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The Backseat Game Designer: The Rest of the And Then There Were None Review

This is the addendum to my And Then There Were None Review in which I put all my opinions that contain spoilers. If you haven't finished playing And Then There Were None 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. Hey, who knows, maybe the Agatha Christie designers will read it and decide to make lines of dialogue skippable in their next game! Ah, well, a girl can dream, right? Here's all the news about And Then There Were None that's fit to print, just not on the no-spoiler review site.

Personal Reactions

I had a pretty good time playing this game, but it wasn't in any way memorable. The plot setup is a good one for a graphic adventure game, but for people who have read this book before (and it's a staple of high-school English classes, so that's most people) it's too familiar to pack a punch. Worse, there's no sense of suspense in the entire game. The player character never really seemed to be in any danger, and his companions' deaths came off more tragic than scary. I like to spend at least part of a murder mystery on the edge of my seat. And Then There Were None didn't seem interested in making that happen. I appreciated the somber and gloomy mood, but if it had been punctuated by a few moments of suspense it would have done a much better job of distracting me from the clunky interface and silly interface puzzles.

That said, And Then There Were None does have much to recommend it, including a certain amount of interactivity-- there are four different endings you can reach depending on which characters you manage to save in the course of the game, and the NPC's have different reactions to you based on whether you've previously done anything to help or annoy them. These were great decisions, and certainly made the game more interesting as I was playing it. I know some people dislike the game designer's choice to introduce a new villain into a beloved classic, but personally, I really thought it breathed some fresh life into it. Patrick, the new character, fit in seamlessly and made a sensible vantage point on the macabre ongoings. And I can only be relieved at the decision to cast the nursery rhyme victims as generic "sailor boys" instead of "n*gger boys" or "Indian boys." I realize the historical reality of the 1930's when the story was set, but there's just no way to enjoy exploring a place called "N*gger Island" in the 21st century, you know?

So this was a good adaptation overall; not great, but good. A solid entry into the mystery adventure game genre, and since the game designers have bought the rights to turn more Christie classics into graphic adventures, I'm looking forward to see what they do with the next one.

Plot Holes

There's really only one: why did Emily/Gabrielle keep killing people once Justice Wargrave was dead? The whole thing was a show for his benefit, and he was the only one she really wanted dead. "Because she went crazy" is a weak answer. Even crazy people usually have *some* kind of rhyme or reason to their actions, and hers just plain don't add up.

And Then There Were None Game Advances

Things I hope become standard in all games from now on:

1) In my opinion, the most awesome feature of And Then There Were None is the way the game allows the player to have a significant effect on the plot by saving one or two of the intended victims from their fates. Even the most rigidly linear of computer games can be redeemed by letting the player make a difference to the outcome in this way, and I'd love to see more of them try. As icing on the cake, And Then There Were None even rewards the player's efforts with different ending cutscenes that specifically show any rescued NPC's thanking Patrick and taking the boat to safety. It is deeply satisfying to players for our choices and in-game successes to be recognized this way.

2) I liked the way NPC's in this game become friendlier if you do something to help them and unfriendlier if you steal from them. This could have been used to greater effect-- the tasks you could perform to please various NPC's tended to border on the ridiculous (would giving a man a glass of honey really make him more likely to confide personal secrets in you under any circumstances, much less during a tense scenario where you might be trying to kill him?) But ATTWN gets credit from me for even trying. Too many games let you ransack everything in sight without so much as a word of reproach from the NPC's. It's nice to see a game where the NPC's give you more information if you're discreet.

Advice from the Backseat Game Designer

In my game review, I gave And Then There Were None a 6 out of 10 (rating: pretty good). So, what would have taken this game to the next level? Well, there were a handful of minor things. The interface was a time-waster... there should ALWAYS be a way to skip past lines of dialogue in an adventure game, particularly a game as talky as this one where the same lines of dialogue are repeated multiple times. Navigation would have been less annoying if double-clicking an exit automatically brought you to the next screen, which is a common convention in graphic adventures, instead of forcing us to watch Patrick mosey across the screen each and every time. An automap of areas the player has already located would have been even better.

More substantially, this game would have benefited from the inclusion of some genuine puzzles. I'm not talking "Riven" here, but And Then There Were None is much less challenging than the Nancy Drew mystery series for kids. Why weren't the players at least asked to use the Morse Code book to decode the secret message for themselves? My 8-year-old son could have accomplished that, yet the game designers shied away from it and had the game automatically decode the message for us. This isn't fulfilling. I have a high tolerance for pixel-hunting and clicking rotely through dialogue trees I have no real input into, but when that's all there IS in a game, it starts to feel very dull indeed.

The other thing that would have helped keep me engrossed in this game would have been a more suspenseful mood. Even some swelling music at dramatic moments would have helped (the soundtrack was very low-key). But more than that, there needed to be some unexpected moments of suspense and fright. I realize that the game designers were working with a plot that was already very familiar to many of the players, but even if a player knew exactly which deaths were coming next, they could have been made more frightening by having us discover the bodies at unexpected moments while looking for something else (the horror games The Black Mirror and Nibiru have some great examples of how this can be done, with one protagonist discovering a body in a storage locker while searching for a beeping cellphone and another accidentally knocking over a bucket containing a victim's head, which was scary even though the player already knew this victim had been decapitated earlier.) The one attempt to imperil Patrick himself was sloppily done and felt more like another boring pixel-hunt chore to be accomplished than an actual threat to his life (since the villain actually wrote him a note telling him what poison she used and left the antidote hidden on the island, and all.)

Still, even despite these flaws, I thought this was a pretty decent entry in the mystery adventure game genre, and I'm looking forward to seeing their next installment.

Best Quest: None of them were particularly memorable. The "Rule Britannia" anagram puzzle is the only one that really made me think.
Lamest Quest: Collecting fingerprints. Not only was this a tedious exercise, but disappointingly, it made no difference to the game at all. It was impossible to even bring up the fingerprints you found in conversation with other characters.
Best Plot Twist: Finding Justice Wargrave's body missing. Of course, I knew this was coming already from having read the book, but it was still one of the few dramatic moments of the game.
Lamest Plot Twist: Patrick being poisoned. Besides the fact that it ruined the dramatic flow of this chapter, it was poorly and choppily introduced (to the point where I didn't even realize what was going on at first), and it just made no sense. Why on earth would the villain write the name of the poison she had used on the bottom of Patrick's plate?
High Point: The final cutscene, when I realized that the effort I had put in trying to save Lombard and Vera had actually changed the course of the game. That was a really satisfying feeling.
Low Point: Finding all those silly, punny hints scattered around on note cards. Even villains who have lost some of their marbles wouldn't leave riddles to help their adversaries figure out things like how to make a flashlight work. There was no way to stay immersed in the game while receiving these banal, unwanted hints.

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