In the beginning was the word – and it was poorly translated. Game localisation, the art of not just translating a game’s text into a new language but shaping it so that the words also make cultural sense, has come a long way.
The first ever example is thought to be Pac-Man. The direct translation from Japanese into US English should have been ‘Puck-Man’, but fears that the game’s literal name would cause childish vandals to deface the arcade machines with obscenity meant that a cleaner sounding ‘80s phenomenon was born instead, and localisation along with it.
Fast forward to the present and, as Stuck In Attic, the developer behind recent point-and-click game Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure discovered to its horror, sometimes the ambiguous lines between good and awful localisation don’t just add up to embarrassing mistakes. Sometimes they can come close to ruining your game.
The skill of a true ‘localisation sensei’ (not, I’m told, their official title) is to think about what the essence of a game’s words and phrases mean in its original language and translate that contextual meaning, as opposed to merely the literal one, into the new language too.
As with many nuanced jobs, if the localiser does their job well, you probably won’t even realise the game has one. Get it wrong and games can become laughably absurd. Consider a translator losing the context when localising RPG Grandia 2 into German, and so translating the word ‘MISS!’ – in the sense of not hitting the mark – into the German word ‘FRÄULEIN!’, meaning a ‘miss’ of the unmarried woman variety.
Another example of the importance of good localisation as opposed to direct translation is a well-known in-joke among the adventure games community – that is, the infamous ‘monkey wrench’ puzzle of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. Players needed to pick up a monkey and use it to tighten a pump to turn off a waterfall – a clever reference to the American term ‘monkey wrench’, referring to a specific type of house tool. Unfortunately, not many people living outside of the US at the time knew of the term. “The tool is called a spanner in England, so the pun (was) lost,” LucasArts designer David Fox recalls. “As a result, people had a terrible time with that puzzle. Puns are the worst.”
The incident with Gibbous wasn’t quite so funny. The Lovecraft-inspired adventure game features, according to lead developer Liviu Boar, “over 100,000 words,” which he estimates is roughly the length of the Greek epic poem The Iliad. Localising such a long text is no mean feat for even the most experienced translators, and at first, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, the small team’s aim was only to contextualise it into what’s known in the business as ‘FIGS,’ or French, Italian, German, and Spanish, using established freelancers.
But when a company offered the team the chance to localise their game into six more languages, including Russian, Chinese, and Korean, they, perhaps naively, jumped at the chance to showcase their hard work to a wider audience. “What was cool was [that] they were offering languages that not a lot of people localise in,” Boar explains. “Like Arabic for example. […] That was something we were very excited to be able to provide, because those people are just completely ignored on Steam and GOG.”
According to the developer, alarms bells only started ringing a couple of months before the game was due to launch, when the team also localised their Steam page into the same different languages. “We started getting messages from Russian players saying, ‘are you aware that your page reads like it was translated with Google Translate?’” Boar recalls. “We started asking people about the other languages […] it turned out that they were just as horrible too. We were weeks away from release and we had blown all our localising budget.”
Facing releasing a supposedly unintelligible game to the public, and after struggling to fix the issues with the original translation company, the team were forced to scramble together a hodgepodge of freelancers and helpful players to localise the game against the clock. Amazingly, some languages, like Chinese, did get completely retranslated before Gibbous’ launch, due on the most part to well-wishing translators working tirelessly for what Boar admits at this point was very little money.
But not everything could be saved. “We had people who started to fix the Russian and Korean localisation,” Boar says, “but because it was so close to launch, only half of the script was being fixed.” Unsurprisingly, an extremely wordy adventure game written in a half-translated script didn’t go down too well with the community. “If you filter our Steam negative reviews and set it to ‘all languages’ and [type in] ‘Google Translate’, most of the negative reviews are in Russian or Japanese or Korean and they all mention the reason for the negative review being the horrible translation,” Boar says. “When people refund the game, they have the option of leaving a note and the crushing majority of those are ‘I can’t understand it in my language’. It really detracts from the experience – it hurts it. It’s not like it’s neutral. It detracts.”
When asked about the service they provided for Gibbous, the company in question told me that Stuck In Attic’s lack of budget for the TEP (Translation, Editing, and Proofreading) process, and the fact that they didn’t have a copy of the game whilst translating, meant that only “novice translators” were able to work on it.
Boar admits that their naivety as a small company working on its first ever game probably didn’t help matters. “Obviously it was our decision to go with these people,” he says, “but we were very doe-eyed. We’re not going to do that again any time soon.” Happily, the game, released in August, still impressed a large amount of those players who were able to play a well-localised version. Boar also tells me that after hiring Alexander Preymak – an experienced game localisation expert whose previous work includes the likes of Thimbleweed Park and Hollow Knight – to rewrite some of the Russian translation, Gibbous is nearly where the team of three wanted it to be before its release.
Fox, whose work after leaving LucasArts also includes Thimbleweed Park and projects like it, points to ways in which new developers like the Gibbous guys can make their lives easier if they want to localise. Most importantly, make sure your text can be isolated in a separate file, which can be replaced when adding a new language.
As for Preymak himself, his advice for developers who want to localise their games effectively is threefold: write your text with the translation in mind, think of your fonts – particularly if translating into languages that require a different alphabet, such as Cyrillic – and make your LocKit (localisation kit – a briefing pack for translators working on your game) accessible to work with.
And when it comes to localising games with puns in them? “God forbid you do so,” jokes the Russian, before adding, “consult a professional translator!” If only it were always so simple.
Returning to Beyond a Steel Sky after my brief demonstration with Revolution’s CEO Charles Cecil at last year’s gamescom (which now seems like a lifetime ago), I was looking forward to finding out what more Union City and its colourful cast of reprobates and robots had to offer. At the start of this sequel to the 1994 sci-fi point-and-click adventure classic Beneath a Steel Sky, it’s clear that returning protagonist Robert Foster doesn’t share my intrigue – he’d pretty much rather be anywhere else than back in the place he spent much of his time trying to escape last time. But the main part of my playthrough put me in control of Foster on the outskirts of the city trying to find a way past the gate back in.
As with its prequel, Beyond presents Foster’s current predicament using the beautiful comic book panel stylings of award-winning Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. The intro does a good job of summing up Foster’s past for anyone who hasn’t yet given the now-free Beneath their time (or has simply forgotten in the ensuing 26 years). Foster’s still a nomad, travelling from tribe to tribe in the desert scrubland outside of Union City, called The Gap. Of course, all that changes very quickly when a group of masked strangers burst up from the ground in a strange bipedal machine and in the attack they take Milo, one of the current camp’s children, with them. It’s up to Foster to track the gang down and get Milo back, and unsurprisingly, it soon becomes clear that all roads, and answers, lead to Union City.
Unlike its predecessor, Beyond will be completely 3D with characters and backdrops that have a cel-shaded comic book feel, in a similar vein to Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us, if with a less noir-styled, slightly brighter palette. Some have bemoaned Revolution’s decision to change Beneath‘s 2D graphics, but stepping into the busy arena outside the city proper, I was struck by how much freedom 3D allowed life to take its course. Characters move around even more freely, birds fly overhead, and nearly everything is an object that can be used or examined in some way. There’s always a danger with 3D that areas are so open that vital objects or puzzle clues are easy to miss, but there seemed to be just about enough clear signposting in my demo to make it obvious where I should be exploring.
Moving Foster is a case of using the WASD keys and mouse for the camera, pressing Shift to run. (A gamepad option seems likely, as this game is coming to consoles as well, but I wasn’t able to test this on PC.) There is no key to highlight hotspots in the area, but when in close proximity to something interactive, an option will flash up for you to engage with it or use an item from your inventory on it. This works well enough in practice, though it does mean you have to be right in front of an object you want to interact with, which feels a little bit clunky sometimes when using the WASD keys. As for the camera itself, mercifully it moves pretty freely along with you, never making it feel like you’re having to fight it to show what you want to see. Running around the Union City outskirts, I was struck by how high you could look up the intimidating walls, all the way to the cloudy sky overhead.
The new aesthetic plays right into Revolution’s Virtual Theatre idea. First used in their games back in the ’90s, it sees every character moving about with their own motivations and paths, which you’ll need to manipulate to progress. The added flexibility afforded by 3D obviously is much better suited to this concept, in that there’s much more space both vertically and horizontally for characters to roam around in. I didn’t really find myself using this conceit for problem solving during the demo; instead it more meant I was often running after or trying to find characters to trigger a new branch of dialogue. But according to Charles, it will feed into puzzles more organically in other areas of Beyond, alongside making everything seem more open and alive.
One updated system for puzzling will see you able to hack into certain computers or devices (similar to LINC in Beneath) using a special scanner and swap “logic nodes” to pretty much make computers do as you wish. For example, if a bridge requires a type of key card or chip to allow you to pass, but you don’t have that pass, you can swap the two blocks of “grant access” and “access denied” around, so that now NOT having a key card means you’re allowed in. It’s a really cool idea that I’m hoping gets used more in the full game as there were only a few simple examples of it in the demo. Fingers crossed this will add a new dimension to gameplay alongside dialogue and inventory solutions.
Another nice feature I noticed was a hint system, not dissimilar to the kind used by Revolution in the recent Broken Sword. It seems there’ll be a “cool down” restriction, whereby after asking for one hint you’ll have to wait at least two minutes before you can ask for the next one. It’s a nice idea to encourage people to only turn to help when needed, while still offering the chance to solve the issue yourself without having the complete solution spelled out.
Everyone here will be voiced, and there’s a large cast to meet in your first few encounters back in and around Union City, from Ember, a sassy scavenger; to Chipsworth, a robotic butler. Foster’s voice actor (different from Beneath‘s CD-ROM version) lends the character some much needed grizzled gravitas thanks to all of his time spent out in the bush. Dialogue options (shown on-screen as text) will update themselves with a green arrow once you’ve unlocked something more to speak about; otherwise they’ll be highlighted in yellow for options relating directly to objectives, or blue for additional dialogue lines. The writing feels snappy for the most part, aside from one strange meeting with an Irish woman that came off as stilted and artificial – let’s just say that Foster is best at leaving the comedy to others.
As well as the outskirts of Union City, which I’d seen previously, I got to venture inside a little bit as well. Speaking of comic relief, after Foster left, his robot pal Joey took charge with the aim of transforming it into a utopia. Whilst he appears to have improved much in the ensuing years, Joey’s now nowhere to be seen, with the City instead ruled by the Council, a group of rather autocratic Nineteen Eighty-Four-sounding ministers more interested in controlling the population than improving it. https://player.vimeo.com/video/354853017
Having managed to gain access to the city by swapping another person’s ID chip for my own, I headed back to my “new” (read: the other guy’s) apartment, only to find a member of the Ministry of Welfare on my doorstep inquiring as to why I had been absent from work for so long. This challenged me with finding out as much as I could about the identity of Foster’s accidental benefactor to try convincing the Minister that I was him, which required some snooping around the apartment to discover a bit about his hobbies and where he worked. It was then time to be quizzed by the Minister, which included an amusing section of having to interpret the mimed actions of my alter ego’s wife standing behind the inquisitor to guess some extra answers in a nice demonstration that Revolution’s sense of fun is well and truly intact.
It’s clear there’s still some fine-tuning needed before the release of Beyond a Steel Sky, with the odd bug remaining here and there, though nothing too unexpected at this stage. Mainly, though, there’s great promise in the prospect of being able to go anywhere and ostensibly do anything within reason in a free-form way, and I’m left feeling hopeful that Revolution will be able to harness that potential and use it to enhance the traditional adventure game fare. At the very least the intriguing plot, eclectic cast of characters old and new, and Dave Gibbons’ comic book art should make for a memorable trip back to Union City.
