AdventureX 2018 round-up: Part 3
Reporting from E3, GDC, AdventureX, Gamescom and other gaming events around the world
Based on events in the former Czechoslovakia, this game describes itself as ‘A World War II game through the eyes of survivors’. Using historical information, footage and testimony from those who lived through this time, Attentat 1942 tells the story of living through the Nazi occupation from the perspective of the ordinary people who suffered through it.
Originally conceived as an educational tool for Czech high schools (then called Československo 38-89: Atentát) and put together by teams from Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences, the reception gained from schools and students alike was so positive that the project was converted to a proper game and widely released in October 2017 under the current title.
Visually the game is striking. Everything from the historical film footage, to the FMV of actors you converse with, to the comic book interactive sequences, to the part-photo-part-hand-drawn recreations of places from 1942 Czechoslovakia, the setting is made to feel as real as the subject matter needs it to be. The story and characters, while fictional as presented, are based heavily on authentic historical events, interviews and evidence from the time.
Assuming the role of an unseen protagonist, you start by discovering that your grandfather was arrested by the Gestapo shortly after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, ruler of the Nazi-occupied Czech lands and leading architect of the Holocaust. You must discover why he was arrested and whether he did, in fact, have anything to do with this attack. Soon focus begins switching between the present day, investigating and questioning witnesses, and the past as experienced by characters from the story, including your own grandparents, re-enacting actions taken and re-living situations that occurred decades earlier.
In terms of gameplay, Attentat 1942 is dialogue-based and you will question people, examine possessions and items from the period, re-create moments of drama as seen by the survivors through interactive comics, and perform context-specific interactions related to the story and based on accurate reports of actions people actually took back then. For instance, early on you must play as your grandfather to stall the Gestapo as they knock at the door while your grandmother hides incriminating leaflets around the home, then later tidy up and check over the home after the Gestapo have turned the place over and left.
One of the most impressive features of this game, which was made by a core team of six people, is the potency of the premise when backed up by the legitimate historical records available to the developers during the process. There have been many attempts at ‘edutainment’ games over the years, but despite the factual nature of the project, this is not a label that the group are necessarily looking to associate with the game. While you can’t help but learn about a dark time in history, there is enough ‘game’ here to entertain as well, and the developers have a string of awards both in the Czech Republic and internationally to show for it.
To learn more about Attentat 1942, the game’s official website has additional information.
A Light in Chorus
Perhaps one of the most graphically stunning games on display at AdventureX, A Light in Chorus, is a first-person adventure in which everything is made up entirely of particles.
Intriguing and beautiful as the visuals are, the game’s premise and mechanics seem able to match it. A man-made craft has been created and sent out into deep space, packed with information about sights and sounds from Earth in the hope that a technologically advanced civilization will come across it and be able to discover information about the planet. But how will that other civilization conceive, see or experience things we take for granted? Clearly a copy of the Wikipedia page for ‘Earth’ and a couple of Polaroids aren’t going to do the job here.
You play as a member of the alien civilization that comes across the craft and must reconstruct images, sounds and ideas, represented as symbols in-game. Exploration is very much the key here. As you make your way around particle-based landscapes, both visual and audible clues lead you to discover new symbols – perhaps a deer, tree or lamppost that must be interacted with the correct way to ‘establish’ them as something known. These are then added to the environment around you and the picture starts to grow.
The free-roaming 3D game is keyboard and mouse-controlled. Movement is simple, and when an interactive object is encountered there are various ways you can try to engage with it. The mechanics are initially rather alien – which is of course exactly the point. You must work out how to affect your surroundings to build up a clearer image of this strange planet ‘Earth’ and the weird things on it. There were various ways to sample the objects around me in the demo, including obvious senses like sight, sound and touch, but also inhaling, which adds an intriguing extra feature as well as reinforcing the otherworldly feel of the experience.
Development of A Light in Chorus has been underway since 2013 by a two-man core team at Broken Fence Games, and the project continues to evolve in nature and scope. There is no launch date set at present, but the developers are hoping for a 2020 release. In the meantime, further information can be found on the game’s official website.
Like Roots in the Soil
Like Roots in the Soil is described by indie creators The Space Backyard as ‘…a short story about two guys walking towards a common destiny.’ In fact, it is two stories being told at the same time... or is that one story from two perspectives at the same time spanning different time periods?
Alessandro Arcidiacono, Simone Tranchina and a most unusual game controller
Either way, there is no shortage of ambition in this game, even if the constraints of the two-week Game Jam for which it was developed mean the finished product is very short, taking around five minutes to play to completion. Fitting into what some have called the ‘Walking Simulator’ genre (despite its third-person presentation), player interaction is very light, limited only to controlling the camera as the character(s) make their way through what appear to be a normal town and a ‘post-apocalyptic’ version of that town, dependent on your perspective.
The environment is shifted by rotating the camera, which allows you to experience the journey from either character’s perspective, or even both simultaneously. The two different worlds exist on the left and right sides, split down the middle of the screen by default. However, what you see at any given time is dependent entirely on which direction you focus your attention, so when you pan the camera to one side, more of that perspective is shown while the other diminishes, and vice versa on the other side.
