Thursday, January 22, 2009

Grimm Tidings

For some unfathomable reason, I have never talked about American McGee's Grimm here. I can't imagine why, it's a quirky episodic game about fairy tales and fables. I was very excited about it when it first came out. The reason I bring this up, is that Gamasutra has a postmortem on Grimm, which is rather insightful.

You can read that here.

If you've never heard of Grimm, then let me elucidate you...

Created by American McGee for GameTap, Grimm is a weekly episodic game about turning happy-go-lucky fairy tales back to their dirtier and shadier roots. You play as Grimm, a disgusting dwarf-like person who delights in misery and darkness. Each episode relates a single fable, which starts bright and, thanks to Grimm, ends rather dark.

It has a few very interesting developmental points to consider (especially if you read the postmortem). It is episodic, and on one of the tightest schedules I've heard of: 1.5 years from concept to first episode, and then 10 months during the release schedule (23 episodes in total). It was developed in China (by American's company Spicy Horse) using a lot of outsourced design work. It is casual, each episode taking 30-60 minutes to play. And it has been (initially) distributed by GameTap, and new episodes were (and will be) free to play on the Thursday they were (are) released.

The game itself is a Katamari-esque platformer. Grimm runs around the cotton candy countryside besmirching anything that is unfortunate enough to get within his aura-of-filth. The more stuff he fouls the larger Grimm's aura grows, the faster he gets, and the further he jumps. His ability to contaminate larger objects and even the inhabitants of the world also expands.

Each story is divided into several chapters, usually following the hero/heroine on their journey, destroying their upbeat outlook as you progress. Each area is fairly small, and lasts only a few minutes. In each level you must reach a certain level of disgusting to progress. Once you obtain your foulness level, the story or area progresses by transforming a particula object (or objects).

As far as gameplay goes, it's simple mayhem-inducing fun. However, as a story-telling tool it lacks substance. Each episode starts with a puppet show where Grimm relates the pleasant version of the fictional events, expressing his displeasure with the tooth-rottening sweetness of it all. Then each of the scenes is played, revealing the grimmer, "true nature" of the tale, as seen by Grimm. Finally, the game returns to the puppet show, now dark, to tell a grimmer recounting of events. All of this is fine, as it serves to show both sides of each fable. However, certain themes crop up, repeatedly, that offer little variation.

The good versions are always filled with innocence, naivety, sweetness, and luck. The dark are overflowing with corruption, selfishness, anger, retribution, deciet, and death. There is no middle ground and nothing can be done to shape the story, other than to transform it as Grimm sees fit. Grimm truly sees the world as a dark place, with little good in it other than what is good for him. Sotries are told, and changed, just not by you the player. Grimm always gets his way, in the end.

If you get a chance, I'd recommend playing an episode or two. Volumes 1 and 2 are out now, and Volume 3 is coming soon. The very first episode (A Boy Learns What Fear Is) can be played for free any time, the ohers require a GameTap Gold subscription.

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