Kyle E. Miller
E3 First Look at 1954: Alcatraz
The folks at Daedalic are very busy this year.
06.13.13 - 2:34 AM

Gene Mocsy, writer and designer of Irresponsible Games, approached Daedalic with a demo of his graphic adventure, 1954: Alcatraz. They liked his rough sketches and script enough to take it under their wing and send it through their beautifying machines to give it that special Daedalic touch.

Gene has lived in San Francisco long enough for the great prison to become his muse. He set the game in the Beat era and did loads of academic-level research: reading biographies, poring over collections of Beat artifacts, and visiting Alcatraz itself. Photographs of San Francisco provided the basis for some of the game's background art, and some real convicts populate the prison island. There's also a theme behind the game — one of the first things Gene had to say about the game, to his credit — marriage.

1954: Alcatraz doesn't care to reinvent the resurrected graphic adventure. The gameplay hardly departs from the typical point and clicker with its object collection and combination, but the player can switch between the two main characters. Joe plans to escape Alcatraz while his wife, outside the prison, has to deal with the trouble her husband left behind after his arrest. They must contend with drama of their own, but the player will never be able to forget the greater drama: these two separated souls' marriage.

Their paths don't converge much until the end, but the player can switch between them at will if he tires of one or the other. Joe's storyline focuses more on item manipulation while his wife does the negotiating and the cavorting with San Franís Beat art scene.

Bickering couples and disintegrating marriages punctuate the scenes, often in the background: subtle reminders of the game's theme. There are choices in dialogue that may reveal or keep secret certain clues to the characters' situations, and the ending promises to offer quite a weighty decision.
The historical period shows through as well, and the background art is pretty. The characters are rendered in blobby, cartoonish 3D, but they don't usually feel incongruous with the atmospheric backdrops.

What little I saw of this version of San Fran made me want to see more, and there are some interesting characters populating the streets, cafes, and bookshops. There's a transgender character, a gay couple, and the protagonists are an interracial couple. These touches of reality are often missing from video game narratives, and their inclusion here is much appreciated.

Imprisonment. Marriage. Escape. Plenty have escaped from marriage, but no one has escaped Alcatraz. The interplay between these themes offers potentially polemical situations and results, and 1954: Alcatraz is a well-researched and thoughtful adventure. This may be one of the most overlooked games of E3, but point and click fans should watch out for this later in 2013.