AdventureX 2018 round-up: Part 2
Reporting from E3, GDC, AdventureX, Gamescom and other gaming events around the world
Following our debut report out of London, our three-part AdventureX coverage continues!
Érico Porto and Ricardo Juchem
Watch the kind of scuzzy sci-fi worlds of Blade Runner and Dark City come to pixelated life in Myths Untold’s retro-styled point-and-click adventure Future Flashback, where you play as Kyle, an ex-surgeon addicted to a drug capable of recreating vivid memories. The jaded former doctor wants to relive the last time he saw his son alive, before it all went wrong. But suddenly he starts seeing the memories of a girl he’s never met – and things only get weirder from there.
Future Flashback relishes its neo-noir influences, and this is never more apparent than in its beautiful pixel art, all brooding purples and reds and blues and greens. In the short segment I played, Kyle picked up his latest stash of Memory Bombs (not the drug’s actual name in the game, though one I am willing to sell for a small fee!). As he neared the seedy bar in his hover car to a soundtrack of ‘80s synth, pixelated rain drove across the screen, illuminated by looming neon signs for commodities and virtual landscapes. It’s a very impressive scene setter for this alien and yet also recognizable world.
Having quaffed and/or snorted said Memory Bomb, I was transported back several years to Kyle’s apartment and presumably a happier time. It was here I got to grips with solving a fun puzzle about cracking a safe in the flat, which involved scouring messages about the perfect drink on Kyle’s phone and laptop, and mixing cocktails to the right consistency until I found the correct one. Interaction is through simple-left click on objects, which then lets you talk, pick something up or look at it through the respective mouth, hand or eye cursors. It looks like Kyle’s phone will play into the puzzles a fair amount, whether by using its “find my key” app, text messages or notes.
Myths Untold plan to release this stylistic adventure game at some point in the second half of next year on Windows, Mac and Linux, and hopefully Android devices. You can find out more at the game’s official website.
Talesinger: Voice of the Dragon
Stories, not swords, are your weapons in the narrative RPG Talesinger: Voice of the Dragon. The Romans are invading Wales and the end of the Celtic way of life is nigh. But all may not be lost: playing as an apprentice bard named Gwen, you have the power to use words to inspire your people once more – could it be enough to start a last ditch attempt to save life as you know it?
The team behind Talesinger has a rich pedigree in creating charming open worlds. Both Ralph Ferneyhough and Chris Payne worked together at Traveller’s Tales (Lego series) before starting up Quantum Soup in 2016. Their passion for stories, combined with a tongue-in-cheek warm humour, was evident in the short demo I played at AdventureX. Gwen is performed with a bubbly Welsh brogue that makes her instantly likeable. Those charms soon come in handy, as she needs to wake up a snoring bard and persuade him to let her become his apprentice in the art of wordsmithery.
Two key game mechanics were introduced in my quest to convince the snoozing poet to be my new mentor. First I had to find particular ingredients (e.g. birch bark and mint leaf) dotted around the forest to concoct a fire charm to make him a delicious breakfast. I used a controller to move Gwen freely around the lush 3D landscape, with a navigational compass at the top of the screen showing me the rough location of quest-related items.
As well as their biological names, ingredients are grouped into families such as “renewal” or “death”. Chris told me this is so that when more complex ingredients come into play, the player has a clear idea of where to find their items. For example, “death” objects will be easily found at a graveyard, whereas you might find a “renewal” related item in the house of the couple you’ve heard through the grapevine has just recently had a baby. It’s a neat way to bring puzzle solving into what can normally be a straighforward scavenger hunt, and it’ll be interesting to find out how it’s developed further.
After setting the poet up with some hot grub, it was time to do what came naturally and use my words to persuade him to take me on as a pupil. Much like in Skyrim, which is a big inspiration for Talesinger, there are various trees for different styles of dialogue (“snappy”, “flattering”, “diplomatic”, etc). In another nod to Bethesda’s epic, crafting certain charms will also unlock further dialogue. Whilst shying away from traditional RPG combat, in the full game the team also hopes to make it possible to unleash your bard talents for special boss battles, performing interactive songs to entire villages to try to encourage them to take up arms and fight with you, or flee and evade capture.
The aim is to release Talesinger: Voice of the Dragon within the next two years on PC and hopefully consoles. There’s more information on the game’s official website, and if you like what you see you can contribute to its crowdfunding page as well.
In Lake, Meredith Weiss hasn’t been back to the sleepy Oregon town she called home for many years, but now unforeseen circumstances mean a trip back to a time and place in her life she tried to leave behind long ago. With her job in the big city far away, she takes up a position as the town’s mail clerk, but the reason behind her sudden reappearance still remains shrouded in secrecy.
It all sounds like quite an inauspicious start to an adventure game, but that seems to be just how its indie developer Gamious wants it. In the demo, I trundled Meredith through the town in her mail van delivering letters to houses, the bright sunshine gleaming through the trees and not a cloud in the sky. The escapist quality of Firewatch sprang to mind, and although you’re driving rather than hiking through the stylised minimalist 3D vistas, there’s still an element of leaving the city behind and getting back to nature at play.
At the end of my mail run, I came across a local resident who I could choose to talk to (all conversation is voice acted). This revealed various dialogue options and different ways to react to the news he gave me about a package I’d delivered which had gotten broken in transit. Although driving around and delivering mail will take up a chunk of your time, it’s this character interaction the game hopes to build on, allowing you to learn people’s daily routines and choose which characters Meredith spends more time with, in amongst all those postal duties. I only drove around a small corner of the map when I played, so here’s hoping that the full environment has lots of varied locations to explore.
