It’s hard to believe LudoNarraCon was already a week ago. Yet, here we are, having come away from the celebration with a lot more than we started out with. As in years past, the panels and chats were interesting, informative and touched on tons of important topics like inclusivity, accessibility, cultural recognition and respect and showcased the art and the heart of the indie game dev community.
Each year, LudoNarraCon seems to bring just a little bit more to the table, and this year’s three different chat formats worked well. It was easy to drop into something like a Bite Sized and just casually mull over its topic, it was great to get a casual chat between those in the industry in Firesides,which weren’t locked in to one particular subject, and of course, we enjoyed the main panels you’d expect at any con. The talks are always on intriguing subjects that showcase what goes into creating great narrative driven games, and every speaker seems to bring something unique to the party. Speaking of, even though the “official” event is over, one of the great things about a virtual convention is that you can still catch the talks even if you weren’t there last weekend, as they’re all accessible on Fellow Traveller’s steam page for the event and checking out their video archives. It’s not quite the same as the interaction you get when live and able to chime in but it’s definitely worth checking out.
Beyond the talks though, over 40 exhibitors brought their works in progress (or finished works, depending) to the virtual table, and over the course of the con and a little beyond, we’ve been working our way through all the great demos. All of them display unique artistry and interesting stories, so make sure you check out the full list, but here’s eleven titles we found particularly intriguing.
Unpacking is exactly what it sounds like. In Unpacking, you’re..well, unpacking. You’ve just moved in somewhere and you’ve got to get all your stuff out and find the places it will belong in your new digs. Billed as a zen puzzle game it is exactly that, and then some.The gameplay is simple and easy to pick up, but also extremely satisfying, and organizing your stuff in a new space is fun in ways I didn’t expect. And while there are items that need to be in certain places, Unpacking also allows you a sort of independence to arrange things how you want in a lot of cases. Meanwhile, as you unpack, you also discover more about the character you’re playing as, as she moves from her childhood room forward, bringing some things with her and adding new things. Unpacking is one of the titles I felt emotionally connected to the most strongly and also one of the ones I wanted to put down the least so I’ll be looking out for it as it moves through development. You can check out Unpacking’s demo on Steam now.
Svoboda 1945: Liberation
There’s a lot of people who might tell you that full motion video (FMV) had its moment back in the days of Wing Commander and Night Trap and may even argue it doesn’t have a place in today’s games. But, developers are always innovating, and Charles Games uses fully acted, extremely artistically filmed full motion video to bring you into a narrative based on a true story in a way that excites me. Aside from the stunning videography and extremely well integrated graphics, it’s a testament to the unique way games immerse us in a narrative. Using a simple point and click adventure style, you’ll come to a small Czech town at the end of 1945 and try to navigate the nuances of the small town and its inhabitants post-war, while uncovering artifacts that help tell the story. Playing Svoboda 1945 was an exciting glimpse at the way games like this could be used to teach us about the past and help us explore people’s real life stories through these objects, like a museum brought right to your computer screen. Wishlist this stunner here.
A Space for the Unbound
A Space for the Unbound is one of those stories that worms its way into your heart before you know it. In this adventure game set in 90s Indonesia, you’ll pal around with your bestie and try to overcome very natural things like bullying and depression while also wielding supernatural powers. Gameplay is solid and fun but it’s the narrative that sold me (and all the cats, which are pettable and central to the story in some cases.) It’s got a pretty retro style and a deep and immediately intriguing story that’ll make you want to keep adventuring, and I will be looking forward to its upcoming release. Try the demo on Steam and add it to your wishlist.
Spiritfarer is all about the journey–but not your average day trip. Rather, it’s about the journey from life to death, and your character’s duty to help make everyone comfortable in their passage between them. It’s got an enchanting sort of Miyazaki-esque style to it, and such well written characters that you’d be hard pressed not to get emotionally attached in just a few minutes. Meanwhile, it’s a sort of Animal Crossing meets Stardew Valley game in the gameplay with farming, fishing and cooking to do, as well as building to meet the needs of the people you’ll be accommodating on your ship until they’re ready to go on their final journeys. You’ll also be navigating to special places to them to help them find peace before they cross over. Hug them often and wish them well, and I dare you to remain dry eyed even in the demo. Spiritfarer was another game where I felt like the demo was too short and I just wanted to keep going. The great news is that’s easy to do since this is a game that’s already been released. Get it here.
Song of Farca: Prologue
I’m never one to turn down a chance to solve a good mystery, and Song of Farca: Prologue provided me with a pretty intriguing chance to do it. Set in a sort of cyberpunky world, with a great soundtrack pulsing in the background, I found myself connecting the dots between a billionaire cyberdog producer and a seedy underground that was far more dangerous than I’d have imagined. It was tense, it was interesting, and its mechanics were satisfying. Importantly, too, it wasn’t always easy, and I found myself stuck more than once. There’s a lot of ways to sleuth, from hacking to straight up interrogation and just when you think you’re at a dead end there’s something else that will turn up. Just like its soundtrack it’s got a good hook that’ll keep you on your toes, and we’re excited for what it will be like at full release. Luckily that’s not going to be far away, as Song of Farca has a planned release date of June 2021. Play the prologue and get it on your wishlist here.
Not for Broadcast: Prologue
Here’s another game we got a great appetizer for. Not for Broadcast: Prologue puts you in the hot seat at a TV station where your “friend” has left you to making it all go. In what quickly becomes pure chaos, you’re expected to cut to the right cameras, queue up commercials, bleep out swear words and otherwise make the TV magic happen from your little control room. It has an almost Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes vibe to its gameplay, and a great sense of humor, so we’re excited for more. If you’d like to get a taste for it, check out the prologue we played here, or check it out in early access for even more newsy mayhem.
