Gamescom round-up: The Thought Saved for Last, Mission: Bielany II archived preview
The Thought Saved for Last
After making freeware titles like Frantic Franko: A Bergzwerg Gone Berserk and Snakes of Avalon, one-man Polish developer Igor Hardy is now working on his first commercial title, The Thought Saved for Last. Most of the hand-drawn presentation is still to be finished, but at gamescom Igor showed a rough demo and explained the innovative ideas behind the game.
The protagonist is a man who is trying to catch a bus home after a long day's work. He runs towards the bus stop at the edge of a forest, only to see the last bus just driving off in the distance. With time to kill until the next one, he decides to sit down and wait, but weird things start happening around him. The plantlife, the lantern, even the shadows begin acting almost sentient, reacting to the protagonist, and the paths prove unreliable, as whenever he tries to walk away, he keeps getting lost in the woods and finds himself unable to escape.
This starts affecting his mind, and the player can look inside the man's brain and see it consists of various compartments. You will also notice it's shrinking. The goal is to keep managing his thoughts, connecting them and influencing which thought he hangs onto the longest by moving them to different layers. This is done through a strategic management interface screen that resembles a rule-based board game, but rather than being a standalone casual-style minigame, Hardy compares the concept to the complex inventory interface of Return to Mysterious Island, which was manipulated separately but was fully integrated with the actual adventure.
A counter keeps track of how many movements you've made and if it runs out, all thoughts will have disappeared and the man's mind with them. You can slow down the process, however, and perhaps even stop it altogether. Igor is aiming for the game to be played many times, not just because that is the only way to collect all the information together and see all the stored memories and thoughts, but also because the conclusion will be different each time, depending on how central thoughts evolve. There will be certain shortcuts that can speed up your playthrough if you want to play a path with only a few different choices.
The soundtrack that accompanies The Thought Saved for Last will be produced by Thomas Regin, who was also responsible for the music in the Blackwell games, Snakes of Avalon and Nancy Drew: Tomb of the Lost Queen.
Specific story details are intentionally sketchy at this point, and will probably continue to be right up to the point of release. Hardy likens the game to a Twilight Zone experience, where players will continually be surprised by new and interesting plot developments the farther they progress. Even the gameplay must remain somewhat a mystery for now, as discovering the secrets of what you can do will be part of the adventure when it releases early next year.
Mission: Bielany II
Polish developers Andrew Medrycki and Daniel Sadowski have been making games for four years, initially working on big projects like the roleplaying game The Witcher before moving onto their own independent titles as co-founders of Nitreal Games. Since most of these are only out in their native country, the studio has been flying pretty much under the radar until now. Another reason is that most of their adventure games are free educational or promotional titles, including some for Polish governmental organisations.
The first adventure game they developed was Warsaw's Mission: Bielany, a browser-based short conspiracy mystery in three episodes of about an hour each, set in the titular small Polish district. That game was translated into English and launched in 2010, becoming quite successful. More than 100,000 people around the world played it, and at one time there were so many players online at once that it crashed their server. The game was about an agent of the mayor's office protection squad trying to learn more about a mysterious person called 'The Dark Character'. It involved travelling through the capital of Poland, where you met with an eccentric professor and several other characters. The game used real photographs, educating players about the history and geography of the Warsaw district.
The second game in the series, Mission: Bielany II, again split up in three episodes but now lasting about two hours each, is already out in Polish, and an English version is planned for the end of this year – hopefully, anyway, as Nitreal are working on it but have run into some translation problems. Each episode has a self-contained story, but all three tie into a bigger mystery. It's more or less a continuation of the story from the first game, but because the budget was bigger, it introduces a lot of new elements, settings and characters. It's not a browser-based Flash game anymore either, but a downloadable game using the Ogre engine, which allowed all the panoramas to be displayed in very high resolution. The Polish version had voiceovers for all characters, but it hasn't yet been decided yet whether the English version will have subtitles or full dubbing.
Instead of only using photographs, the sequel has FMV sequences with real actors like in Detalion's Reah and Schizm, so you can see the person you're talking to move and respond. The game will also have some action cinematics. You're no longer confined to just Warsaw, as you will get to visit Krakow and Torun this time around. The player is now a reporter for a local newspaper, and at the beginning of the game you go to a park where one of your informants tells you about a strange conspiracy and hands you a CD. Suddenly there is an explosion, and you briefly lose consciousness. On waking up, a strange character in a yellow coat walks away with the CD you just received.
When the police arrive at the scene, they start questioning you about the informant, who is now missing. No one else has seen the yellow-coated person, and nobody really believes you except one police officer who has been researching the disappearance of several people. He dubs the mysterious person 'The Enigma Man', and he is trying to find out what connects the missing people. He has one photograph showing all four of them together at some kind of fair, but as individual people and not a group, so it appears they don't know each other at all. I didn't get to see much of the game in action at gamescom, unfortunately, but it certainly sounds like a mystery I'd like to delve into, so I'm hoping Nitreal Games manages to get the translation issues sorted soon.