Dreamfall(en) in Oslo The Feature Part 3
Dreamfall - The Longest Journey
Developer/publisher (NO): Funcom
Release date: Q2/2006
A preview by MaryScots
Dreamfall previews are ten and a penny out there already and until the planned release of the game for PC and Xbox in Spring 2006 there will certainly be even more. This preview, however, is one of the few written by a TLJ- and adventure fan and whats more its based on a presentation-between-you-and-me-and-the-gatepost at the Funcom offices in Oslo. This looks suspiciously like bias, doesnt it? It does and I dont want to have it any other way. Those who would like to check whether they can conform to my point of view might first want to take a peek at my review of The Longest Journey that should help. ;-) Expectations are high regarding Dreamfall, no doubt about it. Adventure enthusiasts are wondering already whether it might reach the high standard of its predecessor or could even top it.The developers are well aware of that but nevertheless they dare to break new grounds as Funcoms Community Relations Manager Craig Morrison explained in our extensive interview. What will Dreamfall be? How will Dreamfall be? Read on to learn more about what I expected and what I got to see in Oslo.
Lets start with my expectations. While the developers did not come up with ample news and screenshots for quite some time I - like all the others had to content myself with rating the few pictures showing us the new characters and some locations. I admit that I wasnt too excited about the 3D graphics at the time. I thought, well, your typical 3D the outlines slightly edgy, plants that strongly reminded me of the plastic palms by Playmobilģ from my childhood and a rather poor amount of details within the stylishly designed locations. But as soon as a new screenshot appeared showing me a well remembered location from TLJ but presenting it the way it looks now 10 years later in the storyline my fans heart leapt with joy and I started musing how it could be much more exciting to be able to explore these very spots in 3D, to finally be allowed to peek into all those corners which the 2D graphics denied us. After the initial overwhelming joy about actually getting a sequel to my favourite game and the doubts that followed it regarding the announced action-sequences most of us genre fans are not all that enthusiastic about I was very eager to see what Dreamfall in motion would be like.
The game starts with a mysterious intro sequence containing one hell of a light-bulb-moment cliff-hanger ahead! which I wont reveal anything about in this preview. Sorry folks, but my keyboard will obey me in this. It might frustrate you now but I am positive that you will thank me later when you are sitting in front of the finished game watching and listening spellbound what is going on there, well, at least those of you who know The Longest Journey as well as I do my recommendation to all the others being an observant first or re-play especially of that part in ouch, I had almost said it! Anyway, this intro instantly sucked me into the game and I had to pull myself together in order to pay the appropriate attention to Craigs explanations.
The intro will also familiarise us with the controls and their features. We will be able to control the game completely by mouse, although I am already certain that I will like Craig during the presentation use the gamepad on my PC its just more comfortable.
Oh, an important point here is: mouse yes point & click no, as one of the goals the developers aim at is to create a cinematic game experience without pixel-hunting and therefore a cursor and too prominent hotspots would clearly interfere with that image. Sounds plausible, doesnt it?! So, how do we find hotspots and the like? First of all, small icons depicting an ear, an eye, a mouth or a hand will appear in the lower right corner of the screen when we enter a location or move around it. And then theres the new idea of the focus field, an already often discussed feature which most of us have some difficulties in imagining the way it works. It is a vertical light bar we can switch on and off and which emanates from our game character kind of like the beam of a lighthouse while scanning the environment and drawing our attention to interactive spots by means of a reticule. By activating this point - it can also be another character - we will be given possible options or dialogue topics. Even while the focus field is activated we can freely move the camera across the location which didnt even arouse that annoying dizziness I usually have to battle with this kind of control.
Back to the current events. A skilful cut teleports us from the start scene into a sun-filled room directly by the sea with palms growing on the beach. The thin transparent curtains sway in the soft sea-breeze entering through the open door and windows. We listen to a young womans voice while the camera pans over the room showing an older man obviously deeply worried and sitting beside a bed in which a young woman sleeps. The woman is ZoŽ, the heroine of Dreamfall, who is also the owner of the narrators voice and she is in a coma. What happened? At once, I was thrilled to know more, how this came about, how she ended up in this bed in hospital. Well, we will find out when we may finally play Dreamfall.
