Röki: a very nisse adventure

A few blogger-friends kindly helped me with a post about the best games to play at Christmas last month. Several of the stories shared had a similar theme: we often tend to find ourselves returning to titles which invoke a sense of nostalgia at this time of year.

Although I chose The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) as my contribution for that post because it’s so easy for any gamer to pick up, this nostalgic feeling is always brought on for me by fairy-tales. Perhaps this explains why I’m drawn to games like Fable during the winter; the special mix of an important quest, battle between good and evil, and overcoming the odds to bring a loved-one back home. It’s these elements that made Röki by Polygon Treehouse the best release I managed to complete during the holidays.

I first heard about it in a post over on Rendermonkee back in January 2019, but the premise initially seemed a little too cutesy for my taste. My opinion changed however after trying part of the demo at EGX in October that same year where it became apparent there was a fascintating dark undertone to this fairy-tale that made me want to dig into it further. I’ve now had the chance to experience the full game for myself and can’t recommend it highly enough to fans of the adventure genre.

This take on Nordic folklore begins at the rustic home of Tove, a young girl who has become the primary carer for her small sibling Lars. After he wakes up during the middle of a cold night and urgently needs to use the outhouse, a dark force steals him away and takes him deep within the forest. It’s then up to our protagonist to confront her fears and face whatever is waiting for her in the shadows between the trees, so she can save her brother and reunite them with their father Hendrik.

Take all the usual annoyances with point-and-clicks – long conversation trees, pixel-hunting and trying every object with everything in your inventory – and forget about them. Röki avoids these traditional pitfalls in ways that make it feel like a modern adventure. For example, pressing the ‘F’ key will highlight every item you can interact with within each location; and a visit to the Tree of Many in the main section of the game will give you a hint to push you in the right direction if you’re feeling stuck.

In fact, it’s almost as if the developers have done so much to remove the frustrations experienced with traditional adventures that it has actually become somewhat more difficult to use a keyboard and mouse here. This is how I played but it’s not something I’d recommend because it’s clearly a release designed with consoles in mind. Although I managed to get through to the end of the game without too much difficulty, opting for a controller would have made for a much smoother experience.

The solutions to the puzzles encountered by Tove on her journey are all logical and at no point will you find yourself having to use an object in a way which doesn’t make sense. You’re given just enough challenge to entertain those grey-cells but not too much to make you want to turn away. The only minor negatives for me were having to backtrack across a large map occasionally (although there is a fast-travel method if you want to use it), and a puzzle which involved switching between characters (not something I usually enjoy).

Most challenges involve a series of steps. For example, at one point it’s necessary to get a flute from a troll; so you’ll need to create a tea which will make her doze off; but to do that you’ll need to find several plants first, along with a recipe. The best thing about them though is that they’re so cleverly intertwined in the story that they never come across as superfluous. This has the result of making Röki feel like one lovely, big puzzle even though it’s broken up into three smaller chapters.

Tove carries her notebook with her throughout her entire adventure and you can turn to this if you need a recap of the story so far. It also contains a useful map for those moments when you get a little lost within the many scenes and badges that stand in for achievements. Turn to the back and you’ll find the loot the protagonist has collected along the way: an origami wolf, a sharp talon and even dried troll snot. It’s a sweet reminder that this is a story experienced from a child’s perspective and everything is viewed with magic.

Being a tale based on folklore, you’ll encounter many fantastical creatures on your quest to rescue Lars (including tomte, gnome-like beings also known as ‘nisse’ which inspired the title for this review). The influence may be Scandinavian fairy-tales but they’re likely to feel familiar to players of all backgrounds. We came across characters who reminded us of movies such as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, and there’s something about the whole game which recalls the atmosphere of ICO and The Last Guardian.

In those titles mentioned there, it’s the protagonists who hold everything together and the same is true for Röki. Tove and Lars have gone through so much in their young lives but neither of them have truly dealt with their sorrow and this sense of loss surrounds their relationship. There’s a genuine love between them and Tove is devastated when her sibling is taken from her; the voice-acting may be minimal and reduced to individual words, but my heart broke a little more each time she said his name.

