It’s the most wonderful time of the year again. No, not Christmas, but AdventureX, the only convention dedicated to narrative gaming. On the weekend of 11th and 12th November, a horde of developers and gamers descended on the Professor Stuart Hall Building of Goldsmiths University, London. With a bright and friendly atmosphere, it was a weekend packed to overflowing with adventure gaming goodness. Early arrivals engaged in an impromptu game of Pub Quest on the Friday evening when our first choice of drinking spot proved less than accommodating. The MMORPG Live! event proved surreal from the start, with a spider's elbow and a spider with ice cream organs going on a quest to defeat a creature that was half-rat, half-avocado. The Ratvocado. In what may become a yearly tradition, I also took a cake along for the after-show drinks. But the most important thing was the games, and there was a wide selection of excellent adventures on offer. Here is just the first sampling of those on show this year.
It was supposed to be a standard three-day assignment on a remote space station. Unfortunately, an accident has brought your ship to a stop in remote space. Awakened from stasis, you will have to improvise repairs if you are going to survive, let alone reach your destination. This accident will have even longer-term consequences too, as you will soon find yourself taking refuge on a nearby planet, and seeking to unlock the mysteries there before they destroy you.
Michael Stein and Nikola Vetnic
Svarun Games’ K’NOSSOS aims to be a classic science-fiction point-and-click adventure with a decidedly unique presentation. The graphics are done in a distinctive expressionist style, with walls and panels made up of almost abstractly-placed rectangular panels. The colour scheme in the demo was also limited, with shades of green predominant and just some hints of other colours. Whilst the design aesthetic is unusual, the overall look in realistic in tone. The soundtrack playing was a haunting tonal piece that would not be out of place in a high sci-fi movie.
Those of us playing the demo were faced with an immediate problem, as the main ship transport system has been blocked by falling debris. Getting past this initial obstacle required locating a key code that proved challenging for some. Once the debris was cleared, it was possible to travel to other areas of the ship, including the bridge and the power plant. Both of these were out of action, requiring us to jury-rig repairs with some less-than-ideal material. Whilst there was some back and forth between locations, most puzzles I encountered could be solved in a single location. Experimentation with machinery to get an understanding of how things worked, and hence learn what was required to make it work properly, was key to advancement.
More information can be found on the developer's website, including a link to a downloadable demo.
Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death
Arthurian immortals Sir Lancelot Du Lac and Morgana Le Fey have been travelling together for centuries. The chivalric code has led to them facing monsters and helping others over the years, not always for reward. Now the year is 1888, and their journey has brought them to London on the trail of the notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper. With the city under threat, will this famous pair be able to bring down the legendary murder? In doing so, will they be able to lift the curse that has left Morgana trapped in the form of a dog?
Jessica Saunders and Philip Huxley
Salix Games was formed by industry veterans who have worked previously on AAA franchises such as Batman, Assassin’s Creed and BioShock, and that experience is now being applied to creating Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death independently. The Victorian London setting on show at the convention was a highly detailed realistic depiction, with dynamic lighting and locations displayed both day and night. The fully 3D modelled characters are also well produced and animated already, though the lip-syncing to spoken dialogue still needs to be done. Some renowned talent has been recruited for the voice work, with the leads played by Gareth David-Lloyd (Solas from Dragon Age) and Perdita Weeks (Catriona Hartdegen from Penny Dreadful). The demo’s action was accompanied by dramatic strings and piano.
A scene I observed involving a conversation between Lancelot and Morgana served well in setting up the dynamic between the two. Lancelot’s noble refusal of a cash reward was much derided by the more practical Morgana asking how they were to live without those funds. Including many character close-ups, this exchange nicely demonstrated the character modelling as well. Another scene took place on the docks, with a much wider view. Control is point-and-click, with actions for hotspots appearing when you near them. The final version is to include a character swap mechanic, activated by use of an on-screen button. As the canine-shaped Morgana, you will be able to converse with animals, opening up new avenues of investigation.
The aim is for the game to be released in summer 2018. More information can be found on the developer’s website, and until December 9th you can contribute to the game’s Kickstarter campaign, which still needs a fair bit of support if it’s to meet its target goal.
