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Smokescreen Day#2: Wayda minute, am I supposta be learnin’ somethin’?

The second mission of Smokescreen gets me into the head of a new character, and begins to lay out a deeper narrative. There’s a lot more voice acting and a different set of puzzles. There’s good and bad, but the most interesting thing is that Smokescreen has a secret. It’s supposed to be good for you and all (shh…) serious, and is doing it is a subtle and I think effective way. Spoilers within.

So Mission Two puts me in the role of Cal. It’s a switch from the previous mission, and it’s a little narrative breaking. One good thing is that there’s voiceover now, and the guy playing Cal is pretty solid.  It begins just as Cal has woken up from his coma, and he’s getting his first chance to check his email. He has memory loss, kind of a cliche, but it’s working here. Lots of questions about two characters who appear a lot: Max and Jo. In attempt to follow them, Cal goes to his profile page.

Interesting moment here. When Cal arrives on his profile page, he notices a news item about some person being acquired by some group. The details went right over my head. It occurs to me about a minute later that it’s a soccer reference. That’s an American for you — I didn’t even realize it was a soccer reference when I heard it.

Cal suggests that we look around at the links for something important, and somewhat random clicking takes me to a site for the Glastonbury Festival. This introduces the core mechanic of this episode. There are a bunch of spots on the screen, in this case on a map of the Festival. Clicking on a spot launches a window with an image, and a voiceover from Cal describing what he remembers. The game is that you have to click around the locations trying to jog Cal’s memory.

In this part, the images are interesting, especially as someone who doesn’t know the Festival, and Cal’s narrative is engaging enough to keep me looking. It’s largely about Cal figuring out that Max was a good friend of his. The only annoying thing is that you have to reclick on areas you’ve already seen as Cal learns more in order to unlock new memories at old places. The annoying part is that Cal repeats his voiceovers every time you click a location. It’s not obvious at all at first which locations will trigger memories, so you hear a lot of voiceovers a few times. Eventually the clues become clear, and I start moving more intelligently. I figure out the day at Glastonbury, which teaches me that Max moved away, and that we started WhiteSmoke together.

Then there’s an abrupt jump to this more abstract screen with a different set of dots. Cal mentions that he’s got to get his memories straight. You play another version of the game you played on the Festival map, but now once you’ve seen all the locations once, you have to link them chronologically to give Cal his memory back.  It’s an okay game, but again, I would like it to be more challenging. It’s pretty obvious how things connect, and again hearing repeated voiceovers is not fun. You learn interesting stories though — that Cal and Max played a prank on their school getting everyone to stay home for the (fake) holiday of the new pope’s announcement, and then forming WhiteSmoke when Max moved so that they could stay in touch. I have to admit that the game mechanic was a good way to drill the narrative home.

There’s another abrupt transition and I’m back on Cal’s profile page. More random clicking lands me on the boyinacoma blog. Here I learn that Jo was the person writing the blog and doing podcasts next to Cal’s comatose body. I find this out by listening on one of the podcasts; there were more, and I wanted to hear them, but the narrative pulls me away before I can do it. Anyway, Cal is livid that this Jo person was stalking and using him, and vows to confront her.

The next thing is an IM between Jo, Max, Cal, Billy, and me as the User once more. I totally did not get that transition, and assumed I was Cal until I had to input a new piece of text in the method of the previous mission. I’m not sure I’m happy about the change — I liked being Cal. Anyway, there’s no choice in this scene. I just read it and occasionally am forced to interject to connect.  Cal accuse Jo of stalking and confronts Max about not being in touch. They both defend themselves, Max giving excuses about being busy, and Jo promising to stop the podcasts. Cal is not satisfied — he wants the whole boyinacoma site taken down. Max says that’s impossible because it’s archived on the internet, and tells Cal that he can’t take it down himself, because Cal’s admin status was taken away while he was in the coma.  Jo again promises to stop the podcasts, but Cal signs off with a threat. Max and Jo talk about how Cal’s not chill anymore, and that’s the mission end.

I got all but one achievement, but I think only one of them was an optional one and one was for playing without hints. The rest were all just for doing what I had to. The most interesting thing in the session was the end conversation. It’s a really interesting discussion about the dangers of putting things on the internet, and how hard it is to remove stuff that’s posted.  I thought it was cool that the game was really exploring that topic in its narrative.

But  once the mission was over, I went back to the main site and glanced at the Extras. Surprise, surprise, they were lessons about the internet! I get it now — this is a Serious game! It’s designed to teach teens about the risks of being online, but does it subtly by integrating it in the narrative. Hats off to Sixtostart for this one. I already picked up two morals without realizing that I was supposed to. That’s good serious game design.  I do hope the game gets more challenging, but the design is definitely solid.

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  1. Tweets that mention Smokescreen Day#2: Wayda minute, am I supposta be learnin’ somethin’? – Critical Smack! -- linked to this post on October 1, 2009

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bonnie Shaw. Bonnie Shaw said: RT @sixtostart @nickfortugno at Critical Smack reviews day 2 of Smokescreen: (day 1 here: […]

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