When Double Fine and Sega announced The Cave last spring, many fans of Ron Gilbert’s adventure games were skeptical. The minute-long trailer showed cartoon characters running around and jumping in what appeared to be a traditional side-scrolling platformer, suggesting that the father of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island had forgotten exactly what an adventure game is. When I first saw that trailer, I was uncertain, too. But after I sat down with Ron and he described the game and showed me an early portion, I was persuaded. The Cave, while not an “old school” adventure in the SCUMM tradition, is guided by the same principles of exploration, puzzle solving, and humor present in all of Ron’s previous adventure outings. And, as demonstrated at a recent press event, it brings something entirely new to adventure gaming: local multiplayer.
Wait… multiplayer? you might be thinking. No! This is even less of an adventure game than I thought! To be clear, The Cave’s multiplayer has nothing to do with competition or facing off against an opponent. It’s a means for two or three players to work together, all on the same computer or console (not over the internet), with each player controlling a member of The Cave’s three-character party to solve puzzles cooperatively. Think URU: Ages Beyond Myst, but the person you’re collaborating with is right there in your living room.
Setting for Double Fine press event in San Francisco
Just like in Gilbert’s first adventure, Maniac Mansion, The Cave begins with players selecting three characters from a line-up of seven. At the press event, these characters had been predetermined: the Hillbilly, the Monk, and the Adventurer. Each character is assigned to a direction button and a graphic at the bottom of the screen reminds you which character is linked to which button. (We played on an Xbox 360; on PC the controls will be mouse-driven.) Using the D-pad, one player can switch between characters or pass control to another player. The camera follows the currently selected character, leaving the others behind if he/she wanders off, then pans back when a different character is selected to help you understand where certain areas are in relation to others. This allows you to freely explore a relatively large area without having to worry about losing your companions.
I sat down with another journalist to tackle a portion of the game where the party tries to break into a carnival to impress a girl the Hillbilly has a crush on. After some initial awkwardness about who should “go first,” we each spent a few minutes running around in different areas of the cave, and a bevy of puzzles in need of solving began to emerge from its depths. The sequence involved cheating at a series of carnival games—surviving a dunk tank, predicting which color the wheel of fortune would land on, fooling a canny carnie into guessing your weight incorrectly, etc.—in order to earn enough tickets to win a prize for the Hillbilly’s love interest. Some puzzles could be solved by any one character or by any two working together, while others required a specific character’s special power (such as the Hillbilly’s ability to breathe underwater longer than the others). Each solution relied purely on exploration, deduction, and logic; in the portion I played, there was absolutely no dexterity or reflex required as in a puzzle-platformer like Braid or Limbo.
Here’s the beautiful part: my partner and I solved these puzzles together. Sometimes a few minutes would pass where only his character was visible on screen. When he wasn’t sure what to try next, I would take control for a few minutes and check out a different part of the cave. But all along we were having a dialogue about what we should try next. He saw some solutions before I did. I figured out where to use some items before he did. Once or twice, we had the same revelation at the exact same time and shared an “aha!” moment. We discussed what to do and laughed or groaned together when the attempts didn’t pan out. (It is possible to die in The Cave, but these tend to be humorous, cartoony deaths and you immediately respawn in the same area, no harm done.) In the end, we solved the chain of puzzles that were blocking entry into the carnival as a team—an experience I haven’t had since I was fourteen years old playing The 7th Guest with my best friend, side by side at my parents’ computer.
Layout of The Cave's Hillbilly level
For those who prefer to adventure alone, don’t worry: The Cave’s multiplayer is completely optional. But after glimpsing the potential for collaboration that Ron and his team have built into the game—not to mention the pure puzzle-solving gameplay—I’m not only confident that The Cave falls into the adventure category, but I also know that it brings something brand new and very special to the genre. (Kind of like Maniac Mansion, the very first point-and-click adventure game, did back in 1987.) A lot of fans may not be convinced until they’ve played it for themselves, but luckily that chance will come soon, as The Cave is scheduled to release for PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U later this month.
Still glowing from my hands-on play session, I sat down with designer JP LeBreton and writer Chris Remo (a former Adventure Gamers staffer) to talk about what it’s like working with Ron Gilbert, how The Cave’s puzzles and story came to be, and what they, as longtime adventure gamers themselves, think of the non-traditional gameplay.Continued on the next page...