The team believes it could be another year before the game is released, with PC confirmed and consoles a maybe for now. To learn more in the meantime, visit the game’s website for additional details.
Over the Alps
Part-text adventure and part-point-and-click spy thriller, Over the Alps is like 80 Days given a Wes Anderson makeover. Set in 1939, you play as a British espionage agent working to smuggle “The Watchmaker” (an old German spymaster) over the Swiss mountains and away from harm into France. But as you charm, trick and disguise yourself through Switzerland, the determined “Spycatcher” is closing in on your trail. Can you escape her clutches and bring your top secret charge to safety?
Cash DeCuir and Sam Partridge
London-based Stave Studios are quite open about the inspiration they’ve taken from fellow UK company inkle, and particularly from their interactive fiction adventure 80 Days. However, in Over the Alps the team has made the formula their own in setting and style. With its backdrop on the brink of war across Europe, Lead Writer and Designer Cash DeCuir told me he hopes that this will be a political game as well as an entertaining one, following how everyday people relate to uncertain times. And whilst the game’s bright colours, quaint chalets and funiculars naturally evoke films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, the beautiful art style also has a nostalgic feel akin to vintage travel posters and comics such as Tintin.
Each location is represented by a postcard, with several red circles indicating areas in the scene the player can choose to travel to and investigate. There’s no dialogue and only context-specific sound effects: the gentle sweep of the tide at lakeside Lugano city, or the rising lilt of an accordion as you seek solace in a pub. Once you arrive at your new destination, you’ll be given different ways in which you can respond to the latest prose and dialogue offered up on-screen. Stamps act as dialogue tree choices, with names such as “Wilful”, “Charity” and “Blend” describing them. However, as with 80 Days, you are only given a brief glimpse of the first sentence of each choice, so it’s never obvious how everything might turn out.
I’m told that as well as dialogue options, the player will have to decide which disguise they want to assume on their alpine adventure – tourist, aristocrat or campaigner – and stick with it, leaving lots of opportunity for replayability. In just my brief playthrough, my colleague was shot dead and I only narrowly avoided being caught by the Spycatcher, so every choice appears to have potentially major consequences.
The aim is for Over the Alps to be released in 2019 on PC and iOS, and you can find out more at the official website.
At a time when our media is facing ever-increasing scrutiny, Headlines gives you the chance to see what it’s really like to be blamed for being biased from every side by playing a broadcast journalist. (I’m still waiting for a game that highlights the perils and challenges of being a games journalist…anyone?)
Paul Dillon and Jon Hatton
The idea comes from Cupboard Games, a small UK indie featuring former students from the National Film and Television School. The team recently also showcased its other project, Umwelt (working title), at this year’s EGX Rezzed in the Leftfield Collection area, a first-person, “sense creation game” in which you hack your brain to solve puzzles. As it stands, Headlines is slightly less surreal but still in a similar concept stage of development.
From what I was able to see, the game will be set in a bright, cartoon-like world made up of 3D anthropomorphic animals, with the player starring as an intrepid journalist badger named Honey. In the playable segment on offer at the conference, I had to edit a show reel to showcase my journalistic flair to potential employers using a faux Final Cut Pro-style programme to drag and cut clips. Developers Paul Dillon and Jon Hatton told me they hope to use this mechanic further to explore the idea of media manipulation. For example, at some points in the game your boss may want you to cut news footage a certain way that might not be completely truthful to the actual event. It will be up to you to decide how much you compromise to get ahead, or hold fast to your journalistic integrity.
Headlines currently doesn’t have a release date, but you can follow its progress on Twitter at @CupboardGames.
In Blood Money, a near-300,000-word interactive novel by writer Hannah Powell-Smith, you play as a ghost whisperer for the mob (because being a mere mob member alone just doesn’t cut it these days). When the city’s most notorious crime boss – your mother – is murdered, the criminal underworld is thrown into disarray. It’s up to you to decide the fate of the family business, whether that means letting your sisters Fuschia and Octavia fight for control, taking the top spot for yourself, or even selling out your own siblings to work for a rival gang.
I played the first chapter of this rich text adventure, which does away with any sound effects or graphics, focusing solely on eloquent and sometimes lengthy paragraphs of black print on a plain white page, to allow the player’s imagination to paint the world for themselves. I was usually offered between 2-5 choices of dialogue or action for each situation, ranging from telling lies to searching hidden compartments for clues or slipping unseen into prison guard compartments. Naturally, being a child of the most famous crime boss in the city, some of the options are relatively violent too, though how you conduct yourself in the early stages may well come back to haunt you – quite literally because of your ability to talk to ghosts! Whilst I only got to interview one ghost in the demo (my mother’s!), it seems this is a skill that will come into play in navigating the seedy underbelly of the mob scene a lot more in later chapters.
As well as choosing how to react to various family squabbles and dark goings-on, I was also given the choice of determining my character’s name, sexual orientation and gender, amongst other personal touches. This is done in a pleasingly subtle way (for example, sexuality is chosen by how you openly respond to a passing flirtatious gondola rider). By the time I’d found the culprit behind my mother’s murder and broken into their prison cell to seek my revenge, I had already created a relatively defined and complex character for myself through just a few clicks.
Blood Money has already been released on PC, iOS and Android. You can find purchase links and more about the game through its official website. Hannah also told me she is currently working on Crème de la Crème, another text adventure about restoring your family’s reputation, but this time by attending a finishing school in Switzerland. She hopes to release it in the spring or summer of 2019.