As ever, AdventureX 2019 was a delightful place to frequent for a few rain-sodden days in London, not only for its setting in the comforting confines of the British Library but also for how welcome everyone from organisers to developers made me feel. The huge array of offerings on display, whether from first-time teams working round the clock on their passion projects to more established developers expanding their repertoires, made the event the go-to destination for any adventure game enthusiast worth their salt.
Picking up from where my colleague Steve left off in the first half of our two-part coverage, prepare for a whole new wave of furry detectives, creepy mansions and sad little imps as we venture deep into the depths AdventureX 2019 once again for the last but certainly not least round-up of the many promising games available to play during a memorable, fun-filled weekend.
In Tangle Tower, a sequel (in terms of recurring characters if not plot) to SFB Games’ 2014 murder mystery Detective Grimoire, you once again play the quiffed private eye with a penchant for snappy one-liners as he tries to solve a murder at the eccentric titular mansion. Alongside the equally pun-happy Sally Spears, returning from the first game, Grimoire must investigate what happened to the murdered manor owner Freya Fellow, with the only “suspect” being a painting holding a bloodied knife.
With updated animations and digitally painted environments, this game looks even better than the already lauded original. There’s plenty of witty dialogue voiced up to enjoy too. A particular favourite was the exchange around a small handheld harp – the resultant lines “lyre” and “it’s the truth I swear” being just one of many jokes that made me crack a smile in my playthrough.
As with its predecessor, you have to speak to witnesses and pick up clues through simple pointing and clicking to unravel the mystery. At certain stages you’ll be invited to make new deductions by dragging specific clues down from a list to make a sentence (e.g. Freya Fellow + was killed by + the painting) which will advance the plot when all lined up correctly. This structure was a little confusing in the first example shown in the demo due to the abstract nature of the main suspect, but presumably these will become less obtuse throughout the rest of the game, which the developers told me should last up to six hours.
If you’ve been waiting a long time to get your teeth into a Detective Grimoire sequel you’re in luck, as the game is out now on Steam for Windows and Mac, as well as Apple Arcade for iOS devices and Apple TV, and the Nintendo eShop for Switch.
Aurora: The Lost Medallion
The passion for adventure games could not have been more evident at this year’s AdventureX than when meeting developers Nooema Games and playing their demo of Aurora: The Lost Medallion. Director Giannis Chatzopoulos told me that he had quit his day job to make the game and regularly spends up to fifteen hours a day working on it. From playing the demo, it looks like that hard work has paid off – Aurora looks great, with a Deponia-esque cartoon quality to its graphics, but most importantly it plays great too.
You’re the titular Aurora, a young girl growing up on the frozen planet Eedor in the Trappist-1 planetary system, just a short 39 light years away from Earth. Raised by artificially intelligent robots and with no knowledge as to her origins, she and a group of children play in the underground cave systems, waiting out the hours until they must make their “Pilgrimage,” an ancient journey to the top of a hollow mountain where they can convene with the mysterious “Voices” and find out their purpose. Naturally there’s a “but” coming: Aurora was born with no such voice to guide her, and so the story follows her search for an identity in this mysterious adult-less world.
If the premise sounds complicated, that’s probably because the plan is to give the story plenty of time to breathe across four full episodes, with only the first available to sample firsthand in London. The demo showed off a traditional third-person point-and-click adventure, in which I picked up objects and combined / used them to solve puzzles.
The puzzles themselves were satisfying to solve, as I followed Aurora around her underground home whilst playing a form of hide-and-seek with the other children, challenged with not only finding the elusive kids scattered throughout the complex but also drawing them out of their hiding places. One particular puzzle required my limited knowledge of physics to work out the clever solution to a crowbar that was slightly too big to use as a lever. There were plenty of “eureka moments” like this throughout the demo featuring tasks smartly put together which all made logical sense. https://player.vimeo.com/video/315923771
Here’s hoping that the first full episode of this grand space odyssey, out on Windows, Mac and Linux in the first quarter of 2020, will keep up the pace and quality of the demo which is available now to download on Steam.
You can’t escape games featuring anthropomorphic detectives at the moment, but EggNut’s Backbone has a little bit more up its tightly fitting trench coat than just its furry protagonist. Yes, you play Howard Lotor, a raccoon P.I. who’s weary of the world, but stepping into that world – a dystopian, beautifully pixelized version of Vancouver – is a noir-ish joy. The demo started with Lotor searching the rain-drenched downtown streets looking for leads on an otter who’s disappeared. Silhouettes hurried past in the foreground whilst smoking animals slumped out of grubby apartment window ledges in the background, and all around pockets of lamppost light permeated neon shades of blue and purple. Dystopia never looked so pretty.
Lotor’s first mission is to get inside a club where he thinks his missing otter has been spotted recently, and to do this you’ll have to ask around for help from some of the street’s ne’er-do-wells. Start a conversation and you’re presented with a range of dialogue options to choose from, some more aggressive than others. It’ll be interesting to see whether these choices affect the story arc or whether you’ll still be lead down the same path – when finally gaining access to the club for instance, I was promptly kicked out again for failing to gain the owner’s trust and ended up climbing up a newspaper stand to sneak in through the roof.
To do so I had to sneak my way past rodent henchmen (dressed in very snappy polo necks) by keeping to the shadows. Developer Aleksa Korabelnikova told me these stealth elements will feature throughout the game but will be kept fairly simple so that even the most ardent adventure game fan can creep through with relative ease just by pointing and clicking The issue with sneaking in 2D is it’s a little tricky to see which parts of the on-screen furniture you’re supposed to hide behind, but I eventually managed to dodge my way past the trendy thugs and further into the club. There a satisfying code-cracking puzzle awaited me, followed by a trip into the club’s dimly lit kitchen for the demo’s dark denouement.
Backbone may riff on many similar atmospheric dystopian-future offerings but its detailed animations, gorgeous pixel art and intriguing adult world is one I’m eager to revisit when the game is released on PC and consoles in the fourth quarter of 2020. For those who can’t wait that long, a lengthier version of the AdventureX prologue demo is available on Steam for Windows, Mac and Linux.
What was I saying about anthropomorphic detectives? They’re the new “breaking the fourth wall to tell a Monkey Island joke.” Goloso Games’ Inspector Waffles has a titular feline P.I. as well, along with some top notch cheesy cat puns (a painting on the wall is by “the famous Meowgritte”). It’s decidedly lighter in tone and colour palette than Backbone, but still looks very pretty in 2D pixel art, the inspector’s animated tail swishing thoughtfully in a particularly pleasing touch as he arrives at the scene of murder victim Fluffy.
Though indie solo developer Yann tells me that The Darkside Detective wasn’t an inspiration for his game, Waffles and his painfully earnest canine superior Officer Patches evoked warm memories for me of a certain Detective McQueen and Officer Dooley, as did its puns, pixels and inventory puzzles. Rather than a series of self-contained cases to complete, here there’s a single larger story to unravel. In between searching for clues amongst Fluffy’s abode – the characters remaining static on-screen while you use the mouse to pick up objects or use them – snippets of radio reports and news headlines recount the ongoing battle of two mayoral candidates fighting for election and hint at a big case in the inspector’s own past which nearly forced him into early retirement. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out alongside solving the present-day murder case.
Anyone eager to get their claws into Inspector Waffles will have to make do with the demo on Steam for Windows PC in advance of the full game’s 2020 release.
Look at The Crimson Diamond. Play TheCrimson Diamond. Love TheCrimson Diamond. No, don’t worry; I haven’t suffered a debilitating attack of exhaustion after a full weekend of playing games. Just channeling my inner text parser à la the first video game project from Canadian artist and developer Julia Minamata. It’s an attractive looking debut effort which caught many people’s eyes across the hall during AdventureX, and for good reason – Julia has lovingly brought back the retro text-driven, 16-colour EGA palette seen in early Sierra games such as the Laura Bow mysteries which seasoned adventure gamers can’t help but get all nostalgic and gooey over.
The premise is a simple if intriguing one: as amateur geologist and put-upon detective Nancy Maple you must visit the fictional ghost town of Crimson, Ontario to investigate the discovery of a huge diamond there. The demo had me snooping about the town’s lodge using the keyboard both to move about and type in commands, interviewing a cast of peculiar characters and picking up odd objects. A nice touch is that if you get lost amongst the many possible commands at your disposal, you can take a look at your notebook for a list of the main things you need to complete (albeit at the expense of missing out on some of the fun unessential things you could discover along the way).
With its EGA stylings and text parser gameplay, it’s great to see old ways being updated for modern audiences by passionate developers. The Crimson Diamond will be shining bright on Windows PC in the first quarter of 2020, but in the meantime you can check out the demo on Steam.
Studio Seufz’s :THE LONGING: is the antidote to our rushed, activity-packed lives: an ultra-slow idle adventure which takes 400 days in real time to complete. Well, it will do, if you load up the game and do nothing, then come back to it in 13.1507 months’ time. But there are ways of making the experience go by quicker when present, alongside simply letting it play out when you’re not there, which you’ll slowly (quite literally) discover. You play as a sad little black impish being with big Dobby-from-Harry-Potter-esque eyes called “The Shade,” the last servant of many, ordered to wait for 400 days in an underground cavern until his master the King wakes up from a very deep sleep.
And so you trundle around the hand-drawn landscapes, exploring empty room after empty room by clicking where to go, talking to yourself out loud in lonely but darkly comedic monologues and occasionally picking up items like coal or maybe even a coloured piece of loam. Treasure these rare finds, because if you return them to your home cave, you’ll be able to use them to make your space a little more inviting.
Volker Ritzhaupt from publisher Application Systems Heidelberg was on hand to explain that making your home more comfortable to live in will make the clock count down quicker. In fact, he was able to complete the game in a mere ten days. As well as loam, which you can use to draw, you can even collect whole novels like Moby Dick and read them yourself, or leave the imp to read whilst you get on with other things to make the clock jump ahead even more.
For longer distances, there will be a waypoint system that allows you to mark certain key locations in your menu and set your lonely servant off to make his way there on his own, checking up on him later when he’s arrived. However, some time-specific puzzles may need you to wait to unlock further areas of the huge map, such as a gap you can’t immediately jump over because it needs a whole week to pass for a certain type of moss to grow for you to cross it. For less patient gamers, Volker told me there will be four endings to attain but thankfully only one that requires you to last the entire 400 days to see it.
It’s a much shorter wait than 400 days until this game comes out on Steam for Windows, Mac and Linux in February or March of next year.
Nyamyam Games’ latest offering bears certain similarities with their 2014 release, Tengami, but also some significant differences. Astrologaster follows the story of real-world 16th century astrologist and herbalist “Doctor” Simon Forman, who read the stars to foretell how to treat his patients, with surprising success. The demo saw me playing as Simon trying to treat some of these ailing people, with the ultimate aim to win a medical licence using points added up from written recommendations from your various clients.
Simon’s world is laid out as a beautifully stylized pop-up book, with animated characters telling their woes to the astrologer in the foreground against a backdrop of the night sky behind you. Each new patient gets their own dedicated page sequence to be clicked and dragged as if pages in a book, and most cases are introduced with some merry Renaissance-era music – think flutes and lutes – and singing in rhyme, a nice touch to set the scene.
Whilst developer Jennifer Schneidereit told me that some of the patient cases are based on actual people that went to visit Forman, taken from the digital archives at Cambridge University, tongue is planted firmly in cheek when it comes to telling their stories. For example, one woman who visits Simon describes having an evening of merriment the night before and waking up with a “headache and involuntary purging.” It doesn’t take an Elizabethan astrologer to deduce that she might well be suffering from a hangover, but here you’ll then have the chance to “read the stars” to give suggestions on how she should proceed.
