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The Backseat Game Designer: Quiet Weekend in Capri

This is the addendum to my Quiet Weekend in Capri Review in which I put all my opinions that contain spoilers. If you haven't finished playing A Quiet Weekend in Capri yet, you don't want to read this page. Please go back to the regular review site, where I promise to tell you everything you need to decide whether or not to play this game without giving away any of its plot.

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These Backseat Game Designers pages are primarily a place for me to put all my game commentary that was too revealing for the regular reviews, as well as a place to tell everyone exactly how *I* would have done the game so much better. (I'm usually being self-mocking when I say that. It's rare that I encounter a commercially produced game that actually is written by people with no more programming skills than I have. This time, I'm not actually sure whether I'm being sarcastic or not.) Anyway, here's all the news about A Quiet Weekend in Capri that's fit to print, just not on the no-spoiler review site.

Personal Reactions

There are plenty of games out there that are worse than A Quiet Weekend in Capri, but there aren't too many that are less good. By that I mean that Weekend in Capri doesn't have any real fatal flaws in it--no crippling bugs, no broken puzzles, no design errors or nonsensical random PC deaths forcing you to reload and replay large sections of the game. There are no characters anyone's likely to hate in this game. There's no reliance on trial and error. There's nothing in A Quiet Weekend in Capri that's truly awful, but except for the creative premise and the attractive box it comes in, there's nothing in this game that's done even the slightest bit well, either. The look on my face when the lovely intro screen gave way to a hand-scribbled picture of the island with menu buttons that really and truly look like computer drawings my seven-year-old son makes... well, it must have been quite a sight.

Here is the "tools" button from Weekend in Capri. You thought I was exaggerating, didn't you?

The box and the lovely screenshots I'd seen had fooled me into thinking this was going to be a professional game. It's not; it's a glorified webquest. The graphics are static photographs with hotlinked areas you can click. The gameplay is vintage 1976. There are no innovations, nothing that could conceivably draw anybody in. Has anyone ever actually uttered the sentence "I sure wish I had a computer game where I could roleplay an Italian delivery boy" before? (I'm not being snarky; your character really is an Italian delivery boy, and you have to spend much of the game collecting and delivering grocery items.) Has anyone actually said "What would make a game really fun would be if the pixel-hunting was more spread out, for example, if you had to scour the earth for a tiny battery cell in 4500 different locations rather than just 200?" Has anyone ever even said "The game I just played was okay, but it would have been better with 4300 additional locations containing absolutely nothing except, sometimes, a pretty view?"

A Quiet Weekend in Capri isn't the worst game out there by a long shot, but it is just one of the dullest ones--and when you're talking about entertainment, being bored isn't that big an advantage over being frustrated and annoyed.

A Quiet Weekend in Capri Game Advances

Things other computer game designers could learn from A Quiet Weekend in Capri:

1) Hands down, the best thing about this game is its concept. The Savareses seem to have really understood the concept of "middleman elimination" that made the original Myst as immersive as it was. There is no backstory to be grappled with, no main character whose voice or actions or attitude may be off-putting in a setting with so little interactivity. You play as yourself. You're walking innocently down a street when you bump into a temporal anomaly and find yourself in some alternate-universe Roman Empire, trying to figure out where you are and why everyone is calling you "Rafele." There's an immediacy to that that few games offer; it's unfortunate that A Quiet Weekend In Capri wasn't better able to capitalize on this.

2) One welcome detail was the ability to click on any object in inventory to view a close-up photograph of it. Too many graphic adventure games decide that describing or labeling inventory objects would be unrealistic, but then fail to give you an alternate way of figuring out what each grainy lump of pixels actually is, forcing you to use brute trial and error instead.

3) I appreciated the wrap-up at the end, tying up loose ends and letting the player know what effects the game's plot had on the alternate-universe Capri. I'd actually grown a little attached to Rafele after taking his place for so long, and I was pleased the authors had thought to put in a happy ending for him based on the actions I'd taken there.

Advice from the Backseat Game Designer

In my game review, I gave A Quiet Weekend in Capri a 4 out of 10 (rating: flawed). So, what would have taken this game to the next level? In a word: quality. A Weekend In Capri was very obviously a game the designers sold based on the concept alone--that and some pretty photographs--and after getting past that first hurdle, there just wasn't any effort expended to make it excel. I could sit here and say that the game would have been better if the gameplay was more complex--if the player had been able to manipulate objects by pushing or pulling them, for example, like you could in Myst--and a lot more forgiving (like being able to receive a cell-phone call anywhere in the beach area where interdimensional calls were permitted, not only at one particular randomly chosen overview.) It would have been better with more real puzzles in it (again, Myst would have been a nice game to study a little more closely, rather than just touting on the game box.) It would have been better with a more professional interface--one where you could name a saved game, for example, and maybe even reach the save screen directly from the main screen. It would have been better if they'd bothered to use decent-looking interface graphics at all (most modern graphic adventures have attractive hidden menus in the margins of the screen that only activate when you roll over them, and Weekend in Capri gives us these haphazard Magnadoodle scribbles and expects us to feel even vaguely immersed?) It would have been better with more strange details showing the difference between the two parallel universes, and fewer deliveries of cheese to people's houses. It would have been better with more plot twists and fewer extraneous empty areas. It would even have been better if someone had bothered to spell-check the captions.

But when someone doesn't want to do any more work, they don't want to do any more work. I could make suggestions till the cows come home--game designers who thought A Quiet Weekend In Capri was good enough the way it is aren't going to listen to any of them. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I won't be buying the sequel, and even if someone does give it to me as a gift, I doubt I'll spend my time writing up a review of it. If they just can't be bothered, then neither can I.

Best Quest: The one at the very end to trick your alternate-universe self into going the wrong direction.
Lamest Quest: The one where Gravitiello sends you out to take a picture of a plaque. Not only is it aggravating and you don't know if you have the right picture till you bring it back to the camera shop... but it's insulting to the intelligence that he would ask you to take a picture of a clue he wrote on the wall and have the photographer develop it for you rather than merely leaving a note for you with the photographer in the first place. It's as if he enjoys annoying you with pointless tasks.
Best Puzzle: I liked the one with the different color light bulbs, which was the only point that really evoked a Mystlike feeling of exploration for me.
Lamest Puzzle: The one where you had to figure out what date it was from a birthdate recorded on an ID card that you'd already returned to its owner. That's nothing but an intentional annoyance.
High Point: The spatial anomaly in the beginning of the game that leaves the streets suddenly devoid of people. That was creepy.
Low Point: Pixel-hunting the entire island of Capri for dozens of tiny objects like matchbooks and batteries tucked away in the undergrowth by the side of a footpath somewhere. I turned to a walkthrough before I was even halfway done--not because anything was difficult in this game (it wasn't), just because I had become so bored with looking for needles in haystacks devoid of any clues for what I was even supposed to be looking for at all.

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