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Jolly Rover archived preview

Jolly Rover
Jolly Rover

When I met with Andrew Goulding at the Game Developer's Conference for a demo of Jolly Rover, he insisted that he didn't intend to ride on the coattails of the recent Monkey Island revival when he started the project. In fact, he's been kicking around the idea for Jolly Rover for about three years. He only secured funding for the independent venture last spring, thanks to a grant from the Australian government -- right around the time that LucasArts' long-dormant franchise was revived. And besides, Jolly Rover is totally different, because this game isn't about plain old pirates. It's about pirate dogs.

Goulding describes Brawsome, his company, as "a small studio trying to make a big studio game." And a small studio it is -- Goulding himself is handling the game's story, design, programming, production, and marketing, while art and audio have been outsourced. Goulding is no stranger to adventure games, having already released the freeware title Just Another Point n Click Adventure and contributed on PlayFirst's lite adventures Emerald City Confidential and Avenue Flo. And he's a huge fan of the old Sierra and LucasArts games, with Space Quest and Day of the Tentacle among his favorites.

It's not really a surprise, then, that Jolly Rover is a comedic point-and-click adventure with 2D cartoon graphics. Its hero, a dachshund named Gaius James Rover, is the son of a famous clown who died in a tragic cannon accident. Gaius lives on a small Caribbean island with his uncle, who's trying to get into the rum trade. One day Gaius unwittingly taints a barrel of rum with tobacco and creates a potent brew which he names "Jolly Rover" after his late father. While his uncle is away, a lucrative contract for Jolly Rover arrives with payment up front. Gaius combines this with his meager savings, charters a ship, and sets out in hopes of raising more money to fulfill his lifelong dream of starting a traveling circus. Along the way, he encounters a bunch of pirates -- and, of course, adventure.

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During our demo, Goulding showed me a brief portion of the game that takes place in a ship's brig. The company handling the artwork has a background in children's cartoons, a pedigree that's apparent in the character designs of the game's various pirates, each a different breed of dog. There are 25 characters altogether, and the story takes place across three different islands, with a total of 60 distinct backgrounds. The game will feature full voice acting, and although the voices were not implemented in the demo, the clips Goulding played for me sounded suitably piratey (and more importantly, funny).

Goulding believes that Jolly Rover will suit casual audiences, but he wouldn't classify it as a casual game, as it's very conventional in most respects. Even so, after his work for PlayFirst, Goulding saw opportunities to make Jolly Rover more accessible to a mainstream audience than the average point-and-click adventure game. He demonstrated several features intended to achieve this, including a hotspot finder, pop-up text that changes color after you've already interacted with an item, and a "quest log" at the top of the screen that reminds you of your current objective. The game also has a built-in hint system, in the form of a cranky old parrot that accompanies Gaius on his adventures and gives help when needed. If you prefer to play your games without any handholding, though, you can blow off the parrot completely.

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Though I only saw one puzzle during the demo, based on Goulding's explanation, Jolly Rover's gameplay seems like an interesting mix of traditional gameplay and casual elements. The collection and use of inventory items will play a large role, and there will be plenty of chances to talk to other characters, both to advance the plot and to glean backstory and better understand the characters' personalities. As Gaius travels to each of the game's three islands, he'll have the opportunity to freely explore their locations, although Goulding says the story progression itself is fairly linear.

Less traditional from an adventure game standpoint are the collection of crackers, pieces of eight, and flags around the environments. Goulding stresses that these are not "hidden objects" in the sense a casual gamer would expect -- you'll find many of them by interacting with the world the way you normally do in an adventure game. Once found, crackers can be used to bribe the parrot for more straightforward hints (without the temptation of a cracker, his "help" is fairly cryptic). By collecting the other items, you'll get access to bonuses such as character bios, music tracks, developer commentary, and the voice actors' audition clips. Jolly Rover also features in-game achievements and a Sierra-style point system -- complete with an audible jingle every time you get a point. These elements may seem simple, but all together they give the impression of a game that's jam-packed with things to do.

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Even though our demo was brief, I was impressed both by Jolly Rover's spin on classic adventure gameplay and by the enormous amount of thought and care that is going into this project. I'm excited to see the finished product when it releases in June. Goulding plans to release the game for Mac and PC as a download available from the Brawsome website and other digital distribution channels. Until then, additional details can be found on Jolly Rover website.


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archived preview