Their father Hendrik isn’t left out and his character is given space to grow through the narrative too. Themes of grief, fear and abandonment are woven so delicately into the story that what begins as a simple rescue mission turns into something far more profound. In helping the characters who inhabit the world around them, these three protagonists also manage to help themselves and by the end of the game, you witness a family who has suffered so much emotionally but come out stronger together on the other side.

If you’re looking for the magic of a fairy-tale this winter, do yourself a favour and spend around ten hours with Röki.

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PAX X EGX 2020: a virtual round-up

COVID-19 may have made it impossible to attend a physical EGX expo this year but that didn’t stop the organisers from putting on an event. From 12 to 20 September 2020, they joined forces with the PAX team to give us the opportunity to attend PAX X EGX online.

The aim was to ‘transcend the physical aspects of gaming events’ and enable us all to ‘celebrate nine days of around-the-clock content with a worldwide community of gamers and no-one will judge you if you turn up in your pants’. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t take up that last suggestion, seeing as PAX X EGX took place during the same time as working at home and attending various conference calls. But I did some time to check out the website and see what was going on.

The ‘show floor’ was essentially the hub of the event and from here, you could navigate your way around the ‘stands’. Clicking on a publisher or developer’s name took you to a page displaying a list of the titles being promoted and you could then dig deeper for trailers, screenshots and occasionally demos. Also available were sections for live streams including panel discussions, tournaments and interviews – and let’s not forget about the obligatory merchandise which seems to come with every expo.

There were two main trends I noticed very quickly while scanning through the games on display. First was that that least one of the same words appeared in almost every other description: ‘unforgiving’, ‘platformer’, ‘roguelike’ or ‘Metroidvania’. Not great news for an adventure fan like me but it made sense when I thought about it in the context of the current state of the world. The lockdown seems to have encouraged many gamers to seek out more challenging titles to keep them occupied through all that extra time.

The second trend I picked up on was how many of the games were currently available. This is something I’ve taken issue with during previous expos: some analysis before Rezzed in 2019 revealed that over 45% of the games due to be at there had already been displayed at the show since 2017 or could be purchased beforehand. It feels as though these events are changing from something where new studios and individual creators can share what they’re working on to events which are essentially a flashier version of the Steam storefront.

That’s not to say I didn’t come across a few gems though. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of Paradise Lost by PolyAmorous initially, because I don’t usually enjoy storylines involving the World Wars or Nazi Germany; but I got sucked into this post-apocalyptic adventure and added it to my wishlist immediately after playing the demo. Narrative puzzler Fire Tonight by Reptoid Games was added straight away after completing the preview too, because I loved the early 1990s vibe from the art-style and soundtrack.

Perhaps the most intriguing title I came across was Finders, Keepers by Alex Francois. It’s a pixelated story about a hike through an ancient woodland told through a mobile phone dating app called fyndr/keepr – which sounds totally strange but really works, so I’m looking forward to finding out more. The Boy in the Book by a team of four people also piqued by interest; it tells the true story of the discovery of a lost diary hidden inside a Choose Your Own Adventure book and the attempt to unravel its many mysteries.

Besides finding out about new games, the highlight of EGX for me is usually the developer sessions. The PAX X EGX organisers made sure that this was still a core element of their event despite it moving online, and livestreams took place continuously throughout the nine days. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to watch much of them while they were taking place thanks to those pesky conference calls mentioned above – but I’m hoping to be able to catch up on the videos this week and see what I missed.

Although PAX X EGX was a good experience and I managed to add a few upcoming titles to my wishlist, I missed this year’s physical expo. The website said that it was designed to be ‘everything you love about your favourite gaming events, minus the queues, expensive food and the need to fork out on a hotel’ but the digital shows just can’t capture that buzz of being at a real expo. Hopefully the situation next year will be different, and I’ll be able to see some of you guys at EGX expo in the real world.