This basically means clicking between different zodiacs presented in the sky, each with slightly different interpretations of what might be the issue – e.g. in this scenario Saturn might suggest that our lady has been besieged by a case of black bile, so choose this option and Simon will suggest to her that she needs to simply take a day for everything to settle. There don’t seem to be any “wrong” choices but the catch is that you want your patients to recommend you, so particularly later in the game you might find yourself telling people what they want to hear, rather than what’s really going on. There will also be basic shape-based puzzles introduced as you progress to challenge you to read the stars correctly. In between, expect a lot Blackadder II-style humour, jubilant sing-a-longs and, naturally, plenty of ruffs. https://player.vimeo.com/video/371523466
Released earlier this year, Astrologaster is available for download on Steam and itch.io for Windows and Mac, as well as the App Store for iOS devices.
A Juggler’s Tale
A Juggler’s Tale is a beautifully realised side-scrolling story told by a voiced narrator, in which you play a puppet named Abbey, dangling by marionette strings, who decides to break away from her performing way of life and her own strict narrative.
This puzzle-platformer will take roughly two hours to play in total. I was able to guide Abbey in taking the first steps to freedom by trying to escape a circus ringleader who’s held her and a gruff old bear in captivity. Your very existence as a marionette creates its own kind of puzzles – try to move across the screen when obstacles high above are in the way and your strings will get tangled. In the demo I enlisted the bear’s help to reach higher places.
There’s a traditional lyrical-style fairytale feel to the narration, which developer Dominik Schoen told me will start to create tension between puppet and master as Abbey disobeys what the all-knowing voice wants her to do. And given the faintly dark ending of the demo, it seems that despite the brightly coloured locations and characters I observed, this tale will probably end up being more Grimm than Disney.
A Juggler’s Tale will be released no strings attached on PC, hopefully by the end of 2020, and then at a later date on consoles.
Vagrus: The Riven Realms
Lovers of spare time beware: the standalone “Pilgrims of the Wasteland” tutorial for Vagrus: The Riven Realms, which I played as a demo at AdventureX, should take roughly ten hours to complete on its own. It’s a lot of time to commit to a tutorial, even one with richly formed lore involving a post-apocalyptic-cum-Roman-Empire -themed world where you play as the eponymous Vagrus, a kind of hardened traveler who helps escort cargo and passengers from settlement to settlement between dangerous wastelands.
But Vagrus is a dense game, with many, many layers. There’s its text adventure side, which will see you shape the conversation of detailed descriptions of battles, as well as encounters with all kinds of vagabonds and monsters and occasionally quiet chats with your crew as you try to suss out whether they still trust you and whether they’re still to be trusted. Whilst sometimes that’ll just be a case of choosing between dialogue or action options, as you progress and earn more experience you’ll also gain certain perks which might unlock more choices for you to choose from.
There’s also its strategy game side, in which a tabletop view of your journey through the Mad Max-like wilderness allows you to keep your company feeling well and rested by buying enough supplies at the towns you pass along the way, as well as topping up their wages and making sure they’re healthy enough to fight for you. And speaking of fighting, there’s the game’s RPG side – battles aren’t just written down in Vagrus. Instead, at certain points you’ll be transported to a side view of a battlefield to duke it out in turn-based combat with your chosen crew members and whatever nasties stand in your way, choosing spells or melee attack or defense options to batter your opponents.
The tutorial, which developers Lost Pilgrims consider a must to complete before attempting the main game, will introduce players to the many, many options that will become available in the much less linear and more open world of The Riven Realms, whilst using the same intricate gameplay systems as I saw in the demo.
For now only backers of The Riven Realms’ Fig Open Access campaign can see if they have what it takes to become a true Vagrus by playing through the tutorial, with early access for the full game planned to be unlocked this December, followed by the public release later in Q1 2020.
Following Part 1 and Part 2 earlier this week, we wrap up our coverage with the third and final round-up of gamescom 2019’s bumper crop of upcoming adventure games – this time featuring impending comets, sullen detectives. and of course spore-ridden, giant technology-laden islands.
In this traditional adventure set in an alternate 1920s where mechanical yaks, dieselpunk and robot armies are the objects and themes du jour, you play eccentric pilot and engineer Pola Zagórska. Alongside her robotic chum Pascal, Pola’s on a mission to save her father who’s been kidnapped by his own invention, a vicious supermachine called Valkiria. The key to success seems to lie in pieces of a mechanical heart scattered across the world, which when joined together will create the mysterious “Brassheart” – supposedly the only way to send Valkiria packing for good.
Firing up the demo, I was immediately struck by the colourful and detailed Deponia-esque 2D graphics. Gameplay is traditional point-and-click fare, with lots of mechanical gadgets and gizmos to look at and pick up as inventory. I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of each metal-infused expanse to discover more about its retro robotic lore, where batteries and gauges sit alongside AI and anti-gravity generators. At the start I had to help Pola find some way of getting her poor pilot out of a plane that had crash landed and was in danger of blowing up at any second. Getting the pilot loose required a mixture of finding and combining the right objects and an intriguing logic puzzle involving trying to set a clock to the right time and date to get that aforementioned mechanical yak working.
You can use Pascal the robot on certain objects like lasers and levers that need powering up, and he also serves as a location-specific hint system. With one tap this friendly automaton, charmingly voiced by one of developer Hexy Studio’s own team members, will offer a cryptic clue to any puzzles close at hand. It’s a nice way of helping you move on in the game without giving everything away. The gentle banter between Pola and Pascal is fun and elicited a chuckle or two, especially around Pascal’s reluctance to reach certain necessary puzzle-related objects due to his fear of heights: “You’re levitating all the time!” “I know, and it’s terrifying!”
Though traditional in its design inspirations down to a tee, with such an intriguing premise, tight puzzles and a beautiful world to dig deep into, Brassheart may well prove to be more than just the sum of its parts when it hits Windows PC sometime around October of this year.
Minute of Islands
Sail the high seas and fix broken giant technology in this narrative 2D side-scrolling adventure from the creators of The Inner World. A mysterious storm of poisonous spores has infected the group of islands that a young upstart mechanic named Mo calls home. Luckily she’s got all the engineering know-how and a certain wand-like device called the Omni Switch that can restore the ancient defense mechanisms (made by giants that live under the islands) built to resist such attacks. Don’t let the bright, comic-style graphics fool you: travelling through the bacteria-ridden archipelago will take its toll on Mo – even in the short demo I played, contact with the damaging germs left her coughing and spluttering as she struggled to fix the three machines needed to return the island back to its former glory.
Developers Studio Fizbin were keen to show me how Mo’s headstrong personality impacts the game. As you jump and climb around each island, which will each represent a different chapter of the game, a narrator comments on Mo’s actions, which sometimes go against the player’s will. At one stage the diminutive protagonist is given the option of kicking back with one of the island’s occupants with a bottle of wine, but whilst I was all for a bit of grape-infused relaxation, Mo thought differently, so the narrator had no choice but to comment that she was too focused on her quest to care about wine at the moment, and on with the story we went.
Each island will have its own unique style and feel, but all will hold a couple of environmental puzzles to solve and branched pathways to take so you can choose which ones to work on and which way to go first. Along the way are “memory points” that allow you to cause Mo to remember a certain anecdote about something related to that spot which draws you more into the lore of that island. You can also opt to brush past them all, just like with the many collectibles you can pick up (or not) in secret areas along the way, though the team told me these will serve more of a purpose than just being a meaningless completion statistic.
You can do your best to help restore young Mo’s world in early 2020 when Minute of Islands is released on Windows, Mac, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit
The “George and Nico” vibes are strong in this tale of an American thrown into ancient European history, which isn’t surprising as some of the team behind Crowns and Pawns were involved in the acclaimed freeware fan sequel Broken Sword 2.5: The Return of the Templars. This is a traditional point-and-click adventure taking place within a grand tour around Europe to uncover a mysterious family secret, uprooted from its buried past when main character Milda travels from her home city of Chicago to read the last will of her deceased grandfather. Hijinks and melodramatic villains soon appear, and it’s up to our blonde American to uncover the family riddles that reveal the secrets of the king who was never crowned.
The demo saw me exploring the abandoned house of Milda’s grandfather in Lithuania for clues. The clean, realistic renderings draw comparisons to other modern 3D adventures like Telltale’s Sam & Max series. Wearing its classic adventure influences on its sleeve, items can be picked up and combined in inventory, and the puzzles I encountered felt like just the right level of making you feel faintly clever for solving them but never so taxing that you’ll be stumped for too long. For example, you discover that some of the blank pages you’ve been picking up through the house may have invisible ink on them, so you’ll need to figure out how to reveal what’s hidden and then find the right items required and hey presto, you’re onto the next challenge: deciphering what on earth is written in the ink!
Here’s hoping this tale of historical intrigue can live up to its classic heritage when it’s unearthed on Windows, Mac and Xbox One in 2020.
A comet’s about to hit the sleepy town of Laburnum Creek, but even given their evident impending doom, some of the inhabitants don’t want to leave. As an inquisitive writer named Laura it’s all perfect fodder for your next book, so you ride on over to the forested former health resort to interview the remaining few and find out what’s keeping them from packing their bags.
Unsurprisingly, all is not as it seems at a place where people are willing to die rather than deal with some admittedly unique real estate issues, so Laura soon finds herself uncovering the buried secrets of the townsfolk. The game, from the team behind Unforeseen Incidents, will take place in the days leading up to the comet’s impact, with gameplay consisting of Laura building up friendships with those around her and conducting interviews with the people left behind. I got to try the interview mechanic with one of the residents. This lets you choose various approaches – friendly, sarcastic, direct, etc. – to get more from your subject. There are no puzzles in RESORT;the main challenge will be picking your own path through these interviews, but there’s no wrong way to play. As well as conversing with them, there will also be side quests from the residents which Laura can complete to endear her a little more to them, and maybe help her reveal something juicy.
With all of this rushing around, it’s a good thing there’s a gorgeous 3D expanse in which to do it, taking in Firewatch-like sun-blushed pine trees and crystal clear lakes either on foot or in your trusty orange station wagon. Developers Backwoods Entertainment say they chose to keep the graphics low-poly to fit with the retro 1970s setting, which also might explain Laura’s groovy afro hairstyle and flares. Camera angles proved quite obstructive and awkward in my playthrough, which undermined some of the fun, but there’s still time for this to all be polished up long before the game is released.
RESORT is planned for a 2021 launch on PC and Switch.
In this ode to cyberpunk and Lovecraftian cosmic horror from the makers of Conarium and the Darkness Within series, you play hacker-for-hire Randolph Carter, one of the few members of society still thriving in a post-apocalyptic future world gone badly wrong. The groups of people who have managed to survive alongside our protagonist live inside a citadel called the Domed City Providence, but wouldn’t you know it, Randolph soon discovers something that warps his version of reality altogether.
Whilst you’ll come across all kinds of weird and freaky creatures in Transient, like a fluorescent jellyfish alien, this is a puzzle game, not an action game. Logical brainteasers like sliding several circular tiles so that all the serpents depicted on them eat their own tails are dripping with Lovecraftian lore, but I also had to make use of a “scanner” function to pick out details in an investigation scene I otherwise couldn’t see to solve one challenge. You’ll swap between reality and another alternate dream state – sometimes at will and sometimes very much not – as you delve deeper into the secrets of Providence and the mysterious forces within it. I got a definite BioShock vibe from the dark hallways and misty, neon-drenched rooms all rendered in first-person 3D, though the gameplay felt much more linear in the section I played rather than allowing exploration of this alternative realm how you like. https://player.vimeo.com/video/339156782
The demo didn’t give much more away about why this is all happening to Randolph, so you’ll have to wait until Transient’s 2020 release date on PC, PS4 and Xbox to delve any deeper into this shadowy tale that straddles the line between the real and the abstract.
