Cradle

Developer: Flying Cafe for Semianimals | Released: 2015 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

Inspired by the update in the previous blog post about The Talos Principle, I have decided I’ll switch to full diary style, adding to the same blog post as I play more sessions of a game. I realize this is quite uncommon – normally blog posts are a one-shot article and then never updated again – but I’ve already had exceptions to this rule.

Another reason is that I’ve never felt that I’ve found a really solid template for writing my impressions about the games I play. This new diary style can thus serve as another experiment in trying to find my voice.

Perhaps needless to say, there will be spoilers in this new diary style.

March 7, 2020

This game was only five years old? The way it started, i.e. in a window, maximum 2K resolution, options all reset and with a tiny menu text, made it feel older at first. For some strange reason the music was also turned down to zero. But other than adjusting all this, it seemed to work fine in Windows 10.

I “woke up” (whoever I was) with an amnesiac hangover inside a small Mongolian yurt, which is sort of a circular tent. Control was in first person with no body awareness. The level of detail in this tent was quite impressive. There was a ton of stuff to go through, picking up some things for my inventory. Left mouse click held an item in my hands at first, and a hotkey then put it away in my small inventory.

If anything, the amount of ambient reading on old newspapers and post-its was excessive.

I briefly stuck my nose outside of the tent and could see an enormous landscape with a lake, a futuristic monorail and a spheroid structure in the distance. The 3D engine seemed to be able to dance with Crytek’s regarding distances, but I also noticed that it hitched and froze for a few seconds at first as I turned around after waking up. This shouldn’t be an issue in a modern 3D engine.

Also, moving the mouse precisely around a small item felt sluggish. Like in molasses.

Why was the mouse wheel and direction keys inoperable in the notes window that frequently popped up in the bottom right corner to show e.g. what a long article in a newspaper was saying? I was forced to move the mouse down to its scroll bar and drag it the old-fashioned way. Should be an easy addition to make.

But in spite of the mediocre first-hand impressions regarding the features and the 3D engine, it looked quite good and the game implied that a fascinating science fiction story was awaiting. Apart from standard household goods inside the tent like books, furniture, boxes and chests, there was an inoperative female robot on a table and a strange flower recording machine that looked like a photocopier at first.

I could remove the face and stomach pieces from the robot and even turn it on with “eyes” in a dedicated monitor piece, but it turned itself off again after a few seconds. Something was clearly missing.

Before embarking on the actual task inside the tent, I sprinted around the landscape for a while. Walking was infuriatingly slow. Running was the only option here, just like in Obduction. There was a big lake with a conspicuously low depth. No matter how far I ran into it I was never subdued.

I guess that’s one way to avoid creating a swim or drowning animation.

The big rungs of the monorail couldn’t be climbed (couldn’t reach their ladders) and the spheroid structure was behind a fence. Well, I guess it was time to head back and get on with the task at hand.

A laundry list on the table next to where I woke up described how to cook a meal for one Ongots. What was that? A person perhaps? I had to put fire in the stove, find a red pot to place on it, and pour some water from a cup to heat it up. Then I had to run down by the lake and get two fruits from a tree.

Why not find these first before the water dries out? Oh, right. Video games. The water boils forever.

Getting the fruits required some peculiar jumping and half climbing. Maybe I was missing a tool there, but I got them. Then I took some dried root from the clothesline outside, ground it in a mortar and put it in. After adding salt for an orange effect, I placed the red pot in a holder outside. Then came the big surprise.

A big bird came floating in, sat on the perch next to the pot, and ate some food. Ongots was an eagle.

While the eagle was sitting on the perch, I could remove a weird harness tied to its breast and replace it with another I found in the tent. The eagle had a haunting big hole in its chest – like a bird version of Iron Man. As soon as the new harness was put on, the eagle gracefully flew away.

The old harness had a number inside of it. 2053.

March 8, 2020

Loading my save game from yesterday, I noticed that the game didn’t bother to save my inventory contents and the state of how the objects were moved around. Only how far I got in the laundry list.

