Exploring the 'Best Games': All Roads, by Jon Ingold

This game was the first to win both IFCOMP and the XYZZY Best Game award in the same year. It follows Being Andrew Plotkin in being a linear, story-driven game, a departure from earlier Best Games. It faced competition from Emily Short’s two conversation games Best of Three and Pythons Maske as well as J. Robinson Wheeler’s epic time travel game First Things First.

Let’s see what it brings to the table.

==Leading the player through PC motivation==

All Roads is a game on rails, but it’s subtle in its pushing. In every scene but one (the bird puzzle), you are held by the hand and given hints on what to do next. A third of the game is spent in captivity, where you can’t do anything but look or talk. Another large chunk is spent in front of NPCS who are waiting for you to talk. At several key points, the game says things like ‘you feel the urge to GO’.

Most people dislike railroady games; Rameses received negative reviews when it came out some time earlier. However, All Roads is more successful because it encourages you to identify with the PC, and it always motivates the next step in-game. You do the right thing because that’s what the PC would do.

This allows for intense action scenes, betrayals, escapes, confrontations, etc. that would be difficult to depict in a more open game. However, another reason this works is the game’s:

==Depth==

How can a linear game have depth? Try fighting the flow of the game. Don’t go in the shadows when it tells you to. Enter rooms multiple times. Talk more than you should, drop items when you shouldn’t and the game’s complexity will become apparent. All sorts of actions have been foreseen, from dropping the note when being led by the captain, to attacking your sleeping companion, to talking to Giuseppe after you are supposed to leave the palace.

Also, the game includes some clever coding tricks like recording your actions the first time through the palace and then replaying them.

==An intricate, cinematic story==

All Roads is a story-based game, and uses techniques from cinema, like a disjointed narrative, a confused protagonist that pieces together the plot one step behind the audience, revisiting scenes from multiple perspectives. The scenes are exciting and described quite like a movie as well, like the opening scene with a clock hand that looks like a sword slowly ticking to your doom and a crowd that is just a collection of blurs.

==Setting==

The game is set in a sort of Renaissance or medieval Italy, with large cathedrals, immense plazas, rich palaces, etc. The characters draw on classic tropes, like a priest, a medieval ruler, a prostitute, a revolutionary, the captain of the guard. Items are iconic: a wine bottle, a signet ring, a pen. Everything in the game builds on the background and setting.

==Conclusion==

All Roads seems at first to stand in stark contrast to earlier winners like So Far, being completely different in linearity and puzzle style (although both involve entering shadows). However, all the Best Games so far have the feeling of a big world, a real world that has more outside of what the game shows. The sort of games you could write fan fiction of. To me, this seems to be achieved by creating compelling characters, a memorable setting, and a depth of implementation to give the illusion of freedom. However, opinions may differ.