What is it?
Studio Fizbin is a
small German game development studio started by a group of students from
the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, close to Stuttgart in Southern
Germany. Their studies led to a collaborative project which they've now
released internationally as The Inner World. Ooo, the things
students get to do these days; t'were never like this back in my day.
(Imagine the last bit in my native Yorkshire accent, if you can).
Of course, a new group of developers like this don't have much of a
pedigree, so I can't bring up references to their previous work, but
let's give them a go with their opening opus.
Is there a plot?
Imagine a universe that is solid; made of soil from here
to eternity. Now inject into that one single, solitary bubble of open
space. This is The Inner World of Asposia - your home for the
next few days of storytelling. You will take the role of Robert,
hapless, orphaned, court musician to the Abbot Conroy, one of the
leaders of Asposia. Your fall from favour will be spectacular, as will
your eventual rise to greater things. But that won't stop you from being
a bit of a wuss in the mean time.
The problem is that the world of Asposia is supplied with
air through just a few large air fountains, and they have begun to fail.
At the same time, Asposia is being attacked by the Basilians - flying
basilisks that can turn an Asposian to stone just by staring at them.
They look a lot like Chinese dragons to me.
Our 'hero', Robert, has to travel through the civilised
and uncivilised parts of Asposia, dealing with back street traders,
deluded treasure hunters, dis-illusioned monks, exploitative mothers,
convicted fashion designers, a tour guide suffering from a very nasty
dose of split personality disorder, a rebel with tongue so sharp it's a
wonder she hasn't cut herself, and a species of beast so poisonous it
dare not meet another one of its own kind.
How do you play?
The Inner World
is a point and click adventure game with hand drawn
characters on similarly hand-drawn, colourful, multi-layered
backgrounds. As is usual for adventure games of this type, most of the
puzzles revolve around obtaining the key to the next door, or finding
the right 'lever' to make someone to do something for you.
As I've mentioned, the locations are all pre-drawn
cartoon places: the palace (where you begin), the town, the theatre, the
swamp, the ruins, the factory. In fact it's surprising how much story
you can tell with just twenty or so locations. Navigation is simple: if
you click on a spot on the ground, Robert will walk there. There are
hot-spots in all scenes, these show up as you mouse over them. If you
click and hold the mouse anywhere on the screen that is not already a
hot-spot, then all the available hot-spots in the current scene will
show up. If you click and hold the mouse on a hot-spot, you'll
get a small pop-up menu of possible actions: a speech bubble for talking
to people, a hand for interacting with the spot, a cog icon for using
the spot, a magnifying glass for examining the spot, and a door icon if
the location is an exit. No hot-spot ever has more than two icons.
Your inventory will show up at the bottom of the screen -
objects can be examined or used there too. You can drag objects from
your inventory onto hot-spots to use them in the location, or onto one
another to attempt to combine them. Some combined objects can also be
separated again as well, so bear that in mind.
Other buttons around the screen are the menu button in
the top right (a spanner), the hint system (a question mark) in the top
left, and a musical instrument icon in the bottom right.
The spanner menu pauses and brings up the save and load
options, settings and quit options; nothing confusing here. I'll come
back to the hint system later. The only odd icon is the musical
instrument one. I'll not go into any further detail on this because it
would spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that there are one or
two musical puzzles in the game - nothing difficult, and solvable by
trial and error even with the sound off, but easier if you can hear
what's going on. It seems that most game developers have learned from
the mistakes made in earlier games like Schizm where subtle sound
puzzles proved a major stumbling block to players.
The rest of the soundscape of The Inner World is a
simple soundtrack of predominantly piano-like music, with a group of
decent voice artists giving life to the strange range of Asposian people
and creatures. For a game written in German and translated into English,
there are very few clunky translations, and certainly not enough to
affect the story-telling.
The principal feature of The Inner World that I've
not seen in a while is the hint system. At every stage in the story, you
have specific objectives and these are listed under the big question
mark in the top left corner of your screen. If you click on the arrow
button, you will receive graduated help. The help messages start quite
general, but the more you query the system on a particular topic, the
more specific the help becomes until it becomes explicit instructions.
I've not seen a hint system as a carefully implemented since the old
Universal Hints System.
Technically, The Inner World is rock-solid; I had
no issues with the Steam version at all. Of course, being a Steam
version, there are achievements, but unusually for an adventure game,
the achievements include some for trying particularly wrong solutions to
puzzles, and not just 'Complete Chapter 1', 'Complete Chapter 2', etc.
though there are some of those too.
The Inner World
is not a very long game; according to Steam I've completed it in about
six hours, with some guidance from the help system. If you're determined
not to use that, and get the achievement that comes with it, then it
might take a little longer. It is this lack of length in the game that
brings the final grade down from what is otherwise a good piece of
storytelling for adventure gamers.
What do you need to play it?
2.33GHz or higher
x86-compatible processor, or Intel Atom
1.6GHz or higher
for netbook devices
XP, Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista Home Premium, Business,
Ultimate or Enterprise (also 64-Bit) with Service Pack 2, Windows 7
or Windows 8 Classic
2GB RAM (4GB
Intel Core Duo
1.83GHz or higher
Mac OS X v10.6,
v10.7, or v10.8
2GB RAM (4GB
Versions for iOS are in the works, but not yet available
at the time of writing.
(I used a home-built 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium (SP1)
PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+ processor, with 6 GB RAM,
and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card, with on-mother-board,
built-in sound card).