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SummaryAnd Now for Something Completely Different
The GoodIt's an ordinary breakfast on an ordinary day. You take a bite of toast, a sip of coffee. You read the paper. Wait… something there. The paper's date! But the milk… it can't be! You've added Bad Milk to your coffee. Suddenly your world slips away and a cell phone rings. You answer it and are taunted by an anonymous voice, challenging you to solve a series of puzzles—the only way you can restore your world.
Bad Milk is an adventure game that combines interactive short video clips, mazes that rely solely on audio clues, and a giant floating head which is also a combination lock. Both wildly original and disappointingly brief, Bad Milk presents the player with nonlinear game play that would probably be described as hypertextual if it wasn't already posttextual.
The game presents the player with a series of menus: usually three or four icons that spin against a black background. There are several levels of these menus—the player descends to the final puzzle—and one icon takes the player to a new menu while another takes a player back one step. The remaining icons represent "puzzles."
The first puzzle is a video clip of a wall. Experimenting with the mouse allows the player to move a man along the wall up to a table with two switches. Solving this puzzle brings the player to a maze—a black screen with four directional arrows. The player then progresses through this maze by clicking on the directional arrows and listening to the audio responses: a loud "whoompf" as the player crashes into a wall, a ringing phone that grows louder as the player progresses, or simple footsteps. Other puzzles similarly challenge the player's ability to manipulate movies and identify sounds.
Bad Milk is too experimental to successfully ascribe meaning to any of the game's situations or events. At times it feels more like an artistic endeavor than an adventure game, which would explain Dreaming Media's firm $20 price tag even though three years have passed since Bad Milk won the Independent Games Festival's 2002 Seumas McNally Award For Independent Game Of The Year and the Innovation in Audio Award. The game does challenge the player's perceptions and conceptions, leading to a completely unique gaming experience.
The BadWhen Bad Milk begins, it begins. There's no preliminary menu—no options for customization or, more importantly, reloading a saved game. Bad Milk is designed to be completed in one sitting, probably lasting between thirty to sixty minutes. There is only one outcome and, when you arrive at it, you will have seen everything there is to see. If you choose to replay the game, there is no variation from the original play through.
Graphically, the full version of Bad Milk has better resolution than the demo, but there is still a lot of pixilation in the video footage. With audio that's dead on, including appropriate campiness, it's surprising that the graphics aren't as smooth. This is no doubt the result of Flash-like layering, but I felt that it was a shortcoming.
Finally, while this is still a wonderful concept that hasn't aged, it seems like bright designers could create a similar experience using web technology. It isn't the game that feels dated, but the thought that you're paying $20 for single CD-ROM with less than an hour of gaming on it.
The Bottom LineWhen I played the demo for Bad Milk, I was thrilled that I was playing something so original. With the briefest of setups, Bad Milk is dropped in your lap and you are expected to figure out what is going on. The game invites exploration and experimentation living up to its claim that "[it] is a surprising new take on the wander-and-wonder game genre."
I wandered through dark hallways, fell through trap doors, and was constantly refreshed by how the game combined unique audio and visuals while challenging my imagination to fill in gaps. I wondered at the technical skill that allowed me to interact with a video clip: marveling that so many variations of a single scene were filmed and then layered, presenting the illusion that my mouse clicks and movements were really controlling on screen events.
I still find it hard to recommend this game at its price. I'm telling myself that I didn't just buy a game, but I'm rewarding innovation. I'm not sure if that helps, but it might help to consider that you are also paying not just for the product, but for the time put into it.