CSI: Comparisons

csi-everettCSI: Hard Evidence was apparently made using the same development tools as the Sam and Max and Bone games, but it’s a real contrast in style. For that matter, Sam and Max is pretty different from Bone: wisecracking cynicism and urban decay vs. good-natured fantasy, as well as the contrast in puzzle style mentioned previously. But Sam and Max and Bone are both ultimately cartoons, rendered in a cartoony style. CSI, although pretty close to a cartoon in its exaggerated and stylized story content, tries to be realistic in its visual appearance, including human figures. And this, if you ask me, is one of its weak points. The regulars from the show are passable, but per-episode characters — the victim and suspects — live farther down in the uncanny valley. Mouths in particular seem troublesome, and tend to bunch up in odd ways when characters is talk.

More than that, though, Sam and Max and Bone are both based on the Sierra/Lucasarts paradigm: you have an avatar who walks where you click. CSI uses something more like a Myst-style interface. Movement between scenes is handled through a “locations” menu in your PDA (which also holds the inventory, options menu, and case details), but movement within a scene is handled through clickable hotspots. But the scene itself is rendered in 3D, and even without clicking, you can do some limited shifting around by means of the mouse — or, presumably, the right analog stick in the console versions, which seems like a better fit to the mode of interaction here. It’s not quite like any other game I’ve seen: the closest is Myst V in “panning” mode, but there, the panning was always just a matter of changing the camera’s orientation, not its position. Here, you can use the mouse to do things like circle a car and inspect it from all sides, if that’s the motion that’s scripted for that node.

Disclosure: I received this game for free from Telltale Games.

Sam and Max, Season One

samnmax-psychiatristAh, Sam and Max: absurd and grotesque, snappy and cynical. Their humor is always at least partly grounded in their horribleness. I’m a fan of theirs from way back, even from before their first adventure game in 1993, or their cameos in various other Lucasarts titles. Back when they were an obscure indie comic book.

So you might think I’d be among the first to snap up the newer episodic Sam and Max games. But I didn’t, because I was wary of Telltale Games. I had played Telltale’s first adventure, an adaptation of the comic book Bone, and found it disappointing. The adventure content was minimal, as was the interactive detail: the bulk of the player’s time was spent on a series of lame mini-games shoehorned onto a story that didn’t really want them. And when I say “series of lame mini-games”, the part that bothers me the most isn’t the “lame”, but the “series”: the game was very linear, following the source material very closely. Most of the time, there was only one thing to do.

But the Sam and Max games aren’t adaptations of existing Sam and Max stories, and thus avoid a lot of the difficulties of adaptation. (Even the 1993 game, Sam and Max Hit the Road, which took a lot of its ideas from the “Surfing the Highway” comic, has an original story.) I’ve played through the first episode by now, and it’s got classical adventure game structure: after a brief prologue in a constrained area, it sets the player loose in the main game area with three major goals to pursue simultaneously and independently, followed by another, smaller set of three goals, followed by an endgame. And some of those subgoals provide good “Aha!” moments.

So, currently, I’m pleased. I’ll see if I can get through episode 2 tomorrow and try to spot common patterns. It really seems like each episode wants to be completed in a single sitting.