A Divine Night Out – What We Think
Maybe the most important thing to note about Bleating Sheep Productions’ “A Divine Night Out” is that it isn’t actually a game. It is an “interactive short film”, like the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books that were popular in the 80s and 90s, only with much less content and far fewer possible endings.
Bleating Sheep is upfront about this, using the prologue to warn players (viewers?) that they aren’t about to play a game, the writing isn’t very good, and that, no matter what choices are made, the ending will be the same. Intriguing, no?
There is an options menu which takes the form of a dialogue between the viewer and the main character, in a sort of “breaking the fourth wall” way, allowing you to turn subtitles on or off and adjust graphics quality between a number of presets. Whenever you select the Options menu, you go through the same dialogue in the same order.
Once you’ve set the game up and waded through the prologue, the game (play?) begins. Without giving anything away, you see a woman at a bar, she meets God, there’s dialogue, and it ends. You can choose some of her responses, but the ending is always the same. The actual play is about as long as the options dialogue and prologue combined, and you can get through every possible conversation path in about twenty minutes.
“A Divine Night Out” isn’t a game, but it isn’t much of a film, either. In fact, it’s a bit like a high school drama club production. The voice acting is wooden, and makes me think that the actors involved might have just assumed that voice acting and stage acting are essentially the same. They’re not.
The plot is trite and reeks of spiritual teen angst, with lines that feel artificially snide or nasty followed by meekness or ambivalence. That’s a symptom of any story where the protagonist must be given the illusion of choice while still ending up at the same point, but it’s usually eased or disguised by length. “ADNO” is just too short to funnel to the same end gracefully, and, given its brevity, I don’t know why Bleating Sheep didn’t just make more than one ending.
I would say that it was meant to be some sort of tech demo for the Unity player, but the graphics are primitive at best. Unity is capable of much better graphics than “ADNO”, and I would have expected a bunch of young rebels out to revolutionize electronic entertainment to have at least contracted someone to do the graphics.
Even if “A Divine Night Out” is supposed to be judged solely on the basis of its quality as a piece of narrative, it still falls well short of adequacy. The game’s press release describes the game/short film as being “in the spirit of Douglas Adams and Woody Allen”; a foolish statement, because I immediately expected something between The Hitchhiker’s Guide and “Annie Hall”. Comparing your work, even in the most offhand way, to two established, even legendary artists, sets the bar impossibly high, especially when the two are so far apart stylistically. And besides, are we talking “Interiors” Woody Allen, or “Take the Money and Run”?
It’s one of several things about “ADNO” that speaks to having more ambition than skill. Another, as an example, is the prologue. The viewer is subjected to five or more minutes (depending on patience) of self-congratulatory, self-deprecating humor. Monty Python could get away with maybe two minutes of back-patting. Maybe.
The last thing you want to do if you’re trying to get strangers to watch your film (or read your book, or listen to your music) is start off by telling them how bad it is. Everyone recognizes it as false modesty, and you’ve just shown that you don’t respect your audience’s time. And what if, after the show, your audience agrees? Better to save the banter for your cohorts, and let your work speak for itself.
There really is much good that can be said of “A Divine Night Out”, other than the fact that it’s free and short means that you won’t have lost anything if you take a look at it. As a first effort from a startup indie developer, especially one that has such a high-concept objective, it is absolutely disastrous. I’m just relieved that I was warned in the prologue not to expect much.