Vella's journey and talks to the people with whom she interacted in Act 1 and her family, as they search for her.

Back on Vella's side: Vella frees herself and Shay's mother, and the true nature of Project Dandelion is revealed: the Thrush, believing the rest of the beings on the planet to be filled with disease, barricaded themselves with the humans whom they govern beyond the Plague Dam, and over the generations, modified their normal human DNA to become "superior"; but also lost certain traits necessary for survival. Project Dandelion has been used to send out uniquely attuned human children from their normal human population who could locate a special maiden via the Maiden's Feasts to "true" their bloodline. Vella was the one that Shay selected amongst the other Maidens (who are alive but held captive), and the Thrush are planning on killing her to incorporate her genetics into theirs.

Knowing her potential fate, Vella creates a delayed explosive from the ship's power core to destroy the hangar where the Mogs are kept. After planting the bomb, Hope and Vella set the ship to escape. Meanwhile, Shay helps Alex reactivate his ship and they set course directly for the Plague Dam, accompanied by Shay's father and Vella's family. Right outside the gate, the two ships collide and the Thrush start attacking the ships, which are both stuck on autopilot. Shay and Vella work together to cause Alex's ship reactor to overheat, melting both ships together. Everyone but Shay escapes, and Vella encourages him to jump to safety; Shay jumps, just missing a ledge, but is saved by the noble sacrifice of one of his robots, Grabbin' Gary. The fused ships soon solidify, forming a bridge between the mainland and the Plague Dam, and Shay and Vella finally meet.

Within the credit sequence, it is shown that the Thrush are deposed from power, the Plague Dam is demolished, and the humans of Loruna and the Badlands form a peaceful alliance. Many images in the credits include the notable people, animals, and machines shown throughout the game living much better lives.

Development[edit]

Announcement and fundraising[edit]

Promotional artwork used to promote the project on Kickstarter, with the Double Fine two-headed baby logo, used as part of the rewards for Kickstarter backers

Double Fine Adventure was announced by way of a Kickstarter project initiated on February 8, 2012. The idea came after Double Fine's Tim Schafer was interviewed for 2 Player Productions' upcoming Kickstarter-funded documentary on the game Minecraft.[11] After the interview, Schafer and 2 Player discussed the idea of the production company filming a documentary about Double Fine as a future project.[11] Double Fine had already had experience as a studio being filmed during development of Psychonauts for an episode of G4 TV's Icons series.[12] When 2 Player completed the Minecraft project, around November 2011, they wanted to create a more in-depth documentary, recognizing that Double Fine had the right type of environment where such a documentary would be possible.[11] The two studios began to work out the specifics of the project, but Schafer realized that publisher interference would make an honest portrayal of game development impossible. Double Fine lacked the resources to self-fund a game, and 2 Player lacked the ability to fund the film, so the two companies elected to crowd-fund the project on Kickstarter, a method Schafer had seen successfully used to raise much smaller amounts for independent game developers. The creation of a new game was initially considered "kind of as a sidenote" by Schafer to accommodate the documentary filming.[13][14]

The adventure game genre was selected to offer the public a product that would not have existed without their support, and help to distinguish the project from the developer's publisher-financed work.[14] Schafer, a veteran of LucasArts, has long been associated with adventure games, a genre that has long been stigmatized as commercially niche, particularly since the release of Schafer's own Grim Fandango.[13] In his pitch to the public, Schafer argued that funding for such a project would be very difficult to come by, stating "If I were to go to a publisher right now and pitch an adventure game, they'd laugh in my face."[15] Ron Gilbert, another ex-LucasArts adventure game designer at Double Fine, has long expressed this sentiment, writing in his personal blog, "From first-hand experience, I can tell you that if you even utter the words "adventure game" in a meeting with a publisher you can just pack up your spiffy concept art and leave. You'd get a better reaction by announcing that you have the plague."[16] In video interviews taken just prior to the Kickstarter, both Schafer and Gilbert agree that the resulting game will likely use 2D computer graphics instead of 3D, as this would not only keep to the "old school" nature of adventure games, but allow Double Fine to tap into the painting talents of their in-house artist, Nathan Stapley.[17] Schafer explained that the game will not be "museum" or "nostalgia" work, but instead "It's going to be fresh and feel modern and feel like what the next game would have been if I'd made one straight after Grim Fandango".[18]