Sometimes games suffer from choice paralysis, throwing so many options and pathways at the player that you feel overburdened with things to decide. Not so in Hitchhiker, a first-person 3D narrative-driven game where you play – what else? – a memory-stricken hitchhiker who is picked up and dropped off along scenic backdrops by the cars of five different strangers. Along the way, as you listen to the tales the drivers have to tell, you’ll also uncover more about your own dark backstory and maybe even figure out why you started this journey in the first place.
But a vehicular version of a walking simulator this is not. Whilst you will sit back and listen to each person’s anecdotes, jokes and occasional (terrible) songs, responding to them through different dialogue choices, there are also surreal environmental puzzles to solve, all with their own theme depending on who’s at the wheel. In my trip, driven by a mustachioed, drawling, baseball cap-wearing farmer who couldn’t wait to tell me the whole world was a giant conspiracy theory, I had to guess the answers to riddles being read out on the radio that all related to what I could see outside my window. Things started to get surreal when the radio presenter started talking to me directly – not everything stays on the straight and narrow planes of reality in your adventures along the dusty highways.
With its philosophical musings and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hallucinogenic visuals, Hitchhiker plays like a particularly strong acid trip version of Jack Kerouac’s beatnik road trip novel On the Road. If you’re down for such a wild ride, you can catch a lift later this year on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch.
Are you a hard-boiled gumshoe who gets results by any means necessary? Or do you wait a while, bide your time and make friends on the inside until you have enough evidence to bring in your enemies? You get to choose between these or several other shades of grey paths to walk in Critique Gaming’s noir detective story about bringing down a mysterious terrorist organization, The Liberation Front.
As the lead detective, your goal is to dismantle the extremist group radicalizing members of the public. You do this mainly through conversational puzzles where you have to guess which move to make next to crack your suspect. Do you ask them a question directly? Or do you try to gain their trust first? As well as a heartbeat monitor at the top right of the screen, you also get visual cues as to how you’re faring. On this the team have sought a high level of realism to bring each of the interrogated to life, hand-drawing every animation in black and white by rotoscoping more than 1000 photos of over 40 actors. The effect is an eerie quality of half-real and half-animated, akin to a highly lifelike version of Hotel Dusk’s art design.
In the brief demo I saw, I really could tell when my suspect was getting angry or sometimes nervous. On that front, you don’t always have to play by the book when you’re asking questions. If you want to create fear, you can – there will be less ethical tools to use like the “wall slam” to get your point across too. With a timer ticking down before the interrogation has to end, you may find yourself resorting to measures you’d rather go unnoticed in the press releases.
As you’re a member of the police, you will have to deal with the media and a PR report tracks your success through variables such as your public popularity and press approval. You’ll have to measure this, as well as managing your strict budget and which of your agents you assign to certain missions. Mess up too many times and you could be fired – or even interrogated yourself. With ten planned chapters comprising as many hours of gameplay, I was impressed by the scope of Interrogation and hope that it hasn’t bitten off more than it can chew. The team say they want the game to be difficult and even frustrating at points – you won’t get everything the first try, because that’s not how real-world interrogations work.
Interrogation might not be for everyone, but with its challenging themes and striking gameplay, it sure feels like something that everyone should try. The game is set to be released in late October or early November on Windows, Mac and Linux.
In this puzzle-oriented adventure game, players switch between two woodland creatures or “Weavelings” – one deaf, one blind, using both of their complementary senses to venture through a fantasy world of light and nature. Controlling only one creature at a time, you’ll have to rely on your companion if you want to restore their destroyed homeland. For example, the stoic, slower Blind can “see” only a limited part of the world closest to him in blacks, greys and whites by tapping his stick on the ground, but can hear everything around him. Meanwhile, tap a button and switch to the sprightly, smaller Deaf and whilst suddenly lush colourful 3D waterfalls and forests come swirling into view, all sound is lost. Puzzles require a mix of both senses, such as using Deaf to leap across platforms Blind can’t see to flick a switch, then using Blind’s staff to strike buttons in a certain pattern to open a gate. A fun concept in a short demo, it’ll be interesting to see how much the obstacles develop past these basic forms in the full game, and also how the pair’s relationship will grow as you progress. Weakless is due out at the end of this year on PC and Xbox One.
Whilst sleuthing my way through the latest Darkside Detective: Season 2 demo at Adventure Treff’s party, I also got to find out a little bit more about Sunken Spectre, another project some of the developers at Spooky Doorway are working on. Playing as Jacqueline Moore, the fearless captain of the titular ship, you set off sailing the high seas, free diving for treasure, accepting quests from landlubbers, and getting into scrapes with your sworn enemy Royale Le Strange. The 3D game already sounds gloriously pulpy in concept, with the team emphasizing they want it to feel like you are playing a rip-roaring adventure inside a Saturday morning cartoon. There will be three play styles – on land, sea and underwater – and hopefully plenty of scope for becoming a badass pirate within the proposed 10-15 hours of gameplay. You’ll have to wait until 2022 to get your cutlasses into this one though, when it’s planned for release on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch.
The Flower Collectors
I got to take a quick look at concept art and a bit of the backstory behind The Flower Collectors, a new game from Mi’pu’mi, the developers behind The Lion’s Song. Set in Barcelona in 1977, a time of civil unrest, and featuring a cast of anthropomorphic animals, you play ex-cop Jorge, a reclusive bear bound to a wheelchair. You’re joined by aspiring feline journalist Melinda as you investigate a large-scale political conspiracy. You’ll piece together clues you gather on an interactive corked pin board in Jorge’s room, and the team told me there’ll be different endings depending on your actions and deductions. Mi’pu’mi also hope to create an empowering message about disability as Jorge comes out of his shell and interacts increasingly more with his cat friend, which if implemented properly could make for a heartfelt and refreshing narrative. The Flower Collectors is on track for launch on PC and PS4 next year.
Jules Verne, the shape of fantasy
Play the famous novelist himself in Gametopia Studios’ side-scrolling pixel art narrative adventure, as he tries to escape a parallel world where his famous works co-exist. Riffing mainly off Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the game plays as a blend of platforming and puzzle elements. In my demo I had to find hidden pages scattered throughout an island I’d washed up on. It wasn’t quite made immediately clear why, but my initial confusion was soothed by the pleasing lo-fi graphics surrounding me. You too can play the pixelated playwright upon the game’s release on Windows PC in early 2020.
Season of the Warlock
Alistair Ainsworth is an English Lord obsessed with the occult who wants to prove that magic exists but gets more than he bargained for when a portrait of a warlock starts talking to him. The story then branches into two pathways, where you can choose to sign up with the warlock and do his bidding, or not and instead put all your effort into discovering why the portrait is enchanted and eventually exorcise it. If that premise sounds familiar, it’s because The Season of the Warlock (originally announced under the title The Weird Story of Waldemar the Warlock) has been a staple of our gamescom coverage for quite a few years now. I come mainly bearing news that enComplot assures me the point-and-click 3D adventure is still coming to Windows, Mac and Linux, and unless cursed by a real life warlock we can expect to play this camp horror adventure sometime next year.
Our adventure game coverage of gamescom 2019 picks up where part one left off, featuring its fair share of detectives, comic books and memory lapses.
Blacksad: Under the Skin
Scooping the Best Action / Adventure Game award at gamescom this year, Blacksad, based on the Spanish comic book series of the same name, was also a popular draw at the annual Adventure-Treff party, where I got to spend some time playing it firsthand. You control Detective John Blacksad, an anthropomorphic cat voiced with an appropriately husky tone, as he unravels a dark corruption scandal set to shake the heart of 1950s New York. Although borrowing locations and characters like Commissioner Smirnov from the comics, Under the Skin will be an entirely original story you’ll get to sink your claws into. Pendulo Studios have decided to go for 3D graphics, which may not to be everyone’s taste given its moody, shaded 2D origins, but they certainly convey the feeling of a bustling city to explore.
The beginning of the demo showed that the “Action” part of that gamescom award isn’t entirely unwarranted. Everything starts with a bang as a very upset rhinoceros bursts into your office, angry that you’ve apparently been spying on him and his mistress. After a few QTE sequences to protect yourself from becoming rhino-kill, more of which I was told will be peppered throughout the gameplay, the “Adventure” side kicks in.
As Blacksad tried to reason with our angry horned friend, narrative devices from titles such as Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead sprang to mind. The various response options available, ranging from sarcastic to friendly, are similar to the zombie adventure game, and just like in Telltale’s series, messages flash up on-screen noting the way you’ve handled things. This will all impact something called “Your Blacksad”, a menu that you can bring up at any time. This feature will show fourteen different tracked traits such as silent, talkative, hard-boiled or sensitive, with the way you’ve chosen to roleplay Blacksad affecting those scores in real time. How much this will change the story in general is hard to tell, but I learned that there will be six different endings in total, so presumably if you go through the game being a complete pushover you’re going to get a very different outcome than if you act like you’re the cat’s whiskers.
After deciding whether to accept a bribe to keep quiet about our irate new guest’s philanderings (I chose to remain honest, which will apparently have consequences later on), it’s time to actually take on a case. Joe Dunn, the owner of a boxing club, has been found dead whilst rising boxing star Bobby Yale has mysteriously disappeared just days before the fight of his career. You’re tasked by Joe’s daughter to find out what’s really going on. As well as talking to people and clicking on objects, you can also use your “Cat Senses” at certain points of the investigation. This is basically a way of using Blacksad’s incredible feline senses to zoom in on a scene and pick up hidden clues – for example noticing with his superior eyesight the type of handwriting a waitress has. It feels a little shoehorned into proceedings at the moment as you can only use it in very specific instances, but maybe this will open up as you progress.
When you have enough clues to form a theory about something, you’ll spark an animation letting you know. This “deduction system” sees you combine the bits of evidence you’ve already found, which when put together correctly may make for new leads. It’s a nice way of making the player feel like they’re really doing some of the detective work, even though in the demo it was normally pretty obvious which details I needed to put together as the animation happened straight after picking up a necessary clue.
Early on the branching storyline feels a little at odds with these more rigid investigation segments. Even so, the intriguing cocktail of noir setting, multiple dialogue options and exciting action sequences may well make for a fur-midable detective game when Blacksad: Under The Skin is released on PC, Mac, PS4, Switch and Xbox One on November 5th.
The Darkside Detective: Season 2
Detective McQueen and his permanently confused sidekick Officer Dooley are back for a second slice of the supernatural adventure anthology The Darkside Detective. In a break from most sequels, developers Spooky Doorway seem to have changed very little from their successful first offering, as judging by the demo I sampled we’ll again be playing through another set of self-contained chapters with classic chunky pixel art, solving puzzles through dialogue choices as well as combining and using items in your inventory, and getting up to all kinds of spooky hijinks investigating the supernatural. I’m also glad to report that the game’s trademark puns and absurd humour are still very much on point, with one puzzle requiring me to find a physical book for a Clown Judge to throw at a Clown Defendant before court could be concluded.
One thing that will be different compared to the first game is the extended length of each chapter. The demo, which naturally saw McQueen and Dooley at a circus trying to reanimate a broken down robotic elephant, took roughly 20-30 minutes to complete and the team told me this represents only about a quarter of the full chapter in total, with the plan to feature even longer cases than this in the final product.
Here’s hoping Season 2 is able to maintain the same silly sense of humour in bigger, bolder cases when it comes out on Windows, Mac and Linux in spring 2020.
