Genre: Mystery Adventure
Release Date: March 2008
Note: Originally published March 15, 2008
Diamonds in the Rough opens with an intriguing, surreal mystery where you play the role of Jason Hart. Jason has recently elected to cut off all ties with his family and friends to work in a small suburban town for an organization that recognizes and wishes to utilize his “special ability”- the ability to always know the correct choice when they are presented to him. This organization is the eponymous Diamonds in the Rough. The storyline, from the get-go, has an ominous quality and the player knows the ending is unlikely to be similar to the tepid television entertainment from Buena Vista International or Hallmark.
Diamonds in the Rough comes from Atropos Studios (“nothing adventured, nothing gained” is their motto - very clever!), the developer of the popular freeware title, Other Worlds. This time, Alkis Polyrakis has ventured into the commercial game arena. Has he succeeded in developing a game that is worth playing and worth buying using the AGS engine? The answer is a resounding “YES!” for Diamonds in the Rough is a high quality inventory and conversation driven adventure.
The game features a very traditional point-and-click interface. Anyone familiar with “classic” point-and-click games will favourably recall the Dark Seed games and Harvester partially because of male protagonists that frankly walk as though they have a permanent wedgie, but mostly because of the small-town suburbia surrealism of the storyline. Clicking on items to look at them elicits a lot of description, something that has been absent in recent adventures in favour of briefer spoken descriptions. There is never too much description, however. Descriptions are easy to read and add to the experience.
The interface is easy to use. Left-click is for action, whereas right-click cycles through the possibilities of speaking, using etc. Prepare to use your right button…a lot. I personally prefer to look at an item, and then try to do something with it. In this game I was tempted to look at everything first just because of the hassle to cycle through all actions. Before I receive nasty emails about this, there are keyboard shortcuts that allow you to bypass this problem. I’m not a big fan of keyboard shortcuts and I would have preferred if there had been a way of not having to cycle through all the choices. But this is perhaps the worst thing I can say about this game. I wasn’t a big fan of the “user bar” across the top of the screen, where “S” stands for “save” etc. In one instance I accidentally clicked on “L,” clicked on one of my saved games thinking I’d be saving over the top of it and lost my progress. I realize this was my mistake and most people probably won’t mind it but I’m biased toward the “press ‘escape’ to get to the menu,” which is usually the norm. By the way, for those of you who like lots of save slots, you got ‘em! I keep my saves to a handful so this was far more than I needed.
The backgrounds are lovingly crafted in old-fashioned 2D. No 3D to upset puritans here! The 2D rendering will likely bring a lump to the throat of a seasoned adventure gamer, recalling the classic era of the mid-1990s.
The music, composed by Nikolas Sideris, is highly professional and polished. It adds a mood to the game that is perfect for the storyline. Checking out Mr. Sideris’ website, it is apparent that he is a man of no small talent and is experienced with scoring adventure games. Sound effects add to the soundscape. They are recorded at an appropriate volume that never obscures the dialog or is drowned out by the music. Whenever an important tidbit of information, inventory item, or thought is revealed, it is accompanied by a bell indicating that something significant has been found. Yep, this game has everything! Did I mention it has a scoring system too? How long since we’ve seen a game with the traditional scoring method? Incidentally, the game score is out of 400, although I’m pretty sure that there aren’t “bonus” points and all players successfully completing the game will get 400/400.
The voice acting is above-average for adventure games. One female character sounded as though she had English as a second language (I’m told she’s French Canadian) but most characters spoke very clearly and with natural inflection. Subtitles closely matched what was said and were surprisingly free of spelling errors. Alkis is to be commended for the quality of the English voice-acting, especially as he is based in Greece. One thing that lessened the immersion in the game was the extraneous movement of the characters’ mouths, particularly Jason’s - if our mouths moved as much as these characters, we’d all have dislocated jaws at the end of the day! Perhaps less movement might have still achieved the result (I know that there have been complaints when there has been no mouth movement in games too - designers must think adventure gamers a fickle bunch!).
The most-original thing about this game is the use of thinking. In this game, whenever Jason has a novel thought, it is jotted down on a post-it note in the interface. These post-it notes can be combined to solve problems and used with people as a means of a means of communication. What an amazing idea! In other words, Jason has actions he performs, he has inventory items he can use, and uses thoughts as well. This gives an amazingly high number of possibilities to what Jason can do in any given situation. Alkis himself compares this to having “another inventory”. This adds to the challenge of the adventure game without throwing in puzzles that don’t make sense (yes, I’m talking about you, long-time commercial adventure game developers!).
One more thing: in the tradition of games of days long past, Diamonds in the Rough has copy protection built in. HANG ON TO THE LETTER THAT ACCOMPANIES THE GAME as it is needed early to access a password that allows access into the Diamonds in the Rough headquarters. It’s quite a clever way of ensuring the game is paid for but still allows a player to get a good feel for the game without being able to complete it. On the subject of paperwork accompanying the game, there is a highly detailed manual that is installed with the game - it contains everything a newbie would need to get started in the game. Experienced players are recommended to read it also to get an understanding of how thoughts are used in the game.
Probably the most important aspect of this game is the theme. Because there is a quite unexpected reveal at the end of the game. I will not reveal the theme. All I will say is that this game will challenge you and some people might not like it for this reason. The ending is not the clichéd typical one that adventure games or even movies in the Western World have so I can happily give the ending full marks. This is usually the area that lets down a game. Be sure to read the epilogue written by Alkis himself. He comments about the ideas behind the game and the research he conducted to create a feasible game world. In my opinion, not only is this game worth PAYING for and playing, this is a game with social commentary that makes it arguably the most important adventure game I have encountered. Like Jonas Kyratzes’ games, Diamonds in the Rough will make you think and then think some more. Bravo, Alkis!
The game is available from Atropos Studios. While playing the game, I contacted Alkis for some assistance. As is often the case with independent developers, this game is a labor of love for which he is only too happy to provide support (again, are you taking notice, commercial adventure game developers?). By the way, Alkis also has his own website (where you can download Other Worlds) that has a number of interesting game-related things including a very funny interview that outlines his opinion about using walkthroughs!
This game is great and thoroughly deserves an A. There is a little room for improvement in Alkis’ and Atropos Studios’ future ventures, but this is a solid game that can readily compete with the “big boys” of commercial adventures. I look forward to Atropos’ future projects.
Final Grade: A
Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/Vista with DirectX 5 or later
Pentium IV 1GHz CPU or equivalent
64 MB DirectX-compatible graphics card
128 MB RAM
360MB of free space