Going into Love Shore, I mostly expected a standard dating sim, but Love Shore is much more than that. Awash in a neon glow, the city you’ll lurk and love in is full of mystery, darkness and yes, some dating. Love Shore has a crazy amount of style and an interesting world to explore. You’ll have two choices of protagonist and four different romantic options, but it’s far from simple date and rate and instead delves into murder, mayhem and a post-cyborg society that may not be too kind to you, since you, the protagonist, are a cyborg relic from the past who’s also got a past. Love Shore explores a lot of interesting topics and has some adult themes but seems to handle them expertly and I am looking forward to more time in this mysterious metropolis once Love Shore releases in October 2021. For now, get into it with the demo here.
Lake is gorgeous, and though I’m always excited by beautiful art, if there’s not some good substance to its gameplay, I’ll generally move along pretty quickly. Luckily for Lake it’s not just a pretty Pacific Northwest playground, and instead, a pretty immersive, pretty chill place to spend a few hours. It’s 1986 and you’ll play as a busy corporate climber who’s decided to take up postal work on a vacation back to her hometown in Oregon. Most of what you ‘do’ in Lake is simply that–deliver mail and packages, and drive your dad’s mail truck through the sleepy little town til you hang up your hat for the day and pick a good book to read or movie to watch–with or without a friend. Here again, great characters really sell it, and a well paced narrative gets you deeper and deeper into the story, as you learn more about your past, meet new friends or repair relationships with old friends, and start to reacquaint yourself with a slower life in a small town. I thought Lake really nailed the small town vibe, and furthermore, created dialogues that don’t trap you or feel unnatural at any point, and I had a great time taking in the scenery and digging into my past. Just like with Unpacking, if you’d told me I’d spend the most time engrossed in a game where I was delivering mail day after day in a small town, I’d have looked at you a little funny, but that’s a clear testament to the world building and artistry put into Lake. With a Life is Strange sort of vibe and extremely relaxing. unfussy gameplay, I’ll be joining up with the postal service again very willingly when Lake releases this summer, and you should consider it, too.
Game Director Story
There’s definitely been games about game development before, and whether directly or indirectly addressing it, these games are probably a catharsis for the folks hard at work to try to create amazing experiences for all of us. Not all these “game development” games are much fun, though, or super interesting. Game Director Story nails it though. You’ll be, as you’d expect, the game director, running a small studio with your friends, and trying to make it in the games industry from the ground up. In the demo, you’ll already be in development when you’re suddenly given a shot to showcase at E3, which throws your team into a frenzy trying to keep the game development going while handling the extra pressures of making a trailer and maintaining their sanity. Most of what you’ll experience in Game Director Story happens through branching dialogue, with each conversation you have time for affecting your bottom line in some way–either boosting or draining team morale, relationship with the publisher, your actual bottom line, the game as a whole or your PR. While that sort of conversational impact measuring isn’t new, it’s extremely well handled and unobtrusive, leaving you time to really get to know your fellow characters and care about them. Try as you might, you may not be able to address everyone’s concerns, and you may have to let some people down, and herein lies the reality of working on something you really care about. Game Director Story was a great experience with adorable and well fleshed out characters with deep stories even in the demo, so I’m really looking forward to getting into the full game when it’s done, which should be sometime in 2021. Play the demo and add it to your wishlist!
Beacon Pines is another great game that is easy to fall in love with on ambience alone. It’s a fairytale story set in a cozy, perfect picture book world full of cute little animals, including yourself, an adorable little deer with some serious baggage. And while it looks pretty Disney, it’s definitely more Grimm’s, immediately revealing a more sinister world full of scary happenings and tragedy. You and your bestie will have to navigate the inherent struggles of childhood (tricking Grandma, getting out of chores, bullies- that sort of thing) while also investigating the extremely frightening happenings in the nearby woods. You’ll accomplish this using the power of Charms, which are sort of magical word talismans that are employed at different turning points in the narrative’s progression. Just one word can change the entire course of the story. You’ll need to choose your every step wisely and make sure to leave no stone unturned, but you’ll also have an opportunity to go back into the narrative’s branches and see what would happen if you chose differently. While its gameplay took a little getting used to, I loved the story as it unfolded and am definitely intrigued to find out just what’s going on in Beacon Pines. Try out the demo here, and get it on your wishlist so you’ll get more info on when it’s expected to release.
Ambition: A Minuet in Power
Ambition: A Minuet in Power is an odd duck. Set in 18th century Paris, it follows the journey of a simple country girl headed for the big city to be with her baron fiance. She’s got eyes on the good life, of cheese, wine, and hobnobbing with the aristocracy–finding a better, more privileged life than the one she left behind. But things aren’t as idyllic as she expected them to be and the moment she arrives in Paris, she finds her fiance is missing and she’s left to navigate her new life very much on her own. If you thought the ‘let them eat cake’ crowd would be an easy one to infiltrate, you’d very much be wrong though, as she soon finds out. Ambition plays out a lot like a management sim in ways, with a unique spin. Instead of buildings and money, you’ll trade in gossip and gain standing with good fashion and good social skills. Each day brings new adventures and new chances to stick your foot in it, and before long, you’ll find that there’s all sorts of factions to try to woo, from the Crown to the Elite to the Revolutionaries in a time when any of those choices could prove downright dangerous. I really enjoyed the unique take and the dialogue choices, and thought there was a ton of great depth to the game. Add to that that it nails the deceptive difficulty of navigating social scenes and I’m signing up for more of Ambition: A Minuet in Power when it’s due out–which should be soon, given its planned Spring 2021 release date. Check out the demo and wishlist it here.
That’s a wrap for this year at LudoNarraCon but don’t forget to wishlist these games or check out their demos, and catch any talks you missed on the archives!
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