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A Game Designer’s Review of 5W!TS “Tomb” in Boston

September 11, 2009

I made this post back on my old NightRise Development Blog, and enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d bring it back since it very much has to do with game design and what to AVOID in game design. So if you didn’t read it back at the old blog, now’s your chance. Enjoy!

I think the people who run 5W!TS have met their mortal enemy: someone who can identify every game cliche in the book. And “Tomb” has them all. Let me start from the beginning.

After paying $20 per ticket and wasting half an hour at Best Buy for your time slot to come up, you are introduced to some lame-ass story about a professor who has gone missing inside some random Egyptian Tomb deep within Kenmore Square. The original explorer of the Tomb has gone missing and it is up to you, your incompetent group, your incompetent guide, and a British Person to guide you through the deep, dark, twisted lair of three rooms which will take you half an hour to 45 minutes to get through and leave you feeling like you would have been better off seeing a bad movie that is 2-3 times as long and costs only half as much.

The first room presents you a long, contrived monologue from the voice of the Pharaoh which starts with the words, “MUAHAHAHA!” (and no spacebar to skip it) followed by three puzzles, which could be easily described as a Pixel Hunt, a round of Simon Says, and a block puzzle. Granted, the pixel hunt was probably the best puzzle of the lot. Five tiny little discs are hidden around the room that you have to press and make glow red. Once that’s done, you must play a five larger discs in the correct order. So far s’okay, not that I didn’t do these puzzles back in Myst fourteen years ago.

Then comes the glory of all glorious game cliches: the block puzzle. Move a giant, stone statue four inches back to the wall. FOUR INCHES! Ya know, some games are made up entirely of block puzzles. Soul Reaver, Tomb Raider… I was hoping that for something that calls itself an, “Interactive Video Game” (facepalm), they’d manage to avoid the kinds of puzzles that make gamers bored. Unfortunately, that’s all they had. All I was thinking was, “Christ get me out of here now. What’s next? Spiked walls?”

I won’t even bother mentioning how the room ends as it’s so phoned in that it’s pathetic.

The next room has two puzzles: readjust tiles on the floor to match a disc on the wall, and rebuild a pyramid one brick at a time without carrying two bricks or stacking a bigger brick on top of a smaller brick. It’s in this room that I guarantee no cooperation will be found in your group. While I closely studied the disc on the wall and began to readjust the tiles accordingly, others proceeded to think that I was wrong and began readjusting the tiles at their whim, taking us five minutes to get through a thirty second puzzle. At this point I began thinking, “Why bother?” When the floor puzzle was finally solved, the ceiling started crushing down on us very, very slowly. So I wasn’t far off from the spiked walls, but they would have been MUCH more interesting and would have given me a way out of my waste of $20. As the rest of the group did the pyramid puzzle, I stood by and looked at my imaginary watch, waiting for the ceiling to end my misery as if it would. The puzzle was solved and the voiceover of the Pharaoh went into a second, long, contrived monologue.

Third room, spin some columns randomly until the hieroglyphics line up properly. Supposedly there were clues on the walls but they really didn’t do any good. Then we had to spin discs on the far wall to line up tubes to prevent the room from filling with chlorinated water (the whole place smelled like a unairconditioned indoor pool). Obviously there was no way to tell when you had the tubes lined up correctly, and the final disc I had to spin wouldn’t even stay in its correct position, so I had to hold it there to wait for the Pharaoh to give yet ANOTHER long, boring monologue and tell us to illuminate his face… with blocks of clay. Yeah. That’ll work. Mirrors? Sure. But no. Unreflective stone blocks to reflect light onto the face of the sarcophagus. Spoiler: If you are inside this joke of a Tomb and find yourself stuck at the final puzzle, have everyone shine their cellphones on the face. Even the guides know this final puzzle just flat out doesn’t work.

And what’s your reward for getting through the Tomb? Being led out to the gift shop where you’re encouraged to spend… gasp! MORE MONEY! As if. Just grab your coat and leave, unless you feel ballsy and demand your money back. I highly doubt you’ll get it, though, since you’ve received the full product and there was no way out beforehand.

So now that I have totally spoiled the experience for you, let’s recap all the clihes, gaming or otherwise:

  1. Long periods of voiceover with no way to skip them.
  2. Pixel hunt.
  3. Simon says.
  4. Block puzzle.
  5. MUAHAHAHAHA!
  6. Tile matching (and did I mention that you have to flip the tiles to find the correct picture?!)
  7. Basic middle school math class worksheet problem.
  8. Puzzle with a random, unpredictable solution designed only to irritate the player.
  9. Another puzzle with a random, unpredictable solution designed only to irritate the player.
  10. Puzzle designer thinking, “They’ll never solve this.”
  11. Puzzle designer thinking, “Well, in case they do solve it, I’ll make the last puzzle literally impossible to do with what I give them inside the game.”
  12. No reward for winning.

Please, please, PLEASE save your money. A group of eight people, just eight people, could instead all pool their money and buy a copy of Rock Band for the same price it would cost them to waste 45 minutes of their life. And I guarantee they would have a MUCH better time playing that Boston-made game then the one currently located at 5W!TS.

The interesting part is the fact that people keep going. No one has warned them not to go, and all the major reviews have been highly positive. I can’t even begin to fathom why. The place is packed every day, and has been for the last three years. They were supposed to have a new exhibit by now, but these scam artists have realized that their three rooms of boredom have brought in so much dough that they’d be better off never changing it, never moving it, never even bothering to patch it to make improvements. Now I will admit, something like this would be much better if it were at, say, The Museum of Science, where it could actually be like exploring a real tomb and not just three, barely decorated rooms lit to look like an ancient Egyptian tomb (if ancient Egyptian tombs were lit green). I guarantee the Museum would do a great job with it and actually give it some historical context, not to mention you might get some form of a free trinket on your way out (no such luck at 5W!TS), and then you have the whole rest of the museum to explore. As it stands,Tomb has no benefits to going. It’s hot, it’s smelly, it’s boring… heck, it’s not even funny.

Oh, and the worst part is, if your group happens to have a kid who has already gone three or four times and knows all the answers, he will ruin the entire experience for you, much like going to a performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show where only person in the audience doesn’t have a V on their forehead, only said person happens to be eight years old. Yeah.

So unless you are a child, or are WAY too easily scared or amused, or have some kind of cerebral palsy, or all of the above, save your money and don’t go to Tomb. The only benefit? No load times.

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