August 8, 2015

Review: Working Man by Ice

Working Man by Ice was released on 3 August 2015. It was made with ADRIFT 5 and is the result of two years of work by its first-time author. So how did it turn out?

Despite the title, the PC actually has a lot of time for living. In fact, the scenes that occur at the PC's workplace are so brief that it's not even clear what his job is. Instead, the majority of the game takes place at the PC's house and focuses on his interactions with his family (wife, daughter, and sister-in-law). On the face of it, the PC's life seems pretty good. He works long hours, but his job doesn't seem stressful and it pays for a nice house. He and his gorgeous younger wife seem to get on well, and have a pretty active sex life given that she works even longer hours than he does. He clearly loves his daughter since he plays along with her games even though he secretly hates them. But despite all that, he's actively on the prowl for extra-curricular activity, and when the opportunity arises he pursues it without a moment's hesitation or guilt.

If you've read any of my other reviews you'll know how much importance I place on motivation, so this was a problem for me. Why does the PC choose to endanger his marriage with what is sometimes very risky behaviour? There's no hint that he's unhappy or unsatisfied. He's not doing it for a bet. He's not possessed by an alien. The only explanation I can come up with is that he's a character in an AIF game and he knows what's expected of him.

He's not the only one either. Despite the PC supposedly being out of shape and having a receding hairline, women throw themselves at him with little to no provocation. The most egregious example is the scene with Tiffany and Crystal. The pretext is that they want the PC to act as a sperm donor, despite the fact that they barely know him and realistically he wouldn't be a great donor due to both his age and his recent sexual activity. Of course, because this is AIF, and despite Crystal and Tiffany being both lesbians and in a committed relationship, they're happy to throw themselves into a threesome (up to and including anal) if the PC decides to make any sort of move.

I’d be happy with that kind of scene in a light-hearted romp, but that's not really the type of game that Working Man is. Tonally, it definitely isn't. The PC's actions have consequences, putting his marriage in genuine jeopardy and potentially leaving him broke and alone at the end of the game. But I get the sense that Working Man can't decide what it really wants to be. This is most obvious with some of the endings. For example, if the PC doesn't have sex with either Stephanie or Sharon, you get an ending where he's blissfully in love with his wife and they live happily ever after. Which is immediately followed by epilogues about all the sex the PC is still having with any of the secondary characters he might have slept with. To make things even more confusing, that happily ever after ending occurs even if the PC knows his wife was cheating on him (and is continuing to do so judging by all the little hints). The implication seems to be that the PC is a fool for not cheating on his wife, since she's cheating on him. Except that he did, just not with any of the characters who actually matter.

This reflects the schizophrenic nature of Working Man. On one side you have the characters like Anna and Maya, who are in the game only to provide the PC with an opportunity to have sex and don’t exist outside of their cut scenes. On the other are the characters the story is actually about, such as Stephanie or Sharon. The player is able to interact with them and they are outfitted with a broad range of conversation responses, which makes them much more lifelike. The development of the PC's relationships with these major characters happens in several stages and requires active intervention from the player, so it’s both believable and involving. Some implausibilities remain, but there is an effort to overcome them. For example, Stephanie has a boyfriend she's apparently crazy about, so it's a little odd that she would want to lose her virginity to the PC. However, her boyfriend is portrayed as being more sexually aggressive than she's comfortable with (he's kind of a douche actually), so the idea that she would choose a 'safer' option for her first time becomes more believable. The fact that this difficulty is acknowledged, rather than simply being ignored, makes it easier to swallow. While I have misgivings about the minor characters, I think that the major characters of Working Man are some of the best NPCs in recent memory.

Unfortunately, the game’s puzzles don’t live up to the same standard, particularly in terms of their believability. For example, the PC is meant to buy some extra time for his dalliance with Stephanie by locking the front door with the spare key that's kept under the doormat. The fact that in this day and age no sane person would use such an obvious hiding place is the least of the problems here. A much bigger issue is that the PC has to use the spare key because he doesn't have a key to his own house. In other words, the believable solution is arbitrarily rejected in order to make it more of a puzzle. As if to emphasise this, the PC's wife *does* have her own key. Moreover, she seems to magically know if the spare key is or isn't under the mat where it's supposed to be. But while she's vitally concerned that the spare key always be in place, she's somehow not worried about the front door being left wide open. So, while the basic idea of the puzzle is fine, the way it's implemented involves implausibility on top of implausibility.

