Thoughts on Deponia (big spoilers for most Daedalic titles)

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Robot_Maker20
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Joined: Tue Nov 07, 2006 1:23 pm

Thoughts on Deponia (big spoilers for most Daedalic titles)

Post by Robot_Maker20 »

Thought I might find a good number of afficionados of graphic adventures here who'd like to discuss this - who's played Deponia, and what do you think of it, particularly the controversial elements in the later episodes?

Technically, graphically, aurally, the game is awesome; Daedalic are top tier when it comes to the nuts and bolts of building an adventure game in the style of the classics (it seems Germans are particularly fond of adventure games, for some reason) - great "hired guns," as someone somewhere on the web put it, but a bit hit-and-miss at writing their own stories. I used to be inclined to agree with this - The Whispered World was beautifully written, and made me tear up at the end, but the writing in A New Beginning was a big letdown - kind of flat and anaemic, and also they did a jarring thing at the end (spoiler) where it turned out that something like half of the entire game, as told in flashback from the start and including basically all of the good bits, is apparently an outright lie told by one character to another to trick him into doing something terrible - bold, certainly, but it felt like a kick in the teeth, and I've never wanted to play again. Knowing the whole thing was a lie the second time through could actually have been a source of great replay interest, but instead I've felt disinclined to ever play it again, probably because the writing and characters just weren't engaging enough. Though it failed to make an enjoyably replayable game for me, I do have to give kudos to Daedalic for at least daring to try things few other graphic adventures ever did, even though it backfired. Heck, finding anything new to do with such an old, established genre is an achievement all by itself.

Deponia started great, I wanted to love it, and my initial reaction was "THIS is the game I ALWAYS wanted to play!" (seriously, I had the trash-planet adventure game idea all by myself once) but I started to get a similar feeling that occasionally something was a bit off while playing it. My initial impression was that it was like a love-letter to the adventure games of yore and, like a love-letter, sometimes it seemed to get just a little bit creepy. Some of the things Rufus does are outright sociopathic, and definitely cross the line from slapstick into "dude, not funny," not to mention the blatant female objectification of Goal.

This gets progressively worse in the next two games - to the point where you actually feel morally conflicted playing, particularly the puzzles where people and or cute animals actually die. The tuna fish puzzle in Deponia 2 made me nauseous, but I told myself "It's just one horribly misjudged joke - the rest of the game is fun, so just get through this and enjoy the rest, remember it's just a story, and pretend it never happened." It was particularly bad because I could see exactly what was going to happen. But then, I realised - Rufus obviously can't see what's going to happen - and when it does, he does react with at least some shock, though he quickly recovers. Similarly with the Budgerigar puzzle - it was mostly funny, then they took it too far. If it were a cartoon, it would just be really black comedy, but because as the player I actually had to deliberately make my character do this, I felt a lot of dissonance - I'm consciously doing something that's going to turn out really bad, but whilst inhabiting the role of an avatar who isn't actually trying to do anything bad, and has no idea what will happen.

This got me thinking hard about Rufus' character - he's very similar to the villains of the game in just about every way. He uses and abuses people for his own selfish ends, just like they do, and is an obvious sociopath, completely lacking in empathy, just like them, and that's morally repugnant. And, just like at least one of them, he imagines himself to be the real hero, usually erroneously. So why don't I hate him like I hate them? Is it simply because the game lets me play as him? If I played as one of the others, then would I hate Rufus? I eventually came to the conclusion that it's because, unlike them, Rufus isn't malicious - he's a walking disaster area, practically a trickster character (he does seem to enjoy and revel in chaos and be something of a prankster), but he's actually a complete innocent. He's a very damaged person, but he's not an evil person. Moreover, he may be a pure product of his environment - he's acting out against a world that raised him badly, then rejected him outright and now constantly denigrates him, whereas the others are privileged jerks who had the best possible start in life. They're outright bullies, whereas Rufus is the class clown.

The interesting thing I later discovered, after forming these opinions, is that it's apparently all deliberate.

