The Ultimate Video Game: gameplay

image of an amusing puzzle dependency chart

An update on Question of the Month

So a few weeks ago it was announced that the Question of the Month/Ultimate Video Game collaboration has come to an end. It’s a shame, but totally understandable – I’ve found it a challenge keeping on top of these posts so I can only imagine what’s involved in running the whole thing! As such I’m really grateful to Later Levels and OverThinker Y for the opportunity.

That said, I intend to finish what I started! I’ve cultivated so many ideas along the way and there’s still more I want to explore from both a gaming concept and writing point of view.

So, on to the next element: gameplay.

(If you haven’t read the previous posts covering setting, protagonist, antagonist and plot, you might want to do that first.)

Gameplay and interface

Throughout this process I’ve been picturing the game as a 2D illustrated adventure, with an old-school LucasArts point and click interface (shocker). So there would be a pretty typical verb layout like the one in The Secret of Monkey Island – but with modern styling, a show/hide option, and slightly different verbs.

Image from The Secret of Monkey Island

Cut scenes would zoom in on the action in a more film-like way, with close-ups of our protagonists and the discoveries they make. Some of these would also be flashbacks, to tell bits of Earl’s story in the 1980s. Then as the player progresses there will eventually be a toggle button that allows the player to jump between 1989 Earl and 2019 Pete, playing parts of the game as each character. Which brings me to the next feature…


There will be a nice range of fairly typical puzzle types, including tile sliding, riddles, deciphering and inventory focused tasks – and maybe some mini games too.

As the game advances and Pete finds more clues left behind by Earl, a large portion of puzzle-solving will involve toggling between 1989 and 2019 – Earl and Pete will effectively work ‘together’, with the player bridging the gap between past and present. For example, if Pete needs to use a broken walkman in the present, the player can go back to the 1980s, play as Earl, and stop it from being knocked off the table in the first place. If he needs batteries for it, he can check where Earl hid them from his pilfering colleagues.

Towards the end of the game, there will be a significant puzzle that involves aligning events in the past and present in perfect timing (this will be the infamous difficult bit that YouTubers rage about).

The style of the game will change subtly when the player is in the 1980s, as both an atmospheric device and a reminder to the player which era they are currently in (since a lot of the scenes will take place in the same environment). For example: the verb selector will take on a more retro, pixelated look; artwork will be rougher; and the overall colour palette will be more restricted.

Depending on how, and how much, the player changes the past, this will be reflected in slight variations on the ending.

Structure and difficulty

The game will have three main chapters – the first is for exposition, story-growing and skill-building; the second introduces the back-and-forth time travelling; the third advances all those things and is much more frantic and potentially quite tricky. There are no difficulty settings and no hand-holding tutorials – you learn as you go.

But that’s okay because there will be infinite cloud save slots! There will be no dying, but the player may have to restart some puzzles if they fail. I’d also incorporate a checklist to keep track of important objectives and progress. Pete would view this on his smartphone; Earl on a hi-tech 1980s PDA.

Achievements, just for fun

80s raver: listen to 20 chart toppers
Bhaji barmy: eat 50 onion bhajis
Neon bangle-toots: collect all ten neon bangles
Pro Procrastinator: Complete Level 1 of Pipe Mania
Too kool for skool: spell ‘boobies’ on Earl’s calculator
Mind-boggling toggling: toggle between past and present ten times in 20 seconds


4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Video Game: gameplay

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