STORY GAMES: "Runaway: A Road Adventure"
So you decide to cut class and stay home with a sack of weed, some fluffy blankets that you pull right out of the dryer, and a pantry full of Dinty Moore corned beef hash and "Hint of Lime" tortilla chips. It is a chance to be alone with your thoughts and hurts, but after you get high, you decide that what you really need to do is to be alone with your television.

Perhaps you live a sad life and perhaps you only get three channels. What are those three channels that you are allowed to watch by your beloved government?

They are the Christian channel, the shopping channel, and the Spanish channel! This is free America!

After two minutes of watching preachers, and fifteen minutes of pretending that the shopping channel is porn (you manage to do what you need to do), you finally switch over to the Spanish channel and do your duty as a person who is intoxicated, experiencing the personal and consistent joy of being very stoned and watching things happen in Spanish to rosy women in high heels and to obese men with thick black glasses.

"This is perfect for my high mind," you say. "This game show is perfect. This soap opera is perfect. This show where people are pulled out of an audience and hit in the testicles with a papier mache mallet while someone screams 'It is now Sunday afternoon!' is perfect. The fact that they keep flashing to a pen full of goats grazing on Easter grass and wearing little sombreros is perfect. The fact that the pen of goats is tended by a stripper is fine, but I wish I had known it would be like that before I masturbated to a woman's hand that was modeling a golden Italian charm bracelet."

But what if I were to tell you that there was another level to all this? That you could take this beautiful feeling of confusion, elation, and ceremony to a strong new place -- to an interactive place where you ARE that awkward man in thick black glasses? What if I were to tell you that a group of Spanish artists with multimedia ambitions have culled together the best things about the spectacle and confusion of Univision and Telemundo and turned them into bold new story games that still deliver the Spanish-channel-as-artform feeling?

This is a game-trailer; not an impending cartoon! Independent Spanish geniuses are now doing their hatchet job on video games -- stealing wild and surprising things from American culture that irritate you and then putting them back together in a way that somehow makes you happy! They are now using video games to mock and distort the culture you know all too well, feeding it back to you in a form you barely understand!

What if I were to tell you that in the world of "Runaway," a game from Spanish-based Pendulo Studios where you play awkward math and physics whiz kid Brain Basco, suddenly you get to live your Spanish-language fantasies and see the world from the perspective of that flashy man with slippery white teeth who combs his navel hair and wears the Speedo panties down at the local swimming pool?



Check this out: "Runaway" is not an outdated, archaic bit of story-gaming from two decades ago. "Runaway" is a new game, made by people with financial backing who are trying to profit and grow. These Spanish video game developers took a look at all of the possibilities for making games and they said yes, what we like best are those old Monkey Island games, and the Day of the Tentacle stuff, and the Gabriel Knight games, yes, we can do that, Space Quest, sure, yes let's do that, let's make Spanish versions of that, let's make beautiful games with plots, it does not matter if there is no money in it, there is no money in Spanish video games anyway.

You can read their plucky tale at their website.

So they built their game company up from nothing and they made a simple, fun game that is a little bit short, a little bit frustrating, and often suffers from baffling design issues. It is an amateur production, and like amateur porn, it often feels more cynical than the professional stuff. And yet, there is some real craft here. It is fun, it is inventive, and it has the feel of the rare, 'ould shit.

Note this well: you will not enjoy this game if you play the translated English audio version. The voice acting is awful -- really awful. Hopefully, you speak Spanish already, or you speak enough Spanish that you can have a good time playing this game and always being a little bit confused. I'm not sure if there is a Spanish version with English subtitles, but I do know that you can't turn the voice acting off (a huge mistake). If you REALLY can't handle the Spanish, then try the French or German versions. Anything but the English version -- basically, one person does all the voices, and they are reading the script while lying in bed sick, watching the neighborhood children play.

The story is American standard. You accidentally hit an exotic dancer with your car as she flees a New York nightclub, and then you drive her across America while trying to figure out why the Mafia wants her father's crucifix. Along the way you will visit museums, Hopi shrines, ghost towns, and the desert -- all airbrushed across your screen using the same color palate as the surfboards for sale in a town where men and women love to dance, dance, dance all night long.

There are some frustrating puzzles here, where the logical solutions do not follow from the premises. I especially hate it when you are required to try the same thing multiple times, which reminds you that you are playing a game, and are not (in fact) rifling through a purse or reading a matchbook. But there are several amazing scenarios that are worth all the trouble, and are often better than any telenovella or sadistic game show.

At one point, you are stranded in the desert with a bus full of drag queens, and decide that you must enact "The Plan" to get yourself out. "The Plan" is a nested, four-tiered strategic sequence of events that will require the help of your new friends, and will require you to comb the desert for all the improvised parts to put it together. You must set "The Plan" up like narrative dominoes from the tools you are given. If you can bring it off, the culmination of all this hard work leaves you with a great feeling inside, a feeling of minor and temporary accomplishment.

For a moment, you have the same simulated feeling of ecstasy as a good writer does when they discover a way to get their characters out of an impossible corner. For a moment, you and the game are telling a story together, and sharing in the art of the process -- and in the new art of the interactive dramatic relationship.

Before I get in trouble, I have to warn you: as best as I can tell, the game is horribly racist, sexist, callous, and obnoxious with its humor, jibes, insults, and conception. I know this. You know this. But it is fun! And it is pretty! And there is dancing! Do not marry this game, but cut class and take it out for a drive in your convertible, and have a good time. Do not call it love. Call it a vacation; call it a "runaway."


Posted by miracle on Sun, 13 Jul 2008 06:07:51 -0400 -- permanent link

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