Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Is Broken Age Telling the Story of Gaming Independence?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 15, 2014

Yesterday, two hotly anticipated Kickstarter-funded games were released… or at least “beta” released.  It was a busy day, so I haven’t had a chance to play as much as I would like, not play The Banner Saga at all. In fact, by the time I managed to wrestle my key from servers that seemed to decide to roll over and play dead during the launch, it was getting pretty late.

But I did get to play some of the game that effectively launched the crowdfunding gold-rush – the Double Fine old-school adventure game, Broken Age. This is , by the looks of it, kinda like two different adventure games squished together with parallel stories that – I can only imagine and hope – dovetail together in a literal or symbolic form at the end. I gotta say… I am impressed. It feels right. It feels like a Tim Schafer adventure game from the good ol’ days.

And… it’s dark. I mostly played the Vella story. But… wow. They are trying to deal with a story about human sacrifice here with a relatively light touch. It’s tricky, but I think they pulled it off. This isn’t too surprising – Grim Fandango, which I consider Schafer’s masterpiece, was all about death and the afterlife, and early on has the player “reaping” a mass poisoning. Dark topics dealt with humor and a light touch.

The theme is a timeless (and timely) one. The animation and art style wasn’t (and probably isn’t) my favorite, but it grew on me in the couse of 45 minutes of playing. And it looks and plays much better on screen than in videos.

Shay’s story, of which I only played a few minutes (you can switch seamlessly between the stories with the press of a button), is a thematic echo of Vella’s.  His story builds more slowly, without the sense of impending doom, but there’s still an inevitable battle coming up between the character coming of age and carving out his own destiny, and a paternalistic authority that clearly doesn’t “know best.”

Unfortunately, there have been hiccups. First of all – from what I understand – this is only half the game. “Act 1.” The other half comes later. Or maybe it’s half of two games. I’m okay with episodic content, so this might not be a problem. I guess I’ll see. Then there was Double Fine stumbling over release details. They tried to limit access to the trailers, to embargo reviews – old-school approaches done by publishers which worked okay in the Brick & Mortar era, but not something that is reasonable or enforceable when your “private audience” of backers is tens of thousands strong, and many of them writers / bloggers / journalists / YouTube “personalities.”

But something interesting occurred to me as I considered all the growing pains that Double Fine seems to be undergoing while leaving their old-school, brick-and-mortar, publisher-ruled world behind.

In a way, you can draw a whole parallel here between the two stories, and Double Fine’s own story of making this game. They are all stories about fighting the authority. Double Fine’s own adventure with this crowdfunding experiment was to finally push off in uncharted territory, fleeing “the system” that has cheerfully destroyed many promising studios for “the greater good” (of the publishers). It’s particularly disturbing how the other girls cheerfully embrace their fate, competing against each other for who will be the first to be devoured by the beast.


This strikes a few chords with me. I don’t know if this was a conscious or subconscious inclusion by Tim Schaffer and his team as they fought for their own survival to flee “the system” that seemed bound and determined to kill them either way. But coming from both the traditional publishing model and as an indie game developer… it does sound like some symbolism.

Maybe I’m just reading too much into it. I dunno.

Having not played much of Shay’s story, I can’t comment. But you have a bored teenager being subjected to the same old meals, the same infantile “entertainment” that used to make him happy. The entire environment treats life – and his make-believe “missions” – as one giant tutorial that applauds his smallest success. It’s safe. It’s repetitive. It’s boring. He’s clearly no longer happy, but doesn’t have any other choice. Until… he finds another way.


Does that parallel anything else in the world of gaming with traditional, mainstream publishing to you?

Maybe it was conscious, subconscious, or just me interjecting my own chip on my shoulder. And maybe as I play more (especially once Act 2 is released), I’ll see that I was completely off-base.  Maybe they discover the maiden-eating Mog Chothra really uses a cute-and-fluffy kangaroo pouch and takes the maidens to a wonderful place where they can pursue their hopes and dreams. Maybe the attempt to overcome the ship ends in only death and despair.

I guess we’ll see. Or I’ll see, as I play Act I to its conclusion and discover that I’m already off the reservation.

Filed Under: Adventure Games, Biz - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Binh Nguyen said,

    That actually makes a lot of sense. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Cuthalion said,


  • ShadowTiger said,

    If it was based on publishing video games I would expect to see more famine, migration, and tyranny. 😛

    In any case I will think about this when I play the game (when Act 2 is released)