By Jeff Neuenschwander / August 29th, 2012
Sakura River Interactive is a relatively new indie developer that tries to put the focus of their games on story and choice. So far, they have two games under their belt with a third, Don’t Save the World: An RPG, vying for funding on indiegogo.com. I have had the honor of playing through SRI’s most recent release, the visual novel Infinite Game Works, and got to experience their style of story and choice.
So, is the game worth the money? Short answer: no. But you’re not here for the short answer. So here is my in-depth long answer.
You are Justin, a teenage indie game developer in the economically isolated country of Sorayama (isolated due to issues with Y2K). Initially, you are creating games on your own. But do to certain circumstances, you grow into a team of three. The other workers are Cleo, a timid but talented artist, and Aki, a rich but rebellious musician. The personalities are a bit clichéd but the characters are likable.
You typically interact with a character on Fridays in the game. In these interactions, you can pick up details about each character’s life as well as make game changing choices for them. Though not completely original, it is executed well in this game. It will also lead to different features in the end game.
You make up to 5 games in Infinite Game Works, which you will then sell at local conventions. The game ideas come from conversations you have with friends or from text dream sequences. I like this as it gives the player insight on the games you will be working on. You also get a choice of what type of genre to make each game as well, even though one or two choices seem a bit odd (for the sake of not revealing spoilers, I won’t say which ones because those games appear near the end).
I also enjoyed the gameplay and strategy that came with creating the games. Justin can work on pretty much anything from the very start and can hand out assignments to Cleo and Aki once they begin working for him. They initially start working only Art and Music respectively but can expand to different areas depending on your interactions with them. This leads to some strategy in how to develop your product. And the better your product becomes, the more it will sell at conventions.
Unfortunately, Infinite Game Works has many problems. For instance, the game is littered with spelling mistakes, like this one:
And this one:
(Note: One of our astute readers also caught that the phrase is supposed to be “sleight of hand,” not slight of hand.)
And this one:
And my personal favorite:
Now this one seems like they just missed a word… until you see that it was this guy that said it:
All kidding aside, this is an issue throughout the game. I could blame someone on the development team but this is an issue of the testers not catching this. It’s not even an issue of missing it because they took a different tactic through the game. The first error comes less than five minutes into playing the game, before you even make a game changing choice.
Another issue I dealt with was with the store in the game. You buy books and equipment from the store and it improves your stats. This works. Unfortunately, if you are successful in this game you buy everything too quickly, pretty much making the mall useless after you finish developing the second game.
Oh, and here’s something interesting: the health and personal strength in the game. You lose health whenever you work and gain it back when you rest. That part works. Personal strength is lost gradually and is regained when you have personal interactions with your friends. That part works as well. What happens in game, however, is that when you drop to 20 health points, you start completing double the work. My question: why didn’t the game testers, which this game had, find this glitch in the programming? I went through an entire development cycle with no health at all and little to no personal strength and created a game with amazing ratings all-around with no help from Cleo and Aki.
Speaking of which, you have to pay Cleo and Aki no matter what. If they work for you, you pay them. If they rest for an entire month or even an entire cycle, you pay them. If you do end up not paying them, then it is game over. AND THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO GET GAME OVER!
My question to the testers: What were you doing that you couldn’t be bothered to catch any of these?
And then there is the music. There is a song that gets played when you are working on a game. This song also pops up pretty much everywhere else so get used to it. There are other songs and musical cues throughout the game but everything musically seems off. There is one part at the beginning where the music begins as the scene starts. Then Cleo bumps into you and the music stops, never returning for the rest of the scene. It would have worked much better in reverse.
Another point in the game, you have a scene where you are talking with Cleo about joining your team. This scene goes on for about three minutes if you read the entire dialog. There is no music whatsoever in this entire three minute span.
This bugs me quite a bit. Being a musician myself, I can talk for hours on end about how music is such an integral part of story-telling, particularly in mediums such as this.
Consider for a moment The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. There is a major scene in the movie when the Rohirim make it to Gondor and see the Orcs attacking the city. Imagine for a moment that Howard Shore’s amazing score suddenly stops as King Théoden looks upon the battle. The music continues to remain silent as he gives orders, pumps up his troops, and gives a rousing pre-battle speech. The music continues to disappear as they charge into the field and take out wave after wave of Orcs.
Leaving the music out changes the feel of the scene from a massive momentum shifting battle where Man fearlessly charges in and terrifies the orcs for first time in the entire trilogy to just a battle that Man rides off towards. Now, I’m not asking SRI to give me an epic feeling with the music. I just want them to put music in spots that should have music (correctly).
I will say they did get a number of cues done really well. The extremely personal scenes have great music to them (again, this happens near the end so I won’t spoil it). Plus, the music cues for when you ask Aki to join your team were spot on.
One more issue with the music. Near the end of the game, I noticed that the music from a scene would carry over into the working area. This isn’t too big of an issue. But when the programmer shows that they can stop music at will and change songs effectively earlier in the game, something as small as this can get to you.
It is the responsibility of a developer to make sure the best product available is put forth. But this is not an accusation of them.
It is the responsibility of the programmer to make sure that the code is correct and the game can run smoothly. But they shouldn’t have to go through every line of code to make sure there isn’t a spelling error in the game. This is not a reflection of them either.
This, my friends… THIS is an indictment of the game testers. Their job is to make sure the game works and there are no major bugs in the game. I doubt they even touched the game. Even if they did their job for ten minutes, they should have found something wrong. Completely inexcusable!
Infinite Game Works had a lot going for it. It had a good premise with good story and pretty good characters. But so many things went wrong for this game, and so many of them little things that should be fixed, that it threw off the flow of the game.
So for those at Sakura River Interactive, the next time you see those game testers, do the following: take a permanent marker and draw a big “3” on their face. This score is for them.
If SRI fixed things like spelling, music cues, and the health bar glitch, this game would automatically jump to 3 stars.
Sakura River Interactive does have potential. Their next game, Don’t Save the World: An RPG, has a lot going for it. If they could just iron out the little issues with the game – maybe have game testers that know what they’re doing look it over (I’d be more than happy to help with that) – they could make a game worthy of not only buying but mass exposure through the big distributors/consoles. It’s definitely something to support.
If you want to support SRI with their upcoming game, Don’t Save the World: An RPG, check out their funding page. As of writing this review, they were at $2,691 (including $20 from me) out of the $35,000 they need in 8 days to fund the game.
If you want to keep an eye on the rest of SRI, including the better finished game Fading Hearts, click here.
Infinite Game WorksSakura Rivervisual novel