Richard & Alice
Lewis Denby and Ashton Raze's Richard & Alice is a top down adventure that resembles the recent indie hit To the Moon, though it relies more upon hand drawn artwork and is a more traditional adventure. The game presents a mystery story about two prisoners trapped in an isolated outpost in the midst of a cataclysmic global weather crisis that has turned vast tracks of land into uninhabitable desert or snowy wastelands. Alternating between the two titular characters throughout the game, the story unfolds both in present day and past flashbacks as you attempt to figure out how the world got into this mess and how its two main protagonists will (hopefully) get out of it.
Whilst visually minimalistic, Richard & Alice shows quite a bit of narrative promise. According to Denby (himself a professional games journalist with credits at PC Gamer, Eurogamer, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun, among others), the gameplay will be focused on what could potentially be achieved in real life settings, both in terms of developing relationships and overcoming obstacles. There will be less emphasis on puzzle solving, but the puzzles present will be contemporary and contextual rather than reaching for "adventure game" logic. The lighter puzzle emphasis is to keep the story flowing and have players feel more involved in the interactive drama.
One area of the game that was left open by the developers was the potential for multiple story arcs and varying story paths affected by the player’s decisions. This possibility was certainly hinted at, but (rather coyly) neither confirmed nor denied whilst discussing the game. We'll soon know for sure, as the game is nearly complete and on schedule for release in the not-too-distant future.
For more details about Richard & Alice, check out our hands-on preview and interview with the developers.
Astroloco : Worst Contact
If you were expecting future transportation to be shiny rockets or high-tech teleporters, think again. There can only be one answer to the problem of interstellar travel: space-faring steam trains! In the year 2153, rivalry among the train companies is rife, with battles between opposing engines a regular occurrence. Add to this the constant threat of pirates, and you can easily see how dangerous a business this is. Suffering severe financial difficulties, one company receives a stroke of luck when a rival CEO drops details of a newly discovered route in their offices. There is just one little planet blocking the route, and that shouldn’t be too hard to deal with. But this route might not prove as easy to exploit as it would first appear. Perhaps that dropped note wasn’t accidental after all.
Coming from the same minds that brought us the freeware titles subAtomic and Plan M, the upcoming commercial game Astroloco: Worst Contact is a surreal but hilarious comedy adventure. Now with a team size doubled beyond the original pair of Murray Lewis and David Blake, the game is being released under the studio name Hungry Planet Games. The current version of the game was on display at the convention, and I took the opportunity to play through Act 1, which has since been released as a public demo. The fact that I had both the lead designers, Dave Gilbert, and eventually the rest of the early Sunday morning crowd looking over my shoulder soon slipped my mind as I got into this game.
The characters are done in the same blocky but expressive style of the previous games, with detailed cartoon backgrounds surrounding them. The blocky characters work well, with their exaggerated movements a constant source of laughs. As one of the two playable characters, Ronald, a put-upon mechanic, I got to travel to the space station headquarters of the stricken company. As the other playable character, gung-ho driver Arianne Beckett, I had the opportunity to pilot one of their trains and engage in some light gunplay. I suspect no space-train company will be offering me a job any time soon as, in a turn-based minigame, I managed to inadvertently ram one of the civilian transports I’d been assigned to protect, much to the amusement of onlookers. By the end of the opening act, I had also managed to fix a videogame console, and accidentally cause an alien race to declare war on humankind.
The philosophy of the developers that more than a minute without a joke is wasted was well in evidence, with even the options menu including 'Sociopolitical Commentary'. Whilst the voicework was still incomplete at AdventureX, the performances already included were of good quality, as was the dramatic soundtrack. The nerdy CEO Mr Burrows was undoubtedly a favourite of mine, with his slightly nasally voice and insistence that “They’re not toys, they’re collectibles.” Hungry Planet's own company business cards each featured a character from the game and an appropriate quote. Given the speed with which these were snapped up, they are no doubt collectibles themselves now.
To follow news about Astroloco: Worst Contact, play the demo or take part in the Greenlight campaign, visit the Hungry Planet Games website.
The Last Door
It all began in the year 1891 with a mysterious letter from my old friend, Anthony. He seemed to be in some sort of trouble, and called on me to come at once. Arriving late at his house, I was dismayed to find the doors wide open and no-one there to greet me. As I headed into the dark house, I felt a sense of foreboding. Was I too late to save my friend from a terrible calamity?
Thus begins the tale of The Last Door, an episodic online horror adventure being developed by The Game Kitchen. The prologue was available at the convention, and under the guidance of lead designer Alejo Acevedo Civantos, I settled down to play. The use of retro graphics could lead some to see this as the blocky horror picture show, but the blank face of the pixelated protagonist actually adds to the unsettling atmosphere. The backgrounds are for the most part as pixelated as the characters, but use of shading, especially the shadows around light sources, adds a real sense of depth. The unnerving feel is backed up by an orchestral score, the ominous tune playing in the house proving particularly effective.
Whilst short, the prologue demo definitely did its job of intriguing me, with a close that sent a shiver down my spine, even in the brightly lit rooms of the convention. The intention is for the game to be released in episodic format, with an online community for players to get together and swap experiences and offer each other help. With their Kickstarter campaign having achieved 121% funding, it looks like this series will be going ahead, and I look forward to seeing more of this intriguing story.
Nefasto's (Mis)Adventures - Meeting Noeroze
French designer Stefano Collavini's surreal comic book adventure Nesfasto’s Misadventures immediately stands out due to its unique graphic style, with frequent technological cues and visual elements that look like they've come straight out of a cartoon sketchbook. The first few screens are deliberately sparse, but over time the backgrounds begin to fill out, colours increase and landscapes become fuller and more vibrant as you progress.
The game's abstract plot starts with a videogame being loaded into the computer, a broken and somewhat rubbish title that stars Nefasto as the lead character. Unfortunately, after the program is terminated, Nefasto somehow remains behind as corrupted data in the computer's memory. This pulls back the curtain into the virtual reality world of the computer itself, a world not normally seen by simple users. Nefasto's sudden and unannounced presence in this realm opens up new possibilities and he meets with a variety of different entities, one of whom is Noeroze, a major (virtual) female character of vital importance to the computer itself (perhaps a core program?). There is one slight problem, however. Whilst Nefasto remains in the computer, he threatens the stability of the entire virtual world around him and of the computer itself. It’s your job to find a way to remove Nefasto from the computer (albeit safely), whilst playing him as the main character of this fascinating virtual world.
Nefasto’s Misadventures really impressed at the expo, not only for its visual style but also for its use of plug-ins with the AGS engine. Comments from many developers in the audience reflected their disbelief as to how Stefano was able to push the engine to create particular effects (lightning in the background among them) whilst also attaining smooth and highly polished animation, which is apparently not the norm for AGS. Being visually stunning and a quirky title in its own right, I suspect this may just be another indie hit in the making.
You can learn more and try a demo of the game at the Yeppoh Games website.Continued on the next page...