RELEASE: Prototype, would have been 2007/8
TYPE: Interactive FMV Adventure
HARDWARE: Proprietary Linux-based PC with specialized I/O board, custom designed rotary/knob/spinner control.
ARCADE EXCLUSIVE?: A port for the iPad was recently released.
RATING: Green – Suitable for All Ages
REVIEW: Opinion by Adam “Arcadehero” Pratt
In 2007 not long after I had joined the site as a writer, another writer on the site by the name of MetaFox broke a story about a unique arcade title that was going through a testing phase and was bent on landing in arcades called The Act: An Interactive Comedy. It was kind of like Dragon’s Lair but was going to deliver on the promise of giving players a truly interactive game. We waited some time and then later in the year the bad news came along that the developer Cecropia was canceling the game and giving up on dealing with the arcade market. They listed some kits on eBay, equipment one could use to change another arcade cabinet into this game and after those were sold along with kits given to team members that worked on the game, that was the end of the story as Cecropia closed it’s door. At least until the recent surprise release of the game to the popular iPad tablet.
What exactly happened with The Act isn’t entirely clear but I do know that it was tested out in a bowling lane in Massachusetts, that they had approached Raw Thrills with the concept where they made suggestions of their own to modify the game with a scoring feature and a couple of other things (which were not incorporated into the game) and that Betson had been involved in assisting the test. There certainly can be more to it than that but at the end of the day, the game did not test at a level that reached desired earnings and without changes, it ended up in the prototype heap.
Being one of the lucky few that got my hands on a kit and placing it in my arcade that I opened in 2008, I’ve had plenty of experience not just playing the game myself but also in watching others take a crack at it. Like the location tests, it has never been a strong earning game, usually it’s in the bottom earners each year which is unfortunate. Naturally it has had very little marketing behind it to get people to know about it since the company closed its door. Only recently has interest bloomed because of the iPad version. But I have noticed something else in observing players over time – that many people aren’t sure what to do with it until one person works up the courage to play. When that happens, they usually enjoy it a great deal and despite it being a single player game, it attracts groups of watchers moreso than many other games. Often a player that does well at the game will draw some play to it afterwards. I have also noticed that once someone gets the game, many are drawn into enough that they will spend their time and money to get to the end, which you do not see in many games these days. But overall instances of repeat players has been uncommon (I wouldn’t say rare as there are a few) especially for players frustrated by the Heimlich Manuver scene (which is harder than the last scene IMO) . It has not helped that the original spinner device fried somehow, as have subsequent USB spinners I have put into the game. Fortunately a trackball works but the game was made for a knob and it would be much better if they would not fry all of the time. The trackball also makes the HM scene even harder, although not impossible.
(Tip for the Heimlich part – It involves swaying the controller back and forth to sort of mimick that motion as best a spinner can do it. What I noticed is that there seems to be a small zone that if you just go back and forth in that spot, you can win the scene fairly quickly)
That stuff out of the way, let’s look at the game itself. There is nothing like it at the arcade these days. Dragon’s Lair is often mentioned with it since they are along similar lines but instead of pushing the direction you need to go at the right time, the game is more dynamic than that. The knob allows for variation but each scene will be different in how that works. Often audio cues help you figure out if you are doing something right or wrong and if you screw up completely, often the game will give you a hint of what to do and you have a “life” to try again.
The game tells a simple story of a window washer named Edgar, and you delve into his problems in trying to woo a beautiful nurse to preventing an accident from happening to your careless brother. The game presents its story without any voice acting and will have to watch that story unfold for a little bit before giving you the chance to take control. Almost every scene is different in what turning the knob clockwise or counter-clockwise does, which can be seen as adding replay value to a machine for exploring what it is about although on the downside for casual players is we are trained to think that controls do one thing and one thing only. Having the game change that from scene to scene is not the most common thing to find in video games. For someone like myself I enjoyed exploring that through the game and it seems that most players do as well, although it means going through some extra credits to get there.
What also helps is that as the title implies, the game is funny. In a world dominated by many serious dystopian games, it’s another place where you have a nice change of pace. Few single player games illicit laughs at the arcade but this one manages it almost every time. Even though text is minimal (just for hints) and there is no voice acting, the fluid artwork and the music combine perfectly to convey the emotion of each scene and ultimately it’s quite enjoyable. Like the FMV adventure game from the 90s, Braindead 13 (which was not an arcade release, just consoles), a lot of the fun and replay value for myself comes from screwing up just to see what happens. Players will do that a lot in the first scene, which does a great job at teaching you the basic concept behind the game.
My favorite scenes would have to be the comical sequence where you are running through the hospital followed by the first scene where you are dreaming of Casablanca. At the end of the day it’s a real shame that it went unreleased to arcades but at least now many people can enjoy it through the iPad. If you ever want to experience the arcade version of it then you will need to either come to my area of Utah or Miami, FL to visit Arcade Odyssey as they have one as well.
Perhaps it’s because I’m old enough to be Old-School but the had drawn 2D artwork is perfect. They had ex-Disney animators work on this and their talent shows. The sequence while running through the hospital is a mix of cel-shaded 3D and 2D objects and looks really good. The game is also quite colorful and looks good on either CRT or LCD monitors.
the soundtrack consists of a jazz mix set to each scene. Like the graphics, the sound changes on the fly depending upon the situation, becoming more dramatic or more silly as needed. The sound effects are minimal, serving to help you know if you are going too far or too little in a scene. There is no voice acting but the way they designed this doesn’t detract from the emotional impact that they were trying to convey. Like with a well-mixed film, it works.
Knob or spinner controllers are a rarity these days, having gone the way of the yoke controller. The original knob for this works great but the problem is that it fails easily – I am not the only person with a kit that has had to come up with an alternative and so far only a trackball (which the game was certainly not designed for) is the only solution I can discover that does not fail. If someone comes up with a good solution then I would love to know about it as a working knob enhances the experience.
Only a couple of so dedicated cabinets of this exist and it used a very non-standard, modern art type of design with an LCD monitor(pictured at the top of this post). I would have rather nabbed one of those but such was not my luck. Otherwise you will only find this kitted out in a variety of pre-existing cabinets. The artwork supplied with the kit was really nice though.
Most games at the arcade these days need a multiplayer angle to enhance the enjoyment players get out of them, through competition or co-operative play. The Act does not have that but it still manages to draw crowds around the game for the infrequent occasion one of the friends in a group wants to take a twist at it. It is a fun game to watch and while I don’t play it often after four years, it’s still amusing to watch people getting a kick out of the game for the first time. It was designed to tell a funny story and it succeeded at that.
As this is a prototype the chances of people coming across the arcade version are very slim, aside from the two places I mentioned above, the only other event I have heard of this showing up at is California Extreme. If you see it, give it a spin as it’s worth it. I have not played the iPad version but if the arcade one has a working spinner, then I imagine that the spinner is still a superior way to control it. We’ll never know if the game could have been a bigger success had it been released as is or if it would have had changes made to it to bring it more in line with your typical arcade game but it crosses your mind as a possible game to show up on something like TouchFX now.
Here is a video review I did of the game a few years ago.