The Watchmaker: Misguidance

Just another pro forma post because I played The Watchmaker a little more but didn’t get anywhere. My basic problem is that the explorable area of the game is large enough, and full of enough pointless furniture, that you really need some sort of guidance as to what to do, at least in the early part, and the game just doesn’t provide that guidance. That is, it provides some guidance, but not the guidance you need.

Right now, there are two things telling me what needs doing. First, there’s a list of pending tasks in my PDA, along with a summary of discoveries. I do like this feature — it even highlights newly-added entries! Right now, my task list contains two items: gaining access to the old wing of the castle, which is closed to the public, and checking out the bottom of a dry well in case there’s a secret chamber down there or something. But I can’t actually do either of them. The listing for the well specifically notes that I’ll have to wait for the gardener to leave the area so I can sneak in unobserved. Time in this game only advances in response to plot events, so it’s basically telling me that I’ll have to get some other arbitrary unrelated thing to happen first. I guess this is the main purpose of the list: to let the player know that they should try things again later.

The other thing telling me where to direct my attention is the camera. When I leave the mausoleum, it first zooms in on that chessboard, just in case I didn’t notice it. “Look at the chessboard! It’s important!”

Now here’s the kicker. I didn’t want to resort to hints this early in the game, but I also didn’t want to spend another few hours wandering around aimlessly, so I’ve looked up a walkthrough, and it turns out that my next step is actually to check out some areas I hadn’t found yet because they’re only accessible via a service lift that wasn’t working before. Presumably it gets fixed when you advance time by observing the greenhouse explosion, but I hadn’t tried it again. Because I had no particular reason to think it had been fixed, and the game was pretty firmly directing my attention elsewhere.

I’m thinking that this game suffers for being played out of its time. This sort of design makes a lot more sense if the player is expected to want to prolong the experience of just walking around in a fully 3D-rendered environment, randomly opening cupboards and things. This may not even have been a realistic expectation back in 2001 — certainly, I myself gave up on it pretty quickly at the time. But at least it was closer to true then than it is now.

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