Adventure Maker is a new adventure gaming engine with growing popularity in the development world. With a plethora of user-friendly features and a cheap licensing fee (only $29 for a distributable copy), it is surprising how few commercial games have been produced with it. Aiming to fill that void, The Arrangement, produced by veteran developer Michael C. Clark, is the first Adventure Maker game to retail commercially. It is currently available through Got Game Entertainment for the budget price of $20.
At its core, The Arrangement resembles first-person adventures such as Sierra’s Lighthouse or Rama games. Despite being significantly less polished than its predecessors, The Arrangement strives valiantly to achieve greatness. Unfortunately, while it is fairly impressive as an independently-developed piece of software, the game itself has little to offer to its intended commercial audience.
The Arrangement begins with a creepy movie sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the game. You see a woman, Annie Sullivan, on her wedding day talking to a mysterious man with a low, menacing voice. They appear to have made some sort of deal (could it be “The Arrangement”?) and the mysterious man tells her to “go and enjoy her life.” Another short sequence shows Annie marrying her husband, Rick Sullivan, before the introduction skips five years into the future and places the gamer into Rick’s shoes. Rick soon returns home from work to find his wife Annie missing and a ringing cell phone in her place. According to the kidnapper, who calls himself “Fortrey,” Annie went away with him willingly. Fortrey offers Rick one chance to see his lawfully-wedded wife again by challenging him with a series of puzzles. The Arrangement follows Rick’s quest to find his wife and figure out the truth behind her kidnapping.
If you are intrigued by this description of the game’s introduction, you’re not alone. The plot of The Arrangement is fairly well-developed for a first-person adventure, especially at the beginning. Most gamers within the first thirty minutes will already have a myriad of questions. Who is Fortrey? Why did Annie leave Rick for a kidnapper? And what is this so-called “Arrangement”? To its credit, the game keeps the tension high regarding these questions for the majority of the game, only falling flat in the final moments. As a gamer you are compelled to find out what the big conspiracy is-- could Rick’s life really have been pre-arranged?
Being strictly mouse-controlled, the interface of The Arrangement is simple. You maneuver through rooms by moving the mouse to the side of the screen until the cursor changes to a directional pointer. The game also incorporates traditional inventory management through a drop-down menu in the upper-left hand side of the screen. Each inventory item has a close-up view, but this feature hardly matters in terms of gameplay, as there is no way to combine or manipulate individual items. The Arrangement is no King’s Quest VII; if you find a coffee cup, there won’t be a seed hidden inside of it. While I appreciated the inclusion of an inventory system, I found it to be a lackluster implementation at best. Most of the items in the game are one-dimensional and serve as little more than simple puzzle components or ways to gain access to locked doors.
The graphics in the game are a series of hits and misses. In particular, the pre-rendered CGI backgrounds are quite beautiful, comparable in style to that of Lighthouse and the original Myst. There are hundreds of these pre-rendered scenes in the game (which is probably why it has such a long 7-minute installation). Given the independent development, I was impressed with the quality of the backgrounds, but at the same time I was disappointed with the quality of the other visuals in the game. Most of the human beings you meet look pretty, well, un-human. Although it is within any artist’s creative vision to develop a unique interpretation of what a person can look like, the androgynous character design in this game really bothered me. When I watched the introduction movie for the first time, I had to do a double-take before I realized that Annie was the bride rather than the groom. In nearly every scene with human characters, the crude character design clashes with the clean, hand-crafted backgrounds.
Most of the animation in the game also leaves something to be desired. Though various fading effects cover the bulk of the work, motion in movie sequences is blocky, resembling amateur stop-motion animation. Also, when speaking to other characters, the mouth movement is puppet-like with very little expression or lip-sync. For a game with such beautiful CGI visuals, the crude animation is simply out of place.
There are also some visual anomalies in the game. Sometimes your mouse will “garble” and a box of floating, disembodied pixels will hang around your cursor until you shake them off. There also some compression artifacts during animated sequences that can be quite jarring. I even encountered several “Script Error” bugs. Although it has been confirmed after writing to Michael Clark that these bugs will have no effect on completing the game, as a reviewer I am uncomfortable ignoring such errors. If you play The Arrangement, remember to save frequently and use different slots. Caution never hurt anyone, especially in the case of script errors.Continued on the next page...