Gamescom 2018 round-up: Part 2
With all the titles on display this year at gamescom, we once again teamed up with Adventure Corner to bring you far more coverage than we could have managed alone. And so, picking up from our first round of reports, we turn our attention to our German colleagues for the next installment from Cologne.
By Peter Färberböck
Milanese developer Lunar Great Wall Studio has twelve employees, and they have been working for about a year on Another Sight. In this game, we control the blind girl Kit and a cat through a world where reality and fantasy mingle. In the gamescom demo, Kit awakens in a kind of subterranean cave beneath London. However, it is not a natural cave because in the background huge cogs are turning slowly. What is going on? She calls out for her father but does not get an answer. She is alone. Cautiously, she dares to advance into the tunnel and suddenly the ground gives in and she falls. As she lies unconsciously on the floor, a cat sneaks towards the girl. The feline wakes Kit up and wants to lead her somewhere. Slowly, Kit realizes that something is amiss – something fantastical. A magical shield forms around her. Is this a dream? She continues deeper into the underground world.
When you look at this game, you involuntarily think of Alice in Wonderland. However, the true inspiration for Another Sight is Neil Gaiman’s Neverworld. It’s not only Kit’s clothing that seems similar, but also the setting that mixes reality and a fantasy world. Even the cut scenes have a comic book look that reflects its inspiration. The game itself emphasizes exploration, story and magical puzzles, and the further we descend into this unknown world, the more magic weaves itself into the adventure.
The Italian developers stress that their focus is on the story, which should take about five hours to complete. In Another Sight, we are not only able to play as Kit but also as the more agile cat, with obstacles often focusing on the interaction between the two characters. You can always choose between the cat and Kit, and many puzzles need an action from one to let the other pass. For example, the cat jumps around acrobatically and activates a lever to let down a bridge so that Kit can cross a huge rift.
Because of the fall and the magic surrounding her, Kit can only see in a very limited way, essentially “seeing” through sound. She has to feel her way slowly and, thus, in the demo, we often explored the world with the cat and meowed so that Kit could find her way. By doing this, Kit can even jump over small gaps which she normally cannot cross as she needs to see her landing spot. The typical gameplay loop we saw is quite simple: jumping around with the cat and pulling levers with Kit.
The interplay between cat and blind girl is not everything this rather good-looking fantasy setting has to offer. Another Sight is set in the Victorian era and Kit will meet some familiar characters of that time, such as Tesla, Edison and more. She even gets to interact with these famous people and the developers want to make these conversations as realistic as possible; that is one of their utmost concerns. The whole adventure is accompanied by music from an orchestra in Salerno. Clearly, Lunar Great Wall Studio have not shied away from expense.
The side-scrolling game will have English voice-overs and subtitles in other languages (including French, Italian, German and Spanish, according to Steam). The game has recently been released for PC, with console versions for PS4, Xbox One and Switch due to follow by the end of the year.
Tales of the Neon Sea
By Peter Färberböck
Tales of the Neon Sea is a successfully crowdfunded adventure game from the Chinese development studio Palm Pioneer, to be internationally published by Zodiac Interactive. At gamescom we were able to take a look and even play certain parts for ourselves.
This adventure is described as a traditional “point-and-click” but it gets by without the mouse. In the typical style of a retro 2D game, the character is controlled with WASD on the keyboard and interaction performed with “E”. You can also run with Shift. The pixel art presentation shines, literally, because of the gaudy style with brilliant colour and lighting effects. The three protagonists of this funny cyberpunk adventure are a detective, a robot (which incidentally looks like WALL-E) and a cat named William – yes, here we have another cat to control, this one complete with dialogues and everything you need.
At first sight, the game seems to be a side-scrolling platformer. However, calm down, as that is not the case. Jumping is not even possible except at some pre-scripted spots, and while we were playing we were never reminded of a run-and-jump. On the contrary, Neon Sea has many puzzles that vary between searching for certain items, combining them with the environment, and mini-game activities. Let us look at an example: We saw a generator that is supposed to produce energy. Of course, we needed to examine the generator to get it to work and found three knobs that we had to turn in such a way that the correct energy level was created – a classic logic puzzle that is well-known across many games. Despite the complexity of challenges to overcome, the game does not have an inventory. Obtained items are instead stored invisibly and are used automatically when needed.
As the main protagonist is a detective, standard investigative work is also prevalent. We examined a dead body with the cursor, and thanks to the detective's implants, we could also use a magnifier and x-ray sight to look for clues on the corpse. When we found enough evidence, we were able to combine it together for an overall autopsy (thanks, cyberpunk technology!). And that is not all concerning puzzles. Once we had the autopsy, we needed to reconstruct the course of events. We had to somehow turn back time, and thus a small clockwork puzzle with different-sized cogs came up. After solving it, we witnessed the whole crime via “augmented reality” in hologram form.