Did you get a chance to check out any of the titles on display at PAX X EGX? If so, what are your recommendations?

PAX X EGX 2020 photo gallery

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The EGX-perience: games from past expos

We’re now in the final third of 2020 and I haven’t been to a gaming expo yet this year. COVID-19 has made large public gatherings here in the UK too risky, and the tickets we had for events such as Rezzed and Insomnia were all cancelled and refunded.

EGX was due to take place this weekend and instead we’re playing games indoors by ourselves, thanks to the coronavirus. There’s always next year though and I’m waiting with my card in hand ready to purchase tickets as soon as they’re released. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the titles I’ve come across at the expo during previous years – both good and bad – and figure out what we’re going to play for The EGX-perience stream on Twitch tomorrow.

Eurogamer Expo 2012 (old event name): Fable: The Journey

EGX, 2012, Eurogamer Expo, video games, Fable: The JourneyI honestly don’t remember much about my first EGX at all, an event attended socially with a few friends as it was before I started blogging. It’s understandable then that the only thing I recall playing there was the demo for Fable: The Journey. I’d loved the series since experiencing the first game in 2004 and was eager for another instalment – but when I then went on to purchase the title on the day of release, it was so disappointing. I’m hoping some of that old magic will be recaptured with Fable IV soon.

EGX 2013 (event renamed): SpecialEffect

My first ‘blogging’ expo and another that I don’t recall too well. But this was the year I came across the stand for SpecialEffect, and seeing the work they do to help physically-disabled people play video games inspired me to sign up to become a volunteer for the charity. I’ve taken part in their annual gaming marathon GameBlast since the first one in 2014 and our planning for next year’s fundraiser begins in a couple of weeks’ time. Keep your eyes peeled for more details about what GameBlast21 is going to hold for us!

EGX 2014: Life is Strange and Monstrum

Life is Strange, video game, girls, teenagers, friends, Max, ChloeThe buzz among bloggers at this expo was around Life is Strange, a new episodic narrative adventure featuring a female protagonist. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a press-only demo and were excited by what we saw. It therefore may seem strange that I didn’t get around to playing the game until five years after the release of its final episode. I finally completed it in May this year – and was hella annoyed by its characters, and now have absolutely no desire to play Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Sorry.

The diamond in the rough was Monstrum and this is the EGX 2014 title we’ll be playing during our stream. I’ll never forget our first experience of this one: we were waiting to interview the developer, and the guy currently playing had to put down the controller because he was too scared to continue. It takes place on a derelict cargo ship and, as the levels are procedurally-generated, you never know where you’re going to find yourself or which monster you’re trying to escape from. Expect me to hide behind my cushion while Pete plays.

EGX 2015: Shadowhand and Lumo

I first came across Shadowhand at this event and ended up choosing it as my game-of-the-show. In an old blog post from the time, I wrote: ‘Any title that can convert me to a new genre and leave me wanting more is worthy of a mention in my book.’ By the time I’d completed all 20 levels at the end of last year however, I was sick of solitaire. Playing straight through was probably the wrong thing to do; I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d dipped in and out of the title, playing other games between levels.

The EGX 2015 game we’re going to be playing this weekend though is Lumo. This isometric puzzle-platformer gives plenty of nods to the ‘golden age’ of video games that older gamers will recognise and is pretty tricky, but I’m hoping well at least make it through to the part where you travel between levels using an elevator. It’s here that players hear a song called Hold My Hand Very Tightly by Whistlin’ Rick Wilson – a track which comes with an interesting backstory about 8-bit computer magazines and singing alter-egos.

EGX 2016: The Black Death and Horizon Zero Dawn

I feel so sorry for the guys from Small Impact Games. We spent a nice hour talking to them about medieval multiplayer The Black Death and they were so lovely and welcoming; and their developer session about surviving the development of the survival genre was very enlightening. But sadly the title just never took off thanks to mixed reviews and it’s still sitting in early access. Pete bought it to try it out for himself and, even though we could see what the developer was aiming for, it was buggy and a little empty.