Adventure Gamers last left the protagonist of this dark, Black Mirror-like take on modern society making his way over to start another dull day as an Assistant Resource Technician at Mosaic‘s titular company. If that doesn’t sound like the most exciting of game concepts, well, that’s kind of the point. You play Inge Nilson, trapped in the daily grind alongside thousands of others in a grey, 1984-esque dystopian city, but at gamescom I got to see more of the surreal touches of how you’ll fight to break free of the faceless system.
I picked up the story as Inge was travelling home from work – so far, so monotonous. But soon I found myself morphing into a cardboard box on a conveyor belt and stealthily trying to escape my factory life and workers. These daydream sequences will blend seamlessly into the gameplay, with another segment seeing Inge suddenly shrinking to the size of a mouse and having to frantically avoid being stepped on by the gigantic passersby.
Work life in Mosaic is a bit more “normal”, involving you mining for resources by tapping various tiles in a simplistic puzzle game, a little bit like the intentionally repetitive BlipBlop game you can play on your phone in-game and, if you download the app, outside of it too. Don’t get too sucked in though: there were hints from the team that there’s something more sinister afoot with the office minigame that you’ll slowly uncover as you open your eyes to the world around you. And who better to try to help guide you on your journey to break free from your everyday routine than a flapping goldfish you find one day in your sink and keep in your pocket? Who said life was humdrum?
Mosaic‘s mixture of the banal and the bizarre should be coming to Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4 and Xbox One at the end of this year.
In this quirky point-and-click adventure you play Prim, a sprightly, rather opinionated teenager who also just happens to be the Grim Reaper’s daughter. The demo I played at Adventure-Treff’s party saw the eponymous protagonist trying to break out of her room to sneak out of the Land of the Dead and into that of the Living. It’s all because of a dream she keeps having about a boy who lives there, and so, taking the adage of “follow your dreams” quite literally, Prim’s decided to defy her father’s wishes to stay put, like any good teenager worth her salt.
It’s a very pretty game to look at, stylistically reminiscent of many of Tim Burton’s classics, all hand-drawn in 2D shades of black, grey and white. Whilst traditional in its point-and-click game design, there were a couple of clever touches in the demo that made it feel fresh and fun. For example, rather than having a hotspot indicator available straight away, you first have to figure out how to open a jar of glowing flies, which when let loose will magically settle on the objects you can pick up or use. The writing also felt akin to the punnery of classic adventure titles, with Prim‘s trusty “Swiss Army Scythe” just one of the examples. Fans of unusual sidekicks will also delight in her blinking eyeball friend (literally an eyeball on spider legs, but somehow a lot cuter than that sounds) who after some persuasion helps Prim finally get out of her room, and I’m told will also play a part in the puzzle-solving later on.
Keep your friendly spider eyes peeled for 2021, when this darkly comic adventure is set to be released on Windows, Mac and Linux.
In the world of Lost Ember,you’re only reincarnated as an animal if you’ve done something pretty wrong, but given how fun it is to swap from wolf to duck to fish on the fly, it’s hard to understand why anyone would ever see it as a punishment at all. You play as said wolf in this third-person exploration adventure, or really a human who has been reborn as a wolf, on a quest to reignite old memories of a forgotten culture and within them discover why your soul never found peace.
You won’t be able to get everywhere on your journey as a four-legged creature, but if you’re near another species your soul can swap into them instead with a pleasingly simple tap of a button. Developers Mooneye Studios say there’ll be over fifteen different animals, from buffalo to turtle to mole to swap into, with the demo showcasing environmental obstacles that only particular creatures can overcome, such as large gaps only birds can fly over.
Scampering over lush greenery, then swapping quickly with a tap to swoop over gushing waterfalls is great fun, so much so that I almost forgot that there were some memories I was supposed to be recovering as well. You’re joined on your adventure by a human spirit companion in the form of a glowing ball of light, whose memories may be key to unlocking what happened to you long ago. Certain locations in your travels – the landscape changing from woodland to desert to city as you progress – have such memories attached to them, which you restore by watching them play out as holograms. Then it’s onto the next challenge, maybe as a duck this time, or even a rolling armadillo.
Lost Ember is due to be released before the end of the year on PC, Xbox One and PS4, with a Switch version expected later on.
Wanderlust Travel Stories
Take the interactive fiction of 80 Days and give it a more contemporary “gap year” feel, and you’ve got Wanderlust Travel Stories. A text adventure made up of over 300,000 words and based on real life travel experiences, Wanderlust sees you meeting a group of voyagers around a campfire, and every night they tell their stories in turn. Each story starts in a different country from around the world, from Bangladesh to Thailand, and by swiping around a looming globe and highlighting a tale that takes your fancy, you can choose which story will be told next.
Being a sad, miserable type I chose Tomek’s tale, “It’s Not A Love Story”. Set in Barcelona, it tells the story of one magical evening meeting a stranger who runs away too soon but promises she’ll be back again at the same time, same bar next year. Much like in inkle’s narrative adventure you’re given options for how to shape the tale at certain pauses in the paragraphs, whether in terms of how you replied to your date or what mood you were left in when she disappeared. Similarly, each narrator of their respective tale has a stress and fatigue bar that will increase or deplete throughout the story depending on certain choices you make, and at one stage I even had to do a bit of money managing to decide which mode of transport I could afford to take to try to make it to Barcelona again a year on.
The text is laid over backdrops of real travel photographs which at times felt too much like generic stock photos, rather detracting from the individualistic feel of each anecdote. Far more importantly though, for a game resting so heavily on its text, Wanderlust’s writing is very engaging: I really wanted to find out whether poor Tomek ever did meet up with his mysterious love (sadly my gamescom schedule had other ideas).
If you too want to go on a holiday without ever leaving your seat, you’ll only have to wait another month for Wanderlust’s release on Windows, Mac, iPhone and iPad, so get packing.
Welcome to Elk
This colourful hand-drawn adventure by Triple Topping Games, the developers behind the equally vivid platformer Spitkiss, won the coveted Best Story Award at this year’s Indie Arena Booth, so I went to find out why. The demo certainly is a rollercoaster of emotions: one minute you’re playing a silly minigame sticking cut-out faces onto balloons or trying to pour the perfect pint, the next you’re having to sing one last song for your Dad before he gets shot in the head by a pair of gangsters.
The idea here is to provide a conduit for telling tales of events that happened in the real world. You’re Frigg, a young carpenter on the island of Elk, and you potter about the island, chatting to your not-altogether-there friend Anders and causing mischief, slowly unravelling stories as you wander around. Sometimes the mature nature of these stories or the swear-laden language jarred with the cartoonlike art, but that seemed to almost be the point – life is a strange juxtaposition of humour and gravity, after all. A sudden cut to a filmed interview of the real life storyteller behind the demo’s particular tale, recounting his version of events, shows that the team aren’t afraid to make powerful creative choices to keep the art of storytelling alive.
Welcome to Elk is due to be released on Steam sometime in 2020.
Ghost on the Shore
Memory and/or the lack of it played a big part in many of the games I tried at gamescom, but none more so than in Ghost on the Shore. You play as Riley, an adventurous young woman who’s escaped her abusive father’s clutches aboard a boat, only to find herself marooned on the mysterious Rogue Islands. Things don’t get much better when she encounters Josh, a ghost who gets trapped in Riley’s head, unable to leave until she helps him remember his life.
The demo was a mix of environmental storytelling, exploring part of the island whilst nattering to Josh, picking up objects and investigating the ruins of buildings you come across to try to piece together who Josh was in his past life. It’s a slow-paced experience at present, though the development team like Charlie said that in the finished version there would be more environmental puzzles to solve, as well as different endings to the story depending on how you interact with Josh. Just like in Firewatch, there are various ways you can respond to the voice in your head which will shape your relationship as you continue.
Ghost on the Shore hopes to be haunting PCs through Steam and itch.io in September 2020.
The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets
Tickle dogs, pour tea and collect coins in this whimsical interactive VR adventure which sees you exploring every inch of miniature worlds in search of – what else? – stolen pets. Guided by the voice of your grandfather, you revisit the days of your youth by looking through an old photo album to find those pesky animals. Each memory or world is brought to life in colourful 3D, and in a godlike fashion you can spin and twist each one in front of you with the controllers to examine them fully.
The demo level I played of a country house on top of a hill was filled to the brim with things to grab, pull, pick up and poke. There are five worlds like this one in the game as a whole, and in each you’ll be tasked with finding a certain number of pets by completing environmental puzzles hidden within the area. For example, fill a big cup with boiling water from a nearby teapot and nothing will happen – you’ll first have to ruffle a few bushes hanging overhead to add some tea leaves before you can make yourself a proper brew. For those who want an extra challenge to their pet hunt, there are also several coins concealed amongst the flora and fauna of each world for you to collect, though developer Fast Travel Games told me that there’ll be an option for more casual play too if you’d rather not deal with many puzzles at all.
The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets will be padding over to major 6DoF VR headsets including PlayStation VR, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality later this year.
The year is 2024 and judging by Liberated’s riots, hardline police and authoritarian government, things look like they might have flown off the handle just a little bit. A terror attack ten years ago changed the world into a security-conscious but increasingly more dystopian place where civil rights were erased under the pretext of order. In fitting with these dark vibes, the game is presented as four playable graphic novels, each from a different perspective of different characters. In other words, in one “book” you could be plotting to bring down the police as part of the Liberated protest group, and the next be playing as one of those very police officers itching to catch some rebel scum.
The story plays out in black and white, with most of the narration told within graphic novel-type panels which you flick across and down to progress the story, with other comic book trappings including large “BANG!”s and “AAAH!”s appearing when you shoot people. The game alternates between you “reading” the book, occasionally asking you to make a dialogue choice or take part in some fast-paced QTE button-bashing, and playable side-scrolling 2D segments which are more action-based.
In the demo, where I played one of the Liberated sneaking back to their house, these action sequences felt weaker. The controls to hide or shoot felt stiff and sometimes unresponsive, and once you get into a proper firefight it’s difficult to not die repeatedly. It’s a shame as the beautiful comic book design is painstakingly realised and very cool to play about in, so hopefully there is still time to tighten this element up before launch. If not, the team at gamescom did tell me that there will be two gameplay modes – Player Mode, which includes the action, and Reader Mode for those who want to just flip through the book – so graphic novel fans may well still have a reason to join the resistance.
Liberated will be released at the end of this year on Windows PC and Switch
Traditional point-and-clicks, comic book adaptations, VR voyages deep into the uncharted desert of the Internet’s lost data… For a fan of adventure titles, the tenth edition of the “world’s largest gaming event” certainly didn’t disappoint. Gamescom may not be the industry’s splashiest show compared to the likes of E3 (Keanu Reeves was sadly absent, at least in person, from Cyberpunk 2077’s demo) but the 120-game-strong Indie Booth alone proved that it’s still a huge draw for developers and gamers wanting to promote or play something a little bit different.
From the return to a classic adventure game universe like Revolution’s Beyond a Steel Sky to more contemporary titles playing around with the conventional ideas of narrative such as Mad About Pandas’ Hitchhiker or GhostShark’s Still There, I was positively overwhelmed by the huge variation of story-driven games on offer. I dutifully played through as many as I could (isn’t life hard?) at the week-long event in Cologne’s gigantic Koelnmesse exhibition centre, and came back with lots of insights to share about where the genre will be taking us into next year and beyond – along with many, many free stickers and key rings.
The annual Adventure-Treff party, held by our German counterparts in the aftermath of the frenzied high of gamescom, offered up another chance to play some of the most exciting narrative games coming to us in the next few months in a more relaxed setting. I’ll be delving into all of my experiences over three separate articles, but I was particularly impressed by the pleasing puzzles of Tag of Joy’s European mystery adventure Crowns and Pawns, and the quirky dark humour of CMMN CLRS’ game set in the Land of the Dead, PRIM.
