So far, I've played what I would call the prologue of Wadjet Eye's Gemini Rue [$4.99]: I've experimented with the game's various mechanics and met the major players of its cyberpunk detective plot. What interests me most so far, though, is how writer and designer Joshua Nuernberger teaches players about the game's world and rules.
I've run into three different ways that he does this: the main character's internal monologue, on-screen text boxes, and a series of clinical testing chambers.
Gemini Rue follows two different characters, alternating freely between their storylines: a cop named Azriel Odin and an amnesiac named Delta-Six, who is trying to escape some sort prison. Both of these men interact with their respective environments with a handful of basic verbs: look, speak, touch, and kick. One of the first people Azriel meets when he lands on the planet Barracus, for example, is a street vendor. If you try to make Azriel kick him, he'll explain that this is a bad idea.
This explanation happens in Azriel's head, of course, but it's really the game's way of telling the player that a particular item+verb combination is impossible. It keeps Nuernberger from having to program and animate every single thing the player might try, and it reinforces the connection between the player and Azriel: we can read his thoughts. Being able to get in Azriel's head keeps Gemini Rue from resorting to text boxes, tool tips, or hints to convey information while players solve puzzles and investigate Barracus.
That all changes when Azriel uses his cellphone or a computer to find information, though. In those situations, Gemini Rue is full of tutorial information and pop-up text boxes full of mundane information about what each screen does, or how to copy names and addresses that might help in Azriel's investigation. It's vital for players to know how the game works, of course, but the computer sections are bothersome. The rub is that boring tutorials and clumsy user interfaces are pretty common on phones and computers (and, sadly, a lot of games).
This kind of straightforward communication would ruin our engagement with the game if it happened while exploring the rain-swept, pixelated streets of Barracus, but it makes perfect sense that Azriel's cyberpunk dystopian cell phone might have a dumpy user interface. Neurenberger's design fleshes out the world of Gemini Rue while also teaching players how its component parts work.
The last big teaching moment in the early parts of Gemini Rue happen when the player is in control of Delta-Six, the prisoner who's lost his memory. Gemini Rue features some light cover-based shooting, and Nuerenberger uses the Delta-Six character to teach the player how it works. Delta-Six has just had his memory wiped by some mysterious government officials and is trapped in a social rehabilitation prison, where he must score highly in a battery of tests before he can be released. Shooting is one of those tests, and giving players a step-by-step tutorial makes sense in the context of the story.
On the other hand, Azriel is a cop (and an ex-gangster), so he would already know how to use a gun -- writing a tutorial for his character wouldn't work as well. Teaching players how the shooting works in Delta-Six' testing chamber leverages the strength of the sci-fi setting and the plot's structur.e
What I like most about all of these examples is that Nuerenberger goes out of his way to integrate the most awkward parts of the game -- learning the basic functionality -- as seamlessly as possible into the story and the gameworld. He's obviously got an eye for how the adventure genre works and a knack for writing plot beats that can accomodate it. The first few hours of Gemini Rue suggest a game that takes the fusion of its story and gameplay seriously, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.
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