So I was at AdventureX 2017 this weekend just gone, and I had a pretty good time all things considered. Here are some things I enjoyed.
The convention itself
Firstly, the staff did an the same excellent job as ever and recovered well from a series of unfortunate curveballs, including having to migrate their entire A/V setup into the room next door after the power supply in the main lecture theatre slightly a bit blew up. The attendees were friendly, the exhibitors were enthusiastic, and the atmosphere was wonderful in particular way that happens when enthusiasts get together, safe in the knowledge that they can finally just nerd out about everything they love to a receptive audience.
I would like to give particular props to everyone getting a name badge that they could fill in themselves. Most people played along and added names, Twitter handles and company information, but the badges are really useful for people who wish to display things like disability information or preferred pronouns (I put a note on mine that basically said “Hello, I am super anxious, please talk to me or I’m just going to stand here like a lemon”) and the fact that everyone was wearing one is really good for making you feel less self-conscious about it. It may seem like a tiny thing but it’s an important and kind one, and I appreciated it and encourage its use.
Oh wow were there a lot of good things on display in the exhibiton hall. Here is a scattergun selection of some of my favourites and why, in no particular order.
Path Out by Causa Creations is an autobiographical game in the form of a 16-bit era JRPG, and it does interesting things with that framework and those tropes, contrasting the typical teenage hero’s journey from their home into the unknown with the real, terrifying flight of a Syrian refugee from the civil war in 2014. This could very easily end up feeling trite or disrespectful in the wrong hands, but in addition to Causa’s long experience with making documentary games, the mood is maintained by frequent real-life video appearances by the actual character you are playing, artist Abdullah Karam, which keeps you absolutely engaged with the narrative. The first episode of Path Out is available now, free (yes, free) on itch.io and Steam.
Don’t Make Love by Maggese Games is perfectly-formed gem, with a simple concept executed beautifully. You are one half of a young couple who are very much in love, and exploring the problems inherent with consummating their relationship, viz. you are both praying mantises and there is a fair chance that one of you is going to eat the other. The parser was excellently responsive, the music and art were gentle and expressive, and you really do feel for these real, genuine people trying to work their way through an almost inevitable heartbreaking tragedy. The game is available now on itch.io and Steam.
Elemental Flow by Tea-Powered Games is a new project from a studio that I am always eager to see, because they do an excellent line in character interaction mechanics. I was a huge fan of their previous game, Dialogue: A Writer’s Story, which took a big, expansive step away from numbered lists of responses towards something exploratory and sprawling like an evening talking over tea. Elemental Flow represents the flow of conversation rather than specific individual lines of dialogue, and plays kind of like a fighting game, except your commands are things like “Explain” and “Listen” rather than “Punch” and “Kick”. That is a super-reductive way of putting it, but it’s as close as I can get without you getting your hands on the demo. It is incredibly clever and fresh and original and I hope it finds the wide audience it deserves.
Whispers of a Machine by Clifftop Games and Faravid Interactive doesn’t have a conversation-starting hook like a those games above, but it was just excellent quality in every respect. The pixel art is beautiful, the interface is well-designed, the atmosphere is brooding, and the setting appears to be “What if Deus Ex but a Nordic Noir”, with you playing an augmented, socially-awkward detective solving crimes out in the Swedish backwaters before getting drawn into philosophical gang warfare over the Singularity, and if that’s not what you want from your adventure games, I don’t know what you want. The devs are aiming for a 2018 release.
Alright, what you might want is Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death by Salix Games, which is a point-and-click adventure from former Lionhead devs where dry-witted Arthurian immortals hunt Jack the Ripper in Victorian London. This showed remarkable polish for an early build; the voice work in the demo is apparently the final assets, and the characterisation of the two lead characters is wonderful. They could release four hours of them drinking tea in a café and complaining about modern society, and I would buy it. This game is currently on Kickstarter until 10th December.