The dense atmosphere provides a good setting for the action, but the seriousness of the game is lightened by smaller cool and funny scenes. Once, when controlling the cat, we had to ask for the support of the local cat mafia. William also has his own mini-games and even a dialogue puzzle to solve. But speaking of dialogue, there is no voice-acting in Tales of the Neon Sea. Befitting the retro look, we only had subtitles to read.
Thanks to the successful Kickstarter campaign, we can look forward to the game releasing on multiple platforms with a “season ticket” available for purchase. The larger story is self-contained, but since the protagonist is a detective, the game lends itself to offering optional downloadable cases via the season ticket. Tales of the Neon Sea will be released in the fourth quarter of 2018 on PC, with specific consoles still to be determined, though the developers assured us that they want to make a Nintendo Switch version.
The Gardens Between
By Peter Färberböck
The Gardens Between is the upcoming adventure game project of The Voxel Agents. As it will be released on September 20th, it could be played completely on Nintendo Switch at gamescom, though it will also be available for PC and PS4.
The most unique element in The Gardens Between is that you do not control the two child protagonists directly. The girl and boy walk through each level, or garden, on their own towards the top. What players control is time and, thus, indirectly the protagonists. By pressing Left / Right you rewind/fast-forward time until the desired moment is reached, and with another press of a button, the protagonists will interact with the environment. For this game mechanic, the developers were inspired by the movie Minority Report, and they tried out different prototypes until coming up with the current iteration.
Simple as it is, the goal for every level is to get the light from your lantern to the top. You neither have any time pressure, nor can you fail or die. You just have to solve the environment puzzles along the way. In the process, The Voxel Agents want to encourage players to observe the world around them to get deeper into the story. Careful observation should also lead you towards the solution of each puzzle by rewinding / fast-forwarding time – or even pausing time. It sounds quite simple, but trust me, it took us a while to figure some levels out.
Most of the storytelling is done environmentally. Every level represents a stage of friendship between the two children. Once you finish a level, you unlock “star constellations” and after some levels even story bubbles. These bubbles are cutscenes, the only explicit bit of exposition. In The Gardens Between, everything revolves around friendship. By solving the puzzles, you are able to replay the story of the kids’ friendship and nearly every object on display represents some aspect of their relationship, such as a VCR, a game console or simple moving boxes. The developers want to encourage players to think about their own childhood while playing, and the things that reflect their own friendships. In that sense, the game should be a fairly leisurely experience that is also very relaxing to play. The stylish, good-looking visuals and the ethereal background music emphasize this experience as well.
The Voxel Agents had good reason for wanting to release the game on Switch, given its different control possibilities. Using both Joycons, only one Joycon or a dedicated controller is possible. On PC the game will be just as versatile, however. We were promised that nearly every controller with an analogue stick will work with the game. Furthermore, the arrow keys and space bar work fine too. Currently, no tablet or mobile versions are planned, but the developers see the potential of these platforms too.
The four-person team has been working for about four years on The Gardens Between, which has 21 levels and should take about 2-3 hours of gameplay to complete. They said that the story is the main reason why it is so short, because they want the experience to be as crisp and diverting as possible.
BLACKSAD: Under the Skin
By Christiane Biederbeck
Pendulo’s BLACKSAD: Under the Skin is a narrative and investigative adventure based on a Spanish comic book series. The game features an all-new case for detective John Blacksad, with 30 characters both old and new playing a part in telling this new story that seeks to appeal to existing fans as well as adventure game lovers.
In the early 1950s, the famous boxer Joe Dunn is found dead. Another boxer, Robert Dale, disappears without a trace and his daughter hires the famous detective John Blacksad. This world is dark and dangerous, like common noir detective movies. What makes it unique is that all characters are human-shaped animals and their species reflect their character. For example, the murdered boxer was a dog (more precisely a boxer) and our main character is a tomcat in a trench coat.
Very suitably for a '50s detective story, the game comes with a nice jazz soundtrack, while the comic-like art design is in 3D and very much in line with the Blacksad comics.
The gameplay contains elements of both classic and modern adventure games. As a detective, players collect evidence and information, which can then be combined in inventory to draw conclusions, kind of like Ace Attorney. It is possible to interact with lots of different things in the environment, but not everything will be helpful.
As far as we can tell from the gamescom demo, the non-linear gameplay very much revolves around the story. Besides the typical detective work, it also features Quick Time Events and multiple choice dialogues. Previous decisions can affect the narrative in multiple ways: if you use the fire exit instead of going through the main door, your quest continues in a different way.
In case you get stuck, it‘s possible to use your enhanced cat-senses to look for more clues. They can even provide new dialogue options and deductions, such as in one early scene where they help you play dangerous gangsters against each other. A handy ability. During short action scenes, we simply needed to pull off a quick QTE, pressing the action key at the right moment to save the day. Otherwise, Blacksad's sudden demise may occur. Of course, if this happens the game will automatically reload back to a fair save point without losing too much progress.
