Rejoice: Ron Gilbert has been spending lockdown tuning up a new point-and-click adventure engine he’s been working on, and as part of the exercise he ended up putting together a little coda to Thimbleweed Park. In Delores, you play the title character who, after spending a year away on a career as a point-and-click adventure designer at MMucasFlem, have come back to your home town for a little sabbatical. To keep yourself occupied, you’ve taken on a gentle little job working as a photographer for the Nickel News, the local newspaper.
The Thimbleweed Park Delores has returned to is a lot like the one we recall from the game itself – after all, this tech demo was lashed together from recycled assets from that – but it’s also different from the way the player remembers it, though (at least at first) Delores doesn’t seem to think anything has changed. By the end of the process of playing the game, you’ll come across hints as to what’s going on – as well as a tantalising suggestion that the end of Thimbleweed Park wasn’t quite as absolute as it at first seemed…
Ron Gilbert admits upfront that this game is in no way a product of the sort of polish that an actual, finished commercial product would be, and so has put it out on Steam and the Epic store for free. It has to be said that in terms of the gameplay offered, it’s rather simplistic. Each day you are given five things you need to go photograph. Some of those are pretty easy, some of then likely involve a bit of a puzzle or some lateral thinking. There is no mid-game saves, but five photos is enough for a quick play session. Once you have your five, you had them in and quit the game. When you restart, the town is rest to the state it was at the start of the previous day, and you get a new set of five photos to find. Once you have collected the 30 photographs, you get a little cut scene offering a conclusion to the game from which you can infer some things about what’s happened.
In short, it’s the sort of thing you can fiddle with in a downtime or use to kill time in an empty afternoon – nothing to scream praises about, but nothing to sneeze at when it comes free. The most interesting thing about it seems to be Gilbert’s new point-and-click engine, which seems to be an attempt to combine the virtues of the classic old Monkey Island style “click on a verb and click on a thing and you will do what the sentence at the bottom of the screen says you will do” control system and the more streamlined control systems out there which enable more screen real estate to be used.
Here, when you mouse over something in the world that your character can interact with, a sentence appears describing the most obvious interaction your character thinks of. If you right-click, there may be alternate interactions your character can attempt. You can click-and-drag items from your inventory onto things you want to use them on, in which case a sentence describing the interaction appears, or you can left-click on them to examine them or right-click on them to do other stuff with them.
It’s all fairly elegant and self-explanatory, and the benefit it gives over hyper-compact icon-based systems is that it tells you in a sentence what your character is going to do before they do it, avoiding the situation where a game designer trying to be clever or funny has your character do something you didn’t intended when you use a particular icon on a particular integer in such games. If Ron Gilbert is thinking along these lines seriously enough to develop a new adventure game engine, can a new adventure game from him be all that far away? Let’s hope that’s where things are going. This taster, whilst pleasng in its own small away, has given me an appetite for more.