The number was a password to a tablet that revealed the location of a box with a part for the female robot. It was deliberately vague. Find a rock with a small arrow on it, then a sad tree. As always I expected this puzzle to be bigger than it was, wasting some time walking way too far away from the tent. The rock, the tree and the box was actually just a few steps away.

Putting the part in the robot finally activated the female robot. Turned out her name was Ida. She had a robotic voice over that was okay while the one for the protagonist sure wasn’t. Ida started talking about how kids had once been brought to the nearby amusement dome. Then she complained that she couldn’t breathe. Please go fetch me a lung module from one of the pavilions in the dome.

But the dome is behind a fence and… oh, there’s a tree to be climbed. Never mind then.

The inside of the dome was epic. Big and airy due to its metal skeleton. There were lots of tubes and slides. I tried tiptoeing on vertical poles further upwards, but I kept falling down. This merely punished me with a second or two of a black screen. No resetting to a previous place. Thanks, guys.

I found the seventh pavilion and Ida remotely opened a double door. Inside was a small chamber that faded out, starting a cyberspace minigame. It turned out that these minigames were a returning feature for obtaining more parts for Ida. To win, I had to find 30 cubes of a specific color and then throw them into an air shaft in the middle, one by one.

Of course it wasn’t that simple.

There were several floors built out of cubes, and they could be picked up, deleted, and rearranged. Think Minecraft. Throwing the right kind of cube into the air shaft sucked it up and added it to the score, but this also spawned a red cube devil. It didn’t kill me on contact, but it blew away some cubes. If I fell down to the floor touching the water down there, my score slowly trickled away.

My first minigame for the lung module didn’t go well. I fell down holes in the cube floors too frequently and also spent way too much time splashing around in the water. My score hit rock bottom and I lost. Luckily the game now offered to skip the minigame entirely, thereby getting the lung module anyway.

This minigame had a bad rap among reviewers, and at first I agreed.

But when I returned for the second pavilion later to get a new set of monitor goggles for Ida, I decided to be a bit more patient about this. After all, there was actually no rush. No countdown, and the red devil only emerged after a successful cube delivery. Even though the red devils were significantly more annoying this second time around – their explosion spawned a ton of gray blocks that were hard to get rid of – I still managed to deliver all 30 cubes and win the module the proper way.

There were good ideas in this minigame. I liked how I could delete cubes to reveal the ones I was looking for, repair holes to avoid dropping down, and place magenta cubes inside red cubes to spawn an explosion that got rid of a lot of gray ones.

Nevertheless, the amount of cubes required was too high. 30 cubes took a long time to collect. 10, maybe 20 tops, would have been much better. Perhaps with a slider in the options to set this.

Now, there’s an idea for a patch.

The fence around the dome didn’t allow for leaving the area, but a cute hover platform with empty seats could be used to smash through it and then let me out close to the tent.

After inserting the lung module into Ida (it felt so wrong typing that) she talked some more about a poison, the apocalypse and the kids. Then she complained about being blind. Her monitor goggles were cracked. Meanwhile, an air shuttle landed nearby. I ran up and had a talk with the human-turned-robot Tabaha piloting it. He wanted me to go pick up flowers for a lens that Ida could use to see properly.

I picked up sort of a magnifying scanner tool in the tent then ran down to a few gardens full of flower beds close to the amusement dome. I had to scan three different colors of open flowers and only pick up the ones that were above a certain quality rating. While scanning a flower, it slowly closed up. I had to be sure to find the widely open ones or I couldn’t pick it up afterwards.

Back in the tent with flower power inventory, I popped them all into the photocopier one by one. This sealed them tight inside a plastic frame. Down in the box, play the second minigame for the goggles, and Tabaha was back in his air shuttle to swap the flowers for the lens.

With the goggles and the lens, Ida could now see. More talk about those children. Turned out that Ida had once been a psychologist for them and that they had been brought to the dome because of an illness they had. Then she suddenly needed a new battery.

Oh well. Off to do another minigame.

I liked the effect of the goggles for Ida and Tabaha. It looked like the developers had filmed real footage of human eyes. Great idea. Eyes are probably among the most difficult things to get right in games.

