by guest contributor Kirk Hamilton
Kirk Hamilton is a white, straight cisgender male writer, musician and jazz educator in San Francisco. He is the founder of Gamer Melodico and is currently the games editor at Paste Magazine, where he makes valiant attempts to write about games not as monolithic entertainment products but as the work of actual, human people. He can be found online at kirkhamilton.com and on twitter @kirkhamilton. His favorite game of all time is probably Grim Fandango.
I loved the iPhone game Scarlett and the Spark of Life. As a result of my gig at Paste, I have a whole lot of games to play at any given moment; too often I find myself downloading a cool-looking indie game and never finding the time to fire it up. That almost happened with Scarlett—it had languished unplayed on my iPhone for a couple of weeks until finally, as I flew back to SF after the holidays, I saw the game’s icon (a colorful drawing of a red-headed, wry-looking young woman) on my home screen and gave it a shot. An hour later I finished the game, so glad that I had decided to play.
The Spark of Life is the first episode in a promised series of Scarlett Adventures, created by Launching Pad Games. It’s a point-and-click adventure game in the spirit of classic Lucasarts/Sierra titles, and it’s probably a bit closer to the Kings Quest series than anything else. It’s a very easy game (probably too easy), but also extraordinarily charming.
Launching Pad is made up of only two guys—New Zealanders Tristan Clark and Tim Knauf—and so it was even more impressive that the game was so fun, polished and well-written. I reviewed it for Paste, so rather than just rewriting what I’ve already written, I’ll just share an excerpt:
But although Scarlett and the Spark of Life is a piece of cake, it’s also… well, a piece of cake! Cake is delicious. Throughout my time with the game I found myself smiling, laughing and generally enjoying the hell out of myself. I didn’t pause once from beginning to end and I would’ve happily kept playing after the credits rolled.
That’s primarily because the game sports some of the most effortlessly humorous writing I’ve seen outside of a Double Fine game, with a strong feel for wordplay and loads of whip-smart one-liners. In addition, Scarlett is a supremely likable protagonist, a capable young princess with goggles on her forehead and enough mud on her hem to impress Elizabeth Bennet. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, and her wry asides and excellently terrible puns recall Guybrush Threepwood in his heyday.
In my opinion, Scarlett is a fantastic example of a strong, well-written female videogame character. She’s confident and funny, but also genuine and principled. She is lovely but never sexualized, and she meets the advances of a loutish, lying townsman with confidence, poise and humor. She’s a fully fleshed-out person; she’s headstrong and occasionally careless, but she cares greatly for her younger sister Lavender. Upon learning that Lavender has been kidnapped goes to great lengths to assemble the means to ride to her rescue.
But as great as all of those aspects of her character are, when it comes down to it, Scarlett is just… cool! She’s witty, she’s sarcastic, she wears goggles on her head, she has a crowbar named “Chester.” She gets it; Scarlett is an it-getter.
I’ve been in touch with Tim and Tristan since I played the game, and unsurprisingly they’re both nice, funny guys who clearly put a lot of heart into their work. When I started writing this post, I thought it’d be fun to ask them about Scarlett, and the process behind her creation. Tim got back to me with some great answers, which I thought I’d just reprint.
Kirk: What was your motivation in creating a game based around a female protagonist?
Tim Knauf: In one of the commentary screens for ‘Scarlett’, we talk about the genesis of the game. In short, I texted Tristan with my game idea and a suggested title: ‘Furious Princess Builds a Horse’. Sadly for me but seemingly no-one else, the title didn’t survive, but as you know, the core concept certainly did. I guess the point of telling this story here is that we didn’t say to ourselves, “Hey, let’s make a game about a female protagonist!” We had what we thought was an engaging story idea, and Scarlett came as part of that narrative package.
Who were characters (not necessarily videogame) you looked to for inspiration when writing Scarlett?
For Scarlett herself? Tristan cites Susan from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and I have to agree. Susan’s practical, isn’t easily taken in, and sees beyond the way-things-have-always-been-done. Scarlett’s more of a hot-head, though; Susan gets angry but normally with good reason. Scarlett’s upbringing means she’s used to getting her own way. There might be a few lessons to learn before the saga concludes!
What were some specific things you decided that she did or did not like/do/believe, as a character?
We’ve tried to imply that Scarlett has a stronger sense of morality than she herself realises yet. It says something about her character that she normally won’t just take something without asking — at least when the owner is likely to care. And to pick a specific example, she refuses to vandalise a graveyard gate even though it would mean she could gain entry. However, for this episode Scarlett tries to ground her reasoning in simple practicality; she hasn’t yet had to grapple with big issues of Right and Wrong.
Scarlett’s dominant temperament is classically ‘choleric’. She’s driven to take charge, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Through the course of the series, we hope to help Scarlett expose some underlying complementary traits: fierce loyalty, broader compassion and a better understanding of her own ethical stance.
If you have an iPhone and like point-and-click adventure games, I highly recommend giving Scarlett and The Spark Of Life a go. It’s only $2, and the new version comes even comes with commentary from Tim and Tristan (Update: for a limited time, Launching Pad says that the game is free!). Time will tell whether the duo can keep up the first episode’s great energy over the entire series, but from what I’ve seen so far, I have little reason to doubt them.
I mean… the game features deadly headbutting Llama-Monsters! What could possibly go wrong?