Okay, true confession time. We didn't actually see House of Tales' upcoming The Moment of Silence at E3. But, we did.
Now that I've even confused myself, let me explain. The representative from House of Tales was himself unable to meet with us. He had a full schedule running around to various publishers and demoing their game, and our best attempts to meet face-to-face met with failure.
However, our disappointment that we would not be able to include the game in our E3 Hype-O-Meter subsided quickly when we were contacted by the game's writer and director, Martin Ganteföhr. Feeling bad that he couldn't have demonstrated the game for us himself, he not only sent us four exclusive screenshots (which you'll find below) but also a super-secret four-minute gameplay demo video. And not only that, he also took the time to answer all our questions via e-mail. So, you see, it was an E3 meeting/demonstration after all--just one done via the latest technology!
Semantics aside, we were already quite excited about The Moment of Silence as possibly the most promising traditional point & click adventure. But the incredible variety and imagination shown in the locations we saw in the gameplay demo made us that much more excited. It appears that the bleak Orwellian future vibe that games like Blade Runner attempted to create has been executed quite successfully here.
As has been discussed in our interview with Martin, Moment of Silence is set in 2044. Though not a great deal is known about the story, it borrows from the writings of notable science fiction authors (George Orwell and 1984 among them) and deals with questions of individual freedom and human-technology relationships.
If that sounds like a perfect recipe for a character-starved game, we must say that the sheer volume of characters in the gameplay video was quite impressive. Every screen, it seems, has new characters to talk to and interact with. This also brings to mind our only current reservation; dialogue is extremely important to create as much atmosphere as Moment attempts to, and the gameplay video did not show us much of the game's dialogue. If dialogue gets too serious or too silly (or is poorly translated; see Post Mortem) then atmosphere is dramatically undermined. We must reserve judgment on this point until we have something actually playable in our hands.
Technically, Moment of Silence looks like a smashing success, at least as far as traditional adventures are concerned. Ganteföhr describes the engine as "2.75 D", and although this looks like old-school 2D goodness on the surface, there are all kinds of interesting visual effects under the hood, including weather and particle effects, real-time facial animation, and other customized animation technology.
But technical achievement and blockbuster status are not the focal points for House of Tales. Martin has always reiterated to us that part of the motivation for using a traditional, third-person, point & click interface is that he wants all the "innovation" focus to be on the story, and the effectiveness of how that story is told, and let that be the backbone of the game. If he really succeeds in that aspect, then what we've seen of the art direction and imagination therein should add up to one fantastic game.
House of Tales has always fully owned up to the mistakes they made in developing Mystery of the Druids, and this determination to improve and learn from prior experience, as well as their persistent dedication to telling a compelling story while creating atmosphere, make this one of the most exciting traditional adventure games in a long time. Those old-school adventurers who find The Westerner a bit too cartoony for their tastes will want to put Moment of Silence with Still Life, right at the top of their list.
The Moment of Silence, developed by House of Tales, is scheduled for release--hopefully worldwide--in the fourth quarter of 2004. There are discussions going on with potential North American publishers, but nothing signed yet. We'll have the news first when the game finally does sign a North American deal!