If you didn’t fancy waiting several hours to play 15 minutes or so of the next AAA title, there was a large indie section to explore where you can often find fun titles to explore and quirky game development experiments. I found the Rezzed and Leftfield sections of this year’s EGX to be a welcome retreat from the chaos of the rest of the show floor, and interesting places to see something a little bit different. Here’s a roundup of a few of my favourites.
A point-and-click/click-and-type hacking adventure, Mainlining puts you in the shoes of a member of a cybercrime fighting agency. In the demo, you were thrown into solving a case, tasked with finding out the identity of the mysterious ‘muscleboy81’, finding enough evidence to put him away for the maximum amount of time and filing an arrest record in order to finally nab him. The game’s clever, pixel art, Windows-like interface means that you do feel like part cyber-detective, part hacker supreme. You might start with a website, which you can ping for an IP address, which you can then use to gain control and access files that might help you accomplish your goal.
It was a fun experience, very immersive and very satisfying. I managed to put away muscleboy81 for the maximum amount of time for illegal software development through a combination of hacking and catching him in the act of selling illegal software, but I was assured that the rest of the cases were not as simple.
A Normal Lost Phone
In this game, you come across a lost phone and of course immediately spend your time rifling through it trying to find out more information about its owner. I played this on a phone, which gave it that authentic feeling, but also made me feel a little bit strange about actually going through someone’s phone, especially when the first thing I did was look through messages from the owner’s dad, and then the owner’s girlfriend. But as I did so, a little mystery started to reveal itself. By going through all of the messages and photos, and eventually discovering and entering passwords to access app accounts and other parts of the phone, the discomfort was quickly offset by a desire to uncover the whole story behind why the owner of the phone was missing.
I immediately drew comparisons to Gone Home, where in a similar fashion you explore to uncover clues that piece together a story, except with A Normal Lost Phone there’s the sense of anonymity rather than playing a character intimately connected with the characters involved. It was a short, self-contained experience and a very interesting storytelling experience, with multiple layers that kept surprising even though I completed the experience in 20-25 minutes.
Sol Trader is an interesting game, but one that I felt needed much more time to explore than was given on the busy show floor.
The first thing you do is create a character, but more importantly, you create that character’s story. Choose your parents, choose your career path, choose elements of your work history, choose an ultimate goal to work towards and you end up with a rich, well-developed character surrounded by a web of connections and with a lineage stretching back a couple of centuries. That’s before you’ve even really started getting into the bulk of the game.
In order to reach your goal, you’ll need to make the most of your existing connections and forge new ones.
In order to reach your goal, whether that’s becoming President, becoming rich or exploring the galaxy, you’ll need to make the most of your existing connections and forge new ones. But each character you interact with also has their own story and interests. You might uncover information through conversation that you can use to your advantage, or you might have an existing connection or history with a character that you can also exploit. But get involved with the wrong person, or say the wrong thing, and you might find that the road to your dreams is much more difficult to travel.
Sol Trader provides you with a lot of information and I desperately felt the need for several hours worth of time, and a pad and pen to keep track of who I had talked to and the actions that I had taken. It all felt very obscure, being presented with a lot of detail and a lot of choices of ways to interact with lots of different people. The game prides itself on complexity and depth, revolving around a complicated web of connections and relationships. This is definitely reflected at each level, and with a lot of detailed conversation trees that aren’t just repeated text, and with each choice having an impact, there is a lot of thinking (and reading) to be done and I think at the end of it, you might actually feel like Mass Effect’s Shadow Broker.
Sol Trader is developed by Chris Parsons and is available on Steam, Humble and direct via the website.
I did a lot of reading at EGX – I’m naturally drawn to games with good stories and the visual novel format lends itself well to those (which reminds me to finally play VA11-HA11A, a game which was also being displayed at EGX which is sitting in my Steam library). I’m also drawn to good mystery stories, and I have a soft spot for Victorian literature, so seeing Silent Streets which looked very heavily inspired by the original Sherlock Holmes meant that I was instantly hooked.
Silent Streets is a visual novel style game, played on a mobile device. In it, you receive a note from a man who is a kind of freelance detective. You haven’t spoken to him in ages and you haven’t had the best relationship with him. However, the note is unusual enough that you respond to his request to meet, only to discover that he has been brutally murdered. The overarching story for the game will revolve around you uncovering the mystery of his death, but in the meantime there are other mysteries that he was working on that you can pick up on. The first mystery involved a missing girl with a set of distressed (and wealthy) parents.
You have to move to navigate around the town and visiting different locations, but the twist with this game being on mobile is that it tracks your steps and measures this against in-game distance travelled. So if you want to visit the forest well on the other side of town, you’re going to have to physically walk the distance in the real world to get there in the game.
If you want to visit the forest well on the other side of town, you’re going to have to physically walk the distance in the real world to get there in the game.
It’s an interesting twist, and means that the game will be probably be played casually, and in bitesize chunks unless someone is a particularly avid walker. For the demo, they added a temporary feature where you could take a cab in the game and immediately teleport to your desired location. I can see the walking being an interesting incentive, but I wonder whether it would affect the immersiveness of the game, since I was completely absorbed in the mystery as I was playing it but would likely find it difficult to dip in and out, not to mention having to remember what I was doing. And if I went to the wrong location, it was easy enough in the demo to just visit somewhere else, but that would be a lot of walking in the full version of the game.
Still, the mystery was good, very dark and interesting and the art style was eye-catching as well, full of mysterious shadows and dark shapes. Certainly enough to keep you going, although I won’t be walking around late at night…