Lucy Dreaming: dreaming big on Kickstarter

If you’re a point-and-click fan, it’s highly likely it was a LucasArts’ game which introduced you to the genre. This was the case for me and I’ve now played The Secret of Monkey Island so many times that I know the swordfighting-insults off my heart.

This explains why it’s almost guaranteed that whenever a new adventure appears on Kickstarter, it’s almost guaranteed that LucasArts’ releases will appear in the paragraph about the creator’s influences. It’s started to become a bit clichéd over the past few years and has caused me to think twice about backing certain projects. Perhaps I’m getting far too cynical in my old age but I can’t help feeling as though certain games are mentioned simply to secure pledges through nostalgia.

So why on earth did I decide to back Lucy Dreaming by Tall Story Games this month? The campaign page says it’s ‘influenced by classic 90s point-and-click adventure games’ and the promotional video features direct references to Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Day of the Tentacle among others. Although I’d read several positive articles about the project, I was unsure whether to give it my backing – until I played the demo for myself and saw something which made me change my mind.

In Lucy Dreaming, players will take a brave step into the terrifying world of suburban middle-class Britain to help Lucy unearth the secrets of her recurring nightmares. Her subconscious is a rabbit-hole laced with intrigue and a cast of extraordinary creatures, and you’ll need to discover the power of dream control so she can finally break the cycle. Do you have what it takes to communicate with her dysfunctional family, untangle her repressed memories and bring an end to the nightmares for once and for all?

The demo, available for download on the Steam page, sees Lucy explain that she has been reading about something called ‘lucid dreaming’. The problem is though that recently her anxiety is so bad that it’s preventing her from even getting to sleep. Fortunately though, some suggestions she found on the internet may help her get over this – so it’s time for a trip through her house to gather items such as soothing lights, firm head support and a warm drink.

After leaving the initial scene in her bedroom and heading out onto the landing, the protagonist can look at a pair of binoculars on a bookcase. If you try to pick them up, she says in response: “I don’t need them in this demo. Kinda makes you want to back the full game, doesn’t it?” And yes, it did. There was something about this line which was endearing and plenty more humour within the demo which aimed to break the fourth wall in the same way the LucasArts adventures did.

The puzzles are exactly what you’d expect from a point-and-click and you’ll normally need to complete several tasks to fulfil an objective. They’re all logical challenges though if you get yourself into that ‘adventure’ way of thinking. For example, Lucy needs to get hold of some feathers to refill her limp pillow. There’s an item somewhere in the house that will help if you could remove its plumage – but first you’ll need to find the object which will enable you to do that.

Fans of the genre will be pleased to hear that the interface is reminiscent of the 1990s classics and will instantly feel at home when they see the verbs shown at the bottom of the screen along with the inventory. The graphics will also transport you back to the gold old days of adventures as they have that lovely pixelated quality which feels so nostalgic. I may have gone into Lucy Dreaming being doubtful, but by the end of my 30-minutes with the demo I was sold on its humour and visuals.

It’s only Lucy’s home which is seen in the demo and the Kickstarter video advises that it contains no spoilers for the rest of the game. But it looks as if the full release will also be set in the land of dreams, as a blog post on the official website from last year shares that players will ‘learn how to influence the environment and characters that manifest while you’re dreaming to build up your confidence, unlock hidden memories and solve puzzles between dreams and the real world’.

The project reached its £15,000 target within the first week and at the time of writing, an additional £5,000 has been pledged so far. This means that the first stretch goal has been reached and all characters will now be fully voiced in the English version of the game. There are still a few more days to go before the end of the campaign on 26 May 2021 so there’s a chance that we could see a mobile version and translations into other languages when its released around May 2022.

Check out the demo on Steam if Lucy Dreaming seems like your cup of tea (well, I did say that Lucy was searching for a warm drink). You can also find more information on the Kickstarter page and follow Tall Story Games on Twitter.

Invasive Recall: memories of the classic adventures

Life in lockdown has left many of us with additional time to pursue new careers and hobbies, along with a curiosity about how things will be different in the future. Maybe this explains the recent increase in new crowdfunding projects and video games with a dystopian setting.