Whispers of a Machine
For a while, artificial intelligence was creeping into every part of our lives. It was in our homes, it was in our cars, it was even in our bodies. But fear of what AI could do resulted in it being brought to an end. With the resulting social collapse from ending a technology so heavily relied upon, however, mankind has struggled. Now, in a world without AI, federal homicide detective Vera has been called to investigate a series of murders. When evidence of an AI-worshipping cult surfaces, she soon finds this case larger than it first appears.
Joel Staaf Hasto and Petter Ljungqvist
Whispers of a Machine, by Clifftop Games (Kathy Rain) and Faravid Interactive (The Samaritan Paradox), features graphics done in a pleasant pixel art style depicting a realistic world. The demo mostly took place in the dark locker room of a mill, with some broken concrete and a generally run-down condition. In the corner of this room, the victim lay covered in blood and watched over by an ordinary constable. Vera dressed smartly and with neat short blonde hair, strolled around the scene smoothly. Her activities were backed by a tune that would not have been out of place in a tense TV detective drama.
Using simple point-and-click controls, from the outset players can choose how they wish to approach other characters, and this will have an effect on later parts of the game. Vera can exert her authority, attempt to engage with others, or simply adopt a sterile analytical approach. Whilst AI has been banned, augmentation has not, and Vera also has abilities beyond the human norm. The most important of these is a Forensic Scanner, which allows you to search for hidden evidence. In Smart Scan mode, it simply seaches for evidence generally. Once you find something, such as the DNA and fingerprints of the murder victim, you can switch to scanning for that, allowing you to identify things he touched. The demo ended with finding a key to another location and evidence of the AI cult, teasing more of the greater story to come.
The developers’ goal is to release Whispers of a Machine by the end of 2018. More information can be found on the game’s website.
Many of us have had days start like this. We wake up with a hangover and a less-than-perfect recollection of the night before. But when you are a palace guard, and you wake up in a room locked from the outside with your armour nowhere in sight, this could be serious. Such is the situation Tandbert finds himself in, waking in a small tower room where the main window appears to have been ripped free of its frame. If he is to report for duty on time, he will not only have to escape this precarious perch, he will need to locate his missing equipment. By the end of his adventures, he may regret not just turning over and going back to sleep.
Whilst the demo I saw of Sick Chicken Studios’ Guard Duty seemed entirely comedic fantasy, developer Nathan Hamley assures me this game has some sci-fi elements as well. The graphics have a retro pixel art look, with the Simon the Sorceror series a major influence. (The fact that some people hate that particular protagonist is acknowledged in the opening scene here, with a picture of Simon heavily pierced by darts.) From the fairly small tower room at the start, I got to the nearby gardens and the palace entrance – though most unsuitably clad for such an august location. The game is fully voiced, and the demo came with gentle background music and sound effects like birdsong.
Control is point-and-click, with a single-click examining and a double-click interacting. Just getting out of the opening room proved quite a challenge, as the exit trapdoor was locked from the other side. Once down on the ground, Tandbert's luck did not improve as he briefly got his head stuck in a wasp's nest. This caused all subsequent dialogue to be heavily mumbled, though on-screen subtitles made the actual words clear. I was told that, later within this same fantasy setting, the villain actually achieves immortality, leading to the subsequent futuristic portion of the game where they become an evil dictator.
More information can be found on the developer's website while you wait for Guard Duty's targeted 2018 release date.
Young Alex has not had an easy life to date. A journey with some friends across Switzerland was supposed to be fun, but an incident on the road has put an end to that. She wakes from the car crash to find herself lost in a deep forest with her friends missing. Searching nearby for help, she comes across an abandoned mansion. But it turns out the previous inhabitants of this place are not as absent as it might seem, and Alex will have to face up to her own dark past if she is to save herself and her friends.
