Gray Matter Catch-All -- from the makers of Gabriel Knight (PC and 360)

Gray Matter is the latest release from Jane Jensen, adventure game designer extraordinare. She co-designed King's Quest VI with Roberta Williams (by far the best KQ game in the series), then went on to create Gabriel Knight I-III, one of the best trilogies ever penned. Suffice it to say, she knows her stuff.

Gray Matter had a long, troubled path up to release, going through two developers and two publishers before finally coming out something like seven years after the start of development. But here we are. Stateside release is Feb. 22nd. Supposedly it's a pretty classic adventure game, with all the rich depth of story that we've come to expect from Jensen; but it isn't without its warts. Metacritic scores have been mostly positive so far (it's already out in Europe), with no score below a 70 with the exception of Edge Magazine (big surprise there). It's mostly getting very high marks for story and focus, and dinged for more technical issues like character animation. Pretty much exactly what I would expect from Jensen.

By the way, "makers" is plural because her second husband, Robert Holmes -- who wrote the score for all three GK games -- wrote the score for Gray Matter as well.

Screenshots!

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Why did I not hear of this sooner? If I had money this would be a day one purchase for me. I loved the mood in GKI, though I sadly haven't played the second or third yet.

It's about damned time - word of this has been kicking around since 2007. Been itching to get my mits on it

Rallick wrote:

Why did I not hear of this sooner? If I had money this would be a day one purchase for me. I loved the mood in GKI, though I sadly haven't played the second or third yet.

The second one is great, although WAY different in style to the first (it's one of the very few really good FMV based games). The third one is...ok...but it's let down by the game engine and some ridiculous puzzles that may or may not be cat related.

I've seen it mentioned several times on RPS, might give it a shot later this year.

The second one was a great game, marred by an awful lead actor. Thanks for the heads up, Minarchist!

Tagging.

Demo available at the official site, here: http://www.graymatter-game.com/

The demo is interesting. Certain aspects of the game mechanics almost require you to look at a walkthrough, though; specifically, you have 'progress bars' that you need to fill to 100% to complete each chapter, some of which include basically clicking on every interactive object around (sometimes multiple times, sometimes at different points in the chapter too).

4xis.black wrote:

The demo is interesting. Certain aspects of the game mechanics almost require you to look at a walkthrough, though; specifically, you have 'progress bars' that you need to fill to 100% to complete each chapter, some of which include basically clicking on every interactive object around (sometimes multiple times, sometimes at different points in the chapter too).

Seeing as the game comes from one of the creators of the infamous cat's hair moustache, that doesn't sound like fun times to me.

4xis.black wrote:

The demo is interesting. Certain aspects of the game mechanics almost require you to look at a walkthrough, though; specifically, you have 'progress bars' that you need to fill to 100% to complete each chapter, some of which include basically clicking on every interactive object around (sometimes multiple times, sometimes at different points in the chapter too).

I completed the demo without aid of a walkthrough so I'd say that's not entirely fair.

What's annoying to me is that interactive objects are "gated" so you can see a thing and go 'I'm going to need that later; lemme pick it up' and it won't let you do it until you've gotten to a later part in the story where that thing is actually required. Annoying because I like being a klepto in my adventure games and picking up anything that isn't nailed down, but maybe that would help newbies who might be overwhelmed by having too many things to choose from in their inventory?

Also there's a computer in the game and the graphic design for that computer's interface is...not good...to put it charitably. To be less charitable: I could throw something together that looks better in literally under an hour. I'm not even a professional photoshop monkey, I just dabble, but this thing looks like it was thrown together by an intern in ms paint or something.

On the plus side, the environment graphics are lovely.
All the puzzles in the demo are pretty logical. No cat hair funny business anyways.
The character models are ok.
The animations and cut scene animations are not great.

juv3nal wrote:

I completed the demo without aid of a walkthrough so I'd say that's not entirely fair.

What happened to me was (very light spoilers):

Spoiler:

I finished the main story arc of the chapter, but there was one progress bar left unfilled (2 items left). I went around the house a bunch of times clicking on everything, which accomplished nothing; eventually I resorted to a step-by-step guide, and only the second of two guides I looked at had the answer. Turns out I had to go look at the bedroom mirror, which I had already inspected earlier, just to have the protagonist comment about how 'There couldn't possibly have been a ghost in this mirror! OR COULD THERE?' I am well aware the caretaker lady reported seeing a ghost there; plot point received. I felt no urge to go check the thing again when it was pretty obvious nothing important was going to happen at that point.

I find the decision to force you to click on almost every pertinent item pointless from a game design perspective. I've already finished the critical path; don't make me pixel hunt around the whole environment just to reiterate a minor plot point of which I was already aware.

I feel the need to link this: http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features... by Erik Wolpaw. It seems like the same features are present in this game.

Now I don't want to be the one to say "you can't have fun with this game", but it seems like there's a whole load wrong (or at least, could be a whole load better) with the game. Jane Jensen seems to have a halo from making games back when it was still acceptable to regularly beat players over the head, and there's still a bit of stockholm syndrome going on because she's still in the games industry. At some point you have to say that's not a good way to make a game. The way games are made has changed, some times for the worse, but a lot of times for the better.

All that said, I haven't played the game, only the demo.

The Edge review sounded reasonable to me. (5/10 on their scale is just average, not especially flawed.) They disliked the characters and the way the structure is often forced on the player, regardless of how quick-witted he actually is.

