August 21st, 2009

Or is it?There was a time when it was acceptable for a game’s sprites and animations to be crude, its fonts illegible, and its puzzles and plot absurd. That was the best anyone could do at the time, and now these games are looked back on as charming, but also as products of a bygone era: something lost in the wake of big budgets, polygons, and bump-mapping. Enter: Zombie Cow Studios with Ben There, Dan That!, a free comedic adventure game designed in the classic Lucas Arts style that gamers have grown to miss.

The British stars of Ben There, Dan That! are its own creators, Ben Ward and Dan Marshall. In the real world, Dan handles the coding, the art, and co-writes along with Ben. Within the game, Ben does almost all the heavy lifting while Dan keeps him company, offers funny asides, and stands by for when such erudite tasks as flipping light switches need managing. The latter of which, admittedly, is infrequent; in this particular adventure, Ben and Dan visit a number of parallel realities, most of which are well-lit. What these realities lack in their demand for light fixture manipulation, they make up for in such anomalies as an ever-displaced London skyline, soccer hooligans, zombies, and tolerance for wanton murder.

It usually bothers me when a game breaks the fourth wall, but in Ben There, Dan That! it delights me. Ben and Dan use self-aware self-referential dialogue to carry their game’s plot, to make callbacks to their influences, and to inject some levity into what would otherwise be some truly grim situations. They break the fourth wall with vigor, as a device. They do this all for free; they’re good guys. Good guys deserve compensation, so consider donating some money if you download, play, and enjoy their game.

[Update 8/25/09: Ben There, Dan That! is now available on Steam as a bundle with its sequel Time Gentlemen, Please! for $4.99. This is about what it costs to purchase TGP from Zombie Cow’s website (after GBP-to-USD conversion), so BTDT is still free.]

Why, yes. BRB. Relatively speaking. I see what you di-

  1. I’ve started playing this. So far I’m way too annoyed by the illegible font. Hah. It’s mostly because it’s so aliased. The slow running was wacky at first, but I can see it getting on my nerves. The writing is fun, though, so I can’t wait for the thought to plicken.

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