The writing doesn't help matters a great deal either. Room descriptions seldom rise above an inventory of their contents, and object descriptions are even more basic. Important facts, such as the PC apparently having an ongoing affair with his daughter's ballet teacher, are never mentioned (I could be misreading that, but if so Anna's scene becomes even more implausible). The text also has an unfortunate tendency to contradict both the gameworld and itself. For example, the description of Laura's entrance into the house says that she opens the door (even if it's already open) and closes it behind her (which she doesn't). A painting is described as beautiful in the room description, but on closer inspection the PC hates it for unspecified reasons. And so on.

The upshot of all this is that I had difficulty suspending my disbelief for long enough to become truly invested in any of the sex scenes. That's a shame because objectively speaking they're very good. My only real criticism would be that certain actions are repeatable even when it would make no sense (Tiffany losing her anal virginity over and over, for example). That quibble aside, there's a lot to like. The author certainly seems more interested in writing about sex than he was in describing household objects, which translates to greater enjoyment for the reader. There's also much greater use of graphics, which I'm sure most people will appreciate. The character models are generally very good (Maya, Laura, and Tiffany being my personal favourites), although I can't help noting that the PC's six-pack and unruly mop of hair doesn't exactly match his description.

I've seen a lot of comments likening Ice to the second coming of GoblinBoy, which seems to be mainly based on Working Man being a large game with a lot of graphics. That's not to say that it isn't an impressive game, but despite its overall quality it’s still very much a *first* game, with the occasional lack of polish and questionable design decisions that that implies. For example, pretty much every object that could be openable is, even if it never serves any purpose in the game. This means that the player has to waste time opening and searching everything, on the off chance that something important might be concealed. Conversely, some things are left unimplemented, to the detriment of the player's experience. For example, if the PC tries to enter his house without opening the front door first, he will be bluntly told that there's nothing in that direction.


The game that Working Man actually reminds me of is Peril in Pleasantville. Working Man is obviously a *lot* better executed, but both are ambitious first-time games that offer a lot of content and make heavy use of graphics. More importantly, both demonstrate the risks of making such an ambitious project your first game (Pleasantville rather more effectively, it has to be said). Pretty much every problem I had with Working Man is the result of the author's inexperience rather than any lack of effort on his part. If this had been the author's second or third game (or if it had been released ten years ago), I think we’d be talking about it as one of best games of all time. The ambition and dedication is certainly there, as demonstrated by the size of the game and the amount of content concealed within it. Unfortunately, that extra level of quality that only comes with experience is not. Yet. Here’s hoping that Ice doesn’t decide to end his AIF career here.

12 comments:

  1. I agree with you, this is an impressive as first game, and I would love seeing a second and third games from, but comparing with Goblinboy is a bit too much (and even him didn't begin perfect, I still don't know the reason behind the infinite dreams scene in camping trip).
    Naturally only Ice could explain this, but I think that if he began this game anew he would be in a different way several things.

    XXX

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  2. Much like PiP this also feels like an homage to Meteor, except without the supernatural element. Honestly, the supernatural coming in to play would explain why the happily-married PC would choose to fuck every woman he sees and why every woman he meets finds him attractive to the point of them forgoing rational thinking just to jump his bones. Still, though, this is an impressive first effort that even despite it's sizable scope that would cripple most first-time developers, turned out pretty solid. I enjoyed PiP in all of its janky glory, and I enjoyed this one more for toning back that sort of enormous scale and using the many locations as mostly window dressing and a means to unlock a secret scene that bares little impact on the story.

    Also, I don't think it's a sound argument to criticize the game on the Crystal & Tiffany scene since that's only achievable finding five separate needle-in-the-haystack codes peppered throughout the game in locations that few players would even find one or two, let alone all of them. It's basically a non-canon bonus scene, quite literally in fact, and so I don't feel that scene should be used to lambaste the game's writing and logic. Similar to the Dreaming With Elsa secret achievement scene where the PC has an inexplicable threesome with Elsa and the buxom waitress. They're both bonuses for the people that enjoy the sex scenes in the games for the sake of being sex scenes, not points of valid criticism towards the game's story.

