The Watchmaker: The Final Hour

The ending to The Watchmaker is a bit like the ending to Raiders of the Lost Ark: the heroes completely fail to stop the bad guys, and just wind up sort of being present while the bad guys destroy themselves. Except here it’s more like two factions of bad guys destroying each other. We’re given reason to believe that the watchmaker himself was a good man, and created his cabal of immortals with noble intent, but he’s been out of the picture for some time, ever since his followers rebelled against him. It’s all quite biblical, really.

There’s still a little bit of a mystery left: Krenn, who founded the Knights of the Apocalypse, mentions in his diary a suspicion he has that his discovery of the watchmaker’s writings was more than just fortuitous, that they had been deliberately left where he would find them. Who, then, did this? I’m guessing one of the other immortals. Not the watchmaker himself, because he’d been dead for decades at that point, but someone loyal to him and unseen in the game. But that’s fodder for sequels that will never be made.

So anyway, the whole ending sequence is full of enemies who mean you harm. This is a pretty major shift. I think there are one or two opportunities to get a “Game Over” in earlier sections, but this is the first place where it’s easy. There’s a few stealth/action sequences, even. And I can’t say I like it. Action sequences in adventure games are just a bad idea, and forcing the player to replay from a recent save adds nothing good to the experience. (And I say this having implemented quite a few such sequences myself!) “But”, you may object, “without action sequences that potentially result in Game Over, how do you convey a sense of physical danger?” My advice is: Don’t use adventure games to tell stories that rely on a sense of physical danger. Use action games for that.

One peculiar thing about the endgame: When Darrel descends into the (rather small) labyrinth that leads to the pendulum chamber, he gives all his inventory to Victoria. This kind of makes sense from a gameplay perspective, as a way of simplifying things, getting rid of the cruft you’ve accumulated over hours of play and making you start over fresh in a new environment. But it really makes no sense at all in the story: “I may not be able to get back out, so I’d better get rid of any tools that might be useful down there.” And even considered as a gameplay thing, it’s followed by Darrel getting captured and Victoria going in to rescue him, with all the inventory Darrel gave her.

The very last puzzle of note in the game is one where I needed the walkthrough — not even for the conceptually-obscure part of the puzzle, which was within the realm of things I had been trying, but to find out that “candle” was a separate clickable from “candlestick”. A fitting end for a game of lousy puzzles. And yet, I have to admit that in these last few sessions, I was really enjoying it, and looking forward to it between sessions. Perhaps enjoyment of interaction is a lower bar than we give it credit for, much like how food doesn’t have to be high cuisine to be filling. Certainly the game became a lot more enjoyable the moment I learned how to control it properly. Also, by the end I was really inhabiting the castle, feeling it as a place. Its layout is irregular, with its curving tower walls, and entire floors you can only reach indirectly, making it confusing enough that even the player characters comment on it. This makes it all the more gratifying when it becomes familiar enough that you can navigate it easily. It’s been suggested that the real fun in games comes from mastering complex systems, and the geography here may qualify.

One last tangential note: There is a game on Steam called The Watchmaker, which I actually picked up in the recently-passed summer sale, but it’s completely unrelated. It’s a 3D platformer set in a world of enormous gears. It does, however, have some notions in common with the game I just played. Both games have a notion of clockwork mechanisms not just measuring time but controlling it, and of halting or reversing the aging process — in the platformer, you’re aging at an unnaturally rapid rate, and have to continually find resources to rejuvenate yourself to avoid aging to death. It’s fun to imagine that the games are in fact linked, that the platformer is the purgatory experienced by the watchmaker from the adventure game after his death or something. That his responsibility to repair the mechanisms that compose his world is his punishment for interfering with the natural flow of time back in the mundane world.

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