Seeing the demo made me curious about reading the Spanish comics that inspired it. That won’t be necessary to enjoy the game, though it would probably help getting more familiar with the characters and the settings. BLACKSAD will be released in 2019 for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, featuring a play time of about eight hours. English, Spanish, German, French and Italian voice-overs can be expected.
This year's gamescom offered a diverse mix of adventure games from Poland. Here's our round-up of some of the games exhibited in Cologne.
By Christiane Biederbeck
Tsioque, from OhNoo Studio (Tormentum – Dark Sorrow), succeeded on Kickstarter three years ago and is now aiming for a release on November 7th (Windows PC, Mac and iOS). It has been delayed quite a few times, especially due to the very small budget, but during gamescom we were reassured by the developers that this time things are looking good.
In this 2D point-and-click adventure, we control the actions of the young princess Tsioque, who – as we know from a cutscene at the beginning – was captured by an evil sorcerer and his minions. Tricking the guard, stealing his key and escaping the prison cell are the first tasks, providing an opportunity to get acquainted with this fantasy world and its gameplay. At first we have to click on everything to find out what does what, which involves a lot of trial and error. Once that is established, we can make use of them in order to reach the next part of the dungeon. Hidden in a crypt nearby, we find an invisible cloth. This artifact offers a great boon: invisibility. Whenever a guard approaches, we need to quickly use the cloth (and continue to repeat this action to move forward, which feels very much like a Quick Time Event). If we fail, the princess is captured; however, we can try again without losing any progress.
As for the distinct comic art style, the studio is collaborating with the animated filmmaker Alek Wasilewski (Lucky Day Forever). The result looks slightly reminiscent of the LucasArts classic Monkey Island 3. It's quite remarkable to see how many interactions lead to unique animations during only the first few minutes. Those of you looking for something similar to Tormentum might be disappointed, because Tsioque is going in a very different direction – not just when it comes to graphics but also in terms of gameplay. Although the story may seem typical at first, the developers promise that it comes with a smart twist and that there is more to it than it appears. An early demo is still available on the official website.
By Christiane Biederbeck
Alibabe is currently being developed by Gspot and aims for a rather interesting mix of cyberpunk and fable settings. Among others, influences come from the Grimm Brothers, but also from Terry Pratchett and Monthy Python. The 2D graphics are hand-drawn, and due to her large eyes, at least the main character looks loosely inspired by the Japanese manga style.
The story centers around the eponymous female hero, who finds herself confronted with the absurdity of everyday life. While exploring the 2D fantasy world, she meets many well-known fairy beings, such as Gretel, who has gotten quite long in the tooth, and the fairy godmother who turns out to be a demon called Bill. Alibabe definitely has potential for situational comedy.
While checking out the playable demo, the most conspicuous aspect was the gameplay itself. The core element is the reassigning of emotions. In every area, we meet several mechanical creatures that are driven by a specific emotion. This emotion can lead them to not wanting to help us, being in the way, or forming some other obstacle. We can, however, take this emotion and replace it with one from a different NPC. Many puzzles are based on this idea. Apart from that, there's also some running and jumping to do.
There is no release date yet, but Alibabe is being developed for PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. English and Polish voice-overs can be expected.
My Brother Rabbit
By Christiane Biederbeck
My Brother Rabbit is a colorfully drawn 2D point-and-click adventure game from Artifex Mundi that lets us explore a quite surreal world, residing a child's dream. In this strange place, we seek a cure for our sick sister. The main character is the plush animal belonging to her brother: a funny looking rabbit.
The whole game consists of five areas, each of which should take up to an hour to complete. As for the puzzles, we can expect gameplay similar to The Tiny Bang Story or the adventures of Amanita Design. Of course, there's going to be a lot to explore and various hotspots to click on to see what happens, and the detailed graphics definitely invite the player to take a closer look at the surreal environment. In terms of difficulty, the developers told us that they want to appeal to both children and adults, so obviously the puzzles are not going to be that hard.
At the Poland booth, we played the first few minutes of My Brother Rabbit. After searching around for relevant objects, we had to solve the first real puzzle, with several threads of different colors that needed to be connected to a knot with the same color, without crossing the other colors. That definitely seemed doable for kids and yet, frankly, it took us a while to get the solution.
So perhaps this game really will be able to entertain younger and older audiences alike. We'll see once it is available sometime in autumn 2018 on PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
By Christiane Biederbeck
Next to Irony Curtain we spotted the post-apocalyptic 3D adventure game Paradise Lost from Polyamorous. This project lets us experience the five stages of grief, represented by interactions, dialogues, and the environment. After a nuclear disaster, people live in bunkers deep underground. While the surface is still accessible, it is dangerous, deserted and very cold. The story of this non-linear experience is told from the perspective of two playable characters in two different timelines. The choices of one character can have consequences for the other.
