Senscape – Asylum
On Friday, Agustín Cordes took time to show me what progress the Senscape team has been making with Asylum since their successful Kickstarter campaign. As a backer myself, I had already seen an early version of the game but the engine has now been improved with regards to performance and stability. The crowdfunding money has allowed them to rent a small office so they can be in the same room while working, which has been very productive, the more personal team dynamics really ramping up the progress. The plot is already wrapped up, so they're currently implementing game logic, stringing events together and establishing what a player must have done in order to progress beyond certain points. They'll soon hire a programmer to finish Agustín's work so far, as at the moment he's the only programmer on the team. They're aiming for a release early next year.
Asylum's Hanwell Mental Institute
Agustín still doesn't want to tell much about the story, instead focussing on the game's mood. The recently completed intro shows us the nameless protagonist driving up to the asylum where he was once a patient to spend one night there. When he arrives he's greeted by the receptionist Julia, which surprises him as he did not expect anyone to be there; the asylum was supposed to be abandoned. As he does not want her to think he's mad, he acts like it is completely normal to find her there, which introduces a tension that will be present throughout the whole game: is this real or a figment of the protagonist's imagination? Like the bottle of pills many players missed in Agustín's previous game Scratches, there is also a duality in the strange things you experience in Asylum – could there be a scientific explanation or is it supernatural?
The Hanwell Mental Institute is huge, but to avoid making the player feel too overwhelmed, initially there will be only a few locations to be explored. Only after solving some puzzles will the rest of the floor be unlocked, while the other floors will still remain off-limits, opening up after solving some more. Asylum has a dynamic hint system, and if you look at an object or visit rooms several times without accomplishing anything, there will be different responses, not only reflecting the protagonist's mood but also gradually introducing small hints as to where to go or what to do next. He will never say "it's a window", but rather will comment on the state of disrepair or what he remembers happened when he was last there.
Agustín mugs for the camera flanked by Phoenix Online's Vitek Goyel and former House of Tales designer Martin Ganteföhr
Agustín also showed footage of the 'unique inmate', shaped after the $10,000 backer. He is on the loose in the cafeteria, wreaking havoc, and players will have to find a way to calm him down in order to gain access as part of a puzzle. The backer is reportedly very happy with his resemblance.
The story operates on different levels, and each character you encounter represents something. Agustín also believes that each puzzle should be there for a specific reason, and solving it should reveal something about the story. At the end of the game, there will be full closure of the main theme (why are you returning to the asylum?), but there are many subplots that will be open-ended, leaving players to fill in the gaps with their own theories.
CBE Software - J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition, Pearl-handled Gun
Jan Kavan and Lukáš Medek from CBE Software were next with their latest build of the Indiegogo-financed J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition. So much has been done to change the look and feel of the game, and so much has been added to the story and interactivity that the subtitle "Enhanced Edition" no longer does it credit. The prologue alone, which used to take players about eight minutes to play through in the 'old' version, now takes about an hour. In the crowdfunding backer forums, the developers are asking for suggestions for a brand new title to reflect the 'new' game better. They are also trying to get it accepted on Steam Greenlight.
New scene from the radically overhauled J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition
Playing as Rachel Manners, you spend your time trying to discover what became of your crew. Every other member was mysteriously roused from their cryo chambers long before you and have since disappeared, leaving you behind on a space probe far from home with only a pair of artificial companions. The backstory is partially told through datapads you find lying around. The six crew members each had their own view on what was happening around them, and because of their paranoia they didn't talk to each other. Only by piecing these disparate tales together are you able to connect it all and figure out what happened. Based on the security access of each crew member, the datapads are either unprotected, encrypted with a hackable password or securely encrypted. You can analyze the datapads in several ways to find information, such as looking for chemical composition, spectral analysis, biological residue such as DNA or fingerprints and examining the data itself.
CBE have done a lot to make the backgrounds look animated, for instance with blinking panels and dust particles. The interface has received a huge overhaul as well. In each of the screen corners, a collapsible menu is hidden so as not to clutter up the gorgeous artwork of the new backgrounds. There is a logbook that keeps track of information so you are never left feeling clueless. If you find a keycode somewhere, you don't need to write it down as you can always check it there later. Tasks you haven't done are clearly distinguishable from those you have by the tense in which they are written, which makes it easy to pick up the game if you haven't played for a while. Entering numbers or passwords can be done with the keyboard, or by mouse using an onscreen representation of a keypad or keyboard, accommodating as many players' preferences as possible.
Jan Kavan and Lukáš Medek pose in front of the majestic Cologne Cathedral
The game has optional sidequests, and you will be rewarded for being thorough in your explorations with more backgrounds to encounter and more puzzles. If you are extremely observant, you will get access to a 'mind-o-matic' that will allow you to sort through dozens of keywords and put them in the right place on a huge deduction board or delete them if they aren't relevant. This completely optional feature will allow you to figure out what happened by combining names, verbs and words (i.e. x died from y, a murdered b, etc.) in the right chronological order.
Jan and Lukáš also told me about a quick game they built during gamescom using the Wintermute Engine called Boredom of Agustín Cordes, which tells the story of how Agustín is waiting for his friends in his hotel room in Cologne (now available to download). More seriously, they showed me some scenes from their upcoming 2D adventure game Pearl-handled Gun. Its protagonist, Victor Lustig, is a scam artist who sneaks onto a luxury cruise during the 'roaring twenties' to try to trick people into trusting him with lots of money. He can, for example, steal someone's wallet, then pretend he found it and give it back to the owner, gaining his trust. Later during the cruise, he can then sell shares to this person that look valuable but are worthless. It's an old-school adventure with contextual interaction menus and a cartoony style. The game has been more or less finished but because of funding issues it may not be published any time soon.Continued on the next page...