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Heaven can wait, September 28, 2009
(A previous version of this review appeared during the Spring Thing 2009 on my blog, The Gaming Philosopher.)
The Milk of Paradise is too small and short, unituitive, and underimplemented. This is a shame, because the game is actualy trying to do something interesting: there is a narrator who is a character in the story and has a complicated relationship with the player character, and the game is about revealing this relationship and using it to make a point about... about what exactly? Adventure? Identity? Dreams? I don't know, because the game was over so quickly and told me so little that it didn't in the end really say anything.
In a sense, The Milk of Paradise is the opposite of its fellow contestant Realm of Obsidian. The latter is large and carefully implemented (just think of the work that went into the sounds), but suffers from extreme retro gameplay. The former, on the other hand, is puzzleless and focused on story, but it small and sloppily implemented. I have more sympathy for Realm of Obsidian, because if you do something, do it well--even if it's something that other people might not think worth doing.
On the other hand, I'd rather see Josh Graboff make a new version of The Milk of Paradise than see Amy Kerns make a new version of Realm of Obsidian (because she'd do better starting with something fresh and more player friendly). A new version of this game ought to be:
* Extremely polished. The shorter your game is, the more polished it must be. Implement lots of nouns. Lots of synonyms. Lots of conversation topics. In order to make this happen, have a lot of beta testers play your game, and then implement (almost) everything they tried to do.
* More explorable. Make sure that the player can do more stuff. Also, try to reveal the situation slowly through the players actions, rather than simply telling him what is the case in big chunks of conversation that do not really seem to follow from my actions.
* More tightly focused. What is the game about? The political consequences of hero worship? The impossibility of being yourself when you play a major role on the historical stage? Especially in a game of this size, everything should have the single purpose of reinforcing the theme. (Or undercutting it, displacing it, taking a well-known theme and putting it slightly askew so as to reveal another... but then this other is the theme which everything must reinforce.)