Purgatory is being developed as a solo project by digital artist Joel Mayer. The game features a side-scrolling presentation with retro pixel art graphics, reminiscent of games on the SNES console. The top two-thirds of the screen are taken up by a view of the current location. In the demo this included the remote crash site, a forbidding entrance flanked by two fierce lion statues, and a garden decorated with some disturbing features. The bottom third of the screen includes a detailed head-shot of the protagonist which animates fully with her actions and feelings. The remainder of the bottom bar is taken up by the three available inventory slots, plus Alex's phone which is useful in puzzles, initially as a light source. No sound had yet been implemented into the current build.
This is undoubtedly a horror game, and the author cites inspiration from classic Italian horror movies like Suspiria. Keyboard control moves Alex left and right and interacts with hotspots she stands in front of. Even deserted, the mansion was an uncomfortable place to explore, with foreboding decor and gravestones in the garden. I have no doubt further horrors await in the future. In a nice touch, the phone does not solely serve as an in-game tool, but also as a way of filling in the backstory, as it includes old chats and pictures, telling you about Alex's life without resorting to clumsy exposition.
Purgatory is tentatively on schedule for a late 2018 release. More information can be found on the developer's website.
In the town of Snowport, detective Thomas Horgan has been found dead. Once he was a famous name, but his reputation faded over the years. An old associate of his, arriving in town just too late, was in the frame for the murder, but he has since proved himself in solving a local mystery. Whilst still not on best terms with the police, he has now been able to set up on his own as a detective. As he hunts for his former associate's murderer, the lost and lonely of Snowport bring their troubles to him. Like when a husband does not return home, which means setting out to solve another mystery.
The first episode of Funbakers' mobile-exclusive, augmented reality adventure Silent Streets was covered in the July 2017 Following Freeware. The second, and this time fully commercial episode was being demonstrated at the convention. The same fine art style, black and white with the occasional touch of colour, continues to be used with many of the same locations available. There are also returning characters, including the dour Inspector Gage and the investigative reporter Evelyn McGrath. The game also includes area-appropriate sound effects like before, including music where suitable.
Though most of the gameplay has carried over from the debut instalment, there have been a few tweaks. Originally, walking between locations required you to actually cover that distance for real, or take a cab by making an in-app purchase. This time around, two more options have been added. You can now complete a minigame to advance, or simply wait for the time it would take someone gently strolling to travel that far. The other major changes occur in the augmented reality portions of the game. Previously, objects simply floated in the air against a view of whatever you were actually looking at through your phone. The new system detects a flat surface for the floor, and then locks items onto it. Thanks to this improvement, I was able to perform a full inspection of a body on a mortuary table that appeared to be sitting right there in the exhibition hall.
The first episode, The Boy with the Flowered Skin, is available free on the App Store and Google Play, with further episodes to become available via in-app purchases. Further information about the series can be found on the Silent Streets website.
As a space trader, you have not always operated on the right side of the law. This has come back to bite you, as your latest venture sees you stopped by the authorities. Hopelessly outclassed, you barely escape the confrontation with your life. Now you have to find yourself a new ship and start rebuilding your business. One of your underground contacts, Creamly, should be able to set you up with a new ship, but he's not going to do it for nothing.
Martyn Stonehouse and Gonçalo Monteiro
Massive Galaxy has point-and-click adventuring at its heart, but offers optional trading and fighting elements for a wider game experience. The graphics have a very retro aesthetic, with the classic platforming adventure Flashback cited by the developers as a major influence in the visual design. The overall look also owes something to the film Blade Runner, with tall skyscrapers decked out in bright neon. The latter influence also comes through in the sound design and its synth soundtrack. The character animation matches the simplicity of the graphics, but is effective nonetheless.
The demo included the opening turn-based ship-to-ship fight, showing off the battle interface, though in an unwinnable challenge. Escaping to a nearby city, I had to track down my contact. This proved no easy matter either, as the club he was in had a most unfriendly bouncer at the door. After making my way inside, the task I was given was to pick up a package from a specific set of coordinates, but this “package” proved to be a young girl, presenting me with the first choice in the game. The intention is to have a branching narrative throughout, with my choice to release the girl instead of delivering her as instructed just the first of many choices that will alter how the storyline plays out.
Massive Galaxy is zeroing in on a 2018 release target. More information can be found on the game’s official website.
