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The Cave archived preview

The Cave
The Cave

The first point Ron Gilbert wants people to know about his new game, The Cave: it is an adventure game. Not an action-adventure. Not a puzzle-platformer. An honest-to-god adventure. He and Double Fine even pitched it as one to publishers, and Sega took it on for this very reason. That’s right, people: The Cave, a new adventure game from Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert, is on its way to PC, Xbox LIVE Arcade, and PlayStation Network.

His second point is that The Cave is something he’s been thinking about for a very long time. It predates Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. He was noodling with The Cave even before he started working at LucasArts. And all this time, the idea hasn’t left him alone. To hear him tell it, The Cave has been hanging out in his subconscious for the last three decades, bugging him to bring it to life. Finally, thanks to a partnership with Double Fine Productions (which is, of course, headed up by Ron’s old LucasArts buddy Tim Schafer), this long-dormant game is seeing the light of day. Well… not the light of day, exactly. But early next year, we get to descend into the dark, dank, and decidedly bizarre caverns and passageways that long ago took up residence in Ron Gilbert’s mind.

The concept of a cave “speaking” to Ron Gilbert here and there for the past thirty years isn’t so surreal when you realize that this cave can talk. You may not control it as a playable character, but just as Guybrush Threepwood is the face of Monkey Island, the cave is the sentient, opinionated being at the heart of this new game. In fact, the demo I saw last week at Double Fine’s office started with the cave introducing itself (somewhat grumpily) as the camera panned down on the flock of playable characters who have been drawn to it for reasons unknown. This intro isn’t simply an amusing cameo; Ron says the cave will continue to chime in throughout the adventure, an omniscient force musing on the characters’ attempts, laughing at their failures, and occasionally lending a helpful nudge.

If a talking cave sounds kind of weird, then here’s something even weirder, at least where Ron Gilbert is concerned: the game’s protagonists don’t talk. Not a peep. Instead, Ron’s trademark humor will show itself, often in dark ways, through the situations the explorers find themselves in and the words of other, fully voiced non-playable characters they encounter deep underground. Why force his heroes to stay mum? Ron believes they’re more mysterious this way. Each has arrived at the cave in search of something very personal, and without sharing any dialogue, their motivations and eventual success can be even more puzzling and intriguing to us players who have also found ourselves compelled to explore the cave, and don’t know why.

This doesn’t mean the game lacks story. Au contraire, each character has a complete backstory that plays out via his or her personal mission inside a dedicated area of the cave. With seven playable characters and only three slots in the expedition party, this means you’ll have to play The Cave at least three times to experience all of its narrative possibilities. The seven characters you choose from include a Monk who’s seeking his master, an Adventurer searching for her two lost partners, a Hillbilly looking for love, a Scientist on the verge of a great discovery, a pair of Twins who want parents who will love them, a Knight who needs an all-powerful sword, and a Time Traveler who must right a wrong a million years in the making. Adding to the mystery, the game gives no explanation of the characters’ strengths or goals before you’re faced with the choice of which three to pick; you’ll figure out why they’re here and what you’re supposed to do with them as you go along.

Image #1

With mute main characters, The Cave obviously lacks dialogue puzzles. It does have its fair share of inventory puzzles, but the inventory is quite basic, with each of your three protagonists only able to carry one item at a time. If this all sounds very simple compared to Ron’s past work, well, it is. On purpose. He’s still wholeheartedly devoted to the adventure genre, but Ron is also eager to solve some of the problems he has with adventure games. Take walking, for example. Crossing from one room to another—let alone descending a massive underground cave—has the potential to be tedious. In The Cave, Ron has tried to address this by making the very act of moving from Point A to Point B fun. (Sacrilege!) This means that characters run instead of walk, and sometimes objects or topography will get in their way. They may need to climb up on a ledge, or jump a gap, or shimmy down a rope. These activities were designed to provide enjoyable challenges—not to mention expected ones, since they’re exploring a cave and all—but these actions shouldn’t be reflex-dependent or difficult. Instead, Ron and co-designer J.P. LeBreton have tried to ensure that the true obstacles are the many puzzles waiting to be solved.