Horizon Zero Dawn, EGX, 2016, people, crowds, gamersOn the other side of the exhibition hall was Horizon Zero Dawn and that’s the EGX 2016 game we’re going to play during our stream. I usually steer clear of the big-budget areas at expos because they’re overcrowded and consist of queues which take several hours to get through, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued as I walked past the stand. Aloy is now one of my favourite female protagonists – she’s just too good to hate for looking amazing, even after rappelling down a mountain or sliding into a bush.

EGX 2017: Detroit: Become Human and Strange Brigade

EGX, expo, event, video games, Kim, Detroit: Become HumanThe highlight for me this year was getting the chance to play the first section of Detroit: Become Human. I’d adored the other titles by the developer even though they weren’t to everybody’s taste, and I knew I was going to love their latest story about androids and acceptance. Streaming the game in March turned out to be one of the most stressful gaming experienced of my life: I panicked at some of the choices I had to make because I didn’t want any of the characters to get hurt, and can only apologise for the swearing.

Strange Brigade, video game, EGX, 2017. balloon, blimp, sign, titleEGX 2017 game which is going to feature in this weekend’s stream is Strange Brigade. It was thanks to one of the best stands at the expo that the queue was constantly full and, even though we didn’t get the opportunity to try the demo, we had fun watching the trailer outside. Sometimes a title is made even better thanks to a good narrator and I love the posh English voice that commentates your actions – what more could you want when shooting zombies in a cursed tomb than someone shouting ‘Tally-ho!’

EGX 2018: The Gardens Between and Flotsam

EGX, video gamesWhen I saw The Gardens Between at the expo this year, I was reminded how I’d added it to my wishlist a while back thanks to an art-style that looked like a cross between The Witness and Oxenfree. This lovely puzzler went on to become one of my favourite releases of 2018. Playing it left a mark on me and there were many things I realised long after the credits rolled which gave it a deeper meaning, such as the bittersweet reason for its name and the use of the time-rewind mechanic. I can’t deny that I had tears in my eyes.

EGX, video games, Flotsam, PeteIt’s the watery Flotsam that we’re going to be playing tomorrow though, the highlight of not just EGX 2018 but other expos too for Pete. It might seem strange that he was drawn to a quiet resource management game considering how much he likes action, guns and explosions, but there’s something which keeps him coming back every time the developer releases a new update for their early access project. It’s a great title to chill out with on a Sunday morning over a cup of tea because the art-style is so relaxing.

EGX 2019: Beyond a Steel Sky and Death Stranding

My favourite memory from this year was getting to have the booth for Beyond a Steel Sky all to myself, and being allowed to play for a longer than the allotted time thanks to making it my first stop on the first day of the expo! Later during the day we got to see Charles Cecil talk about the project and his enthusiasm for the adventure genre was infectious. Reviews of the game weren’t entirely positive upon release but now seem to have improved, and I can’t wait to play it and Beneath a Steel Sky back-to-back at some point.

Death Stranding, video game, EGX, 2019, gamers, queueSaturday’s game however is going to be Death Stranding. There was no demo at EGX 2019 but we did get to see a 20-minute presentation which was shown in a closed booth in the middle of the exhibition hall – and didn’t do much except make us even more confused about what was going on. I can’t say I’ve ever felt the desire to play this one and I have mixed feelings about it after completing my first Hideo Kojima title for a game-swap last month; but Pete wants to try it, so I’ll withhold judgement for now.

Come join us over on Twitch from around 15:00 BST tomorrow afternoon for The EGX-perience stream, where we’ll be playing the games noted in today’s post and talking about our favourite expo memories. Hopefully the event will go ahead next year and we’ll see you all there in person.