Your world no longer rotates, and this has had devastating consequences. One half of the planet is in eternal darkness, whilst the other is scorched by blistering sunlight. In the narrow strip between these two states, life struggles to go on. Given the strange nature of this world, the cult of sun worship has become a powerful force. You have transgressed against this religion, and face punishment as a result. Your name and face have been taken, a feat achieved by affixing a magic mask that covers most of your face. Should you try to tell others of your past, the mask burns you. Yet you are also a merchant, a trusted trader between towns. Will you be able to get people to see past the mask and work to restore your life?
Giada Zavarise and Gaia Lambruschi
Developers CoseBelle describe Selling Sunlight as a narrative role-playing game, but there is no fighting to gain experience points. Instead, your actions and words serve to shape your character. The graphics feature a soft hand-drawn style, depicting a world which appears to have Arabian influences. The main character is robed, with the spiky mask covering most of their face. To make it clear who has punished you, a symbol representing the sun forms the centrepiece of the mask, situated right over the character's eyes. Others have more traditional fantasy appearances, such as a bard friend who invites you to a nearby festival.
Control of the game is done entirely through the keyboard. The demo started with me returning to the guild house, finding my friend there. The first stage of character-building took place there. It is possible to respond to dialogue in either a friendly or gloomy fashion, with multiple responses available for each. I took the friendly approach, eager to see my friend and join him on his journey. This took us to nearby Green Hamlet, where a major festival was to take place soon. Here a second feature, the bartering sub-game, came out. You can either accept a merchant's price, or seek to drive them down. Again, friendly and gloomy approaches are possible, but different merchants are more open to different types, requiring experimentation to find out what works. The demo also set up the story well, with some fascinated by the mask and others wary of what it meant.
Selling Sunlight isn't set to rise until sometime in 2019. In the meantime, more information can be found on the game's website.
A woman that just wanted to grab a morning drink at her local coffee shop finds herself transported to a strange world. This place is populated by spirits representing each of the classic elements: Fire, Air, Earth and Water. With their very different approaches to life, the four groups have come into conflict and trouble is breaking out everywhere. With her unique perspective, perhaps this new arrival can resolve the problems and find her way home.
Florencia Minuzzi and Dustin Connor
Having taken a new approach to dialogue mechanics last year, Tea-Powered Games have introduced a new innovation this year for Elemental Flow. The environments are 3D in overall appearance, though the objects within them appear to be flat panels facing the screen. This fits in with the otherworldly setting, as does the light but semi-realistic art style. The character close-ups you get in conversations are more like watercolours, with the spirit characters appearing faceless. The music backing up the demo was largely percussion-based, though with a smattering of piano.
The mechanic introduced in this game is simple in concept, but proved surprisingly difficult to master. Using a console controller, I moved around and initiated conversations with other characters, during which the four action buttons each represented one of the four different elements. These had a unique effect on your approach to the conversation, be it forceful talking or sympathetic listening. The goal in each conversation is to fill a bar showing you have reached “understanding” with the other participant. At first, simply holding down the “Fire” button achieved this goal for me, but later conversations needed a variety of elements, as wearing yourself or your counterpart out ends the conversation without consensus. With spirits of different elements reacting differently to the elements you apply, a surprisingly complex system soon arose from a simple concept.
With a release date still be determined, more information about Elemental Flow can be found on the developer’s website.
Bury me, my Love
In Syria, a country riven by conflict, a young couple is torn apart by the ongoing unrest. When a bombing attack kills her sister, Nour decides she has to leave the country at all costs. Her husband Majd is unable to leave, but is willing to see his precious wife safely to a new home. Thus begins the story of a long and dangerous journey, with the loving couple only held together by the thin thread of a communication app.
Bury me, my Love is the result of a collaboration between developer The Pixel Hunt, digital design studio FIgs and television station Arte. The inspiration was a true story, reported by the French newspaper Le Monde, of a couple separated in a similar way, maintaining contact through mobile devices. The title is from an Arabic expression meaning “Take care,” as in “Do not die before I do.” The presentation is similar in appearance to the WhatsApp messaging system, with you, playing as Majd, receiving messages from your wife. These are mostly text in nature, but can include pictures such as selfies showing how she feels about your last message. These are presented in a line-drawn art style, with the colours mostly reflecting the dry, arid nature of much of the Syrian countryside.
