Preview: LudoNarraCon 2021 to Bring Interesting Indies and Engaging Conversation to Steam Beginning Tomorrow

It’s been well over a year since Covid-19 went and changed just about everything. Which means it’s been over a year since in-person conventions were a thing. By now, most of my fellow nerds are chomping at the bit for the time when it’s safe enough to return to convention halls and hotels in full cosplay regalia, and we are too. And with vaccinations on the rise, if numbers stay down, the end of the year may bring that in-person reunion between congoer and con. But what do you do if you’re feeling that convention urge right now? One of the things we love here at Third Coast Review is video games, and so we’re looking forward to getting our fill of free con fun this weekend at LudoNarraCon 2021. LudoNarraCon, a virtual convention hosted by indie game publisher Fellow Traveller, began back in 2019, and is all about narrative-driven games. Each year, it features tons of fantastic indie developers showing off their latest titles and hosts tons of great talks about the creative process. For 2021, they’ve upped the ante with three different types of talks, from traditional panels to bite-sized chats. Better yet, everything is hosted on Steam, which means you can easily wishlist or purchase games you particularly love or discover during the con's great talks or play any available demos. The convention fun begins tomorrow at 2pm Chicago time on Steam and continues through Saturday at 6pm, with the entire roster of talks re-airing over the last two days of the convention, giving you a full four days, from April 23 through 26, to get your fill of amazing titles and fantastic talks, and to try out the demos for these amazing games.  Also new to LudoNarraCon is the Supporter’s Pack, which allows you to get some great things while supporting the exhibitors and Fellow Traveller as they continue to host great events like this one. This supporter pack includes Cyrano, a special one hour adaptation of the classic stage play, that was commissioned specifically for LudoNarraCon, and has been developed by Popcannibal, developers of the indie darling Kind Words. Also included in the Supporter Pack is a compilation soundtrack featuring tracks from many of the exhibitors and some gorgeous digital wallpapers. 

Friday, April 23rd

This year’s LudoNarraCon talks take the following formats: There are Fireside Chats, described as “informal chats between game industry veterans,”  Bite Sized Talks--short talks by leaders in the game space, and traditional convention style panels, on topics ‘central to the narrative games genre.” This is just a tasting menu of things we are particularly excited for, so don’t forget to check out the full schedule if you want to go full smorgasbord.  Starting off with the Bite Sized Talks, we are particularly excited with Friday’s run from 2pm CST’s Creative Reactive Art with Napthali Faulkner, a solo Maori developer from Australia who created Umurangi Generation, a “first person photography game in the shitty future” that’s been carefully crafted to respectfully represent Maori culture, and 2:45pm’s Bite Size, Writing Their Story: Writing Trans and Non-Binary Characters with Rowan Williams. For our first round of Firesides, we’re looking forward to 6pm CST’s talks with Sam Barlow of Telling Lies and Kelsey Beachum of Outer Worlds as well as its 7pm CST follow-up with Brooke Maggs, Narrative Designer for Control, and Greg Kasavin of the critically acclaimed Hades. We’re curious to see what the looser format of the Fireside Chat brings about, with conversation not necessarily yoked to one specific topic, and imagine it’ll be a great time to interact with fellow congoers and speakers. As for Friday’s panels, of which there are more than a few, we’ve got our eyes on a few off the bat-- and speaking of bats, how about some Blaseball? This strange but well-loved phenomenon is one of the topics du jour for Friday’s first panel, 12p CST’s Exploring Narrative Projection-Blaseball vs. Where Cards Fall that features speakers Sam Rosenthal, Joel Clark and Stephen Bell, devs at The Game Band, who have created these two incredibly different but interesting titles. We’re also looking forward to Telling Dark Stories with Games at 1pm CST, which features Richard Rouse III, Emily Short, Thomas Grip and Marta Fijak. We suggest capping off your day at 5pm CST with Stories are Structures, Video Games are Places, which features Claris Cyarron, Zoyander Street, Nathalie Lawhead and Jord Farrell and sounds like the basis for a really interesting discourse.

