The Feeble Files

Title           The Feeble Files
Game Type	Adventure
Players		1
Compatibility	68060 or PPC accelerator, 32 MB RAM, 4Mb gfx card, 600 MB
                HD space, AHI, AmigaOS 3.x
HD Installable  Yes (Compulsory)
Company		AdventureSoft/Epic Interactive
Submission      Seppo Typpö ( Profiled Reviewer

It must be very hard to produce a good adventure game. I mean one that has
a flexible yet simple user interface, a good plot with good characters,
great graphics and sound and a difficulty level which is challenging
without being frustrating.

Take the user interface for example. First there were the text parsers
which allowed the players to interact with the game world by typing words
into the cursor line. GET SWORD made the character grab the weapon from
the wall. KILL DRAGON resulted in a WITH WHAT? message. USE SWORD WITH

Then came the icon driven interface, one that lifted companies like
LucasArts above its competitors. This further evolved into a system where
icons were incorporated into the mouse cursor - like in The Feeble Files,
where you can quickly scroll through the available icons by clicking the
right mouse button and selecting the appropriate one with the left button.

There are some basic functions the user interface must observe - like
picking up objects, examining them, combining them with other objects and
using them to solve the puzzle. The best adventure game interfaces are a
joy to use - they use a few icons to cover all these actions, and more -
like interacting with the other characters in the game. The Feeble File's
UI comes close to perfection - it even offers a separate set of icons for
different characters the player can control. The only minor niggle comes
from separate 'use' and 'use with' icons - they could have been combined
into one icon without endangering the gameplay.

Good plot and characters are vital for good adventure. The main character
must have a certain amount of personality and charisma, even if he is a
complete loser like the green alien guy in The Feeble Files. The player
must be able to bond with the character in order to fully enjoy the game.
The supporting cast (the computer controlled characters) must also possess
strong personalitites. All this is strenghtened with good voice acting
(also present, amongst other things, in our example, The Feeble Files).

The plot must be more than just the bridge from puzzle to puzzle -
unfortunately many games fall into this trap after a promising start. For
example in The Feeble Files, the story starts off with plenty of witty
dialogue and hilarious scenes filled with humour but as the game goes on
the puzzles steal the main part and the story fades into more traditional
run-of-the-mill fare.

What's more, sometimes the puzzles don't even support the actual plot
anymore - turning the game into a simple intelligence (or finger
dexterity) test. This is visible in The Feeble Files too - some of its
puzzles are not only illogical, but also totally out of context. In one
part of the game the player is forced to play some simple puzzle games in
order to collect enough money so that he (or she ) can proceed. Not only
is this a painfully slow operation (thanks to the random nature and high
difficulty level of some of the puzzles) but it is also not something I
expect a good adventure game to contain.

Puzzles are probably the hardest part of an adventure game to design. How
to make them hard enough to challenge the majority of players, how to hide
hints into the game without making things too easy, and how to avoid
creating puzzles that are too hard or frustrating to complete?

Let's take The Feeble Files as an example again. It contains various kind
of puzzles - some of them are obvious, some of them need lateral thinking
while some of them are solved only with trial and error (and sometimes,
pure luck). The game is very sparse when it comes to hints - the wrist
computer The Feeble carries can be configured to give information about
the next big goal in the game, but examining the objects and interacting
with other characters does not always provide clear enough hints on how to
achieve that goal. Sometimes the only way to make progress is experiment -
trying to combine various objects and direct them at various 'targets'.
While this ultimately produces results it gives nowhere near as much
satisfaction as solving the puzzle through logical thought.

The graphics and sound are a very important part of modern adventure, too.
The lively 256-color graphics The Feeble Files are crisp and well drawn.
The character animation is fluid and natural. Sound effects are also put
to good use - allthough there is no music there are lots of smart spot
effects and background noises, giving the player a good impression of
'being there'.

Finally, there are things that every good adventure game designer should
avoid. There should be no needless wandering around - the player should be
able to swiftly move between various places (especially if puzzles require
them to travel around a lot). There should also be an option to skip
sequences that are not relevant to the actual plot (like arcade sequences
and in-game movies). Unfortunately The Feeble Files is a good (or rather
bad) example here, too - it forces the player to struggle with things he
would rather avoid and sometimes offer no quick way to move around the map.

Since many modern day adventures are converted from other platforms it is
vital that the transition to Amiga is handled with care. In The Feeble
Files Paul Burkey has done a marvellous job - allthough the PPC (WOS)
version suffers from minor instability problems (at least on my system)
and is sometimes a bit slow on my 160 MHz BPPC.

Overall, The Feeble Files is a prime example of the adventure game which
scores highly in presentation and in the user interface sections but fails
to avoid some of the traditional adventure game design flaws. The humorous
plot and the characters are marred with a mixed bag of puzzles that
sometimes fail to link with the rest of the game. Despite this criticism
The Feeble Files is definitely a good example of its genre, and definitely
one of the better Amiga adventures games I have played.

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