Bad Milk, A Puzzling Interactive Beverage is a game in the wander-and-wonder genre by DreamingMedia (two brothers, Ted and Mick Skolnick, working out of their apartment in Long Island City, New York). The game is also the dark horse winner of the $15,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize for the Independent Games Festival at the 2002 Game Developers Conference, as well as the winner of the Innovation in Audio award at the same event.

As in most wander-and-wonder games, half the fun is figuring out what the game is supposed to be about, so I'll try to keep any spoilage (pardon the pun) to a minimum. However, I feel it is safe to describe the events of the opening first-person P.O.V. movie:

You are having your daily breakfast of toast and coffee with milk while reading the New York Times. You notice the date on the paper, and suddenly start to worry. Throwing down the paper and picking up the milk carton, you discover the worst: this milk is at least 5 months old. Your panic is swiftly ended as you black out and smack your head on the table. Thus begins Bad Milk.

What follows is a series of unusual and fairly unique puzzles that can be attempted in almost any order. Bad Milk makes frequent use of a technique that has been shunned by the commercial game development community, full motion video, which is usually associated with games from the early years of CD-ROM games, like Phantasmagoria, Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective and Gabriel Knight 2. In an interview with GameSpy, Mick explained that they were not put off from using live video in a game because they had never heard of any of the games that were associated with the medium's bad image.

Sound plays a very important role in Bad Milk, with a few of the puzzles requiring you to navigate a maze "in the dark," guided only by your ears, somewhat reminiscent of Thief: the Dark Project, although playing with headphones does not noticeably improve your performance in the game (the inability to "die" allows for greater experimentation and exploration).

The game takes as much from the art world (a Bill Violas exhibition is credited as an influence) as it does from the game world (Myst, Grim Fandango, etc.). In many ways, the game feels more like an interactive virtual gallery than a "game."

I find the fact that Bad Milk was chosen as the best independent game of the 2002 IGF very interesting. It makes me wonder if future festivals will see a greater number of games with unusual concepts or non-traditional play styles.

Bad Milk's play time from start to finish is probably somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour. It sells through the website ( via PayPal for $12.95 + $4.00 shipping. A demo of the game is also available for free download.

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