From That Angle

I recently started playing Pine, which the developers describe as an “open-world action adventure game set in a simulated world that does not belong to humans”. What they don’t describe it is a “third-person adventure game with a lot of platform jumping puzzles”. Which stoked my pondering of what people choose to prioritise, both when creating and describing.

The trailer does a reasonable job of showing this is a game with fighting, exploration, and factions of civilised anthropomorphic animals. What it doesn’t put front and centre is that there is a reasonable amount of resource competition both between player and faction and between factions, and that uncovering ancient technology is not merely a McGuffin creates an ongoing change both in how (or even whether) once can solve certain problems, and in the wider world.

What the trailer also doesn’t reveal is that the leaping puzzle with the pop-up platforms is toward the simple end and the save mechanic doesn’t allow you to just restart at a point of your choosing partway through a puzzle; instead, if you die or meet another fail condition, you have to restart at a set point. Some of the puzzles look like a single complex challenge but are actually several puzzles which link in series or parallel to a final puzzle, but most of the jumping sections are a single (often time-sensitive) section; so, if one makes a mistake on the last of four or so very precise jumps, one ends up restarting the whole thing. And the difficulty level of everything is hardcoded so one can’t ease the physics for something that’s reduced one to murmuring “flipping heck” at the screen repeatedly.

Having worked on software projects, I understand why it is the way it is: saving the set of data needed to return to a specific unique point in a puzzle takes orders more game-thinky than restarting at a fixed point every time; making puzzles have multiple, user-selectable, difficulties requires not only the increased code (and thus fragility) of some sort of option but also checking to make sure the options do make it easier/harder rather than just different.

However, what the game does have is a “sit down and simply enjoy the scenery button”; the game is quite beautiful in places, so I can see why they might have decided to stick it in even if it doesn’t provide any game advantages (or at least none I’ve found). By default, the button is next to the sprint button. I have, as I suspect many who have read tales of soldierly heroism have, contemplated whether I would throw myself on a grenade to save others; what this game gives me instead is the chance to quickly attempt to sprint out of the oncoming blast of an alchemical bomb, slightly mistype because it’s not a think-twice-press-once moment, and slowly sit at ground zero.

Which doesn’t mean the game is wrong or I am wrong; but it does mean that I am once more filled with pondering over how what creators include or leave out, and how they describe their creation, might be different from what their audience might expect of it or how they might describe it.

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