Diamonds in the Rough
First posted on 06 June 2008. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
Someone has once said that the most difficult part faced by a writer is to make a start and an end to the writing process. Such aphorism rings true when I attempt to write down my own thoughts about Diamonds in the Rough. I have imagined many words in my heads to best describe this wonderful game, but after many drafts trying to organize my thoughts, these are the words I have chosen in the end to speak about it:
"Diamonds in the Rough is a clever game, with a rich narrative and an amazing story behind every character."
To describe Diamonds in the Rough is to describe the vision of designer Alkis Polyrakis about a world in fear where people with "special abilities" are being searched out by a secret organization with an agenda to exploit their unique talents. Those who agree to join the organization must pay a price and resign their freedom to live in an outside world. This is the underlying premise of Diamonds in the Rough. The game uses a rich narrative and a cast of well made characters to slowly unfold this cryptic premise.
As an enthusiastic gamer himself, Polyrakis has previously released another point-and-click adventure called Other Worlds, a freeware game which he has created entirely by himself. In that game, you play as Natalia who finds her boyfriend suddenly missing when she returns home from work. Several clues lead Natalia to a strange mansion where she discovers a cosmic connection to many parallel worlds. She must then travel to these other worlds in order to rescue her boyfriend. The paranormal theme in Other Worlds is reminiscent of the theme in Diamonds in the Rough, wherein almost all characters in the game exhibit some sort of paranormal abilities. Both games are created using Adventure Game Studio, a popular free tool used by indie developers for creating free and commercial adventure games. Needless to say, Diamonds in the Rough is far more polished in every aspect of the production than Other Worlds. For this game, Polyrakis handles the writing and programming, while Nikolas Sideris handles the music and sound effects.
You play as Jason Hart, a 20 year old high school dropout who has just been hired by Diamonds in the Rough or DITR, a mysterious organization that has been searching for individuals with special psychic abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, and other paranormal powers. After finding a cryptic message left by the last tenant who has lived in the house which he just moved into, Jason starts to have doubts about the nature of his newly founded job. His curiosity soon turns into a personal quest to find out the true purpose behind the secretive organization as well as the powers of the individuals whom the organization has recruited—in a personal way that is entirely unexpected. This is a game where even a simple spoiler can ruin the entire story, so giving too much detail will undoubtedly spoil the clever ending that will come as a big surprise to those who try out the game.
The gameplay is quite innovative. It is a classic third-person point-and-click adventure game, but with a big twist. The twist is that you can interact with Jason's thoughts directly in the game as if they are items in an inventory. Whenever your character gathers a new thought, it is collected in the form of a note posted on a corkboard (which Polyrakis calls the Thoughts Panel). Manipulating these thoughts (as notes from the corkboard) can then trigger certain actions, such as talking to another character or examining a new object. However, this interaction can be frustrating to manage and confusing to decipher at times. This is because you frequently do not know what time you need to bring up a particular thought in order to trigger an action that is required to move the game forward, so that you can easily end up stuck hopelessly at certain parts of the game without a clue. Fortunately, the game comes with a detailed manual that explains this and other play mechanics. A score (out of 400) is also given at all times to help you to mark your progress. This is not a game for novices, largely because of the obscure interactions that exist between the inventory and thoughts systems.
The graphics are notably retro. The game uses a combination of pre-rendered 2D backgrounds and 3D character models. The voice acting is above average for an indie production, and subtitles are available. The game can be controlled entirely using the mouse, but keyboard shortcuts are also provided.
I rate the level of difficulty for this game to be very high. It is a game best enjoyed by experienced adventure gamers. Still, the rich story that the game tells can be enjoyed irrespective of the puzzles. Some players may find the pixel hunting in this game challenging. Many of the objects which your character will need to find are blended quite well (rather, too well) into the background or are too underexposed in the scene, to the extent that it is not obvious frequently which objects can be taken. In particular, in the library, you will have a hard time trying to find out which book you need to grab so that Curtis will help you to move the desk. Beyond this, I will not spoil any more parts of the game because the only way to learn about the difficult parts of the game is to play it yourself. Having this said, the challenge in this game is also a big part of the game's charms and a major draw for hardcore fans of the genre.
As last words, I need to say that this game is now among my favorite adventure games ever. It is original, well written, and very clever. The game includes many subtle tie-ins to popular culture references, including a well hidden nod to a classic adventure game. For many gamers, the ending will evoke a philosophical debate about human nature that is simply too good to be spoiled. Overall, Diamonds in the Rough has taken the development of indie adventure games to a new level of standards—which other indie developers will surely emulate for years to come.