PAX '07: Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness First Look

[UPDATE] We're there as Canadian developer Hothead Games takes the wraps off of its upcoming Penny Arcade game during a late-night panel; series to appear on Xbox Live Arcade.


You might think that, with an upcoming game featuring a dramatic title like "On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness," Canadian developer Hothead Games would do something eccentric with its first unveiling of the game in motion. Instead, the developer took the old-fashioned route and showed off the title in a panel Friday evening at the Penny Arcade Expo. Hothead Games president Vlad Ceraldi led the panel, which featured lead programmer Cary Breeswalt, lead designer Darren Evenson, producer Joel DeYoung, and legendary developer Ron Gilbert, who is a design consultant on the project with Hothead. The 50-minute panel offered a glimpse at the latest trailer for the game, a live demo of the PC game, and a question-and-answer session with the assembled media.

The new trailer featured a montage of 2D and 3D art taken from the game. Penny Arcade's Gabe and Tycho are shown in their office during a dark and stormy night, during which time a series of still images and action shots are cut in. The trailer ends with an image of impending doom: a large robot that fans of the series will recognize as the prime version of a fruit-destroying mechanoid looming in the background.

Once the trailer was over, the group jumped into a live demo of the game. The narrator heard in the trailer was featured in the opener of the demo, which takes players to the character creation in the game. Players will be able to customize their virtual self in the game by tweaking a number of features that include body, face, clothes, gender, and body shape. Once the 3D character is made, it's then converted to a 2D image that is put in each of the 2D cutscenes in the game. The first cinematic in the game sets the stage for the unfolding drama: your character is shown doing some yard-work, minding its own business until tragedy strikes in the form of a giant robot stomping through the house. Following the house-stomping, Gabe and Tycho are shown heading off in hot pursuit of the creature while your character is left to go through a gamut of emotions that clearly settle on revenge.

Following the setup, Hothead reps loaded a saved game that had a party of three for players to control: your character, along with Gabe and Tycho. A mouse-driven interface will let players direct the trio to any point onscreen. As the trio were directed down the dark street, a 2D cinematic complete with dramatic music appeared, and a mysterious stranger with a leaky bag was shown streaking out from an alley and into an abandoned building. Once the cinematic ran, a conversation bubble kicked in and the trio headed off in search of the stranger, making their way through a pack of hobos. Proximity to the enemies will trigger a fight that switches the game display to an FF-style face off between your party and the group of hobos. Reps noted there will be no random encounters in the game; combat will be initiative-based, with attacks requiring varying amount of time to be performed. The party in this stage of the demo only had access to regular attacks, but reps stated that as they progressed through the demo, the trio of fighters would gain stronger ones. As the battle continued, reps noted that if players hit the space bar while being attacked, it will be possible to block and even counterattack enemies (provided your timing is good). At the end of the battle, the trio of characters was shown collecting experience and money, as well as having their health restored to full.

The next battle with hobos found the Hothead crew calling out the weapons being used by the party of three. Each character will have its own unique, upgradeable arm. Your character will be packing the rake used in the opening cutscene, while Tycho will rock a tommy gun, and Gabe makes the most of his bare fists. At the end of the battle, the trio engaged in some banter before heading into the run-down apartment building the mysterious stranger dashed into. Upon entering the building, the game shifts gears to your standard point-and-click adventure, with the trio of adventurers engaging in some dialogue-tree action. The trio opted to examine some rooms in the building on their own, following a suspicious warning from the landlord. Each of the rooms they inspected featured unsettling touches that included giant mutated rats and crazy arcane rituals. They all elicited some commentary amongst the trio, which did a good job of showcasing the genuinely funny dialogue that's in line with the humor of the web comic.

Eventually the slumlord vanished from sight during the room search, and the trio followed through a door that is left open. This last room revealed the dark secret of the building: it's a hobo sweatshop. It seems the slumlord has assembled a factory of hobos to create smaller versions of the robot seen at the start of the game. The smaller bots should be quite familiar to fans of the Fruit Fornicator (yes, we cleaned up the name so as not to offend those with delicate constitutions). Realizing the threat to society posed by the robots, the trio headed to confront the slumlord. Due to the high hobo population, the trip entailed a number of battles. Fortunately, the trio had a number of new attacks that become available through earned experience. The highlights of the battle included special attacks unique to the characters. Each attack has its own minigame, and they range from button-mashing, matching onscreen prompts, or timed button presses. Success at the minigames directly affects just how much damage your attacks will do.

Besides the unique attacks for each player, you'll also be able to perform team-up maneuvers between two players, which dole out considerably more damage. If you manage to take out an enemy with a special attack, you'll be rewarded by a goofy, over-the-top death. When the trio finally reached the slumlord, a boss battle ensued, which found the trio throwing down. Unfortunately, the crafty villain was hiding behind a wall of hobos that must be taken out before he can be damaged, which led to a lengthy fight. Fortunately the challenge provided by the battle was the perfect chance to show off the game's item system, which lets players restore health or even attack with special combat items. Although the demo ended before the final blow was landed against the slumlord, we were more than pleased by what we saw.

Following the demo, the question-and-answer session served up a number of interesting bits of info about the game. The biggest bit of news was the release schedule for the game. Ceraldi noted that the team was pleased with how Telltale Games handled the recent Sam and Max episodic content and, while it wouldn't be possible for them to release installments as frequently, Hothead intends to release a new episode in the adventure every few months. Each installment is planned to offer roughly 5-6 hours of gameplay. Other minor details that came up revolved around gameplay. It was pointed out that, should a character fall in battle, it would be possible to resurrect it with an item. It will be possible for players to use their character data in subsequent installments in the series. As far as which next-generation platform is actually referenced in press materials for the game, Ceraldi said news would be coming soon. [UPDATE] At a follow-up panel today, Ceraldi revealed that the next-generation platform in question would, in fact, be the Xbox 360. Ceraldi noted that the entire Penny Arcade Adventures series would be available for download from Xbox Live Marketplace as episodes are released.

Based on this early look at where Hothead is going with the title, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness has a lot of promise. The gameplay wears its various old-school influences proudly on its sleeve, and we have to say we approve. The mix of point-and-click adventuring with Square-style turn-based gameplay is a smart combo that works well. The writing and art appear to be on point and capture the look and feel of the Penny Arcade comic on a larger scale. We're anxious to see more of the game as it heads toward its release later this year. Look for more in the months to come. Until then, check back on our live show this Saturday from PAX, where we'll have a live demo of the game.

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