The Kickstarter drive was launched in early February 2012 so that, regardless of its success, Schafer would be able to talk about it during the 2012 Game Developers Conference in early March.[14] Double Fine set the goal for the project at $400,000, with $100,000 allocated to the film production and $300,000 for the game. Although this was the largest goal of any gaming project yet on Kickstarter, it was the lowest budget the company had worked with, and a small fraction of the budget of the company's previous downloadable games, which cost around $2 million.[13][14] Schafer admitted that a game made for this budget would be "hobbled," and that the budget was chosen because it was the absolute minimum he thought he could make an adventure game for.[14] The two had originally envisioned a total $200,000 budget, a typical cost for an iOS game, but Schafer had doubts about whether Double Fine could deliver a game for such a low cost.[14]

Various incentives were given to those that pledged $15 or more, including the game itself, early beta access to the game, access to private community areas to discuss the game, prints, and invitations to meet with the Double Fine staff.[13] Further rewards were added through a second update two weeks into the effort, including digital soundtracks, physical copies of the game and documentary, and an art book.[17] In launching the Kickstarter project, Double Fine claimed it was the first major studio to use the model for the funding of a game.[19]

Within nine hours, the Kickstarter project had exceeded the $400,000 goal.[20] Within 24 hours, it had surpassed $1 million.[21] As the funds raised approached $1.35 million, Schafer noted that the total had already exceeded the budget for Day of the Tentacle ($600,000) and was nearing the budget for Full Throttle ($1.5 million).[22] Kickstarter stated on the day after its start that the Double Fine effort is the most successful to date, having attracted more backers than any prior effort in the site's history[23] while others have noted it is the second project – the Elevation Dock project being the first[24] – to achieve more than $1 million in funding through Kickstarter.[19] The Double Fine project passed the $2 million mark on February 20, 2012, twelve days after fund raising began.[25] The Kickstarter closed on March 13 with more than $3.3 million from over 87,000 backers, and with another $110,000 promised by premium backers such as Days of Wonder and Alex Rigopulos.[26] Schafer stated that the total funding was nearly the same as the budget for their previous downloadable titles, Costume Quest and Stacking,[18] as well as his earlier LucasArts game, Grim Fandango.[27]

The Kickstarter page was updated with the promise that additional funds would go to increased production values for the game and film, and deployment on additional platforms.[13][21] A later update by Schafer affirmed that the additional funding will support development for the Mac OS X and Linux platforms and select iOS and Android devices. Additionally, the game will have voice acting for the English version, and include text localization for French, German, Italian, and Spanish languages. Schafer also stated that a digital rights management-free version of the game will be available after release.[28] With the added funding for better production values, Schafer estimated it would likely take about a year to complete the game, missing their original anticipated October 2012 release.[18] A release in the second quarter of 2013 has been estimated by Double Fine,[29] later delayed to September 2013.[30] At the 2013 D.I.C.E. Summit, Double Fine and Ouya announced a partnership, assuring that the Ouya console would be the only gaming console for which Double Fine Adventure would be released on at its launch, in addition to versions for the personal computers.[31][32]

After the Kickstarter, Double Fine launched a "slacker backer" program, which would allow players to pre-order the game through their site at a fixed cost, giving them access to the documentary and beta versions of the game once they were released.[6] The slacker backer option was also offered as part of the Double Fine Humble Bundle in May 2013 for those that purchased the bundle at a fixed price tier.[33]

Game development[edit]

The game was developed on the open source Moai game platform developed by Zipline Games, itself built on the Lua cross-platform programming language. Nathan Martz, the technical director for Double Fine, stated that the open source nature of Moai allows them to alter any aspect of the code base easily, and further supports release on all the targeted platforms, including the mobile devices.[29]

The game was developed with help from Supergenius Studios, located in Oregon City.