Online gaming expos: digitally drained

The annual gaming expos are some of my favourite events of the year, so I’m sad that many have been cancelled for 2020. The horrible threat of COVID-19 means it’s safer not to attend large public gatherings in indoor spaces right now and instead play video games at home.

Some organisers aren’t letting it beat them though. Instead of hosting physical events, they’re turning their expos digital and going online. The Summer Game Fest will keep us going through this month and all the way to the end of August; The Escapist Indie Showcase took place for four days last week; and both the PC Gaming Show and Guerilla Collective kicked off on 13 June 2020. No doubt we’ll hear news of even more events taking place throughout July as organisers follow the online trend.

LudoNarraCon, panel, stream, Peter Ewing, Cassandra Kwan, Strix

The first digital expo I ever attended myself was LudoNarraCon when it started in 2019, and I really enjoyed it. A talk about Night Call by its developer had me instantly intrigued about the game. I had the pleasure of trying several demos for upcoming titles I’d had my eye on for a while, including NeoCab and In Other Waters. And the online panels were interesting to watch, especially one where the discussion focused on how interactivity makes video games a special medium which can pass on emotions to another person like no other.

As I concluded in my round-up post: “It’s always going to be difficult to capture that ‘buzz’ experienced at real-world expos in an all-digital convention, because there’s something about being among a crowd of people with the same interests and who are just as excited as you. But LudoNarraCon did an awesome job; as well as allowing ‘quieter’ narrative games take centre stage, it’s the perfect way of making conventions accessible to everybody. Hopefully it will return next year and we’ll get to do it all over again.”

And it did return this year – along with a whole host of other online events thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown. I’m already aware of seven digital expos taking place this month alone and there are probably more I don’t even know about. Am I excited about attending them though? Not really. Perhaps it’s an indication of what my state of mind is like after spending almost 80 days at home (at the time of writing), but right now I just can’t face yet another thing that takes place online.

I get that it’s a necessity in the world we’re living in today. Here in the UK, mass gatherings have been banned since March and there’s no news yet on when they’re going to be allowed to start up again. Gaming expos therefore have no choice but to move to the digital land if they want to take place this summer. Let’s face it: heading to an event with thousands of other people is a sure way to catch coronavirus, whereas socialising from in front of your laptop screen is much less germy. At least for some of us anyway.

LudoNarraCon, In Other Waters

Online events are a positive thing for indie developers too. They enable them to exhibit their projects and reach a wide group of potential players without having to arrange and fund travel and accommodation, which can be expensive and make real-world expos inaccessible for some smaller teams. Organisers no longer have to find and book venues big enough for the number of attendees, make sure there suitable catering outlets and enough of them (I’m looking at you, EGX Rezzed) and do a mass clean-up afterwards.

And as for players, we get to attend a gaming event from the comfort of our own home. This is a real benefit for anyone who enjoys narrative games like I do. As I wrote after EGX Rezzed back in 2018, expos and conventions aren’t always the ideal place to showcase such titles as the constant noise and crowds can make it difficult to concentrate on the world the developer is trying to make. For example, I first tried In Other Waters there a few years ago; but it wasn’t until I played the demo at home during LudoNarraCon that I really understood it.

So why am I not looking forward to any of the events coming up over the next month? It’s all down to online fatigue. I’m tired of having to live all aspects of my life – work, family, socialising and entertainment – in front of a screen and I miss the real world. This is why I’m finding a lot of enjoyment in hobbies such as bread-making and cross-stitching right now, and why I’m highly likely to break down when my employer schedules yet another conference call with a ‘fun’ theme. (Note to my boss: they really aren’t fun.)

Although I understand that digital expos have a lot of benefits for organisers, developers and players, I’ve missed this year’s annual gaming events. Nothing can capture that feeling of being in a huge hall surrounded by so many video games you’re eager to try, along with thousands of other likeminded gamers who are all feeling the same excitement. I’ve missed catching up with the indie teams and finding out how their projects are going, sneaking other bloggers into developer sessions, and coming home with at least one title added to my wishlist.