March 9, 2020

Maybe the reviewers were right about those minigames after all.

I tried two more minigames today – one with red devils exploding blocks away, and one with them creating gray blocks. The former version was actually pretty annoying in how it eradicated blocks while also adding more risk of inadvertently dropping down. The latter minigame soon engulfed most of the arena in gray blocks, even though I really tried to explode them away by igniting red blocks.

I decided to deliberately fail and then skip both of them.

The minigames still had good ideas, but they really needed some tweaking. I’m not sure just drilling down the required cubes from 30 to about half would have been enough.

Also, there was a bit too much telling and not showing about Ida’s long tales about intelligent children with enhanced visual emotion that found humans to be repulsive creatures. And her monologues were still frequently interrupted by the need for yet another module.

Yet, there were still good adventure stuff to be found outside those talks.

I had to gather three car batteries and find a remote under some furniture to get a TV going – if only for a short while. Tabaha also landed again to deliver some info and a key for a drawer. This provided me with an ultraviolet lens for a flashlight along with instructions about how to find a key for a chest. I had to find decals on the ground in the fields outside the tent. Each decal had a sun and a moon symbol, and a book in the tent told me to alternate following their arrows to the next one. The final decal told me to ask a vertical device who I was, and as the reward it opened up with the key hanging inside.

Maybe I made it sound like I just waltzed through the decal puzzle. I didn’t at first. Without reading the clue about alternating the symbols, it was very easy to get lost. Usually followed by walking way too far.

One puzzle that really surprised me – giving me conflicting emotions – was how one of the minigame pavilions was accessed. The hover tube was broken and I had to ascend to the neighbor pavilion instead, carefully walk on a metal beam and even jump a broken part of it, then traverse the pavilion with way too many tiles dropped to the ground. It was actually not that easy. I fell down several times.

Why conflicting emotions?

I always like a good jump puzzle and it was a refreshing change of pace in this game, but at the same time I thought the difficulty of it was unnecessarily high given how it was also pretty much the only one.

It was like the game expected the player to have completed the entire Tomb Raider series first.

Another problem was that the gap in the beam required me to sprint and jump at the same time. For some reason my keyboard refuses to register the jump button while holding down the shift and forward buttons too. I’ve had this problem in another game not long ago, and just like there I had to temporarily move my mouse hand to the other shift button instead to complete the maneuver. Awkward.

I also got stuck between a railing and a wall and had to restore a save game.

The end game started with Ida breaking down for the umpteenth time, followed by a thunderstorm. Get her some electricity, fast. I grabbed her upper torso and ran toward the amusement dome. Inside the dome the game recommended me to place her vertically in a ruined flowerbed.

What do you assume when you think flowerbed? A field of flowers, right? Made sense to me.

I spent a lot of time running around in the flowerbed boxes just outside the dome looking for somewhere to tie her down, but it was futile. No flowerbed to be found inside the dome either.

After running into the dome for the umpteenth time, I suddenly spotted the big eagle sitting on a structure. Of course, this was the flowerbed the game was talking about. It looked nothing like a flowerbed.

All right, maybe there were a few withered flowers, but come on.

I had to tie Ida’s torso to the structure, open her back, and then plug a live cable into the slot. And believe me when I say live. I got electrocuted half a dozen times before I finally managed to plug it in.

Ida woke up, asked what was going on, the protagonist said he was on top of things, and that was that. A video in the end showed a city with real humans having a good time. What I supposed was my human self sent a text to a scientist with a number that would solve everything.

Abrupt and inadequate ending? Absolutely. It was more than lacking. The stench of no more money this is the end thank you good bye was really foul here.

But apart from the ruthless minigames, the story about the children only experienced through Ida’s dialog, and the few actual locations, there was still a lot to like about the game. The fields were enormous, the inside of the tent and domes looked really amazing (as did the air shuttle) and I liked details such as the eye goggles with real human eyes. And the music was also excellent – when turned up in the options.

In fact, the end video played a real song too. And it wasn’t bad at all.

7/10

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