E3 2012: The Cave First Look
Developer: Double Fine / Publisher: Sega / Platform: ?? / Release date: 2013
YOU ARE IN A MAZE OF TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES, ALL TOGETHER
Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert gives a soft-spoken, always-entertaining but nevertheless slightly odd (and occasionally flat-out evasive) kind of interview/demo—and he was in sparkling form when we visited the offices of Double Fine for a look at his forthcoming game for Sega, The Cave, which Gilbert says has been ‘percolating’ in his head for many years now—since before 1987’s Maniac Mansion, in fact.
Remember Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, presented in the form of a dialog narrated by Plato’s buddy Socrates and his brother Glaucon, meant to illustrate “our nature in its education and want of education”? Of course you do (but at least never suggest you won’t learn something reading this stuff.) Yeah, well—The Cave totally has nothing to do with that. Rather, it has to do with the culmination of Gilbert’s notions of what it means to sit around gaming with friends; he fondly recalls sitting ‘around the terminals’ with friends, playing Adventure, solving puzzles together—for him, that’s what adventure games are and always have been about.
A couple of years ago, Gilbert got a chance to bring his long-percolating ode to adventure gaming to a proper publishing boil: “I was sitting around with Tim Schafer, and I brought up this idea for a game—and he said, ‘You know, that’s a really great idea—why don’t you come and let Double Fine make that game?’ And I thought, ‘That is a great idea, because I need health insurance.’” Also, he evidently just really likes caves.
The Cave, then, is an adventure game (with action and character-cooperative elements) wherein the player—or players—can choose from a roster of seven adventure-hero archetypes to explore the game’s single, massive, contiguous environment titular Cave, with the stated goal of searching for what said archetypal characters desire most in their lives (“Some come to confront their fears,” Gilbert notes, while others come “just to get away from the kids for the weekend.”).
The very core concept of an adventure can span many different eras, of course, and the game’s seven playable character-types seem plucked at random from very different worlds. They include the obligatory high-fantasy knight in armor, seeking a sword of unequaled power; the monk, searching for his master on a journey of Enlightenment; the backwoods hillbilly, looking for love in questionable places such as caves; a young female all-purpose Adventurer, on a quest to find her lost companions (and some ancient treasure); the scientist, who is on ‘the cusp of a great discovery’; the so-called ‘adorable twins’, who naturally look just the tiniest bit creepy, looking for their parents; and last but not least (and at least potentially not ‘last’ after all!) there’s the time-traveler, seeking to ‘undo a wrong that is a million years in the making’.
Standard gaming conventions aside, you don’t merely get to pick just one of these characters (”Because that would be stupid,” Gilbert explains with matter-of-fact authority), but rather you get to choose any three of them to confront the challenges of The Cave cooperatively; both the inherent abilities and in fact the very backgrounds of the chosen trio of adventurers in question will determine, to some degree, not only how challenging particular regions of the vast Cave may or may not be…but in fact, whether certain areas will be accessible at all. And obviously, there’s a certain amount of automatic replayability concerns factored in there, too. The armored knight, obviously, can withstand more punishment than the comparatively frail monk, for example, and also has the ability to manifest a set of nigh-angelic wings that allow him to make safe, soft landings when dropping from heights that would be fatal for other characters. Similarly but quite differently, the hillbilly boasts the special ability to swim and hold his breath throughout potentially-flooded sections of The Cave that would spell drowning doom for characters who can’t swim. In addition to these character-inherent special abilities, the game offers entire sections of the eponymous Cave that are actually themed to the various adventurers—high-fantasy castles and the like the knight, for example…almost as though The Cave has been kind of waiting for just these people, and others…
Throughout the game, the chosen trio of adventurers can work cooperatively—activating separate switches, holding open doors, distracting Cave-dwelling creatures while fellow adventurers sneak safely past, and the like. The game can be played by a single player swapping out their three chosen characters, but the clear appeal is for each of the players to have their own—to evoke a little of that ‘players huddled around the terminals’ puzzle-solving gamer- camaraderie that Gilbert remembers so fondly. Imagine something vaguely akin to the cooperative shenanigans of a LittleBigPlanet multiplayer session (but hold the ‘ragdoll’, as well as the mandatory restriction that all players remain onscreen at once), and you’re at least approaching the ballpark.
Finally, there’s one other character that we haven’t talked about as such yet—and that’s The Cave itself. No other way to put it: The Cave talks. Not in an artsy, high-minded, metaphorical sense, but in a “Yes, I’m a talking Cave” kind of way. The Cave actually has a pleasant, sonorous voice, from what little exposure we’ve had to it so far, and—as with so many other specific points of this game—Gilbert is a little evasive on just how talkative The Cave itself will be throughout the course of the game, or on what subjects it may ultimately discourse—but as you can see from the trailer, this aspect promises even more of the oddball and largely good-natured humor for which Ron Gilbert is known. Even the inconvenient fact of ‘death’ in the game—such as getting cooked by a pissed-off, fire-breathing dragon roused cranky and dangerous from its nap—is but a temporary setback, an indicator that you need to try something else, because that last stunt clearly didn’t work out for you.
The Cave will yield its secrets, its challenges, and its lovely speaking-voice in 2013; until then, you might want to take a little time to reflect on what your heart desires most—and which of your gamer-friends you can trust to accompany you on your excursion into the unknown, and not make a total cockup out of it.