I’ve spent the week with preview code for Dan Marshall’s latest, Lair of the Clockwork God. It’s the new instalment in his series of Dan and Ben games, which up until now have been fairly classical adventure games. Clockwork God is different, however, because Dan has decided that indie games are the future and adventure games are history. So this means that while Ben is still playing an adventure game – collecting objects, combining them, solving puzzles – Dan is jumping around, leaping from ledge to ledge, and having indie platformer epiphanies all over the place.
Cue lots of jokes and set-pieces and a great deal of cleverness. All of this is to be expected. What’s really hit me, though, is how Clockwork God has such an ideal means of delivering its story and its puzzles and its action and absolutely all that jazz. Like the other Dan and Ben games, the spine of the thing is an ongoing chat between the two main characters. In other words, for the couple of hours I’ve played of Clockwork God, I’ve been pulled along by the easy pleasures of conversation.
There is something to this, I reckon. Functionally it’s very smart. Puzzly adventure games always need a means of giving clues out to the stupider players, such as me, and the bickering between the two leads means there’s plenty of opportunity to sneak this stuff in. Then there’s the fact that Ben and Dan can just generally remind the player of objectives, of things they might have forgotten, of things they might not have spotted in the environment.
But there’s more, I think. Clockwork God is about two characters that you switch between who are both playing very different games, so the dialogue is the perfect means to explore the differences and similarities between two design approaches. Dan can jump! Ben will never jump – but he will combine objects in his inventories. Like crafting in an indie game? Nothing like crafting! Well, kind of like crafting.
And finally there’s the fact that the designer Dan Marshall delights in the kinds of games that are very aware of their gameiness. With Ben and Dan firing lines back and forth there’s a real sense that they’re commenting on the game even as you work through it. It’s like having a few friends clustered around the monitor, throwing out ideas, getting annoyed at anything that seems stupid or abstruse or too convenient. In other words, it’s a bit like how I remember playing adventure games back in the day. Lots of puzzles. Lots of getting stuck. Lots of conversation.