    Also to the above Anon, DeusExLibris invoking the name of GoblinBoy is to be expected since GoblinBoy is DEL's sacred cow. Any graphical AIF game will inevitably draw comparisons to GoblinBoy's fantastic games, and while none will likely ever achieve the polish of a GB game, DEL will make it known how far from being on the same level of a GB game the game being reviewed truly is. I really enjoy your reviews, but your bugaboo about GoblinBoy can be quite distracting at times.

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    1. "Also to the above Anon, DeusExLibris invoking the name of GoblinBoy is to be expected since GoblinBoy is DEL's sacred cow"

      It's interesting that you think this, because I actually thought that my 'bugaboo' re GB was the exact opposite: ie, that while he was/is a great author, the worship he receives is overblown and it actually is possible for someone else to rival him.

      "Also, I don't think it's a sound argument to criticize the game on the Crystal & Tiffany scene since that's only achievable finding five separate needle-in-the-haystack codes peppered throughout the game in locations that few players would even find one or two, let alone all of them. It's basically a non-canon bonus scene, quite literally in fact"

      The problem is that it *isn't* non-canon. It's clearly integrated into the actual game, and various of the endings make reference to what happened. If it had been a bonus scene that took place after the game (like the aforementioned DwE scene, which is actually much better set up) I wouldn't have been so bothered by it (and would have used the Maya scene as my example instead).

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  3. I had some of the same issues re: characterization and motivation, but personally I found the discovery elements of the game to be such a breathe of fresh air that I almost didn't care. For games this big, even GoblinBoy games like Meteor or SD3, I usually run through it once and then go searching for a walkthrough, but here I really enjoyed finding all the little breadcrumbs that lead you to different scenes.

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  4. Using my internet faux sherlock skills, I did notice the author sign off one of his comments with "Cheers" which reminded me of Goblinboy or not.

    I did make a few comments about me "not being surprised if this was a secretly a goblinboy game" A see more similarities and it just being a large game with pictures.

    The focus on cheating on a loved on is a theme in a lot of GB games, the bland room descriptions compared to the well written sex scenes, anal being an ultimate goal in sex to name a few.

    and maybe the roughness is a result of using adrift for the first time...

    Yeah, probably not him. But i did get the feeling i was playing a goblinboy game at times, which is super impressive as a new author.

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  5. Not "probably", it isn't GB for certain. GoblinBoy briefly returned, and made a few posts to AIF Central a few months ago. He seems to have vanished into the ether once more, but if he did return there's no reason for him to pick up a different pseudonym.

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    1. Or to switch to Adrift, which few people use anymore.

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    2. Well, it wouldn't be the first time he has gone with a pseudonym to release a game.

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    3. Would he also have completely changed his writing style? Or greatly increased the number of typos he made?

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  6. Maybe it's just me but, the wooden dialogues and descriptions aside, I felt that the sex scenes were... lifeless.

    Granted, comparing it to GoblinBoy doesn't make too much sense when it comes to style, for example, and everybody has their personal preferences, but in all of his games (and many others I've played since) there's been a certain undertone, a level of description and way to treat your actions (and the characters) that made it all really erotic and when infidelity was involved, almost all of the ones I played evoked a feeling of voyeuristic excitement (along with guilt or anger, which speaks volumes about the authors' skill to suspend disbelief).

    With Working Man, I didn't feel that. The pictures were well made but the descriptions just weren't on the same level. Many felt repetetive and boring as soon as I read them. Just to put that into perspective: I still go back to Camping Trip every now and then - I've played that game dozens of times - and I still get kicks out of reading descriptions for actions I've done a hundred times over.

    For a first game, this is absolutely brilliant, both in scale and effort (and since you mentioned it, I liked Working Man better than Peril in Pleasantville, just because of the way mechanics and actions worked). Ice certainly has a lot of potential. I just hope he/she goes the extra mile to see what other authors did better, especially in terms of writing - That's how another GoblinBoy would be born.

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  7. Where did you get the idea the PC is fat a bald you see a photo of him at the stat of the game and he doesn't look fat what so ever you also see him when he read's to his kid

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    1. That was exactly my point. Despite the text stating that he's out of shape and has a receding hairline, he doesn't look like that in any of the pictures.

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