Imagine waking up one evening with no recollection of who you are, only to find that you've just clawed your way out of a grave and have an insatiable hunger for human flesh. So goes the story of the undead remains of Doug Upton, a reluctant zombie, and the subject of John Green's promising new adventure game Nearly Departed. A whimsical dark comedy (if indeed such a thing is possible), Green's creation looks to challenge some of the big names in the genre. Despite its homebrew roots, it captures the spirit of the early-90s classics better than perhaps any game in recent years.
Yet the homage to the Lucas Era was almost not to be. By day John is a graphic artist, producing comics for Disney Adventures, as well as his own independent projects. "I get an idea for a comic book practically every other day," he says, "and I write them onto little post-it notes and scatter them all over my apartment." This was precisely how the idea for the undead adventure began. But comics and adventure games are not entirely unlike media (something Sam and Max creator Steve Purcell has long since proven; his comics became one of the iconic classics of the genre). "Comics and traditional adventure games I think have a lot in common with each other," Green explains. Both are visual storytelling media that require an investment of the imagination of the viewer or reader. "Sure, [comic readers] don't control the actual actions of the character the way one does in a point-and-click adventure, but they have more control over a comic than they do over watching a movie. As a fan of comics, and a fan of adventure games, turning an idea for a comic into an adventure game just made sense."
Green had cut his teeth designing games on the Commodore 64, but since his work has him bound to the Macintosh, he found himself discouraged from developing any games. "Sometime last year I had gotten a chance to play some of the classic LucasArts games I'd never gotten around to," John recalls, "and that pretty much sparked my interest in making a game of that style again. Fortunately, I came across a mostly Flash-based engine, LASSIE, which was designed specifically to make games in the vein of Curse of Monkey Island, and its cross-platform compatibility made it perfect."
"When I got it in my head to make an adventure game, this one just seemed most appropriate," says Green. "It just fits the mold." Indeed, Nearly Departed does not seek to reinvent the wheel. Some might find it refreshing that as other developers seek to streamline the puzzles and interaction, this title makes few compromises, with selectable verbs and some clever inventory puzzles that are both challenging and logical. "You want there to be a reason for every puzzle," Green notes, "just like there's a reason for every action a character makes in a movie or every plot twist the audience has to digest. Without that, the player's suspension of disbelief crumbles and they no longer want to play the game, they just want to know how it ends."