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’NOSSOSaims 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 Deathindependently. 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.