Interaction is performed by selecting from a list of possible responses to messages received from Nour. In the section I played, a taxi that had promised to take her onwards suddenly upped its price dramatically. Ways of keeping the price down or finding alternative means of continuing the journey were discussed. An element of danger also crept in, as armed men arrived at the bus station she was in and started checking people’s papers. The conversations between husband and wife are naturally written, and convey the story and atmosphere well. For the convention, the game was running in fast mode, meaning that dialogue was continuous. In normal play, there will be a suitable delay between messages when Nour is travelling or otherwise occupied.
Girth Loinhammer's Most Exponential Adventure
Things have not been going well for Dungeon Lord Girth Loinhammer of late. He filled his subterranean domain with dangerous traps and a variety of monsters, as was expected of him. However, something appears to have gone wrong with his advertising. The "Knights" and "Princesses" arriving appear to be expecting a wholly different sort of dungeon. With despair looming, the time has come to make a decision. Will he stay moping at home, or will he head out into the world seeking adventure? Little does he know what varied tales these two simple choices will lead to.
Damon Wakes in his Dungeon Lord cloak
Produced entirely in Twine, Damon Wakes’ humorous text-based Girth Loinhammer's Most Exponential Adventure offers a dizzying array of potential stories. The starting point is always the same, with Girth bemoaning his dungeon's apparent failure, but each decision from there leads to another small piece of story, followed by another binary choice. With each option leading to unique content, the branches of possible narratives spread further and further out, leading to over 500 different possible endings.
On my first playthrough, which was about 10 to 15 minutes with my relatively fast reading speed, I decided to linger around the dungeon, subsequently deciding to change it to something else entirely. As luck would have it, a series of choices resulted in an ending perfectly suited to my real-life day job as an accountant. I'm sure not many people can say they turned a dank dungeon into a centre for studying tax-deductible business gifts. The second time around I elected to search for adventure instead, and was soon given a familiar-looking ring to carry to an Elf King. Eschewing the call to a noble goal, however, I wandered the countryside boasting to all and sundry about the ring instead. This led to my downfall, as those I taunted ended up mugging me for my ill-gotten trinket. The writing in both storylines was deeply humorous, often spoofing standard tropes of the fantasy genre.
A full release is expected shortly. More information, and a demo containing a limited number of endings, can be found on the developer’s website.
Save the World
On a messaging app, you receive a mysterious note from a stranger, thanking you for volunteering to help save the world. Taking them up on this offer leads to being asked to engage in a series of objectives akin to a scavenger hunt. The stakes are high, as the task-giver informs you that only your actions can prevent the world being invaded by creatures from space. But can you really stop beings from other worlds with chalk, string and paper clips?
Julia Noomen’s Save the World is an entirely text-based adventure, written in Twine, that can be played online for free. The first choice you are given is which city you are in, including London. All the cities play host to major gaming conventions, and the starting location the game places you in is the venue for that convention. Accordingly, attendees choosing London found themselves in AdventureX’s Professor Stuart Hall building, both in the real and game world. The first tasks require you to have chalk, string and paper clips in-game, all of which developer Julia Noomen provided in physical form at her booth. These were no ordinary paper clips though, including some shaped like hearts and stars.
The game is played by simply selecting from a list of on-screen choices. Earlier choices do affect later gameplay, even to the point of being able to reject the task outright (though you have to persist) and end the game early. Those who accept the job are directed outside the building towards a real-world fence to attach paperclips to it. The option to perform such errands for real lent a nice augmented reality feel to proceedings, though the game itself is entirely text-based and played online. The tasks are interspersed with strange tales from your contact about the threat and how they came to know about it. It is, of course, entirely possible to play the game sitting at home instead, but being at the actual location, with actual objects, did make it more fun.
Save the World can be played online at the game's website. (The display is optimised for mobile devices to get the full experience.)