Four Last Things by Joe Richardson is an adventure game about classical concepts of death, which sounds very high-minded; in actuality it’s a Terry Gilliam skit come to life, in both comedy and visuals, with all the art taken from Renaissance-era paintings. Seriously, click on that link and look at it; I cannot do it justice with words alone. As for the writing, the most effective review I can give is that on at least two occasions during my few minutes with the game, I laughed loudly enough to startle someone on the next table over. It’s available now on Steam.
Selling Sunlight is a narrative RPG that’s just layers of beauty all the way down; lavish watercolour art depicting a diverse and alien fantasy world that deals with interesting concepts of identity and rebirth. The demo didn’t show off the mercantile trading mechanics much, but it had at least one puzzle that was conveyed purely in the art and the worldbuilding that made me gasp with delight when I untangled it. The game has successfully Kickstarted and is in development.
And finally, the last word undoubtedly has to go to Before I Forget by 3-Fold Games. A first-person exploratory game about a woman struggling with dementia, this weaves atmosphere, art and subtle control feel into a deeply affecting experience. I mean that sincerely, insofar as I burst into tears in the middle of playing the demo and had to go outside and have a cry before I could come back and give feedback. (I think I frightened the poor people at the booth slightly.) This is not negative feedback. It’s an emotional subject and a suitably emotional and moving game as befits it, and I deeply hope that they take this forward to the heights it is clearly due.
I loved every talk I attended, but there were two that I think I would take away as most useful.
The first was “Politics in Worldbuilding” by Jess Haskins. It is difficult for me to sum up everything I liked in a short space (and also you should just watch the whole talk rather than listen to me attempt to relitigate it in one paragraph), but in addition to the exhortation to always think about the politics of your work lest they be unthinking, there was the idea that worldbuilding is like one of those pictures constructed out of negative space. Your world is inherently going to be presented to the player through a level of abstraction; indeed, part of artful writing is to execute that abstraction, and we’ve all played infodumpy games that get that wrong. As a result, it’s important to examine not just what goes into the game but what assumptions your players have to make to bridge the gaps you leave.
The second was “Producing Successful Narrative Driven Games”, by Lottie Bevan, which was basically a crash course in project management for creative types who might otherwise not think much about the production side of things. I found it very useful from the perspective of a bedroom coder who would like his next project to not take a year to complete. It’s concrete, specific advice on forward planning, goal-setting and establishing robust review processes, and is definitely worth a watch. Also it is entirely accurate in its assessment of biscuit budgets.
Other than those two, if you’re not going to just sit and watch everything, I recommend Jon Ingold’s talk on Heaven’s Vault, Inkle’s next game, because I am a sucker for those GDC Postmortem-style deep dives into a single production (albeit this is more a prenatal as the game isn’t out yet), and Professor Brian Moriarty’s “I Saw What I Did There”, which is just a wonderful tale of passion and inspiration. Fair warning: that last one contains heavy spoilers for The Witness.
And a last few bits
Firstly, I had an excellent time and offer my sincere thanks to everyone I met. I have vaguely pencilled 2018 in my diary.
Secondly, I would like to offer additional special thanks to Richard Cobbett, who even now is proudly… trying to work out who I am and worrying a bit. I’m the guy with the unfinished definitely-not-Knightmare game. (I swear I’m going to get back to it at the weekend.) It was my vain hope that going to AdventureX that the following conversation might happen at least once:
- “So do you any game making yourself?”
- “Well, I’ve got this demo, it’s kind of hacky, but…”
- “Well, I’ll take a look.” (time passes) “Hey, that was fun.”
Not only did this in fact happen, what actually happened was people participating in an impromptu live reading in the café between talks, and seemingly enjoying themselves. I get the feeling that Richard might have thought that I was getting a bit self-conscious about it, so I’d just like to say no, I was in fact literally living the dream, so thank you. I still maintain that the answer to that first wall monster question is definitely Agamemnon, though.
And finally, allow me to once again remind you all – but mostly myself – that “All You Can Eat Breakfast” should not be viewed as a dare.