Games

Out of Order

Chris LaVigne

While artists and programmers continue to push the limits on graphics, sound, level design, and animation, video game writing is lagging far behind in terms of innovation.


Publisher: Hungry Software
Developer: Hungry Software
Multimedia: Out of Order
ESRB rating: N/A
Platforms: PC

Tim Furnish's freeware adventure game Out of Order seems designed solely to teach the rest of the computer entertainment industry a valuable lesson: that writing in a video game doesn't have to suck. Sadly, few people appear to be listening.

Here's a scenario that many gamers will recognize. You're playing the latest game, one that defines the cutting edge in terms of graphics and sound and requires a computer that came out yesterday as the minimum technology needed to perform its audio-visual feats. There's a puddle of drool in your lap because you haven't been able to close your mouth since the jaw-dropping introductory cinema sequence blew your mind. That was a week ago. It's a big puddle.

You've just reached the point where your character finally meets her arch-nemesis for their final showdown. You've spent days getting here. You've ditched friends and not returned important phone calls, telling yourself, "Just one more level." Today, you decided to call in to work sick.

Onscreen, the villain reveals his sinister schemes. "You cannot stop me," he cackles, "Soon, I will rule the world!" Clichéd taunting completed, he stops and the hero readies her reply. "All right," you mumble to your valiant avatar onscreen," Show him what you've got." You wait for words to flow from the hero's mouth that will match the intensity and power of the rest of this game that took hundreds of people years to create, state-of-the-art technology to run, and the better part of a week to play. Instead, she looks up at the villain and yells, "That's it, creepface! You're going down!"

Instantly, the high tech artifice of the game collapses as you slump back in to your seat. "You're going down?" you mumble, "Creepface? Of the billion possible things she could have said, that's what they come up with? That's what a million-dollar budget produces? What a piece of crap!" And as your jaw clamps shut, another bad experience proves that video games have a long way to go.

Nobody seems to be learning that awesome graphics and sound cannot mask the lameness that games serve up too frequently whenever a character opens his or her mouth. Too many games are being ruined by truly asinine dialogue. Poor translations may bear some of the blame, but surely the gaming industry has enough money floating around to hire some better translators. That they don't only proves how little attention game design companies pay to writing, an oversight that has the industry stalled creatively.

While artists and programmers continue to push the limits on graphics, sound, level design, and animation, video game writing is lagging far behind in terms of innovation. This wasn't always the case. Back in the days when adventure games ruled, smart writing made up the core of what made those games great. Sierra and LucasArts led the way with hilarious titles like Space Quest and Day of the Tentacle. Hungry Software's Out of Order proudly carries on that tradition and puts most mainstream games to shame.

Continuing the long tradition of oddly-named adventure game characters is Out of Order's protagonist Hurford Schlitzing. The game begins after Hurford finds himself and his bedroom transported to a place simply called The Town. Stuck in this strange environment with only his pajamas and teddy-bear slippers, Hurford's goal is to discover where he is, how he got there, and who is responsible. Hilarity follows his quest every step of the way.

Out of Order is as funny as a Fawlty Towers marathon shown to an audience of clowns constantly being hit in the groin by footballs. Furnish doesn't miss a single opportunity to squeeze in a gag and every one of them hits the funny bone with an accuracy that only Robin Hood could surpass if he had traded in his arrows for jokes. There's a reason why Out of Order won Game of the Year awards from both Adventure Gamer's and The Crow's Nest and that's because it is so overwhelmingly smartly written. I just can't stress how much of a difference this makes to the gaming experience.

The quirkiness and originality of the game infuses it with a vitality that too many major releases lack these days. I've become totally fed up with big-budget games that serve up pathetic one-liners that even Eraser-era Arnold Schwarzenegger would be embarrassed to find in a script. In a sea of such mediocre, cliché-ridden fare, games like Out of Order are the lifeboats that growing numbers of frustrated gamers like myself are starting to use to abandon ship.

If video games are going to go anywhere, it's time industry executives realize that words are just as important a part of multimedia as pretty pictures and loud noises. If they are really smart, they'll start hiring the Tim Furnishes of the world to take them to the next level. If not, then I think we can safely say that the creepfaces are going down!

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