Saturday April 24th

On Saturday, things kick off earlier, with the first panel scheduled for 11am CST. Keeping with our menu theme though, let’s start with our Bite Sized Talks. Saturday’s lineup is great just like Friday’s was, but we’re particularly interested in 3:15 CST’s A New Era for Interactive Live Fiction featuring Jack Attridge, and, because we love a bit of nostalgia, are also excited for 3:30’s Revolution: 40 Years of Captivating Stories with Charles Cecil. As for LudoNarraCon’s Firesides? We think it might be interesting to hear 4pm CST’s Fireside with Colin Campbell, a noted games journalist and author, and Ziba Scott of Kind Words, have a conversation. For our main course? Honestly, it’s hard to choose just a few, and we’d probably suggest bingewatching the whole event like we’ll be doing, but if we’re pacing ourselves, we’ll start with 11 am CST’s Totally 90s: A Decade We May or May Not Have Experienced with Dave Proctor, Saffron Aurora, Yash Kulkarni and Corina Diaz, because let’s face it, Saturday mornings don’t get much better than they were in the 90s, so this is a great place to kick off the day. Given everything that’s happened in the last year, we’re also super excited to get in on the conversation at 5pm CST called The Stories We Share: Crafting Game Narratives for Change with Jenny Windom, Cara Hillstock, Picogram and Tanya Kan.   One more to check out on Saturday? 6pm CST’s Pacing and Storytelling with Constant Death with Tanya X, Tyler Sigman, Tarn Adams and Adam Saltsman.  We’ve found that in years past with LudoNarraCon, some of the most interesting, educational experiences we’ve had at the convention have come from what might seem on the surface to be a sort of niche conversation, and we’re constantly intrigued by what developers have to say about these topics and the unique problems we may have never even considered before--like how to craft a story around a game where players will constantly be dying.     Screenshot: Paradise Killer

Games to Check Out:

We’ll be featuring a ton of games in our roundup from LudoNarraCon next week once all the fun is done. But, to start you off with a few ideas on what games you might want to look out for from LudoNarraCon’s 40+ game exhibitors… Some games we’ve already checked out and really enjoyed that will be making appearances include Cozy Grove, In Other Waters, and Paradise Killer, which made our Favorite Games of 2020 list. TUNIC, which we first saw at Bit Bash a few years back, is an action adventure ‘about a tiny fox in a big world’ and we’ve been excited about it since we saw our first glimpses of it at the Finji booth way back when in the before times. We have played and are playing some really great, intriguing narrative adventures lately and Lake, which is coming in Summer of 2021, looks like it could be one to watch. Meanwhile, Kraken Academy!! Is the sort of strange but fun games about the students at a school with some truly supernatural occurrences (a la Sunnydale, an out of control Hogwarts or anywhere the Winchester Brothers show up) where you’ll join forces with a magical Kraken to save the whole school. We talked about it a little in reference to its developer’s scheduled talk, but Umurangi Generation is something unique and intriguing. While they had us at socially conscious Maori sci-fi the creative game that makes you the photographer is definitely on the top of our list as far as interesting experiences we don’t want to miss.    Well, that’s our first look at LudoNarraCon 2021, and we’re hoping we’ll “see” a lot of you in attendance. LudoNarraCon is a unique chance to talk about narrative driven games, and a look behind the scenes at what goes into making them. It touches on issues of social justice and inclusivity and is an amazing and fun time to get to know more about not only video games and crafting narratives of any kind, but to also appreciate the amazing art of video games and really get a broad view of all the different experiences sitting down at your computer or console to play a game can bring. For more information on LudoNarraCon 2021, click here.       If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. You can also catch us streaming games we’re reviewing and staff favorites on our Twitch channel.
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Marielle Bokor