It may not be in a huge public area surrounded by hordes of mainstream videogame fans, but Daedalic's stand in the gamescom business area is always stuffed, with multiple demo rooms showing games to groups of reporters around the clock for days. So it was again this year, letting me wrap up my visit with a hectic but satisfying marathon session of upcoming adventures.
State of Mind
With the kind of enthusiasm of a good history or philosophy professor, Martin Ganteföhr started his presentation of State of Mind by giving an introduction to the game's transhumanist themes. Like his previous game The Moment of Silence, State of Mind is set in a dystopian near-future and looks into the pervasive role of technology, focusing especially on artificial intelligence this time. The specific setting is a 2048 Berlin where AI has advanced to the point where robots can talk in natural language and serve as firefighters and riot guards, among other things. One of the few people who do not like this development is main character Richard Nolan, an old-fashioned journalist who is skeptical about the technology of the time, and sees human-like AI as an abomination. This makes some of the things he will discover all the more shocking.
(Note: Some of the plot elements in the next two paragraphs feel like big spoilers, but Martin assured me this is not the case and there is plenty of story not revealed yet.)
As the game starts, Richard stumbles away from a burning building with severe amnesia, only remembering parts of his work and family life through brief flashbacks. Still, the hospital lets him go soon after barely making it through some basic questions about what he can still recollect. Two surprises await him when he arrives home: his wife and child seem to be missing, and he now has an advanced robot butler that's definitely not something he would buy.
But the big shock comes after some initial investigation: as it turns out, Richard recently went through a mind-uploading procedure that did not finish properly, and this is where his amnesia comes from. After finally tracking down where the rest of his memories went and insisting they be put back in properly, he runs into an obstacle of an ethical nature. While the mind-upload wasn't exactly a success, it did put his missing memories into a new intelligent AI, who goes by the name Adam. Adam has similar memory issues but a different perspective on things: he detests Richard despite their common history (partly because Richard's history isn't all pretty), and refuses to be combined back into one person with him.
Gameplay-wise, State of Mind goes for 'light adventure gameplay', with inventory use, small machine puzzles, occasional hacking and the ability to call other characters through a holographic videophone system. The difficulty is deliberately light to not interfere too much with the demanding story, estimated to take some 10-12 hours to complete. As the first full-3D adventure Ganteföhr has worked on, the game uses an augmented reality interface marking nearby hotspots with triangles, feeling not entirely unlike a Deus Ex experience. The graphics budget is of course not as high, but the design choice to go with a 'sharded' futuristic aesthetic creates a fitting look and keeps things immersive enough despite relatively low polygon counts.
State of Mind is set to come out in the first quarter of 2017.
If you've been keeping track of Silence (once known as The Whispered World 2) since news of it first broke, you've been waiting a good while now, as we've previewed this game at least three times before. But there's good news: the release is coming very soon now, and the game looks even more stunning visually than when I last saw it two years ago.
This demo started once again with the teenaged Noah rushing his sister Renie into a bunker as their town is bombarded by what look like WW2-era planes. It is impossible to get into what these characters and this place have to do with the previous game without heavily spoiling it, but that indeed happens soon enough with Noah relating The Whispered World‘s main storyline and ending to Renie as you puzzle together some suitable props to illustrate it with. Once new players have had a chance to get up to speed, the plot picks up and the characters quickly find a way and reason to get into the Whispered World proper, emerging in a grassy area near a cave mouth that looks suspiciously like a real mouth. There's even time to throw in some foreshadowing of the return of Spot.
The gameplay is largely traditional, and there is more of a focus on getting through the story than on overly difficult puzzles. Both Noah and Renie are playable at times, and there will even be a few occasions where you control Spot directly. The graphics look gorgeous, achieved in part by inserting large amounts of handcrafted art through camera projection, actually painting new backgrounds for each camera angle.
The wait has been long, but Silence is now less than a month away, coming out on November 15 of this year.
Even on the heels of Silence's gorgeous scenery, Teku Studios’ Candle managed to impress me visually, showing that great graphics can still be achieved through sheer old-fashioned craftsmanship. Beyond the ubiquitous, very well-done watercolor technique itself, the texture of the canvas underneath completes the painterly style. For maximum consistency, each screen has been drawn on a single piece of canvas. Moreover, the main character's animation frames were done on a single huge sheet as well, and manually cut out pixel by pixel. The screenshots alone don't always do it justice, as the results are as close to a painting come alive as any game I've seen.
Candle follows the young tribesman Teku on a quest to rescue his shaman, who has been kidnapped by another tribe. (The presentation spent very little time discussing story details, so this is essentially all I learned.) Although not reliant on reflex-based action, the game features the perspective and direct control of a puzzle-platformer. Apparently not one that holds your hand, either, as QA representative Lisa Mallory confessed to spending a long time stuck on a single screen missing a hard-to-spot detail. Beyond environmental interactions, inventory and logical puzzles, some extra options are provided by the main character's candle-arm, provided you can keep it lit when you need it. You will also need your candle fire to activate checkpoints, which is sometimes a puzzle in and of itself.
Candle is coming soon now, arriving for PC on November 11 and consoles sometime next year.
The last game I got the opportunity to see was Forgotten Key’s AER, an exploration game about a girl named Auk who has the rare ability to transform into a bird. AER looks and feels much like a third-person 3D platformer, though there are no enemies that can hurt you (stealth elements were considered at one point but ultimately cut), and with the ability to fly anywhere outdoors, there is not much in the way of tricky precision platforming. Instead, the game focuses on exploring its open world and on just achieving a great feeling of freedom as you fly around its floating islands.
Even the story takes a back seat to this, as it is advanced mainly through a series of remote temple locations that have to be found first and can be visited in any order. The puzzles are likewise on the casual side, based largely on discovering what it is the game wants you to do. The graphics use flat colors rather than textures for outdoor landscapes as well as indoor walls, allowing the artists to focus more on changing the lighting and weather effects as you visit different areas. The result is a game that is easy to get into even for children (who apparently get the hang of the flying controls quicker than adults), but will be a bit light for some tastes and straddles the boundaries of the genre somewhat.
The developers couldn't give an exact release date yet due to the difficulty of simultaneously releasing on multiple consoles and PC, but AER should come out in the " foreseeable future".