Sounds like everything I hate about adventure games is alive and well.

If the achievements are easy, I will probably play it:)

I'm playing the demo now. I love the atmosphere, art, and music. Some of the gameplay mechanics, specifically walking around are a bit annoying. Other than that, this might be something I'll buy eventually.

Part way through chapter 3 at the moment - i have to disagree about it falling into all the old adventure game traps. Personally I normally SUCK at these (or at least, i give up too early and look at a walkthrough) but I've been storming through it so far with no issues.

There's been maybe one area so far that was a little confusing (a puzzle involving student ID cards) but other than that, no problems.

4xis.black wrote:

I find the decision to force you to click on almost every pertinent item pointless from a game design perspective. I've already finished the critical path; don't make me pixel hunt around the whole environment just to reiterate a minor plot point of which I was already aware.

Well, technically there's no pixel hunting, like most modern adventure games this one comes with a "hit spacebar to show all relevant hotspots" option. On top of that, the game also makes it even easier by colour coding locations on the map to show which areas still have something relevant to complete or whether you are done for now:

gold - still some main storyline stuff to do
silver - optional 'side quests' remain but you've done with the main story or
dark grey - nothing left for you to do here for now

The interface IS a little cumbersome though, particularily Sam's magic trick stuff - although i really like the idea of her using her magician's skills to obtain an object from a person, rather than falling into the trap of increasingly ridiculous Broken Sword style 'distract NPC with X then grab item Y' cliches.

Other than that, loving the story, the music is absolutely fantastic (goes without saying if you loved the GK soundtrack, you'll love this one as well) and I'm a sucker for 'thief' style painted cutscenes. Some of the voice acting is a little ropy for the side characters but the main two are pretty good.

stevenmack wrote:

Well, technically there's no pixel hunting, like most modern adventure games this one comes with a "hit spacebar to show all relevant hotspots" option. On top of that, the game also makes it even easier by colour coding locations on the map to show which areas still have something relevant to complete or whether you are done for now:

gold - still some main storyline stuff to do
silver - optional 'side quests' remain but you've done with the main story or
dark grey - nothing left for you to do here for now

I was not aware of these features.

To be honest, I found the game interesting enough that I would spend $15-20 on it; I am waiting on a North American release date.

Finished. Pretty damned good overall I thought. Reminded me a LOT of Johnathan Creek. There WERE a couple of spots where I struggled to work out what you needed to do next but they were the exception rather than the rule. It sets things up nicely for an ongoing series, hopefully it sells well enough for that to happen.

*Bump*

stevenmack wrote:

The interface IS a little cumbersome though, particularily Sam's magic trick stuff - although i really like the idea of her using her magician's skills to obtain an object from a person, rather than falling into the trap of increasingly ridiculous Broken Sword style 'distract NPC with X then grab item Y' cliches.

I started playing this in earnest a week ago and am half-way through the fourth chapter and, yeah, the interface can be a bit naff. Sadly, a lot of the stuff seems well-intentioned and very possibly crafted with streamlining the experience in mind, but the end result is just narrowed interaction possibilities with counter-intuitive mechanics attached. Although it's not difficult to do anything per se, the interface really doesn't feel organic - trying to combine objects is downright confusing, and I totally agree with you regarding the magic stuff.

Actually, my main complaint there is that it's mostly superfluous, only really included for character and plot relevance. All these puzzles so far have literally boiled down to playing Simon Says with the instructions and then clicking the execute button. A great concept, but the execution feels totally gimmicky and adds nothing new to adventure gameplay at all. That this game has ended up seeing release long after Machinarium (a game that made a lot of small but meaningful innovations) is probably hurting it somewhat.

I only followed Gray Matter's development in a very on again, off again manner, and as such really don't know why it took so long, but I can only assume it had a lot to do with office politics and holding down publishers. From a technical perspective, it would have been sound for a 2006 release, but it's archaic by today's standards. Even the quality of the pre-rendered backdrops is rough in some instances and, somewhat criminally, transparent objects (such as, say, a glass jar that can be witnessed even in the demo) cause character models to disappear when they walk behind them. Even a modest expectation for a recent release would be for character distortion when walking behind a glass orb in the foreground, but not even a flat transparency is provided here.

And yet... I'm still enjoying it. It's laughable that there's no in-game hint system in this post-Telltale world (well, it's laughable that the manual suggests you search the 'net for a playguide if you get stuck), but the absolute abolishing of the need to pixel hunt is a welcome concession and overall the puzzles involve fewer obtuse steps than many of the 'classic' Sierra games. The mood's pretty good, the voice work is mostly solid and the story is starting to get interesting. It does bother me that Jane is great at writing complex ideas into plots, but remains hopeless with small talk dialogue and character relationships. I was forgiving of this in Gabriel Knight - a series for which I hold an irrational level of affection - but it's been over a decade since the last one of those, and I'd really hoped that Jensen would have worked to improve this aspect of her craft in this time.

A good adventure game, then, but one buried beneath a heap of nits to pick at.

Sounds like a similar theme to many other developers, that they need to know their strengths and work to them, and work with others that have strengths to compliment them to form a strong all-round game. It's sad to see so many games that could be great just walk over the finish line and not be all they could be.

For those who have played, were you on the 360 or PC?

PC. Considering the nature of the interface, to say nothing of the target audience, I'm surprised that a 360 version exists at all. I'd be very interested to see the sales figures there.