I recently had the honour of experiencing Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist. Perhaps ‘honour’ is slightly over-egging the pudding, it is after all a game available completely free on Steam, but nonetheless it’s fantastic and you should all go out and try it. It’s the first release from new studio Crows Crows Crows, with The Stanley Parable designer William Pugh’s fourth-wall-breaking fingertips all over it. (Which I guess by necessity would have to be, like, knuckle prints. Unless William has superhuman-strength fingers. Even then, breaking a wall with a closed fist is probably out of the realm of possibility for most game developers. Not to besmirch the strength of any game developers out there! Maybe I should stay away from metaphor entirely, I’m not very good at it.)
There’s something about people who worked on The Stanley Parable and making games that are fairly unreviewable. That game itself was a delight best enjoyed with as little prior knowledge as possible. Then Davey Wreden created The Beginner’s Guide, a game that made me feel feelings I still refuse to write down. Partially because I don’t want to ruin one iota of it for anyone, mainly because I’m nowhere near skilled enough to do it justice. And now we have Dr. Langeskov, yet another game I find myself unable and unwilling to fully review.
What I can do, however, is cynically use that game as a pedestal from which I can shout some of my opinions at you. Dr. Langeskov is an incredibly short game, clocking in at around twenty minutes if you go through it at a reasonable pace. I’ve got that information from others who’ve played the game normally. Personally, I spent around an hour scouring rooms for collectibles, reading every single letter, sign and poster, and seeking to exhaust all possible dialogue options. I failed to get any of the optional achievements, marking my playthrough as an absolute failure, but at least I tried.
It was short, and it was long enough. It fit everything it needed to into its running time and, time spent knocking over brooms and peeking on the tops of shelves excluded, was finished in the time it takes to eat a particularly large meal. This is something of a rarity in modern games, but why?
Well, the price point must have a fair bit to do with it. As time has gone by the price of games has risen. Now, before I get lots of sarcastic economically-minded responses, I fully understand inflation. I fully understand, as we move from one day to the next, the price of everything has to go up by a little bit because all of our gold stocks actually weigh less. This is because a gravitational force, ‘Trumpton’ as it’s called, is slowly becoming antagonised by gold’s uppity attitude and wants to be less and less associated with it. Therefore, when the chief economist of the world wakes up in the morning to measure out the world’s gold stocks, there seems to be slightly less than there was on the previous morning. Businesspeople in businesswear argue about this for a bit, before deciding that the next Call Of Duty will go up by twenty-five pence.
I apologise to any economists, any physicists, and any people for that previous bit. There’s a serious point hidden there somewhere, though. We have to pay around fifty pounds for the newest games, an extra twenty if we want the season pass, and a few quid here or there if we want to browse the micro-transaction market for a gun that meows or an upside-down house or whatever. As we have to cough up more of our hard-earned for a video game, it stands to reason that you’d want to get as much enjoyment out of it as possible. Hours upon hours, hundreds of hours, years of unbridled enjoyment. So we have triple A releases that try to expand their playtime as much as possible. From bloated campaigns to tacked on multiplayer modes, they usually seem like justification for a price tag rather than valuable additions.
The value of a game shouldn’t lie in its length from beginning to end, it should lie in how it makes you feel. Games like Dr Langeskov would not, could not, be created by a the triple A sensibility that more is always more, even when it isn’t, even when it’s actually considerably less.
I’ve said it before and I’ll undoubtedly say it countless times more: Thank God for indies. Thank God for a portion of the industry that doesn’t need to make these great, galumphing titles. Titles that are absolutely bursting at the seams with tried-and-tested, focus group approved features as a justification for the mortgage you need to take out to actually afford the bastards.
Do bear in mind, I’m not saying that all triple A’s are awful. More times than not, and especially recently in what seems to be somewhat of a banner year for gaming, the obverse has been true. I mean, there are bigger issues at hand with regards to the cost of games, and the incomplete nature of those games once you’ve bought them, but those are all thinkpieces for another time. As it is, however, I for one am extremely happy that we have studios like Crows Crows Crows that are producing games that are joyous, arresting and easily completed in one sitting.