The lead designer of the game, Poki, has gone on record as saying that the game series is actually intended to be a satire of the adventure genre, if this thread http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/11 ... e-deponia/ is genuine. The uncomfortable moments, such as Rufus' awful, sociopathic motivations, his outright objectification of Goal (her name makes this clear enough), or when he does something that looks like it'll play out as ordinary slapstick but ends up going way, way,way too far (like the guy eaten alive by crabs in the second game - I honestly expected them just to chew him up a bit and drive him away, that's how it'd play out in any other game - or accidentally serving up kids to a monster in the third one, and then it turns out that at least one of them may actually have been eaten, to say nothing of the paedophile joke.) are apparently quite deliberate, and intended to massively exaggerate and highlight trace elements that were actually always present in the genre, right back to its origins and including most of the classics (I actually winced when Monkey Island 2 had me steal Wally's precious monocle and just walk off, for example, and the way the series treats the character from that point onwards just gets worse and worse - especially after it makes you ask permission to take the old bucket that didn't actually belong to anyone!), even though Deponia is also obviously affectionate toward the good aspects of the older games.

Really, it's like the antidote to Broken Age. Broken Age is a straight, nostalgic homage to the old days, and focuses on exemplifying all that was best in the adventure genre. Deponia is mostly that, but it has a few "Well, actually, now that I think back.." moments, deliberately exemplifing and exaggerating both the very best, and the very worst aspects of the old games (even including one puzzle where clicking the wrong option will instantly exit the game to desktop and lose all your progress before your last save, just like those sadistic jerks at Sierra did in Space Quest 4). Deponia now seems to me like the adventure genre's version of The Stanley Parable, or Spec Ops:The Line.

What bugs me, however, is that this only really comes to the fore in the second and third games, although there are a few hints of what's to come to be found in the first Deponia, and they were never advertised as satire. The first one plays more like a very good standard adventure game with maybe a few nods to questionable aspects of some of the greats, and of course a complete female character reduced to literally nothing more than an end goal, but we're well into outright satire territory by the third. I picked up on at least some of the dissonances that Poki apparently wanted me to, but I still wasn't quite sure if they were deliberate or just a sense-of-humour-failure on his part (one or two reviewers do seem to have taken the game as simply more evidence of the tired, old "Germans can't tell jokes" stereotype) until I read that comment thread. I guess the old corollary, that the best satire usually gets mistaken for the real thing, still holds. Depressingly, a good many people besides myself didn't get it and have denounced the game as morally repugnant garbage; even more depressingly, some people apparently didn't pick up on the morally repugnant bits at all, and thought it was all great!

It's a bit frustrating, because Deponia could actually have been one of the best ever straight adventure games if Poki hadn't taken it in the direction he did, and it was never actually advertised as a satire, so that's not what I was hoping for when I went in. It's still brilliant, but in a very different way. I think Unkillable Cat's comments in this thread http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/index.ph ... 2/page-164 pretty much nail it. It's good that it exists, and I respect its brutally honest treatment of our genre, warts and all, but also, in a genre now starved of good entries or indeed any entries most of the time, I'm sad that it couldn't have been done completely straight. (To anyone who wants just the straight adventure experience, you can approximate it by playing just the first game and not even looking at the sequels, and doing your best to ignore the way they treat Goal). Really, I almost wish there were an option box at the start (a la Monkey Island) to choose between satirical mode and standard-issue, no-over-the-line-jokes-and-a-traditional-happy-ending mode.

Anyway, I just wanted to share these thoughts with people I hoped would appreciate them, and welcome feedback and/or contrary opinions. Whatever else it did, Deponia got me really thinking about the nature of adventure games themselves.
Last edited by Robot_Maker20 on Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:11 am, edited 2 times in total.
tobybear
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Post by tobybear »

I recently had a chance to attend a presentation by Poki himself some days ago about the storytelling in Deponia and his intentions behind it. It was really in-depth and great to listen to, altohugh close to 3 hours in length! There is a recording of this session here, although only in German:
http://www.games-bavaria.com/gamedesigndojo/
Robot_Maker20
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Post by Robot_Maker20 »

Now I'm wishing so very badly that I could speak more German than just barely enough to ask the way to the Bahnhof!
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CaptainJei
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Post by CaptainJei »

I had a lot of the same feelings about the game, Robot Maker. I wanted to like it, but it left a bad feeling with me, for a number of reasons.
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