So whilst the rest of the gaming media hypes up the urination mechanics (yes, really) of Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, here’s the first of several in-depth looks at the adventure games on display at gamescom 2019. I’d say we definitely got the better deal.
Beyond a Steel Sky
Robert Foster returns, ten years on from the events of the sci-fi point-and-click classic Beneath a Steel Sky, back to a place he never wanted to return to: Union City. Revolution’s CEO, co-founder and all round adventure gaming royalty Charles Cecil was on hand to show how they’ve reimagined Foster and his old digs 25 years after releasing the original game. Gone is the 2D art; instead Beyond a Steel Sky uses a cel-shaded 3D approach. However, fans of the first game will be glad to know the sequel will once again feature the stylings of award-winning Watchmen comic book artist Dave Gibbons to get that graphic novel feel.
I was shown around the outskirts of Union City as Foster tried to figure out a way back into the place he swore he’d never revisit. You won’t need to have any knowledge of previous events to play Beyond (though why you wouldn’t want to play the classic is certainly beyond me, especially as it’s free) but some locations and characters from the original will return. Cecil revealed tantalizing details of why Foster has made the journey from the desolate outskirts of the Gap back to Union City: a child has been stolen, and our protagonist is back to dig deeper into the disappearance – and no doubt discover other disturbing goings-on along the way. We’ll also see a return of Foster’s smart-ass robot companion Joey and his replaceable shells with different functions.
The idea of Virtual Theatre, which Revolution pioneered in the ‘90s, is back too. It’s a simple concept on paper: every character in the game moves around with their own motivations, instead of being stuck to one spot, there just to respond to player. Of course, to progress further you’ll have to manipulate those motivations, either through dialogue choices, inventory items or even hacking machines. The hacking puzzles in particular look like they’ll be an exciting aspect of the sequel. Once Foster gets the ability, he’ll be able to bring up a hacking screen for machines and “swap around” the logic to get different outcomes.
As an example in the demo, bringing up the hacking skill on a vending machine gives you the option of being able to switch the “sound alarm if tampered with” and “give drink to citizens with correct ID” results by clicking on them, so that now tampering with the machine gets you a drink, whilst any poor citizen that wants a drink will simply get an alarm sounding in their ear. Whilst this is an early, fairly simple example, the logic will apparently get more complicated as the game goes on, giving a lot of free rein for creative thinking.
The open-ended approach all lends a sandbox-style feel to solving puzzles where there may be one issue but many solutions. It’s also going to be possible to die in the game, because, as Charles explains, they want to give the player “a sense of jeopardy,” though always with enough time to hopefully work one’s way out of it. There won’t be any QTEs à la Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon.
For now I bid an intrigued farewell to Union City, or at least its surroundings, excited to return to the comic book dystopia for its fourth quarter release on PC and Apple devices.
“Papers Please in space” doesn’t really do proper justice to Still There, a game which sees you managing the day-to-day menial tasks of running a space station whilst coping with the loss of your daughter. It’s a phrase the developers use more to describe the mechanics rather than the story, as just like in Lucas Pope’s hit, players will have to go through a daily routine of various activities to earn money and proceed to the next schedule-filled day – except here it’s aboard the Bento spaceship rather than at immigration border control. Also in a similar vein to Papers Please, the real narrative and emotional core is hidden beneath these repetitive tasks and slowly peeled back as you progress, in this case telling the story of how one person copes with depression.
As well as life aboard the ship, the game is mixed up with dream sequences featuring a disembodied voice talking to our depressed spaceman Karl about life and his current mood. In the demo I got to see a small glimpse of how our protagonist’s despair can affect gameplay itself: although you’re given two options to seemingly choose from when asked if you’re all right, Karl’s denial means that you’re only able to physically click the “I’m okay” option. It’s a nice feature that the developers say will be integrated further as things get harder for Karl to carry on.
Although the game deals with a heavy topic, there’s a lightness to some of the interactions on the ship, particularly with the fed-up onboard AI. There will also be technical and logical puzzles (e.g. pressing buttons in the right order until they all light up) within the tasks that Karl has to finish, though the developers tell me there will be an easier puzzle option available for those who just want to get on with the whole business of feeling lonely up in space. The balance of the psychological and routine has me intrigued, as do the gorgeous retro graphics. There’s thankfully not long to wait for this slice of cosmic existentialism, as Still There is due for release in November on PC and Switch.
This traditional point-and-click adventure game marries the beautifully detailed 2D graphic style of Machinarium with the puzzle mechanic of being able to turn from girl to robot at whim. In TOHU you play this young child as she travels through a beautifully hand-drawn world of fish-planets (naturally!) on a quest to find someone who can help mend the Sacred Engine, the machine that keeps said piscatorial planets running – which, unfortunately for everyone, has broken down.
Most of the puzzles I saw in the demo revolved around switching between the girl and her larger, stronger robotic alter-ego, a Cubus, but there was also some fun to be had at one point in flinging rocks across the forest to knock four buzzing wasps in order to get them to help me fly my spaceship. The landscapes are alive with little details to check out, from crawling creatures to squish to dangling lights to jangle. Much like another of Amanita Design’s more recent titles, CHUCHEL, the humour is charmingly slapstick here, and the quirky atmosphere will be completed with a score by Hollow Knight’s Christopher Larkin.
In a time of too much doom and gloom all around us, this chirpy, charming adventure can’t come soon enough – expect to see TOHU next summer across all platforms.
The Almost Gone
Squeeze the isometric design of Monument Valley into a darker, more mature story and you’ll get Happy Volcano’s The Almost Gone. Whilst the colour scheme is all light pastel shading, the story of a young girl trapped between life and death trying to figure out why she’s died leans more towards the blacker side of things.
The game is split into five acts and each focuses on a certain location, such as your old house or a police station, cut out and presented like a diorama to swivel through each room with a click or swipe of the mouse. You must scour each room for objects that will help you progress further, turning music boxes to reveal secret notes and digging up gardens for bone-shaped puzzle fragments whilst little pieces of the story filter through your discoveries. At present the narrative thread feels a little lost inside the gorgeous locations and every little intricate object inside them, but when all five acts come together these elements should become clearer.
The Almost Gone’s tactile swiveling and tapping and short pick-up-and-play levels will fit particularly well with mobiles and Nintendo Switch, for which it is being designed to release alongside desktop PCs hopefully sometime later this year.
Forget exploring alien planets and instead take a leap deep into the lost algorithms and forgotten code of a data server, imagined in this VR game for the PlayStation by Eric Chahi, the acclaimed creator of platforming action-adventure Another World (or Out of This World for you US residents). Paper Beast is thankfully not a nightmare of wires or bleeping servers, though, but a sprawling, near-desolate Journey-like desert, peppered with a unique and fully simulated ecosystem to discover and interact with.
In this digital world, all of the creatures I encountered looked like origami creations, no doubt a poetic take on big data. During my demo I quickly found myself journeying across the sands with a hulking beast of Brontosaurus proportions, pulling sticky strings of black gloop from its legs (seemingly a Chahi staple from Heart of Darkness times) to help it as it strode across the plains and through puddles. You move, or rather teleport, across short spaces with a tap of the left controller whilst the right is mainly assigned for grabbing and letting go of objects or creatures.
With a playful flick of the right stick, I played catch with a scrunched-up ball and two frisky little paper beasts. Later on I pushed through a sandstorm of numbers flying into my face, the wind howling around my head as I sought shelter. Eric explained that some of the beasts such as our big pal will be friendly and help you, but others might not be so inclined to welcome a stranger into their world.
Whether the game can build on its intriguing concept and create a compelling narrative alongside its wildlife sandbox remains to be seen, but Chahi’s involvement at the very least means we’re in for a surreal ride. We’ll find out more soon enough as Paper Beasts will be stomping onto PlayStation VR in the second quarter of 2020.
Those Who Remain
Whatever you do, don’t go into the dark. That seems to be the resounding rule for many horror titles throughout gaming history, and you can now add the psychological thriller Those Who Remain to that spooky list. You see, weird things start happening when the main character Edward tries to go into the dark as he makes his way through the sleepy (read – creepy) town of Dormont. Unfortunately, what mostly happens is that silent zombie-like creatures with glowing eyes turn up and rip him a new one.
Ever the optimist, Edward needs to find light to make his way through the abandoned buildings and find out why everyone’s face is lighting up like a Christmas tree. In the demo this made up the majority of the puzzles on show, whether it was simply finding a light switch to flick on and make the ghouls instantly disappear, or more intriguingly by transporting into an alternate reality to make things happen there that you can’t in the normal version. For example, a car feels like it’s bound by something but there’s no apparent object blocking it. Slip into alterno-land (not what the developers are calling it), and suddenly you can see it’s wrapped up in vines, which you can now easily cut.
You can learn more about why Edward is suddenly able to cross dimensions at will when Those Who Remain comes out for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch in December.
The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature
Taking control of Frankenstein’s monster may sound like a recipe for chaos and violence, but in The Wanderer La Belle Games offers an interpretation much closer to the philosophical reflections of Mary Shelley’s original novel. Play begins with the monster’s creation as you control the beast himself – just a few black paint strokes hunched under a hooded white robe. In keeping with the Romantic era theme, all 18 backgrounds you come across as the creature have been beautifully hand-painted in the style of watercolours of that time. As you progress, your journey split up into chapters, you will become more aware of your hideous form, forced to choose whether to retaliate or roar at jeering adults. I was told these choices will appear throughout the game and affect the creature’s evolution, with the visuals and music changing dynamically according to his mood – fearful, angry, sad, etc.
You can find out what it takes to be (or become) human when the game is released this autumn on Windows, Mac and mobile devices, with a Switch release also likely later on.
Deliver Us the Moon
Whilst the bulk of KeokeN’s sci-fi thriller set in a near-apocalyptic future has already been out for close to a year now, there’s still one small step left before the story reaches completion. Those who read our review of the game will remember that the edition released at launch ended with an abrupt “to be continued” and the promise that everything would be resolved by free DLC in 2019. Whilst I wasn’t able to get my hands on the concluding instalment at gamescom, the Dutch developer claimed that the final chapter will pick up directly from where the story left off, as players continue their quest as a lone astronaut sent to the moon on a mission to save humanity. As well as a final tying together of the narrative, there will be plenty more challenges, including environmental hazards such as electricity, heat and water.
Along with the completion of Deliver Us the Moon on PC with the free update, the full game will also be released in 2020 for the PS4, Xbox One and Switch.
The White Door
Fans of the Cube Escape and Rusty Lake series will already be aware of their indie developer’s dark and occasionally quite macabre brand of humour, which doesn’t let up in their latest adventure. The White Door follows seven days in the life of protagonist Robert Hill in a mental health facility, trying to work out exactly what’s put him there in the first place. In a break from the team’s previous titles, this game uses a split-screen interface for interaction. For example, I got Robert to brush his teeth and the screen split between a close-up of his dazed face in the mirror and a bird’s eye view of his room, much like two comic book panels. I then had to swipe the screen back and forth on the tablet to simulate brushing.
In between solving various logic puzzles, this kind of tapping and dragging on the screen should feel very intuitive when The White Door is released on mobile devices later this year, along with a PC version on Steam and itch.io.
For the sixth year in a row, a warehouse in Wapping, London recently played host to a crowd of cosplayers, developers, gaming enthusiasts and *ahem* journalists, all uniting under one very high roof for EGX Rezzed. The event, held over three days, may well be the younger and smaller brother of EGX (previously Eurogamer Expo), normally held later in the year in the UK, but there were still well over 150 games to try and thousands of eager members of the public very willing to play them.
