It's a wet, windy night. You arrive home from work to find a padded manila envelope sitting in the mailbox. Nestled inside is the Future Boy! game you've been waiting for, direct from General Coffee Company Film Productions in Canada. You eagerly rip through the shrink wrap to find a nicely silk-screened CD displaying a Superman-esque FB insignia. Not bad looking for an independent production.
> Install game
You pop the CD into the drive. The game installs easily, along with the Hugo engine that was used to create it. After perusing the manual / Rocket City newspaper in the game directory, you feel ready to embark on this adventure… but still a little nervous. You're a big fan of adventure games, but you're used to graphics, voice acting, and a point & click interface. Do you have what it takes to play a text adventure? Can you really be trusted to do all that reading?
You launch the game and are surprised by a burst of catchy music. Future Boy is flying straight toward you, arms outstretched, hair jauntily waved, square jaw set in a confident grin. Music? Animation? But… but… isn't Future Boy! a text adventure?!
Yes, dear readers, it is—but this isn't your typical text adventure. If you're having visions of mainframes and twisty little passages all alike, check your prejudices at the door. In their debut game, the General Coffee Company has created a work of interactive fiction for today's short-attention-span audience, complete with graphics, animation, music, ambient sounds, and voices. Oh yeah, and text.
The game's premise is one that any single person living in a big city will relate to. Finding yourself unable to meet the rent with your job as a delivery person for the Rocket City Laundry, you have been forced to take in a roommate. That roommate is Frank Bruska, a broad-shouldered stud with an easy-going attitude and a messy habit of trailing cereal all over the floor. As the game opens, you have just woken up to find a strange green isotope radiating from behind the bathroom shower curtain. This discovery leads to the revelation that your unassuming roommate Frank is, in fact, the local superhero—Future Boy!
Thus begins what FB's creator Kent Tessman calls an "interactive comic book"—a well-crafted story involving a maniacal super-villain, a knock-out villainess, a prison break, space travel, time travel, a pair of intergalactic bounty hunters, and an evil plot thrown in for good measure. Tension mounts as Future Boy is taken captive by his arch nemesis, Clayton Eno, who then proceeds to take over Rocket City with his eye set on mass destruction. Freeing Future Boy and defeating Clayton Eno are up to you, with help from any of the game's characters you can enlist.
Compared to most of today's adventure game releases, Future Boy! is a minimalist production, but it uses its few assets extremely well. Although the bulk of the story is told in the text, which displays on the bottom half of the screen, the game also has plenty of pictures. These show where you are, who you're talking to, and what you're carrying. A large image of your location is displayed at all times, along with one or two smaller images depending on who's in the room or what you're examining. The text is further supplemented by a few musical themes and plenty of ambient sounds—traffic horns honking, rain drumming against the window, a flying helicopter's blades chopping through the wind. The game even features a few animated cutscenes and some surprisingly good voice acting.
Character portraits are shown for all the characters except the one you control. In the great text adventure tradition, this anonymity allows the protagonist to be whoever you want him (or her) to be. As for the other characters, each has his or her own personality and style. Frank is one of those confident yet truly nice guys I've always wished would sweep me off my feet. Clayton Eno has just the right mix of over-the-top evil, humor, and humanism that he stays interesting, in spite of his antagonistic role. Priscilla, Eno's one-time girlfriend and the game's obligatory bombshell, has a sarcastic wit that furthers the game's edgy tone. The cast is rounded out with two suspicious visitors from Frank's home planet: Bob Finger, a chain smoking, trench coat clad curmudgeon, and Gorrd, a giant green lizard who wears a fedora.
The writing is sharp and entertaining. I expected to have to read through paragraph after verbose, boring paragraph, but this is exactly what Future Boy! manages to avoid. The text gets right to the point, and at times, it's really funny. Pop culture references and interactive fiction in-jokes keep the text fresh and surprising, and the occasional footnote (an optional line or two that you can choose to view at certain points in the story), provides an extra punchline without cluttering up the screen.
At times I did find myself skimming, but the game never penalized me for having an attention span the size of a thumbtack. Future Boy! is very forgiving of lazy readers. Each time you load a saved game, an amusing recap fills you in on what's happened so far. No idea where the exit is? Just type a direction, and if you can't go that way, the game will tell you which way you can go. If you ever get confused about what exactly you're trying to accomplish, type "goals" and the game will remind you. Even the text parser has been tailored to the impatient player. If you don't feel like typing, you can select verbs from a mouse-controlled menu instead. And if you're stuck, look no further: FB has a hint system built in.
Where Future Boy! really shines is its story, and for good reason. Tessman's previous credits include the critically acclaimed independent film Apartment Story, and FB started out as a screenplay as well. As I played the game, I could imagine it as a cartoon or even live-action feature film. The story has all the elements of a big-screen success: good guys, bad guys, humor, sharp dialogue, and an in-depth plot that gradually builds to the action-packed climax. Near the end, it takes a subtly introspective turn, posing questions about who the real hero is and what makes a hero in the first place.Continued on the next page...