A further cut catapults us back in time and into ZoŽs previous life. In the year 2219, she lives in Casablanca together with her father, a much occupied businessman. The city is now the commercial centre of Stark, a world similar to ours (and very well-known to TLJ players). A camera pan shows us through the large apartment furnished in a rather modern fashion but with an ethnic touch until we arrive in ZoŽ's bedroom. She is lolling on her bed while zapping through TV channels until a program is interrupted by a strange scene which clearly does not fit in with the rest. Although ZoŽ does wonder what that might have been her attention is drawn to more paramount matters like having to go to her sports lesson. Light-heartedly she hops down the stairs, chats a little with her father and then runs through the streets of Casablanca while greeting some friends on her way. The locations I accompanied her through made a very lively and detailed impression and the charming look and feel of The Longest Journey was present all around, though on a different level. The streets and squares are just as alive as they were there and we can address almost all of the NPC's - sometimes a conversation takes place and sometimes it only results in some saucy comments from ZoŽ .- the kind of comments we already know and like April Ryan for. Important dialogue partners, however, draw our attention to them by addressing our heroine to prevent us from missing out on crucial information. By the way, it will be possible to cut some dialogues short or to not even have some of the conversations but we can't always be sure to have a possibility to catch up on them later - that can be but don't count on it. We won't be able, however, to avoid the important conversations.
On a side note, fans of TLJ might be happy to read during the first chapter of which I could see approximately two thirds within the one hour presentation a lot of more or less subtle references to The Longest Journey can be discovered. That makes one feel at home at once! Lets go on with the game. Merely watching the movements of our new heroine which of course I did very closely - was rather fun and I didnt notice any edgy graphics anymore, those which bothered me in the screenshots, just believe me when I say that those freeze images tell nothing compared to the live game. And if I remember correctly the graphics will be polished thoroughly once more. The English voice-acting was also very good already, though far from complete yet, but in Germany we may look forward to a full localisation anyway.For the English speaking players Funcom does have a nice surprise in store regarding the voice of one of the supporting voice-actors and Craig told me that Ragnar TÝrnquist is especially proud of this one. Its the part of ZoŽs sassy robot gorilla Wonkers (Does that ring a bell somehow? ;-) ) he will be dubbed by Jack Angel who already lend his voice to Teddy in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
The gym ZoŽ is heading for at the moment does have one more function apart from its part within the storyline. Here we can practise controlling our heroine during fight scenes without getting her into trouble. One example for the players ability to choose I would like to address at this point, although it has been described quite often in the press by now. In the Old Town ZoŽ meets her Ex who asks a favour of her and sends her to an office building where the lady receptionist pretends to not have a clue what ZoŽ is talking about. She acts cool and dismissive trying to make ZoŽ leave. Now we have to decide whether we want to knock her out by means of our recently trained fighting skills or if wed rather outwit her somehow in that case we smooth-talk her into showing us something and wait until she opens a closet to then lock her up inside. Now we can take a good look around.
Unfortunately, it wasnt decided by the time of my visit whether we will be able to save our progress at any point in the game we choose or whether only certain safe points will be set. I personally would prefer the first option because even if we usually can puzzle our way around action scenes as I have just described we wont be able to avoid all of them. However, the level of difficulty shall be moderate no one wants us to get frustrated with the game, its supposed to be fun, after all. But I do like to try various things and therefore would be happy to have the opportunity of saving and restoring the game when I want and especially prior to the respective action-scene to take another turn. Well, once more we have to wait and see.
In the end I can only admit that I am completely in love with what I have seen so far and Id have enjoyed spending the rest of that day with Dreamfall. Funcom convinced me that The Longest Journey does appeal and work also in 3D. Even though the aimed at playing time should not be less than 11 hours (if you speed through the game) - but will more likely amount to an average of 15+ hours and will therefore be much shorter than that of the predecessor many of us will surely enjoy exploring every nook and cranny thoroughly (which obviously prolongs the overall playing time) and this one can definitely only do in the third dimension.
ZoŽ on her apartments terrace in Casablanca