The game’s simple yet striking 3D graphics (rather reminiscent of Kentucky Route Zero) and atmospheric soundtrack create a surprising and thoughtful experience, culminating in a twist at the end of the tale. Although mouse-controlled, the game was exhibited with rather a novel controller, fashioned as a small green plant shoot in a tin can which could be turned to rotate the view on-screen. The world of custom controllers seems rather a long way from adventure or narrative games but this was an eye-catching and nice touch, linking very nicely into both the underlying theme and gameplay (such as it is).
More details and download links can be found on the developer’s itch.io website, where the game is available to download free for Windows and Mac.
Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, has spawned much division and mixed feeling in Europe and the rest of the world for a variety of reasons. PanicBarn’s Not Tonight is a dark comedy game exploring the life of a British citizen with EU heritage in a vision of post-Brexit Britain.
The setting is something of a dystopian police state where those EU citizens who previously settled in the UK have had their permanent residence cancelled and instead are kept in cell-like apartments and only let out to work, which they must do enough of to maintain their temporary residence permits. In short, a form of prison and slavery. With such a political theme, it is perhaps unsurprising that the game attracted a lot of criticism and social media abuse from all around the world even before its release.
You work as a bouncer in various establishments, starting at the King’s Head pub, where you must check IDs at the door to allow only the right people in. At first it is a simple check of birthdate, but soon ID expiry date, nationality and other categories become relevant factors too. You have a quota of people who should be correctly admitted, with a bonus for any additional proper admissions. The gameplay, screen layout and interface are unashamedly very similar to Papers Please, with the checking of ID cards to enter various night spots replacing the examination of passports on a border crossing.
The graphics are done in a retro pixel style that, together with the characters’ ‘babbling’ style of speech, help to support the comedic aspect of the game against the gritty setting. The dialogue itself paints the ‘British’ authority figures as ignorant idiots who see very little wrong with the subjugation of ‘foreigners’, and the foreigners themselves as hard working and oppressed. It is not difficult to recognise which side of the political fence this game positions itself on.
The soundtrack consists mostly of the music coming from inside the establishments where you work, which is well done with the sound of thumping music blaring out as doors are opened and then muffled again once the next lucky one is allowed admission.
Already launched for Windows and Mac, a ‘challenge mode’ is due to be unveiled in the coming weeks as DLC. Further releases on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch are planned for next year. You can learn more about Not Tonight through the developer’s website.
Human Errors is a free browser-based Interactive Fiction game by Katherine Morayati, winner of various XYZZY awards in the text adventure field for Best Writing.
The game is certainly based on an intriguing premise. You are faced with a login screen to start. After typing your name and receiving a password, you are confronted by an email system with messages. Some 5000 of them, it appears! It becomes clear that you have been taken on as front-line support to triage bug reports for a technology company who have mass-produced a mood-regulation implant device that is supposed to control impulses on the part of the wearer (host?). It becomes equally clear almost straight away that this corporation is perhaps not as concerned with the welfare of its customers as might be hoped.
As you begin to feel your way around by reading emails of issues people are having with this tech, you’ll find the task to be both boring and interesting at the same time. Sifting through emails is hardly the most exciting activity in its own right, but you can respond to any messages that interest you by composing your own replies and you will periodically receive responses back that are sometimes funny, sometimes serious stories. In the process, various problems develop, from a customer having intrusive thoughts about the Beach Boys, to a boss attempting to force his staff to obey his every command using this tech, to attempts at love with a companion mannequin. There is sure to be something that piques your interest!
The length of time playing the game and how much depth you want to get into is up to the way you interact with the email system and the interest you might take in its diverse issues. The developer envisages that sessions will probably be 10-15 minute bursts, although there is a lot to see so multiple playthroughs will give different results.
Human Errors was released in May this year, and is available to play online at Sub-Q.
Also exhibiting this year was Bitsy, an editor and engine using HTML5 to allow production of little games and/or worlds. There is quite a narrative emphasis to this development tool, as the stated purpose and function of the software is to ‘make it easy to make games where you can walk around and talk to people and be somewhere’. Currently around 1500 games have been produced by over 900 different creators.
Mark Wonnacott, David Mowatt and their custom-made gaming device
As the engine and editor are browser-based, the projects using it will work on pretty much any device with a browser. The games themselves are varied in nature, from simple top-down pocket arcade style, to platformers, to Zelda-like, to visual novels, all united by chunky pixel graphics and a focus on story and dialogue. A selection can be found for free under the tag ‘bitsy’ on itch.io.
One rather novel feature of the games displayed at AdventureX was the custom-made handheld device on which they could be played. Created by Mark Wonnacott as a way to showcase a large number of short games in an interesting fashion, quite a lot of attention was drawn by it at the event. It also highlighted the large and active community of Bitsy developers.
For more information on Bitsy itself, check out the editor/engine’s own itch.io page.