I’ve mentioned before that the quality of campaigns appearing on Kickstarter has decreased in recent years, but things are really starting to pick up and I’ve made pledges to four projects since the beginning of March. The first was Calling Card, a murder-mystery-in-a-box by the creators of Hack Forward. Then there was choose-your-own-adventure puzzle book The Paper Labyrinth, followed by a full-motion video (FMV) horror game called GHOSTS which can only be played at 22:00 in your local time.

The latest campaign I’ve become a backer for is Invasive Recall by Springbeam Studio. The Kickstarter page advises that this is a point-and-click inspired by ‘classic noir and cyberpunk movies’, so it follows in the footsteps of other recent releases which have gone for a dark, futuristic narrative influenced by technology. Its look and atmosphere remind me of Lacuna, an upcoming title I tried the demo for during February’s Steam Game Festival and then wishlisted immediately.

The story take place in 2086, when advances in neurological science and artificial intelligence (AI) mean it’s possible to scan and interpret the thoughts of the human mind. The procedure is dubbed ‘Invasive Recall’ and legislators have permitted law enforcement to use it on recently-deceased victims of crime. By retrieving their last memories, detectives can potentially find details vital to a case and even find the identity of the perpetrator right at the crime-scene.

Recall detectives John Landon and Rachel Hapley only know each other by reputation. The former is an investigator for the city police who’s looking into the murder of prominent scientists, while the latter works for a tech-savvy, well-funded private organisation and is following up on a series of mysterious disappearances. Little do they know that their paths are about to cross and they’ll soon face a far more sinister truth than the everyday corruption of the city.

As to be expected from a point-and-click, gameplay is primarily presented in the form of conversations and puzzles but there are two main mechanics worth highlighting here. The first is Invasive Recall itself: you can use your Recall instrument to transfer the memories of the dead and play through their last moments alive, in a bid to uncover clues in the past which will help you solve challenges in the present. The promotional trailer hints at what this will be like after the death of a genetic scientist.

Invasive Recall, video game, detective, office, elevators

The second is less appealing for me personally: character-switching. Many adventure gamers enjoy the added insight that shifting between protagonists provides but I usually don’t like the mechanic because I find it breaks my immersion in the story. In Invasive Recall, players can switch between Rachel and Landon at will so they’ll have ‘an alternative approach if they get stuck’ and there will be certain puzzles where their collaboration is the only way forward.

I must admit, the character-switching initially put me off when the Kickstarter page was first published – but there was something about the campaign which drew me in after watching the trailer again the following week. Springbeam Studio have stated: “We’re not aiming to reinvent the wheel. We just want to take what was good of the classic games like Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Broken Sword, and make a traditional and well-crafted game.”

This appeals to me greatly. I’ve been finding myself drawn to older adventures during the lockdown, probably because the nostalgia provides a small degree of comfort and escapism, and a pixelated point-and-click featuring a verb interface is just what I need right now. Sure, it’s interesting when a release comes along that’s innovative and does something we’ve never seen before; but a game which doesn’t change the formula can be just as worth playing if contains an interesting storyline and well-written characters.

The team go on to say: “Our goal is to make the puzzles feel like a natural part of the world of the game, and never feel like something shoehorned in for the sake of adding friction.” And speaking of the world, several locations are featured on the Kickstarter page. Players are invited to find out what’s stirring beneath the surface of the city: why are a handful of prominent scientists turning up dead, and why are ordinary people vanishing into thin air never to be seen again?

Invasive Recall, video game, detective, cars, car park

Just over 25% has been pledged by 342 backers towards the £29,099 target at the time of writing and the project is on track to reach this by Thursday, 06 May 2021. There’s a while to wait for the game itself though as it isn’t due to be released until the second half of 2022 but if you’re eager to get your hands on it, you can make a pledge of £44 or more for early access to the demo builds. Follow Springbeam Studio on Twitter to stay up-to-date on their progress.

Calling card: hunting the killer on Kickstarter

I’ve always loved video games with a detective spin. There’s just something about going up against an unknown villain and putting your wits to the test: will you be able to piece together the clues and use your intelligence to foil their evil plan?