It makes me wonder what’s going to happen next year. And I’m not talking about COVID-19 here; I’m referring to whether organisers will take the decision to move their events completely online going forward. Maybe I’m being far too cynical but being able to wrap up cost-savings in a reason of being more accessible and environmentally-friendly sounds like a great business opportunity. Many professional gaming websites have jumped on the bandwagon by hosting ‘digital showcases of the most exciting games’, too.

Although it makes sense, I’ll be sad if this is the case. The annual gaming expos are some of the highlights of my calendar and I’ve missed their buzz this summer. For me, nothing will be able to replace them – not even another themed conference call.

EGX 2019: the trouble with creators

So many people want to be creators. Whether that involves publishing videos on YouTube, hosting streams on Twitch or making the next ‘indie darling’ video game, they want to pursue such a career path and even see it leading to them becoming an online celebrity.

It can be done. If you’re in the right place at the right time, own an idea or personality that captures the imagination of viewers and players, and have a sprinkling of luck on your side, you can make it big. We’ve heard stories this year of streamers restyling themselves and being paid undisclosed amounts (and therefore obviously huge) to jump from one platform to another; and game developers hitting the limelight with their first game when their only previous experience was creating hacks back in high-school.

It’s a difficult career to get into though. Online platforms nowadays are so oversaturated with creators of all types who want to be noticed, that it’s hard to be exactly that. You can spend every day making new content, putting your heart and soul into every piece of work, and still not attract a following after years of graft. It’s easy to understand how people in this line of work feel it’s important to take every single opportunity to promote yourself and make your voice heard, although that sentiment isn’t something I necessarily agree with.

While at EGX last week, my other-half and I were waiting at a stand to try a demo that had caught his attention in the Rezzed zone. Someone approached and began to talk to the developer – a normal occurrence at this expo, as one of the great things about it is having the chance to speak to them about their work in person. However, this guy wasn’t interested in hearing about the project or playing the demo for himself; all he wanted to do was hand over his business card and talk about his own game before walking off.

It came across as rude. It made me feel as though little respect was given to this developer who’d put effort into getting his game ready for the show, paid the money for a stand, made the journey to the ExCeL centre in London and then was prepared to be on his feet for four days straight. While the guy could be given a few points for having the confidence to approach and talk about himself, the way in which it was done left a sour taste in my mouth – and a confused look on the developer’s face.

I’m sorry to say this wasn’t the only example of such behaviour we saw last week. There was the YouTuber and his group who made a loud entrance at the Leftfield Collection because he wanted everyone to know he was filming a new video. There was the influencer who was scheduled to talk about gaming culture and what we can do to make it a more welcoming community, who seemed more interested in promoting her business and hinting she should be paid for her time. And there were others too, more than enough to dedicate a post to.

EGX should be a place where everyone with a love of gaming can come together to not only find out about upcoming releases, but also to celebrate the creativity of developers. In previous years, one of the highlights of the event was the atmosphere and the buzz of knowing you were sounded by thousands of other with the same interests as you. Sure, there was always a certain level of see-and-be-seen behaviour but it was less direct and came from a minority: most attendees simply wanted to play the demos on display and talk to the people behind them.

I’m not sure when it became acceptable to disregard the product in front of you, the product of someone else’s hard work, in favour of your own project. Or ignore the shared interests of the fellow attendees around you because you see your personal brand as more exciting; or push your merchandise to a crowd who actually thought you were going to share your expertise on a subject. The atmosphere at EGX is changing from being one of shared interests to self-promotion, and there’s a danger of it losing what made it special.

Perhaps such behaviour is caused by creators setting themselves the wrong goals or losing sight of what’s important. Create because you love making something and want to share your content with the world; not because it’s a career that will bring you attention along with the potential of money and fame. Once you lose your interest in the work of others and the curiosity which drives you to find out where there ideas came from and what makes them tick, your own work will lose its heart.