So, with no dialogue and a very small inventory, just how to do these puzzles work? They’re mainly object manipulation puzzles, which Ron considers to be a hallmark of adventure games, and they’re bolstered by the fact that the three characters in your party can (and, in many cases, must) work together to solve them. The Cave can be played alone, with one player switching between the three characters as needed, but it also supports up to three-person local multiplayer, meaning that you and one or two friends can explore the cave and solve its puzzles collaboratively. The demo included several challenges that required the type of lateral thinking adventure game fans are accustomed to. In one early example, two levers must be pulled simultaneously before a gate will open all the way. Once you’ve figured out what each of the levers do, you can dispatch two of your characters to them and send the third through the open gate. On the other side, this character can flip a switch that opens the gate permanently, freeing up his or her two partners to pass through.

In another, more complex example, a fire-breathing dragon is blocking the way you need to go. A pit full of chewed-up bones and pointy spikes stands between it and the party. By climbing the fissure above this pit, you find a claw machine (a giant version of those arcade staples that entice you to grab a stuffed animal for a handful of pocket change). This could be used to grab the dragon, if only you could find some way to lure it into the pit. A convenient vending machine provides an option, but it’s not working. Nearby you find the item you need to make it work (in this demo, that object was a bucket of water, but Ron cautioned that this was a placeholder and not the final puzzle solution). Once the vending machine springs to life, one of your characters can grab a hot dog from it and toss this into the pit. When the dragon ambles in to chow down, another character above can drop the claw to grab the dragon and pull it up out of the way. And voilà! You’ve just bypassed a fire-breathing dragon using the nonsensical yet perfectly figure-out-able logic that adventure games have been championing since the days of Colossal Cave. (Not coincidentally, Ron played that classic text adventure back in the eighties, around the time the idea for The Cave popped into his head.)

Ron says that The Cave’s puzzles are full of this type of logical, hands-on problem solving, often requiring the cooperation of two or all three playable characters to reach a solution. And he stresses that The Cave does not have any physics puzzles. (Even though Limbo is another game he cites as an influence, in his mind the very existence of physics puzzles like the ones in Limbo causes a game to cross the genre line from adventure to something else.) The console controls used to explore the cave and manipulate puzzle elements seem pretty standard: you move a stick to move the character, and press a button to switch between characters. The PC controls are still under development but Ron hopes they will be very intuitive, possibly straight point-and-click. A PC gamer himself, he does not want the PC version to feel like a console port.

Each character has special abilities, which can make a difference in how you approach a puzzle. The Knight can withstand certain dangers that would kill other characters, such as that aforementioned dragon's fiery kiss, and he can “slow fall” in areas where other characters would drop to their deaths. The Hillbilly can hold his breath for a long time underwater. So on one playthrough you might progress by having the Knight descend into an otherwise inaccessible area or by sending the Hillbilly on an extended swim past an obstacle, while next time with a different party, you’ll have to look for other solutions. These abilities may not significantly change the gameplay—Ron says they’re the icing, not the cake—but they should help with the usual adventure game pitfall of replayability, making your second experience a bit different than the first even in the common areas of the cave that all seven characters have access to.

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Back up a minute… what’s this about death? Yes, your characters can die in The Cave, but it’s truly painless. If you die, the sentient cave lends a hand by respawning you right next to the spot where you died. A three-second animation stands between death and a do-over. So don’t freak out; death is another of those old adventure game annoyances Ron’s determined to do away with.

On top of the variety provided by its character-specific content, the game itself is non-linear. You’ll be exploring a huge cave that the early screenshots and trailer have barely begun to hint at. Technically, it’s all one big environment that scrolls as you move through it; there's no passing between rooms, no load screens. Though it’s massive, Ron says it has been designed to limit backtracking: your characters may need to travel back and forth a bit within a self-contained area as you figure out how to progress, but as you descend deeper and deeper into the cave, you won’t need to climb back up. Items will be used fairly close to where you found them, so unlike in a punishing game like Colossal Cave or Zork, there’s no worry of losing access to something you really need. The three characters can get separated, but because of the need for puzzle-solving teamwork, they’ll never stray too far from each other. While there’s no map to help you orient yourself in the cave and see where each party member is, the camera pans deliberately when you switch between them, so you should always have a sense of where they are in relation to one another.

