Tag Archives: blackwell

The Blackwell Epiphany (2014)

Three-and-a-half years after the release of the last instalment, and two years after my corresponding review, Dave Gilbert has now released the newest episode of the Blackwell series. He can be excused for the long wait time, having been busy growing his family, adapting to changing times by preparing mobile versions of his games, and building his studio, Wadjet Eye, into a well-respected and trusted indie publisher. So trusted that I pre-ordered their last two games (this one and Primordia, 2012) without consideration to any reviews and will likely do so with the next one when it becomes available on GOG. Not that the early reviews would have dissuaded me, which were pretty glowing, promising the longest and most emotional series instalment.

As far as I can recall (unfortunately, The Blackwell Epiphany does not offer any kind of previously-on recap, perhaps so as not to bore people playing all five games in close succession), the ending to part 4 suggested the advent of a larger, more epic world. The main characters, medium Rosa Blackwell and her ghost sidekick Joey, were confronted with a shadowy conspiracy they intended to take down. There were also continued hints that Joey was withholding important information about his demise from Rosa, grounds for a future falling-out. The latter thread doesn’t really materialise: We do learn a few things about Joey’s past and how he was connected to previous game characters (whom I didn’t really remember, to be honest), and there’s an achievement promising “The hows and whys of Joey”, which however, I did not manage to get. But there’s nothing relationship-threatening there. I wonder whether this was something Gilbert planned but dropped, or whether I simply misinterpreted some dialogue two years ago. Continue reading

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Blackwell Bundle (2003-2011)

The Blackwell series, about a medium helping restless spirits pass over to the other side, is one of the recent success stories of independently-developed adventure games. It started out with a free game developed in Adventure Game Studio, a now open-source game development tool. Bestowers of Eternity – part 1 (2003), which is still available for free on the AGS website, is not a particularly great game: It has no voice-acting and (at least in that version, though some reviews I’ve read suggest differently) no music, minimal sound effects, and very rough graphics. The game is much too talky, with an imbalance between walls of text (with frequent typos for good measure) and letting the player actually do something. There are few puzzles, and what few there are often don’t make complete sense, relying on contrivance instead of driving the puzzle solutions with realistic character (inter)actions. The interface is dodgy. Worst of all, there is no “drive” to the game; it just plods along without any real tension. There is potential in the story and characters, but the game abruptly ends after about an hour, just as it’s supposed to shift into higher gear.

Dave Gilbert, the writer, never released a sequel to Bestowers of Eternity, but he did release The Blackwell Legacy (2006/11), a remake of his earlier work with the same premise. Graphically, Gilbert opted for a look that, while more pixelated, is much more aesthetically pleasing and internally consistent. He also added speech and a price tag, making the game a commercial release despite still having been developed in AGS. That apparently ticked off quite a few fellow AGS developers (though he’d already done something similar earlier that same year), but probably paid off in the long run, inspiring several other developers to also hire people to polish their AGS games to a state where they’re commercially viable. Gilbert started his own publisher, Wadjet Eye Games, which by all accounts has been quite successful for an indie company. Besides Gilbert’s own games, he’s also published Gemini Rue and Resonance.

The first hour of The Blackwell Legacy, then, consists more or less of a straight remake of the earlier game, with a new storyline added and the stupider puzzles removed. But it’s a much better game, and not just because of the increased production values (though the voices and music and spiffier visuals really do add quite a lot). The puzzles are more intuitive and thought-through, and the characters behave more realistically. The main storyline is expanded and satisfactorily concluded. If I’d played this game in 2006, I’d probably have complained about the cost-to-length ratio, the fact that it takes a long time for the game to finally get to its premise, and the fact that, while it does have an ending, it doesn’t really feel all that complete. Luckily, it’s 2012, I knew there were three other instalments with a fifth to come some time in the future, and I paid less than $10 for the first four on GOG.com. That’s a very good deal and I would actually have been willing to pay more.
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