I had contacted Anders Gustafsson, creator of Gateway II, and he gave me a preview of the first chapter of his latest game -- The Dream Machine by Cockroach Inc.
I had played the demo before and while it was presented well, I didn't know what to think of it. It was so short that it felt like it was over before it ever began. But after playing through the first chapter, I can now rest my worries. I can't wait to play the rest!
First off the game is well written. While Gateway had some dialogue, its story was mostly told visually through the animation of the characters. In The Dream Machine, the characters have some great dialogue, which I find believable. The game start with your character, Victor, just moving into an apartment with his girlfriend. You get a good feel for their relationship through their talking. The game has dialogue branches which allow you to respond in a more serious or joking manner if you wish. It helped me to believe in the characters -- okay, Game Creator, you've got my attention.
A Turnaround from their 'Character Generation' blog post
The game's unique art style kept me guessing. Is this clay? Or 3d? Or photographs? The visuals in the game are great. From their blog posts, it seems they are a mixture of figure, 3d, and composite images. So I guess I was right with all guesses, haha. I dig that the art has a handmade feel to it, a good change from most things being super clean, super digital.
It hit me maybe about an hour in. The sound is friggin incredible. And I think that's when you know when it's good. When it creeps in on you, and before you know it, you're under its grasp. You really just don't get sound at this quality very often with web games. The sound adds to the eeriness of the experience, reminds me of a Resident Evil game. How you always have that feeling that something's... not... quite... right...
Oh yeah, I forgot about the gameplay! The game seems to be along the lines of your standard adventure game. Chapter 1 is mostly finding items and finding where they go, scavenger hunt style, with a logic puzzle or two to break things up. It didn't really have those environmental "move here then move there" puzzles of the Gateway games. I felt that Chapter 1 was mostly an introduction to the characters and their world.
I don't think the gameplay is innovative, and that's probably a good thing. I think there's a lot of pressure to be innovative and break rules and conventions but often the result is something broken and not enjoyable. Or something that's claiming to be innovative while just replicating features some game made 10 or 20 years ago. If innovation is something that drives you to play a game, I'd say innovation is something that comes from the heart. In games like these where you can feel the love put into it.
I've been inspired by what I've seen of the game. And look forward to seeing more of it. The guys at Cockroach Inc. are still hard at work at it so the results may vary, haha.