Though the whole game takes place inside the cave, it has many visually distinct locales—a medieval castle, an “outdoor” carnival, and a mad scientist-style laboratory, to name a few. The artwork has a lush CG cartoon look reminiscent of a Pixar movie or Shrek. The Cave uses a 3D game engine, but its environments have a 2D perspective; characters move up and down and side to side, but never toward the screen or away from it. With the exception of simple labels that appear over useable items as you approach, there is no interface to clutter up the screen. The characters are vibrantly animated, and I especially liked the visual reward of seeing a character hold his or her one allotted item as opposed to stuffing it down an invisible pocket. At one point during our demo, when Ron made the Scientist pick up a giant hot dog, she tucked it under her arm and it flopped a bit as she ran. Adorable!

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Near the end of our meeting—maybe the fifth or sixth time Ron reiterated that The Cave is, in fact, an adventure game—I asked what he thought of the initial reaction to the trailer from people who took one glance and pegged it not as an adventure game, but something else. “It’s interesting, because I remember when Maniac Mansion came out, people were saying that was not an adventure game,” he answered. “It had graphics, and worse than graphics, they animated. I think a lot of the die-hard adventure game fans back then, they were okay with a text adventure that put up a pretty picture, like a storybook, but Maniac Mansion was a game where these characters all just ran around, there was no descriptive text, you were not typing stuff into a parser, you were just picking verbs off a screen. And so lot of die-hard adventure people did not consider Maniac Mansion to be an adventure game.

“I look back on that, and that’s kind of silly, considering that’s the style that everybody thinks of as an adventure game now,” he went on. “So I think people have to broaden their definition of what an adventure game is. It doesn’t have to be flat, 2D, pointing-and-clicking with the mouse, in 320x240 resolution to be an adventure game. There’s this style of puzzle solving and problem solving and narrative, all these things that make up a really great adventure game.”

All of these things, Ron promises, are lurking inside The Cave. Admittedly, I’m one who wasn’t quite sure what to make of this game based on the trailer alone, but now that I’ve seen it, I’m inexplicably drawn to it. I can’t shake the feeling that this living, breathing cave is just biding its time, waiting for me to show up and explore its mysterious depths. And after nearly thirty years of gestation, that long wait is almost over, as Double Fine and Sega plan to release The Cave in early 2013.