As Schafer had not written anything at the start of development, early efforts focused on creating an engine, art style, and answering technical questions. During this stage in development, programmers created a test game involving a red robot, while the artists created a mock up test scenario to establish an art and animation style inspired by the fine art illustrations of lead artist Nathan Stapley, as well as to work out basic interface questions. A sequence involving an unnamed lumberjack character and a cabin in the woods was created and the team decided to use a system of skeletal animation using segmented 2D characters. Once Schafer had established the basic storyline, involving intersecting stories of a boy in a sci-fi world and a girl in a fantasy world, concept artists were gathered for an "art jam" to brainstorm and produce concept art for the game's locations and conceive new locations. During this time Schafer also asked the community for ideas, several of which were then illustrated by the concept artists.[34]

Schafer reanalyzed the state of the project in July 2013 and recognized that at the current rate, they would not be releasing the complete game until 2015. Schafer recognized they would run out of the Kickstarter funds before then and would not yet be receiving money from the sales of the game, either requiring them to drastically cut back on the project or alter their release plans. Schafer opted to adjust the schedule and split the game into two Acts. The breaking of the game into two halves fell naturally out from the story when Vella and Shay trade places, making the splitting of the game into halves easier to complete from the game development side.[35]

The beta version of first half of the game was placed on Steam's Early Access system by January 2014, allowing Double Fine to obtain revenue from sales to fund the remaining development while gaining additional testing input before releasing a final version. Initial backlash to this announcement led Schafer to affirm that they were not asking for more money to develop the title, and that "we are using our own money to deliver a bigger game than we Kickstarted".[36] In the end, the first half of the game was deemed polished and complete enough to be released in a non-beta fashion on January 28 as "Act 1" with the second half to be released as a free update later in the year. By February 2014, Schafer affirmed that they had obtained enough from sales of Act 1 to complete the development and release of Act 2.[37]

In October 2014, producer Greg Rice announced that Schafer had finished writing Act 2 and the game's finale.[38] Though Act 2 was anticipated to be released in 2014, Schafer announced in November 2014 that they needed additional time to assure the quality of this Act met expectations and pushed the release back to early 2015.[39] Double Fine was able to use feedback from Act 1's release to improve and alter some aspects of Act 2. One complaint of Act 1 was the simple nature of the puzzles, which Double Fine increased their difficulty in Act 2, and they included a fan theory element that grew from Act 1 regarding the potential relation between Shay and Alex as a running joke within Act 2.[35] The game's finale was planned out from the start, before the game was split into Acts; Schafer said he had taken influence of the end credits of My Neighbor Totoro, which provides epilogue in the form of simple drawings alongside the running credits, to tell the fate of all the characters. He preferred this so that the narrative end of the game before the credits could be focused solely on Vella and Shay, instead of having each character appears to speak a line or so as to explain their fate.[35]

A retail version of the game, containing both acts, for Windows, OS X, and Linux platforms will be published through partnership with Nordic Games, who has helped to bring retail releases of Double Fine's earlier games in 2014. The retail version will be released near the release of Act 2 for other platforms.[7]

Several voice actors who worked on previous Double Fine games voiced characters within Broken Age, including Jennifer Hale, Richard Horvitz, Nick Jameson, Nicki Rapp, Ginny Wescott, and Jack Black.[40] Other voice actors include Elijah Wood, Pendleton Ward, Wil Wheaton, and Masasa Moyo.[41][42] Alex Rigopulos, the largest backer of the Kickstarter campaign, voiced a character that was designed in his likeness;[43] Schafer decided to make the character effectively the same person Rigopulos was in both manner and appearance to minimize the amount of voice acting Rigopulos would need to do.[35] Days of Wonder was the second-largest backer, and through them, Double Fine included the character of the conductor from Days of Wonder's Ticket to Ride games as part of one of Shay's mission rooms.[35]

Peter McConnell, who had worked with Schafer on many of his previous games, composed the music for Broken Age. Initially McConnell planned to use only a small ensemble for the musical score but, as the game development progressed, he realized some parts needed a bigger orchestral sound.[44] The score was ultimately recorded by wind and string ensembles in San Francisco and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, with McConnell overseeing the latter recording session with mixer Jory Prum remotely from Fairfax, California.[45] The score for Act 1 was released as a soundtrack album on the same day the first half of the game became publicly available.[45]

