Tangent time: Let’s talk about Resonance.

I’m probably going to write up a larger post about this at some point in the future, but I wanted to float out the latest from Wadget Eye because I’m coming to believe that this crazy little developer is doing some super interesting things in the adventure genre in a totally underground way. Gemini Rue had some polish problems but as far as adventures go it was actually weirdly competant and surprising in how it handled mechanics like action sequences in adventure games and shooting (!). Also, y’know, the Shivah being the first game we ever did a podcast on and all.

Elevator pitch: Resonance is an adventure game with four protagonists. At first you play the protagonists independently but as the story goes on they all meet up and start scooby-dooing it up as a team. As parties go, it’s a great cross section: A detective, a journalist, a doctor and a mathematician. All of the characters are interesting, if perhaps not super-professionally voice acted in the manner of most Wadget Eye games.

Mechancially Resonance is impressive for innovating in a considerable way on the tired old point and click formula of “stroll around, use things on things” – no mean feat. Let me explain:

The thing that takes the longest to get accustomed to in Resonance is how the game messes around with the standard adventure game format of inventory management. Instead of a single “bag full of your stuff” each of your characters basically carries around 3 totally seperate sets of containers, namely:

“Inventory” – your bag of stuff – where your items and gear are held. Unique to characters. A large portion of your “everyday stuff” gear can be shared between protagonists but the really marquee items like Detective Bennett’s police badge or a credit card can’t.

“STM” (Short Term Memory) – an “inventory” of things in the world that you’ve decided your character is paying specific attention to. ANYTHING in the game that it is possible to interact with or look at in the world, from an NPC to a bloodstain on the ground, can be dragged into Short Term Memory. This means that this inventory can potentially hold hundreds if not thousands of things.

“LTM” (Long Term Memory) – Experiencing events in game will often permanently inscribe ‘flashbacks’ of Long Term Memory when they are experienced. Besides being actionable objects in the same manner as Short Term Memory objects long term memories can be clicked on if you need to “relive” that 5-15 second of time. For example, recalling that clue that someone whispered to you with their dying breath. You can’t manually assign long term memory the way you can STM, but you can unlock things like forgotten or repressed memories by doing stuff in the game.

OK, so I know that sounds crazy, but let me boil it down for you. What Resonance does effectively through these 3 systems is prevent a player from simply herp derping their way through dialogue puzzles and soforth by just random persistent clicking on the screen or randomly smushing items together in your inventory.

Through its hugely contextual nature, the game forces you in a much more overt way than most adventure games, to really evaluate WHAT you are looking at and think about HOW you want to handle what you’re seeing. Here’s an example: One of the very first things you do as Ray the Journalist is try to convince a person guarding a desk that they want to leave their post because it is 7:30. You can examine the notes on your phone to know that this person leaves at such-and-such a time, but you can’t just walk up to the desk and click “talk” to solve the problem. You must first look at the clock on the wall (noting its time) and then drag the clock to your “mental inventory”. THEN, when you talk to the person you can “use the item” stored in your short term memory to mention the time. You could have theoretically stored any one of the dozens of items in the room to your STM, the challenge (and the fun?) is making these leaps of logic between items, people and stuff.

This may sound cumbersome but it’s actually fascinating because of the complex interplay of relationships between memories, items you see or find in the field and people. Just because you CAN file everything in the game in your head, it doesn’t mean you SHOULD. You have to be selective and use your brain.

More complex example is this: Character A sees a person entering a door at one point and using a secret knock. This is an action which then becomes filed as an item in the Long Term Memory. The character in question doesn’t know jack about what they’re seeing, but she can “use” her long term memory on the Detective character, who does. “Describe this person” dialogue ensues, Detective DOES know this person, cue sequence in the police station. For reasons unexplained here, we need to use the mainframe in the cop shop. Now comes the interplay between characters.

Detective: Can go anywhere in the police station, can talk to all people there freely, but knows nothing about technology.
Journalist: Can hack computers, but can’t move freely through police station to get to mainframe.
Doctor: Saw the actual event. Is sexy chick, can distract guard at main desk.

Using these three characters’ unique skills, memories and items and working cleverly together, you can solve this puzzle.

More than anything else, Resonance reminds me of a really really old skool LucasArts game called Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders. It’s a lot closer to Maniac Mansion than Monkey Island in its implementation, only crossed with DNA from a game like Commandos in which you’re using a power team of specialists to attack problems Mission Impossible style with your expertise.

I really enjoy that each character brings with them a unique set of skills and problem solving tools based on what they’re carrying in their pockets, who the ARE, what they KNOW inherently and what they’ve EXPERIENCED or seen in the game. Having a doctor in the party who knows about medicine is useful. Having a character who has a relationship to NPC X is useful. Having a character who knows quantum mathematics is useful. Sometimes having unique fingerprints is useful.

So far the story is interesting and pretty engaging, even if the voice acting is typical Wadget Eye B-list and the graphics are (charmingly) pixely. For every line of dialogue that’s delivered with community theater aplomb there’s some kind of surprising interface element, action sequence, minigame or ‘oh snap’ bit of programming or narrative trickery that impresses me.

Further dispatches coming on this front, but IMO it’s a really neat offering and certainly worth a look for anybody in the Squad who’s got a mild interest in adventure gaming.