Rezzed has always had a strong focus on independent titles, and it was apparent from the two huge rooms displaying only indie games, plus several smaller areas exhibiting the work of developers such as Tim Schafer’s Double Fine, that this year was no different. My first journey into the catacombs of the Tobacco Dock was to visit The Leftfield Collection, a room which showcases the more eclectic side of the event. Here a hilarious party game where aliens have copied the Olympic Games but gotten everything wrong (Drink More Glurp) was joined by a beautifully black and white illustrated beat-making project (Haunted Garage). I was eager to try out The Case of the Invisible Wizard, the second installment of Grace Bruxner’s delightfully whimsical cartoon adventure series Frog Detective, where you play – what else? – a detective who’s a frog. Much like its predecessor, the sequel has charming absurdity in abundance, including a singing rhino, so what’s not to love? The amphibious investigator should be coming to a Windows or Mac PC near you later this year, along with his adorably weird friends.
Everyone and his dog at Rezzed seemed to be queuing up to play Untitled Goose Game in the Nintendo Switch area, and who was I to stand out from the crowd? Another for fans of titles that explain themselves, you play a naughty goose whose sole aim is to piss off a farmer as creatively as possible – whether by stealing his thermos, turning on the hosepipe or chucking his rake into the lake. Developer House House has really put some time into getting the comical waddle of its pastel-shaded goose just right, and few could resist the chance to sneak around the poor farmer’s allotment, causing general mayhem whilst honking brazenly (yes, there’s a button specifically assigned just for honking). Get ready for all kinds of fowl play (sorry) when the game comes to PC and Switch later this year.
Not a year goes by when someone somewhere doesn’t hold another talk on the future of adventure games, so it was good of Rezzed to claim this year’s allocated spot nice and early. Wadjet Eye’s Dave Gilbert, Dan Marshall from Size Five Games (Time Gentleman, Please!), and Jessica Saunders from Salix Games (Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey) reflected on their own experiences playing and making adventure games in an increasingly broad market. Whilst all agreed that adventures weren’t going away any time soon, each had something to say about the issues facing the genre in 2019, particularly the trade-off between moving on from traditional point-and-click fare with a smaller budget to bigger yet costlier productions involving voice acting. Kickstarter – still used by many smaller indie developers especially for adventure games – was discussed at length by the panel, with Jessica passionately declaring that “Kickstarter is dead for games”, down to how few people truly understand the cost of making them. But there was positivity to the discussion about how so many indie studios, particularly Wadjet Eye and their latest title Unavowed, had defied naysayers about the adventure game market with its huge success, and if developers kept looking to innovate rather than just replicate the familiar conventions of old, how bright the future could be.
That optimism certainly was reflected in the exciting range of diverse adventures ready to be played and previewed at Rezzed. Here are just a few of the games that really caught my eye…
Close To The Sun
“BioShock” must be a word that developers Storm in a Teacup hear a lot when showcasing their first-person 3D horror adventure set aboard a seemingly abandoned ship shrouded in mystery. However, when I caught up with Game Designer Joel Hakalax at Rezzed, he told me the team high five whenever the “B-word” is dropped – because what small developer wouldn’t want their game to be compared to such a highly regarded AAA title, even if it does belong to an entirely different genre? In Close to the Sun, you play journalist Rose Archer in a wonderfully realised alternate world, where, in Joel’s own words, “inventor Nikola Tesla didn’t get screwed over by Thomas Edison, and all of his ambitions came to fruition.” This, in practice, means that Tesla becomes the Elon Musk of his time and builds a ship called the Helios, which attracts scientists from all over the world to experiment and collaborate together, free from interference.
Inevitably something goes very wrong on board, and the story starts with Rose answering the call from her scientist sister to come and visit her on the Helios. Upon her arrival, however, she finds all signs of life worryingly absent. Whilst there are definite jump scares and “live or die” survival moments encountered, Hakalax told me these horror elements will be more to keep the player on their toes – you won’t be using weapons or any form of magic to defend yourself. The demo I played highlighted the eerie atmosphere as you explore the deserted Helios, from its creepy sound effects of doors suddenly closing to the beautiful faded Art Deco design of the ship’s interiors. https://player.vimeo.com/video/329941903
Close to the Sun will be released on May 2nd of this year exclusively on the Epic Games Store, and then on consoles in autumn and possibly also Steam. Bring plenty of cushions to hide behind.
LUNA: The Shadow Dust
I first got a glimpse of LUNA: The Shadow Dust, the quirky and really quite gorgeous looking hand-animated puzzle adventure from Lantern Studio, at the slightly smaller AdventureX games convention at the British Library in November. I can happily report that its charming silent narrative following a boy and a cute squishy cat thing (really the best description for it) as they bop along solving puzzles based around the theme of light and darkness is still as enjoyable and engaging as back then. Beidi Guo, the game’s Art Director who chatted with me at Rezzed, cites Japanese film legend Studio Ghibli and games like Amanita Design’s Samorost and Machinarium as her influences for the game’s style – both very apparent in the demo I played.
You can switch between both nameless boy and cat thing to solve the intricate puzzles throughout the game, and Guo told me that whilst you’ll only be able to play as the two main characters throughout the game, one of them won’t take their true form until later on (my money’s on squishy cat thing). Amazingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly for a team of just four developers, I also discovered that LUNA doesn’t have a dedicated puzzle designer – everyone on the team chipped in and worked on puzzles according to their area of expertise (their Programmer Wang Guang worked on more logic-based puzzles, for example, whilst their composer Wang Quian designed any music-related challenges). Speaking of which, special mention has to go to the evocative score composed by Quian, written with film scenes in mind rather than your average game, meaning that each puzzle has its own leitmotif variation on LUNA’s grander musical theme. https://player.vimeo.com/video/323619461
The team are planning to release LUNA: The Shadow Dust in summer this year on Windows, Mac and Linux.
The recipe card for The Sojourn would read something like “take the teleporting challenges of Portal, add a pinch of wordless narrative across vast, breathtaking landscapes a la Journey, then wrap in the bright, 3D graphics of The Witness.” But Shifting Tides’ first-person adventure doesn’t just cherry pick from some of the best recent puzzlers. The challenges, like in LUNA all based loosely around the theme of light and dark, have their own unique conceits too. The demo I tested out introduced teleporting elements using mystic statues, combined with the ability to move between parallel light and dark worlds to make hidden platforms appear. Later on I was also juggling having to trigger singing statues to get across to certain areas, as well as teleport my way safely through magic gates. It’ll be interesting to see how all these elements come together in later chapters. The brief sneak peek of a much later level I was given showed larger “hub worlds” of several puzzles you could pick from, meaning the somewhat linear structure of the demo will likely open up as you progress through the game.
There’ll be roughly 15 hours of gameplay to get your teeth into, with a narrative amongst all of the puzzling telling the journey of life from birth to death. And if that weren’t enough, you’ll be able to come back to completed puzzles and, much like the shrines in Zelda: Breath of the Wild, complete harder variations of the same challenge – another compelling ingredient to add to a game already shaping up to be a recipe for puzzling greatness. https://player.vimeo.com/video/281829894
The Sojourn will be launching on both PC and consoles somewhere around June of this year.
We Were Here Together
Jessica De Troije and her fellow developers at college needed over one thousand downloads of their student gaming project We Were Here to pass their assignment. Instead it ended up with well over one million, as well as nominations for the Dutch Game Awards and the Independent Game Festival and the eventual formation of Total Mayhem Games. The secrets to such success (apart from plenty of hard work, naturally) are the same simple elements that De Troije (2D artist for the game) now hopes will translate into even bigger recognition for the third title in the series (and second commercial installment), We Were Here Together. You see, unlike the scores of online multiplayer games that see players griefing each other and competing to be the best individually, this is a purely cooperative online puzzle game meant for two people, where if you don’t communicate clearly, and nicely, you aren’t going to get very much done.
Whilst previous games saw you starting off inside the Arctic’s fearsome Castle Rock trying to find your way out, this time you begin outside the Castle at base camp, trying to find your way in to answer a distress signal from your friends. Like its predecessors, with the use of a PC-compatible microphone you can talk to your partner through a walkie talkie (with pleasing crackling sound effects). Every puzzle – whether tuning radio signals or hunting for hidden keys to unlock the next area – will need communication to solve. And whilst this time around you and your partner will begin together, swapping advice and ideas for puzzle solutions, later in the game you’ll become separated and need to be the eyes and ears for each other, filling your buddy in on what you can see and hear, and vice versa. According to members of Total Mayhem at Rezzed, with We Were Here Together the team have finally got the budget to make the game they always wanted to make, running at least double the length of previous incarnations at roughly seven hours. https://player.vimeo.com/video/303905687
We Were Here Together will be released in September or October this year on Steam, with the potential of an Xbox port later on.
When the BBC calls, asking you to create a game based around its hugely popular ocean documentary series Blue Planet, you promptly say yes and do a little dance (once you’ve hung up). At least, that’s what I imagine the team at E-Line Media (of beautiful BAFTA-winning puzzle-platformer Never Alone fame) did, but maybe they’re much more restrained individuals than I. A much different sort of game than their debut project, Beyond Blue uses footage and research from the critically acclaimed nature series, but tells its own story set in the near future. You play Mirai, the lead on a newly formed ocean research team tasked with using hi-tech gadgets to explore the deep blue and its myriad mysterious residents further than anyone else has ever before.
The underwater realm you swim through in third-person is gorgeous: huge humpback whales drift past the camera, tiny angelfish dash alongside and bright coral sways to the ocean’s rhythm. In the demo I played, I was tasked with scanning audio signals of the nearby fishy inhabitants and locating a lost tracker. It was a relatively simple task used mainly as a ploy to show off the huge area teeming with sea life, but later levels will look to introduce more nuanced gameplay, including being able to deploy drones that can be piloted from a first-person perspective. Whilst taking scenes and inspiration from Blue Planet, Beyond Blue keeps the realistic 3D graphics more videogame-like than filmic in feel. https://player.vimeo.com/video/290167090
Catching up with E-Line’s Steve Zimmerman at Rezzed, it sounds to me as if there will also be the opportunity to watch mini-documentaries in between gameplay chapters, featuring real life scientists who provided research for Blue Planet, sharing their insights on some of the creatures you’ve just met and scenes you’ve experienced. If you’ve been waiting for a game you can secretly narrate in a faux Sir David Attenborough voice, Beyond Blue will be released near the end of August this year on PC and all consoles.
Not content with taking 750,000 words of text based on Jules Verne and turning it into an entertaining, absorbing adventure, now inkle, the developers behind 2014’s 80 Days, are trying their luck at creating an entire playable language for players to decode and decipher in Heaven’s Vault. As sassy, headstrong archaeologist Aliya Elasra, it’s up to you to search for a missing roboticist in a strange alternate universe called the Nebula. You’re joined on your adventure by mechanical companion Six – so called, the developers tell me, because Aliya has already managed to go through five robotic assistants before this one.
As for the deciphering element, which sees Aliya reading symbols off ancient shrines and artefacts, this I’m told will come into play as you progress through the adventure, intriguingly opening and closing up different narrative paths depending on whether you’ve got your translation right or not. The made-up language, which is completely pictorial, is based on Ancient Egyptian and Chinese writing. You’ll be given several words which could be the correct translation for each glyph, but just like in a crossword, if you select the wrong answer you won’t automatically be told straight away – it’ll only be through discovering other words that you’ll realise the need to go back and replace your original submission. In fact, Laura Dilloway, the Lead Environment Artist of Heaven’s Vault, wonderfully referred to it as the “Guitar Hero of languages” in my chat with her at Rezzed, in that it allows you to feel like you’re translating something but without all the inaccuracies and issues that come with real life translation. Throw in hand-drawn 2D art within expansive 3D environments and Heaven’s Vault is shaping up to be another unique, intelligent title from inkle – a rare find Aliya herself would be intrigued by. https://player.vimeo.com/video/258407087
There isn’t much longer to wait for Heaven’s Vault, as the game will be out on the 16th of April for PC and PS4.