Documentary[edit]

The development process of Broken Age was recorded by 2 Player Productions as part of the Kickstarter project. In 2011, Paul Owens of 2 Player Productions wrote an e-mail to Greg Rice and Tim Schafer of Double Fine Productions with a proposition of making a documentary series charting the development of a game from beginning to end. A part of the Kickstarter money was set aside for the documentary.[46] The documentary was originally only available to backers, but as of March 2015, the company has started providing the episodes free of charge to YouTube.[47]

Reception[edit]

Broken Age: Act 1
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 82.70%
(46 reviews)[48]
Metacritic 82/100
(61 reviews)[49]
Review scores
Publication Score
Destructoid 9.5/10[50]
Eurogamer 7/10[51]
Game Informer 8/10[52]
GameSpot 7/10[53]
IGN 9.5/10[54]
Polygon 9/10[55]

The game's first act was well received by critics, scoring 82/100 on reviews aggregation website Metacritic[49] and 82.70% on GameRankings.[48] Adam Sessler of Rev3Games gave Broken Age Act 1 a 4/5 calling it a beautiful game with wonderful and funny writing.[56] Justin McElroy, writing at Polygon highlighted the game's characters as "grounded while approaching absurdity and adversity with brave, heartfelt sincerity" giving the game a "kind of depth that's so often lacking in other 'funny' games".[55] Within a month of the first act's release, Schafer confirmed that its sales would be sufficient to cover the remaining development costs for Act 2.[37]

Impact[edit]

The success of the fundraising campaign established crowd-sourcing as a challenge to publisher funding (and control) for multi-million dollar projects. John Walker from Rock, Paper, Shotgun was quick to point out that this doesn't pose a major threat to publishers on a large scale, but added that it would force publishers to ask themselves questions such as "Are we really in touch with our audience’s desires?".[57] Johnny Cullen of VG247 compared the Double Fine Kickstarter to the release of Radiohead's album In Rainbows, which the band had sold through their website in a pay-what-you-want model prior to a physical printing, without the interference of a music publisher. Cullen noted the model of crowd-sourcing has previously not worked for some game developers, and does not expect it to be a guaranteed success for future efforts, as he believes Double Fine is a unique studio with a dedicated fan base, aspects that are not shared by all developers.[58]

Initial commentary largely framed Double Fine as exceptional, citing Double Fine's reputation,[59] experience with the under-serviced genre,[60] and history of difficulty with publisher funding[61] as reasons why Double Fine's case was unique. Initially, many remained skeptical that such a level of success could be replicated.[62] Schafer further agreed that the success of the Double Fine Kickstarter would be somewhat difficult to replicate for other games, even for Double Fine, as it would require the project to be "a good story for people to get behind".[14]

Initial fears that this success would be isolated were allayed as new projects emerged. As the Double Fine Adventure campaign closed, Brian Fargo of inXile Entertainment launched a Kickstarter to fund development of the sequel Wasteland 2, which met its target of $900,000 in funding within two days,[63][64][65] and eventually raised more than $2.9 million. Double Fine Adventure brought in 61,692 new users to Kickstarter, and greatly increased the platform's visibility and viability for funding of games projects.[66] Within the six weeks following the launch of the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, the site raised more than $2.9 million in pledges (outside of the Double Fine project) for video game related projects, compared with $1.7 million total for the category in the prior two years, as well as increasing the amount of funding coming into projects of all categories.[67] In October, Project Eternity surpassed Double Fine's funding record, further suggesting the crowd-funding model will continue to be a part of the gaming landscape.[68]

The success of Double Fine Adventure has had a particularly visible impact on the adventure genre, inspiring several other established adventure game developers to use Kickstarter as a means to return to the genre.[69] In the months following its release, the creators of Broken Sword,[70] Gabriel Knight,[71] Leisure Suit Larry,[72] Space Quest[73] and Tex Murphy[74] have all managed to raise amounts in excess of Schafer's original goal of $400,000.

References[edit]

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