What does this mean for next year’s Rezzed? It will certainly be interesting to see whether the same behaviour spills over into this sister-expo and if its atmosphere changes as a result. The best piece of advice I can offer any creator due to event is this: stay curious, be respectful of others’ work and interests, and don’t be a dick.

EGX 2019: SNOW

One of my highlights at EGX 2017 was Falling Sky. In development by Jonathan Nielssen and a small team, this narrative title was the result of eight months’ hard work of students of the MA Games Design and Development Course at the National Film and Television School (NFTS).

The games coming out of the School at the time were all interesting but a little ‘rough around the edges’ – in no way a criticism when you consider they were being created by people just starting out on their career. Falling Sky was different though. The demo I played back then was remarkable and perhaps the most technically- and visually-impressive NFTS project I’d ever had the opportunity of experiencing; The Guardian even included it in their 12 favourite games from EGX that year.

It was clear Nielssen had talent. The were a few bugs in the demo but if you overlooked these it was obvious Falling Sky was going to be something special. The atmosphere and visuals reminded me of releases such as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Heavy Rain, and the music and voice-acting were far superior to what you’d expect from a student creation. Sadly though, news about the game seemed to disappear after the expo and I didn’t hear anything else about it.

When I received a promotional email about SNOW shortly before this year’s event, I was sure I recognised the developer’s name. A quick internet search revealed that Nielssen was back with a new project and so I added it to my EGX schedule immediately; if this new title was anywhere near as good as Falling Sky it would be well worth checking out. After trying out Beyond and Steel Sky and Röki on the first day, my other-half and I made our way over to the Loeding stand to find out what was going on.

Although SNOW looks as though its set in the present day, it takes place in a remote town in Norway in 2050. The developer told us that this is because its inhabitants shun technology and want to preserve a life without any outside influences. He also shared that special forces are on the hunt for a powerful artificial intelligence (AI) that has escaped; and 12-year old Oskar’s mother thinks her adopted son may be wrapped in up in the mystery somehow. Players will solve puzzles and piece together the truth about the boy’s origins.

The start of the demo had us navigating an ASCII maze to pick up glowing symbols and strengthen the AI’s connection to Oskar. What followed was on of the best transition scenes I’ve ever seen. When we told the AI we wanted to see our home, the screen turned into a mass of sparkling ASCII which then took on colour to reveal a forest. We could see the boy’s white silhouette which we guided through the trees towards a light, as the symbols grew smaller and eventually turned into a more photo-realistic scene. It’s hard to describe but it was amazing.

We then found ourselves in bed being woken by our mother, after she’d had a mysterious telephone call with someone who was trying to persuade her to get Oskar some help for his nightmares. The character models look so good thanks to a collaboration with FBFX and Centroid3D, two industry leaders in the field of photogrammetry and motion capture, and a video being played on Loeding’s stand showed the actors being scanned for their roles at Pinewood.

The next part of the demo was more an ‘experience’ than a game because there were no characters to talk to or puzzles to solve at the present time, but it did give us an opportunity to explore the town of Barvik and get a real sense of what SNOW’s atmosphere is going to be like. Environmental artist Gustav Morstad told us they first built the setting to include nothing but snow before adding buildings and other objects, because it was so complicated to get the lighting for it right; and this is one of the reasons for the game’s name.

When we told Nielssen we’d played the Falling Sky demo, he hinted at issues regarding rights when taking a student into private sector. We didn’t pursue this line of conversation out of respect but got the impression that we may not see his original game in its final form. At first I was a little disappointed by this because I remember it being so impressive; but after getting my hands on the start of SNOW, it looks as if we’re in for something that’s going to be even more special.

Morstad told us the title won’t be ready for another two years though so we’ve got a while to wait. But I stand by my statement from 2017 ago: Nielssen has talent and is going to be a developer to keep an eye on. And as I said two years ago, if there’s ever a Kickstarter campaign in the future then the Loeding team have got themselves their first backer already.