In Cologne, we played an early version of this game to get a better idea of it. The 3D visuals are already impressive and immediately caught our attention. Movement on PC is possible via WASD, while with the mouse we interacted with most of the objects in the bunker. Taking into account the console versions that are also in the works (PS4 and Xbox One), we can expect that controllers will work as well. Paradise Lost is likely not going to be a mere walking simulator, as below ground we can do a lot of things that let us empathize with this rather depressing situation. Flowers can be watered, notes and pictures checked out. And the protagonist talks to another person called "mother" via walkie-talkie, which reminded us a lot of Firewatch.
At first glance, this seemed to be designed as a first-person game (which probably makes the most sense for this type of story), but later we realized it was possible to switch to a third-person perspective too. It remains to be seen if that will still be possible in the final version, however. After all, the game’s release won't be happening before early 2020, so Paradise Lost still has a long way to go.
At first glance, ARTE as games publisher may seem like a weird combination. However, the renowned TV network from France already has some experience in this field (for example, the narrative game Californium). In Frankenstein: Birth of a Myth and A Fisherman's Tale, ARTE displayed two new projects at gamescom that should appeal to adventure fans.
Frankenstein: Birth of a Myth
by Christiane Biederbeck
Let's begin with Frankenstein: Birth of a Myth, which is being developed by La Belle Games. (Keep in mind that this is only the working title, so there will be some changes to it.) Mary Shelley and her literary classic Frankenstein are at the center of this narrative adventure game, which allows the player to make some individual choices that can shape the course of the story. With this interactive adaption, the publisher is hoping to provide a different perspective on the topic and to complement their own Frankenstein movie in an interesting way.
At gamescom we saw the free prequel (not yet publicly available) for the main game, which is all about the genesis of the famous novel. The beautifully drawn backgrounds immediately created a memorable atmosphere, thanks especially to an art style that is reminiscent of watercolour paintings. This is a different take on the Frankenstein monster, who seems more like a young child discovering the world for the first time. We are therefore confronted with basic emotions, choices and questions. Do we kill an animal to satisfy hunger? What does it even mean to be human? In between, we also get to meet Mary Shelley, who is with friends during a stormy night. At the fireside they discuss her thoughts on her new book. These are also moments where the player is able to shape Frankenstein's journey a bit and the environment surrounding him.
Our first look at the game was definitely promising, with its unique approach to a well-known story combined with intriguing visuals. The release is due in 2019 for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
A Fisherman’s Tale
by Matthias Glanznig
The other ARTE production we were able to play is the 3D puzzle adventure A Fisherman's Tale, a VR game designed for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality VR and PlayStation VR. Developer Innerspace VR let us know that it won't be possible to play this game without such a device.
The story is about a hand-made fisherman's puppet called Bob, who inhabits a seemingly ordinary looking lighthouse. Upon closer examination, there's more to this place: in the middle of the living room is a miniature model of the very same lighthouse. Everything in the main building is also happening inside the model, which has another even smaller version of the miniature model within it. Basically, Bob exists in an endless number of rooms.
One day a storm nears the lighthouse, which changes everything. Our protagonist needs to activate the light of the tower to warn others. Leaving the room to get upstairs is not an easy task in a place that comes with highly unusual quirks. Some objects are too big to be of any use, such as a simple key. Fortunately, if we take the same object from the model, that makes it a perfect size. In a similar way, we deal with tiny objects. A large part of the gameplay revolves around this intriguing game mechanic.
Despite this surreal aspect, the puzzles are as grounded in reality as possible. For example, to look out the window at the beginning, we need to remove the wooden planks from it. While doing circling movements with the hand holding a hammer, we remove each nail from the planks. For the most part, A Fisherman's Tale is more like a puzzle game than a full-fledged adventure game. Then again, the story appears to work on an interesting meta-level, which could provide an interesting take on serious topics like social isolation. It is worth mentioning that we are not entirely on our own; sometimes we do get help from others.
We certainly enjoyed our time with the bearded puppet fisherman, although the VR controls took some getting used to. Interacting with objects requires standing close enough to them, but instead of moving around freely inside the building, a part of the room needs to be targeted by the controller to teleport there. At first it wasn't always easy to know how close to an object we actually need to be. On the plus side, the 3D graphics have a distinct and appealing style. Sadly, we can't say much about the sound, since it was too loud to hear anything.
As for this game's length, we were told by the developer that it will probably take about two or three hours to complete A Fisherman's Tale. A release is due this fall, but the PlayStation version could be available a bit later than the PC version. Those of you who love puzzles and virtual reality should watch out for it.
Translations provided by Peter Färberböck and Matthias Glanznig.