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Community Comments

Hey guys, remember Grim Fandango? Its control scheme and environments were set up exactly like survival horror games, but the challenge/fun came from the puzzles and narrative. We should look at The Cave in the same light. As for expanding the definition of adventure games - let's remember that for a long time, all we had were text adventures. Then along came some 1st person adventures, and then third-person graphic adventures, now considered by many to be the only "traditional" adventure game. Things change.
Jan 8, 2013
I just read about this in Edge - literally just now, the magazine lies next to me, open on that very page. Their idea was that Sega basically platformised it, so to speak, to make it appear more accessible and appealing on XBLA and PSN. However, they did conclude that the puzzles are more like Lost Vikings than a classical adventure game. They said it's shaping up to be a good game in its own right, but "those expecting a similar take to Double Fine Adventure" may be disappointed.
Jun 29, 2012
There's absolutely no need for us to "expand" the definition of adventure for games like this. Unlike others, we actually [i]have[/i] a definition that we apply to each and every game that passes through this site. Hasn't changed in years, won't be changing in future. If The Cave (or Portal 2, or any other game that's too different for others to accept as such) had been released ten years ago, we'd have covered it then too.
Jun 21, 2012
Is it me or are some people finding it hard to understand how this game is a puzzle game? Ron is saying it is a puzzle game, even though you do have platforming elements due to the chosen perspective of the game. It is a side scroller perspective. So, to make navigation of the world more interesting they decided to go with the platforming control scheme. This would add rhythm to the game and going from point A to B allowing the game to be faster paced; so you can get to your next story or puzzle element without much hindrance or time waste. And they sprinkled some platforming elements along the way so not every room is played on a straight line, making this travel even more eventful...That's it. That's all I understand from this article (not knowing more than anyone here). So, why is this a problem for people? I thought the people would be more up on arms about the death system, but then again it is almost inconsequential for the player. The Cave resurrects you next to where you have just died anyway. From what's been said, the great chuck of the game is about puzzle solving and the narrative, that is the main focus. So, while for a platformer game the next objective is how to traverse that next platform obstacle, adventure games are about solving puzzles and narrative. Once again, this game does not focus on its platforming, it is about puzzle solving.
Jun 17, 2012
interesting... looks fun but to me it looks ALOT like the Trine series or something similar. very platformy indeed... i dont see how this is going to be an adventure game, but i enjoy side scrollers too so if its reaching for adventure elements that sounds great :D
Jun 15, 2012
I can understand the logic of the Adventuregamers.com stuff. They are trying to "expand" the definition of the "Adventure games" so that the genre survives and has more to offer. That's why games like Portal 2 or the walking dead are considered as adventure games. I don't agree with this but it's a choice. I am sure that the cave is an excellent game. But I don't think that it's an adventure game. I have the impression that it is a puzzle platformer, or similar, a game that everybody could try, adventure gamer or not. That's the first impression. Also the fact that it is a game made by a great adventure games designer, doesn't automatically mean that the game is an adventure game "because it is a Ron Gilbert game". It may contain puzzling elements but "jump and run" sequences are not adventure games elements.
Jun 13, 2012
I for one am excited about playing this. I have no idea if i'm going to like the pseudo-platform style or not but I can tell you I do like this: -Playing an adventure game on the couch (I wish they'd make more adventure games or ports for the Wii) -Co-op modes - going back to the couch again - in my house we like to play adventure games on a big screen cooperatively -No dialogue puzzles! I think dialogue trees are one of the most repetitive boring inventions ever - occasionally done well and interesting but usually bleh. However so far it does sound mostly like platform style logic puzzles especially since you can only carry one item at a time. I'm partial to the inventory combination puzzles, especially when they actually make sense.
Jun 11, 2012
Can everyone just chill out until they've actually played this game or at least seen some gameplay? A trailer isn't the same as a gameplay video, and a gameplay video isn't the same as playing the thing for yourself. A legendary adventure game designer is releasing a new game and you've already completely written it off based on a minute-long trailer. Why, because you like to see people in high places fail? Because you would rather complain than play games? Because you don't trust the Adventure Gamers writers for some reason? I don't get it.
Jun 9, 2012
Ron knows better than any of us for his sake Fov, he is only looking for a booming Adventure that can repeat his achievement//success with MI, and as he had the chance to climb above Sierra's Success at the the time by changing the Rules .. he would certainly do it again .... i am not against some kind of a revolution in the Adventure Gaming as this what i think Ron is after ,but i have this bad feeling about neglecting the PC users (which made his success and name) for platformers (which are a bigger base nowaday for sure), anyway i might be wrong about my judgment or at least early to, but i would never play an Adventure on a platform/console even if its another Day of the Tentacle as i already did this with Heavy Rain (avoided it) . and i do have PS2 by the way, its just a matter (you could say) stubbornness (and i admit it proudly)
Jun 9, 2012
