E3 is an experience that is so over-the-top it is hard to put into words, with all the sights, the sounds, the stagecraft that makes it look like you’ve just stumbled onto some movie set, and all the expensive visual publisher gimmicks vying for your attention left and right. Adventure games, historically not the flashiest attention magnets, can easily go unnoticed amidst it all. But they are there for the finding, on the show floor or tucked away in a meeting room; like a good adventurer, one just has to take the time to discover them.
State of Mind
Getting the chance to sit down behind closed doors with the Daedalic Entertainment team at E3 (and converse with them in our native German) was one of my highlights of the entire event. Moreover, it gave me the opportunity to observe some actual gameplay of their upcoming adventure, State of Mind.
Written by Martin Ganteföhr (The Moment of Silence, Overclocked), State of Mind is a vision of our near future, specifically the year 2048 in the city of Berlin. It is a future in which robots have been integrated into the normal everyday household, and humans have taken to improving themselves via bionic integration and chip implants. By this time, artificial intelligence has taken the next leap forward and become self-aware, which plays a major role within the narrative.
The game deals with the subject of transhumanism, where it has become possible to upload one’s entire consciousness and exist within a virtual reality world; basically it takes the concept of playing a computer game to its most sci-fi extreme. Players take on the role of Richard Nolan, a newspaper journalist whose flaws have led him to a troubled personal life with an estranged wife and child. As the game begins, Richard comes home to find that both of them have mysteriously vanished. His only lead is that his wife apparently uploaded herself into the virtual reality City 5. It is up to the player to uncover the mystery of what really happened to Richard’s family.
Another interesting question the game tackles relates to what it really means to be human, an issue explored in the actual story. In an attempt to follow his wife and get some answers, Richard also tries to insert his conscious self into City 5, but an accident causes a virtual copy of Richard, named Adam, to be created in the VR environment instead, while Richard remains in the real world. Richard is able to communicate with his VR counterpart to enlist his aid. The catch is that Adam, being a fully self-aware AI, doesn’t actually know that he’s not a real person, just a construct. The conflict born of this dilemma gives the story its moral ambiguity.
State of Mind is presented as a 3D thriller, instead of the traditional point-and-click approach. Rather than aiming for full realism, however, it uses a very stylized art style, with character models built from polygons. The two juxtaposed planes of existence – the real Berlin and the virtual City 5 – will also provide critically different mirror images of each other. The game’s release is scheduled for the first quarter of 2017, and along with a PC release it will also see the light of day on next-gen consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
How many game series get a chance at a comeback after a decade’s absence? Not many, I’d wager – unless it's a franchise with a dedicated fan base and storied history like Syberia. So you can imagine it was quite a big deal to me to be able to attend a private meeting with Microïds’ brass to get a taste of Kate Walker’s continued adventures.
Syberia 3 is once again helmed by Benoît Sokal, this time collaborating with his son Hugo. Together they’re creating the first game in the series actually designed for console play from the ground up. That means environments are full 3D for the first time, as opposed to the pre-rendered spaces of its point-and-click predecessors. The demo I saw already looked great, though it wasn’t a completed build with final graphics or voice-overs.
Over a decade has passed for us, but Kate Walker’s story picks up where it left off in the last game. As the game opens, Kate is stranded in the frozen wastelands of Syberia, with no hope of surviving. She is found and rescued in the nick of time by the native Youkol tribe, who take her to the nearest hospital in the town of Valsembor, where she awakens and begins her new adventure.
The demo was focused on Kate getting out of the hospital, starting with escaping her room. A Youkol tribesman sharing the room provides a bit of help in this, the game’s first puzzle sequence. In the end, Kate is able to bypass the room’s mechanical lock before proceeding into the dimly lit, bare concrete hallways of the hospital. Despite the facility’s spartan architecture, its furnishings reflect more splendor: beautiful antique desks share space with suits of armor as Kate seeks out the attending psychiatrist in an attempt to convince him to sign her release papers. The psychiatrist, however, has quite a different idea in mind: after Kate passes a lie detector examination, he placates her by giving her the key to the front doors, only for her to discover that the key doesn’t open the doors at all. Kate is a prisoner.
As I watched my presenter maneuver Kate around the hospital, I noticed the interface has no on-screen display. Icons pop up when Kate is near enough to interact with an object, and pressing a button on the controller accesses the inventory. Objects in the game can be examined in close-up views, allowing for direct manipulation. Kate meets a few of the hospital’s other staff, including a kindly doctor and a malicious head nurse.
In a vacant office room, Kate’s next obstacle is to access a secret passage she hopes will let her leave this place. Here I was able to witness the way the game’s music has been utilized to provide audible help to the player. The soundtrack is composed by Inon Zur, who has created the scores for series like Fallout and Dragon Age, as well as Syberia II. As I watched the puzzle being solved on the screen, I could hear the music progress through stages that corresponded with how closely we got to the solution. Starting as a single tone, the song becomes a two-part harmony as the next piece falls into place; as we drew nearer to the puzzle’s final solution, a vocal element joined the music to complete the song as well as the puzzle.
The final moments of the demo revealed that the secret passage Kate uncovered actually leads to a basement room of the hospital, in which the evil psychiatrist and the suspicious nurse are plotting a dastardly scheme to harm the local villagers by stopping their mission to take a group of snow ostriches to a special place known as the Sacred Lands. Having learned of their plot, Kate knows it’s up to her to succeed in making her escape from the hospital and help the Youkol people fulfill their mission.
Before concluding our meeting, I was assured that Syberia 3 will release before year’s end. It will be available on Windows and Mac, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.Continued on the next page...