I left Rezzed feeling pretty upbeat about the state of adventures and independent games in general. It was great to see so many developers pushing their productions that extra mile, and the crowds of people responding positively to that sentiment. Dave, Jessica and Dan’s talk on the genre’s future didn’t shy away from the fact that small teams are still facing immense pressures to stay afloat, let alone put out something special. However, they’re also proof that it can be done, and in the case of recent games like Gilbert’s Unavowed, sometimes with unprecedented success. Along with attending the panel discussion, I also caught up with Dave for a one-on-one chat. To learn more about that unexpected success, as well as the new title they’re working on – a sequel to 2015’s Technobablyon –stay tuned to Adventure Gamers in the next few days.
Following our debut report out of London, our three-part AdventureX coverage continues!
Watch the kind of scuzzy sci-fi worlds of Blade Runner and Dark City come to pixelated life in Myths Untold’s retro-styled point-and-click adventure Future Flashback, where you play as Kyle, an ex-surgeon addicted to a drug capable of recreating vivid memories. The jaded former doctor wants to relive the last time he saw his son alive, before it all went wrong. But suddenly he starts seeing the memories of a girl he’s never met – and things only get weirder from there.
Future Flashback relishes its neo-noir influences, and this is never more apparent than in its beautiful pixel art, all brooding purples and reds and blues and greens. In the short segment I played, Kyle picked up his latest stash of Memory Bombs (not the drug’s actual name in the game, though one I am willing to sell for a small fee!). As he neared the seedy bar in his hover car to a soundtrack of ‘80s synth, pixelated rain drove across the screen, illuminated by looming neon signs for commodities and virtual landscapes. It’s a very impressive scene setter for this alien and yet also recognizable world.
Having quaffed and/or snorted said Memory Bomb, I was transported back several years to Kyle’s apartment and presumably a happier time. It was here I got to grips with solving a fun puzzle about cracking a safe in the flat, which involved scouring messages about the perfect drink on Kyle’s phone and laptop, and mixing cocktails to the right consistency until I found the correct one. Interaction is through simple-left click on objects, which then lets you talk, pick something up or look at it through the respective mouth, hand or eye cursors. It looks like Kyle’s phone will play into the puzzles a fair amount, whether by using its “find my key” app, text messages or notes.
Myths Untold plan to release this stylistic adventure game at some point in the second half of next year on Windows, Mac and Linux, and hopefully Android devices. You can find out more at the game’s official website.
Talesinger: Voice of the Dragon
Stories, not swords, are your weapons in the narrative RPG Talesinger: Voice of the Dragon. The Romans are invading Wales and the end of the Celtic way of life is nigh. But all may not be lost: playing as an apprentice bard named Gwen, you have the power to use words to inspire your people once more – could it be enough to start a last ditch attempt to save life as you know it?
The team behind Talesinger has a rich pedigree in creating charming open worlds. Both Ralph Ferneyhough and Chris Payne worked together at Traveller’s Tales (Lego series) before starting up Quantum Soup in 2016. Their passion for stories, combined with a tongue-in-cheek warm humour, was evident in the short demo I played at AdventureX. Gwen is performed with a bubbly Welsh brogue that makes her instantly likeable. Those charms soon come in handy, as she needs to wake up a snoring bard and persuade him to let her become his apprentice in the art of wordsmithery.
Two key game mechanics were introduced in my quest to convince the snoozing poet to be my new mentor. First I had to find particular ingredients (e.g. birch bark and mint leaf) dotted around the forest to concoct a fire charm to make him a delicious breakfast. I used a controller to move Gwen freely around the lush 3D landscape, with a navigational compass at the top of the screen showing me the rough location of quest-related items.
As well as their biological names, ingredients are grouped into families such as “renewal” or “death”. Chris told me this is so that when more complex ingredients come into play, the player has a clear idea of where to find their items. For example, “death” objects will be easily found at a graveyard, whereas you might find a “renewal” related item in the house of the couple you’ve heard through the grapevine has just recently had a baby. It’s a neat way to bring puzzle solving into what can normally be a straighforward scavenger hunt, and it’ll be interesting to find out how it’s developed further. https://player.vimeo.com/video/301844477?byline=0&portrait=0
After setting the poet up with some hot grub, it was time to do what came naturally and use my words to persuade him to take me on as a pupil. Much like in Skyrim, which is a big inspiration for Talesinger, there are various trees for different styles of dialogue (“snappy”, “flattering”, “diplomatic”, etc). In another nod to Bethesda’s epic, crafting certain charms will also unlock further dialogue. Whilst shying away from traditional RPG combat, in the full game the team also hopes to make it possible to unleash your bard talents for special boss battles, performing interactive songs to entire villages to try to encourage them to take up arms and fight with you, or flee and evade capture.
The aim is to release Talesinger: Voice of the Dragon within the next two years on PC and hopefully consoles. There’s more information on the game’s official website, and if you like what you see you can contribute to its crowdfunding page as well.
In Lake, Meredith Weiss hasn’t been back to the sleepy Oregon town she called home for many years, but now unforeseen circumstances mean a trip back to a time and place in her life she tried to leave behind long ago. With her job in the big city far away, she takes up a position as the town’s mail clerk, but the reason behind her sudden reappearance still remains shrouded in secrecy.
It all sounds like quite an inauspicious start to an adventure game, but that seems to be just how its indie developer Gamious wants it. In the demo, I trundled Meredith through the town in her mail van delivering letters to houses, the bright sunshine gleaming through the trees and not a cloud in the sky. The escapist quality of Firewatch sprang to mind, and although you’re driving rather than hiking through the stylised minimalist 3D vistas, there’s still an element of leaving the city behind and getting back to nature at play.
At the end of my mail run, I came across a local resident who I could choose to talk to (all conversation is voice acted). This revealed various dialogue options and different ways to react to the news he gave me about a package I’d delivered which had gotten broken in transit. Although driving around and delivering mail will take up a chunk of your time, it’s this character interaction the game hopes to build on, allowing you to learn people’s daily routines and choose which characters Meredith spends more time with, in amongst all those postal duties. I only drove around a small corner of the map when I played, so here’s hoping that the full environment has lots of varied locations to explore.
The team believes it could be another year before the game is released, with PC confirmed and consoles a maybe for now. To learn more in the meantime, visit the game’s website for additional details.
Over the Alps
Part-text adventure and part-point-and-click spy thriller, Over the Alps is like 80 Days given a Wes Anderson makeover. Set in 1939, you play as a British espionage agent working to smuggle “The Watchmaker” (an old German spymaster) over the Swiss mountains and away from harm into France. But as you charm, trick and disguise yourself through Switzerland, the determined “Spycatcher” is closing in on your trail. Can you escape her clutches and bring your top secret charge to safety?
London-based Stave Studios are quite open about the inspiration they’ve taken from fellow UK company inkle, and particularly from their interactive fiction adventure 80 Days. However, in Over the Alps the team has made the formula their own in setting and style. With its backdrop on the brink of war across Europe, Lead Writer and Designer Cash DeCuir told me he hopes that this will be a political game as well as an entertaining one, following how everyday people relate to uncertain times. And whilst the game’s bright colours, quaint chalets and funiculars naturally evoke films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, the beautiful art style also has a nostalgic feel akin to vintage travel posters and comics such as Tintin.
Each location is represented by a postcard, with several red circles indicating areas in the scene the player can choose to travel to and investigate. There’s no dialogue and only context-specific sound effects: the gentle sweep of the tide at lakeside Lugano city, or the rising lilt of an accordion as you seek solace in a pub. Once you arrive at your new destination, you’ll be given different ways in which you can respond to the latest prose and dialogue offered up on-screen. Stamps act as dialogue tree choices, with names such as “Wilful”, “Charity” and “Blend” describing them. However, as with 80 Days, you are only given a brief glimpse of the first sentence of each choice, so it’s never obvious how everything might turn out.
I’m told that as well as dialogue options, the player will have to decide which disguise they want to assume on their alpine adventure – tourist, aristocrat or campaigner – and stick with it, leaving lots of opportunity for replayability. In just my brief playthrough, my colleague was shot dead and I only narrowly avoided being caught by the Spycatcher, so every choice appears to have potentially major consequences.
The aim is for Over the Alps to be released in 2019 on PC and iOS, and you can find out more at the official website.
At a time when our media is facing ever-increasing scrutiny, Headlines gives you the chance to see what it’s really like to be blamed for being biased from every side by playing a broadcast journalist. (I’m still waiting for a game that highlights the perils and challenges of being a games journalist…anyone?)
The idea comes from Cupboard Games, a small UK indie featuring former students from the National Film and Television School. The team recently also showcased its other project, Umwelt (working title), at this year’s EGX Rezzed in the Leftfield Collection area, a first-person, “sense creation game” in which you hack your brain to solve puzzles. As it stands, Headlines is slightly less surreal but still in a similar concept stage of development.
From what I was able to see, the game will be set in a bright, cartoon-like world made up of 3D anthropomorphic animals, with the player starring as an intrepid journalist badger named Honey. In the playable segment on offer at the conference, I had to edit a show reel to showcase my journalistic flair to potential employers using a faux Final Cut Pro-style programme to drag and cut clips. Developers Paul Dillon and Jon Hatton told me they hope to use this mechanic further to explore the idea of media manipulation. For example, at some points in the game your boss may want you to cut news footage a certain way that might not be completely truthful to the actual event. It will be up to you to decide how much you compromise to get ahead, or hold fast to your journalistic integrity.
Headlines currently doesn’t have a release date, but you can follow its progress on Twitter at @CupboardGames.
In Blood Money, a near-300,000-word interactive novel by writer Hannah Powell-Smith, you play as a ghost whisperer for the mob (because being a mere mob member alone just doesn’t cut it these days). When the city’s most notorious crime boss – your mother – is murdered, the criminal underworld is thrown into disarray. It’s up to you to decide the fate of the family business, whether that means letting your sisters Fuschia and Octavia fight for control, taking the top spot for yourself, or even selling out your own siblings to work for a rival gang.
I played the first chapter of this rich text adventure, which does away with any sound effects or graphics, focusing solely on eloquent and sometimes lengthy paragraphs of black print on a plain white page, to allow the player’s imagination to paint the world for themselves. I was usually offered between 2-5 choices of dialogue or action for each situation, ranging from telling lies to searching hidden compartments for clues or slipping unseen into prison guard compartments. Naturally, being a child of the most famous crime boss in the city, some of the options are relatively violent too, though how you conduct yourself in the early stages may well come back to haunt you – quite literally because of your ability to talk to ghosts! Whilst I only got to interview one ghost in the demo (my mother’s!), it seems this is a skill that will come into play in navigating the seedy underbelly of the mob scene a lot more in later chapters.
As well as choosing how to react to various family squabbles and dark goings-on, I was also given the choice of determining my character’s name, sexual orientation and gender, amongst other personal touches. This is done in a pleasingly subtle way (for example, sexuality is chosen by how you openly respond to a passing flirtatious gondola rider). By the time I’d found the culprit behind my mother’s murder and broken into their prison cell to seek my revenge, I had already created a relatively defined and complex character for myself through just a few clicks.
Blood Money has already been released on PC, iOS and Android. You can find purchase links and more about the game through its official website. Hannah also told me she is currently working on Crème de la Crème, another text adventure about restoring your family’s reputation, but this time by attending a finishing school in Switzerland. She hopes to release it in the spring or summer of 2019.