Hmm... so you'd rather sloooooowly walk across three screens to get from one area of the cave to the other, like in a "classic" adventure game? Don't think of it as a platformer with easy platforming elements (that's certainly not how Ron thinks of it, and he knows better than any of us). Think of it as an adventure game without all the boring backtracking. Or maybe just don't think of it as anything until there's more info, gameplay video, etc. available. Arguing about what genre it falls into is pretty useless at this point... I mean, if you're not going to take the word of two AG staffers who have seen it, let alone the word of the game's designer (who happens to be the same guy who designed the first ever point and click adventure game and created the engine LucasArts went on to use for almost all of its "classics" -- he probably knows an adventure game when he sees one), then I doubt there's anyone who can convince you.
Jun 9, 2012
Thing is, if there's going to be platforming, I would prefer that it was real platforming and not just gimmicky platforming to make traveling take longer and be annoying in the long run. Either commit to the idea of platforming or leave it out. I mean, how fun is it playing a platformer where it's basically so easy that you can do it with your eyes closed? Just leave it out in that case or man up and commit to the concept and have proper platforming between puzzle levels. I love platforming when it's say on the level of the SNES Donkey Kong games, but don't like the idea of it being there to have the character move slower between puzzle rooms.
Jun 9, 2012
Really i don't think the name of great developers can be taken as a guarantee for a great Adventure these days, of course the preview is little soothing , but i don't need someone to patter on my shoulders when they can take me on their's and get me more higher... and that trailer with that Bright name of SEGA is not for me/us,it is for a bigger number of spectators !, i don't know but as i was seeing it i just remembered the old Prince of Persia (1989) and someone who at that time was trying to convince me it was a new adventure !
Jun 9, 2012
The game is entirely about puzzles and story. It also has some light platforming intended to make world navigation more fun. As long as you're okay with jumping a character over a gap (which I believe is the most platformey thing you'll do), I think you'll consider The Cave a pure adventure game. As Emily's preview says, you can die in some sense (i.e. you might see a death animation), but you are immediately reset to where you were. So it's not like Zack & Wiki. My guess is the marketing department decided that instead of showing puzzles they wanted a more fast-paced trailer for E3. Don't let initial appearances deceive you though. Check out some extended gameplay footage when it becomes available and I think you'll agree with Ron's descriptions of the game. :) (*Disclosure: I worked at Sega and had some early involvement in The Cave getting signed.)
Jun 9, 2012
The way it is described reminds me A LOT of Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' treasure. I have to say I didn't enjoy dying there and having to do the whole level again.. I hope his "not annoying to die" means we get to restart in the middle of a puzzle instead of at the start..
Jun 8, 2012
I don't know. This whole platform thing seems to bother Ron too much, like it's going to hurt the reputation of the game so badly. Pulling levers? That's classical platform gaming, why call it an adventure? Why make simplified action elements? Why limit your imagination excluding physical puzzles? Right now the game looks like this: three silent protagonists are walking around a large cave without a map, looking for inventory items. Well, that DOES sound like Maniac Mansion :) But will it work today?
Jun 8, 2012
If Ron Gilbert and Sega wanted us to see The Cave as the adventure game they say it is, they should have made a different trailer. I see thingies running and jumping, no speech (Hello Cave!), no puzzles. It looks suspiciously like a platformer.
Jun 8, 2012
I may be overreacting to Ron's comment, I don't know, but I take it as him comparing people experiencing a regular adventure for the first time to people being confused over the fact that the trailer is full of platforming, like we're mere simpletons stuck in the past refusing to move on, not acknowledging that what we're seeing is CLEARLY adventuring, not platforming! It's hard to articulate and I don't if I'm making much sense, but I feel like he's being derogatory towards the players. Just because I was confused over the platforming parts doesn't mean I want every game to be a pixelated adventure with midi music from 1992.
Jun 8, 2012
No, you move around yourself. As it says in the preview - there's some climbing, some jumping of gaps, etc. that, by design, keep you occupied and entertained but aren't going to be difficult -- the thrust of it isn't to figure out what combination of buttons and timing you need to use to get up on a ledge, as in a platformer, but to fluidly hop up there so you can solve the next puzzle. And I don't think he was being insulting at all (I'm sorry if it came across that way in the preview). Obviously a trailer that just shows people running around makes it look like a side-scrolling platformer, that's why I asked him about it, and that's why his explanation of why it's not a platformer is so important. And, I've noticed, it's not just with AG - he's describing The Cave as an adventure game to every site that interviews him. That's a *good* thing!
Jun 8, 2012
I'm sure Emily will be by to elaborate more, but the short answer is: yes, you're misunderstanding. You still need to play them; they just aren't designed to be difficult (as they are in platformers). And you seem to be putting words in Ron's mouth that he didn't say. The people who over-reacted to Maniac Mansion were silly; the people over-reacting to The Cave simply haven't seen enough. (At least, in his mind.)
Jun 8, 2012
Ron is right. Us simple folk must be stupid for actually thinking that a trailer clearly showcasing lots of platformer elements mixed with puzzle solving was a puzzle-platformer, when it's clearly not. And am I misunderstanding this, or is the article actually mentioning the platforming elements simply being the passtime from room to room and that you don't get to play it, it's just pre-determined animations done by the character? That doesn't sound like fun at all. If there's platforming elements I want to play them, not look at them passively.
Jun 8, 2012
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