I missed the boat on many of Tim Schafer’s games. Whilst I was aware of the titles that rocketed him to game developer stardom (Monkey Island, Manic Mansion and Psychonauts) I never ended up seeking them out, even more recently when I’ve been told I have to play them. You can probably attribute that to the fact that many of my friends had Apple IIs or other similar Mac computers and as such weren’t able to share games with me, the primary one being the original Monkey Island series. Still his games seem to have something of a following and if the Kickstarter for the Doublefine Adventure was anything to go by I figured their latest release, The Cave, would be worth playing.
Upon starting up The Cave you’ll be greeted by a smooth talking narrator who introduces himself as the cave you’re about to dive into, something we’re told just to go along with. After a short setting of the scene you’re then introduced to the 7 playable characters that you can choose to bring with you on the journey. They are (in no particular order): The Knight, The Adventurer, The Monk, The Twins, The Time Traveler, The Scientist and The Hillbilly. Each of them has their own little story which you’ll dive into as you venture deep into the cave, revealing their troublesome past and hopefully work towards making their present a little better.
The Cave has gone for a stylized 2.5D environment, locking your movement to the traditional 2D platformer style which uses 3D models for everything on screen. Typically heavy stylization goes hand in hand with simplicity (as the choice to heavily stylize is usually done as a trade off for better performance) however The Cave’s various environments are drenched in detail with modern lighting effects, particle systems and intricate set pieces. All put together it works very well with each of the various sections of the cave having its own distinct feeling, especially the unique character rooms.
At the beginning you’re shown the group of 7 characters and you get to choose 3 of them to go along for the ride. The choice is arbitrary as no matter who you end up choosing you will be able to make it through to the end. Your choice of characters only affects the path you will take to reach the end although there are some sections which might go a bit quicker if you choose certain characters over others. In the end though due to the unfortunate choice of 7 characters rather than say 6 or 9 you’ll have to play the game through a full 3 times in order to see all of the character’s stories, if that’s of interest to you.
The Cave is your traditional puzzler/platformer, making you jump from platform to platform in order to find the right items to use in the right place or to pull various levers in order to progress to the next section. The twist comes from each of the characters that you choose to take on your journey as each of them has some kind of special ability that can be used to solve the puzzles. Now for the most part these abilities really only come into play during the character’s unique section of the cave but there are times during the intervening puzzles where these abilities might come in handy. The Knight for instance can go completely invulnerable which is kind of handy when you want to fall off ledges in order to descend quickly.
Thankfully there’s no real inventory to speak of so you won’t spend your time hoarding dozens of items in the hopes you’ll need to use them. Instead in The Cave each of your 3 characters can only hold a single item at a time. Whilst there are some puzzles that require all of your characters to have an item and be doing something with it most of the time it’s only the main character that needs to do so. However much like other puzzle games there’s no shortage of things which you can pick up and interact with which can sometimes have you holding things that serve no purpose what so ever. This is part of the challenge of course but its usually fairly obvious what goes where.
As for the puzzles themselves most of them are relatively obvious with solutions that come about organically or by trial and error should you get stuck. Usually frustration sets in when you’ve picked up an item at one place then placed it down to get another item that you need to use right then and there, forcing you to backtrack some distance to get it again. There were some puzzles which stumped me to the point of needing a walk through guide but most of them were me thinking a puzzle should was solved when it really wasn’t. There was one puzzle which I thought was a bit rough however (the final stage, very last puzzle if you’re wondering) which whilst not being rubber duck key sort of thing was still in the realms of “LOL DEVELOPER LOGIC”.
The Cave is well coded considering its simultaneous release across several different platforms however there was one quirk which proved to be endlessly frustrating and one hilarious bug (pictured above). The quirk seems to be due to the dual control scheme that The Cave uses, letting you control your characters with the keyboard or mouse (or both at the same time, if you’re so inclined). However if you click in a location and then try to use the keyboard, like I tended to do accidentally when resting my hand on the mouse, there’s a 3 second or so period where the keyboard just simply doesn’t respond. This isn’t due to my keyboard or mouse as I don’t have this problem in any other game and it caused no end of frustration when my characters wouldn’t move the way I told them to. It’s not exactly game breaking but it is incredibly frustrating so I hope it gets fixed soon.
