It was a weekend of familiar faces and new friends. It was also a weekend of seeing several former freeware games expanding into fully commercial releases. I learned about a new text adventure engine, still in development, that may well be the basis of future AdventureX games. I also added to my photo album of game developers waving to my wife, including Brian Moriarty and James Dearden (my wife actually having provided voice-overs for one of the latter's games). Yet there were still more games to be played, so in addition to the first round-up of adventures on display, here is the rest of our 2017 coverage from London.
Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure
Private eye Don Ketype is a man on a mission, sent to retrieve the Necronomicon from the creepy local library. Young librarian Buzz Kerwan meets his request with scepticism, assuring the sleuth that the book is entirely fictional. But when cultists blow up the library foyer and kidnap Don, the book almost literally falls into Buzz's hands. Inadvisably reading from the dread tome and then wishing his cat Kitteh could talk, he suddenly finds himself with a very vocal feline. Just what eldritch forces has he unleashed?
Liviu Boar and Cami Cuibus
Developers Stuck in Attic describe Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure as comedy cosmic horror, or Lovecraft by way of classic LucasArts. Whilst the LucasArts influence does come through, the hand-painted graphics here are more detailed and modern than those games. The start of the demo saw Don climbing the long staircase to the library. The gothic town depicted in the background was actually inspired by the architecture of the developers' home town in the Transylvanian area of Romania. The library is similarly detailed, with tall unsteady shelves crammed with books. Full voice acting is planned but not currently implemented, though the game did feature environmental sound and gentle background music.
Clicking on a hotspot brings up a selection of actions, with only those relevant to the particular hotspot appearing. The spacebar reveals hotspots with a gentle glow that does not overwhelm the view. The intention is that you will control two characters over the course of the game, detective Don and librarian Buzz. You will also be able to ask Kitteh to do things, although, being a cat, she will not always be amenable to direction. The opening involved a brief conversation as Don, before switching to Buzz. A relatively simple puzzle revealed the forbidden book, which kicked off the main plot.
Further information, including a (different) demo, can be found on the game’s website while we hopefully await a first-quarter release in 2018.
The year is 1844, and the city of New Bretagne is beset by crime. Together with his partner Bill, detective Miles Fordham pays a visit to a flower shop to investigate a most peculiar transgression. Someone has been breaking into the shop at night, taking flowers and leaving money for them on the counter. Whilst the proprietor, who does not have high opinion of the police, was happy to let it lie, her assistant was worried. This case will prove fateful for the investigative duo, as a confrontation inevitably ends in tragedy that has far-reaching implications for the rest of the game.
The graphics are similar to high-resolution versions of the Ben Jordan freeware series, which isn’t surprising since Francisco Gonzalez is also the main developer of Lamplight City. The setting comes across as an alternate version of Victorian London, with a steampunk vibe to set it apart. On the dark streets, lamps cast shadows over the pair as they travel. Within the shop itself, a vast array of colour is on display in the well-lit sales area. Action is backed up by dynamic strings playing a tune suited to the historical mystery setting.
Control is classic point-and-click. The demo covered an initial case to set up the story for the main game, but Lamplight City will have five other cases, with multiple suspects in each. In an attempt to break away from the norm, it is possible to accuse the wrong person, or even render cases unsolvable by your actions. Players should be careful not to do so too often, as this will bring about the downfall of the lead detective. Conversation played a large part in this initial case, with the interface showing close-ups of the characters in a way that mimics the interface of the first Gabriel Knight game. A casebook was only ever just a click away, storing clues, objectives, suspects and documents found.
While we wait for the game's targeted spring release next year, further information can be found on the developer's website.
A remote station has come under attack from a dark and mysterious force. This assault has resulted in strange crystals springing up all over the place. With communications down, a little Growbot on the lower decks will have to fend for itself. With scant knowledge of the station or its strange inhabitants, things look bleak for the small automaton. But this brave little robot is not dissuaded, and sets out to get back to the rest of the crew and drive the attacker back.
Izzi Mear and developer Lisa Evans
Growbot’s graphical style is reminiscent of Samorost, but designer Lisa Evans has not simply copied Amanita’s style and called it a day. The soft-focus hand-drawn graphics are full of new ideas and creations, most notably the Growbot itself. This robot has a huge glass bowl forming the top half of its head, placed atop a comparatively tiny body. The problems this disparity naturally causes are illustrated in the protagonist’s decidedly wobbly walk. I personally found this particular animation so delightful, I would stop to move Growbot whenever I passed Wabisabi Games’ stand, just to see it again. This attention to detail carries over to the rest of the graphics, making this game a visual treat. Sounds I heard were limited but effective, mostly consisting of environmental ambience. A scratchy effect, as if being played on an old record, actually fit well with the otherworldly atmosphere.
Using simple point-and-click controls, the demo started in Growbot's bedroom, with a few small puzzles to get started. There is also an important item to pick up here, the Growbot manual, and you cannot leave without it. This starts off with only a few bits of information, but fills in as you discover more about the station and the other creatures living there. In a nearby cabin I found a creature called a Brainapilla, which was happy to take up residence in my oversized cranium. Once acquired, this creature can be used on hotspots encountered, serving as an additional source of information. Another puzzle I came across but did not resolve involved a recipe I found near a jam-making machine. The game's slightly surreal tone came through in this, as I had never considered the need to remove white and black holes from jam before.
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With final release not scheduled until early 2019, for now you'll have to make do with the additional information found on the game's website.