The first thing you notice when looking at The Book of Unwritten Tales are the excellent visuals. The scenes are packed with details and in a style that makes you wonder if you’re dealing with cartoony 3D models or hand-drawn backgrounds. And as it turns out, the developer is using both of these techniques, meshing them so skillfully that the transitions are practically indiscernable.
The way characters and other real-time rendered objects integrate into the environment is stunning as well. We could already see everything coming together very nicely thanks to realistic lighting, edge-smoothing, and presumably various other tricks. The developers aren’t holding back on the lovingly made animations either. This will definitely be a feast for the eyes.
But what’s it even about? The story doesn’t sound all that exciting at first glance. In a fantasy world ravaged by war, an elderly gremlin guards an artifact that can decide the fate of the world; an army of darkness trys to snatch it and crosses paths with three heroes, who stumbled into the adventure by accident earlier. Pretty unoriginal? Wait and see.
By the time you find out that the artifact guardian is named Mortimer MacGuffin, it should have become clear that the story itself is not what the game is really all about. The Book of Unwritten Tales is designed to be a parody taking place in the world of adventure, RPG and fantasy. If The Lord of The Rings, Indiana Jones or World of Warcraft mean anything to you, you will immediately appreciate the rich game world, with references, allusions, gags and self-irony lurking around every corner. Still, our impression is that the game manages to achieve a witty style of its own, not just one defined by its references to other works.
One scene we saw in Leipzig shows just how zany things get. At some point the gnome Wilbur Wetterquarz has to become a ghost to solve a puzzle. To do that he’d have to die first, but — and therein lies the rub — that’s just not possible in a well-written adventure game. [small spoiler alert:] Just the same, he seeks out the Grim Reaper, who’s sitting in a corner bemoaning his unemployed state. The Book of the Dead in his room is completely empty. Through some trickery, Wilbur manages to put his name in the book, which considerably lifts Death’s spirits and makes him lay a hand on Wilbur. A funny cutscene follows, showing him tipping over lifelessly while his executioner settles down in his chair, puts up his bony legs and plush slippers and proceeds to slide a cigarette between his bony jaws in a distinguished manner. Afterwards, Wilbur can make his way through the visually reimagined environment as a ghost.
The presentation didn’t tell us much about the puzzles, but with over 200 items it looks like we can at least expect a plethora of inventory-related ones. One neat feature is that if the player character has been standing around for a while he will turn his head to look at hotspots needed to solve the next puzzle. There can certainly be more than one of those at a time, as The Book of Unwritten Tales isn’t completely linear; there are usually several problems the player can work on. Over the course of the game, the paths of the three heroes, namely Wilbur the gnome, Ivo the elf and Nathaniel the human, will cross, so that we can expect cooperative puzzles in the later chapters. The same puzzle can also work out quite differently depending on the selected character.
The developers have gotten the technical stuff right as well. The 3D characters have very expressive gestures and facial animations rather than just being crude dolls. KING Art is promising resolutions of every type up to 1920×1200 widescreen, zoom effects, a particle system, large-scale animations in 2D and 3D, and various light and shading effects.
The game with perhaps the most convincing presentation of the entire conference, The Book of Unwritten Tales is our surprise hit of the GC. The developers clearly love the genre and are right at home in Wilbur & Co’s world. And of course it helps that this is a pet project they’ve been thinking about for years, rather than some publisher-commissioned assignment.
Everything we got to see at the GC indicates an all around success. The game looks very good and is truly funny (at least for those who can appreciate the [German] teaser). All that’s left is for things to be smoothed out and by early 2009 – they’re aiming for a first quarter release in Germany – we can expect a real adventure gem.