The bug shown above is also nothing really serious, just a clipping issue where my character was able to swim through the ground, but there’s probably a quick fix to it that could be implemented without too much trouble.
I thought the story of The Cave was interesting but lacked any real depth to it. Sure the character’s backgrounds are explored decently through the cave paintings and their unique puzzle caves but none of them are particularly likeable or relatable. Now I get this is the point some what but their stories didn’t have any impact on me one way or the other. It’s made up for in spades by the fun and novel game mechanics so I guess what I’m getting at is that the story is serviceable but that’s not the reason I’d be playing the game.
The Cave is a solid platformer that brings in unique game mechanics and a pleasant art style to form a game that’s quite enjoyable to play. Many are seeing this as a teaser of things to come with the Doublefine Adventure and if this is true it should be shaping up to be something quite special, especially for fans of Schafer’s games. I had a good time with The Cave, although my second play through didn’t last particularly long (I stopped about half way through the first unique puzzle) but then again I’m the kind of player who gets rapidly disinterested in games I’ve already completed. The Cave is certainly worth a play through just for the unique experience it provides.
The Cave is available right now on PC, Xbox360, Playstation 3 and WiiU right now for $19.99 and an equivalent amount of points on the varying systems respectively. Game was played on the PC with 4 hours played and 19% of the achievements unlocked.
The idea behind Kickstarter is a great one: you’ve got an idea and you’ve got the fixins of a potential business going but the financial barrier of bringing it to market are keeping you from seeing it through. So you whip up a project on there, promise people rewards or (more commonly) the actual product you’re intending to sell and then wait for backers to pledge some cash to you. For the backers as well its great as if the project doesn’t get fully funded then no one has to donate any money, so your potential risk exposure is limited. Of course Kickstarter take their slice of the action, to the tune of 5% (plus another 3~5% for the payment processing) so everyone comes out a winner.
It’s a disruptive service, there’s no denying that. There are many products that wouldn’t have made it through a traditional venture capital process that have become wild successes thanks to Kickstarter. This of course gets people thinking about how those traditional systems are no longer needed, I mean who needs venture capitalists when I can get my customers to fund my project? Well whilst I’d love to believe that all we need for funding is crowdsourcing tools like Kickstarter I can’t help but notice the pattern of most of the successful endeavours on there.
They’re all done by people who were already successful in the traditional business world.
Take for instance the latest poster child for the success of Kickstarter: The Double Fine Adventure. For gamers the Double Fine name (and the man behind it, Tim Schafer) is a recognizable one, having worked on such cult classics as The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and releasing others such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. Needless to say he’s quite well known and made his name in the traditional game developer/publisher world. Kickstarter has allowed him to cut the publishers out of this particular project, putting more cash in his pocket and allowing him total control of it, but could someone without that kind of brand recognition pull off the same level of success?
The answer is no.
For all the successes that are seen through Kickstarter only 44 percent of them will ever actually get the funding they require. Indeed in the Video Games category the highest funded game (there are a lot of projects in there that aren’t exactly games) before the Double Fine Adventure managed about $72,000. Sure it’s nothing to sneeze at, it was almost 6 times what they needed, but it does show the disparity between relative nobodies attempting a to crowdfund a project and when a well known person attempts the same thing. Sure there are the few breakout successes, but for the majority of large funding successes you’ll usually see someone who’s already known in that area involved somehow.
Now I don’t believe this is a bad thing, it’s just the way the process works. Nothing has really changed here, except the judgement call is shifted from the venture capitalists to the wider public, and as such many of the same factors influence if, when and how you get funded. Name recognition is a massive part of that, I mean just take a look at things like Color that managed to pull in a massive $41 million in funding before it had even got a viable product off the ground just because of the team of people that were behind the idea. Kickstarter doesn’t change this process at all, it’s just made it more visible to everyone.
Does this mean I think you should keep away from Kickstarter? Hell no, if you’ve got a potential product idea and want to see if there’s some kind of market for it Kickstarter projects, even if they’re not successful, are a great way of seeing just how much demand is out there. If your idea resonates with the wider market then you’re guaranteed a whole bunch of free publicity, much more than what you’d get if you just approached a bank for a business loan. Just be aware of what Kickstarter does and does not do differently to traditional ways of doing business and don’t get caught up in the hype that so often surrounds it.