The 2020 lockdown here in the UK was difficult but if you tried to stay positive, there were a few silver-linings to be thankful for. One was having the time to try some new experiences and I found myself branching out from the digital and into physical games. My other-half and I completed jigsaw puzzles with hidden challenges; played escape-rooms-in-boxes during power-cuts; and even got to star in our very own noir-themed choose-your-own-adventure thanks to a lovely Christmas gift.

One thing we haven’t done yet though is start Hack Forward. This was a product I backed on Kickstarter in February 2020 after being intrigued by its promise to provide a challenging experience that would be ‘so carefully designed that it may be impossible to distinguish reality from fiction’. Despite receiving the box late last year, it still remains unopened on our bookcase – for no other reason than that we’ve had plenty of other games to play and just haven’t got around to it yet.

We’ll need to hurry up and get around to it though because the Key Enigma team launched their next campaign for new game Calling Card this week. And this time around, instead of going after a hacker who has stolen data, video recordings and information about some very important people, players will be hunting down a killer. It can be hard to know what to expect if you’ve never tried an escape-room-in-a-box before, but the demo available through the official website will give you a good idea.

I gave it a go myself earlier this month after an email from the developers to previous backers and although I won’t say too much so as not to spoil it, you start by reading a news website article about a missing person named Roy Mirlo. Here you find a link which enables you to get in touch with his father and the investigation commences. The first step is to figure out how to get in touch with a certain company and if you do it correctly, you’ll receive an email containing further details from a member of their staff.

You can then use the information gathered so far to track down another website where you’re presented with a several cryptic puzzles. The answers to these form a series of passwords which then need to be provided to someone via an online telephone: call the number, choose which character you want to speak as and enter the words in the correct order. The demo ends on after what appears to be a live-stream where players are left with a cliff-hanger; I guess we’ll just have to wait for the full release of Calling Card to find out more.

Calling Card, escape room in a box, game, papers, documents

I’ve played similar games in the past and their sticking point always seems to be chatbot quality. You usually end up having to talk to a character via some sort of messenger and it doesn’t go particularly well; the bot has difficulty understanding your responses or sends a reply completely unrelated to the question you asked. This completely takes away the immersion built up and in the worst-case scenario, can ruin the experience entirely if you’re given a detail you shouldn’t have yet uncovered.

I’m pleased to say I didn’t experience any issues like this while conversing with Roy’s father and a journalist during Calling Card and the conversation appeared to flow naturally. And although I didn’t need it because the puzzles were all logical (even though one of them required a paper and pen), they’re happy to provide you with support if you ask for a hint in the chatbox. It’s easy to see how quickly players will become immersed in the story of Roy if the rest of the game runs as well as the demo.

The official Kickstarter page is now live so I’d highly recommend heading over there to find out more. Backers will have to review clues and find inconsistencies in interrogations, emails and calls to suspects, while investigating through old documents and recordings. Can you find the necessary evidence to solve the crimes committed and prevent the villain from putting anyone else in danger?

As mentioned above, I really enjoy detective games and Calling Card looks like it’s going to be fun interactive experience. I’ve made my pledge and am looking forward to the release in October 2021 – but before then, I should really get around to trying Hack Forward. With a long weekend coming up for Easter soon and nothing to do except play games and eat chocolate eggs thanks to lockdown, it seems like the perfect time for Pete and I see how intelligent we are when compared to a hacker.

Check out the Kickstarter campaign for all the details, and the Key Enigma website for information about their previous games. You can also give them a follow on Twitter to stay up-to-date with their project’s progress.

EXITUS: escape-room-in-an-app

Update at 08:00 on 08 February 2021:

Sadly, Sealed Book Project have made the decision to cancel their project. You can read more about this in this Kickstarter update, and I wish their family all the best.

Original post at 06:00 on 08 February 2021:

I’ve had the pleasure of completing several experiences which aren’t strictly video games over the past few months. There have been treasure hunts around towns, jigsaw puzzles with hidden clues and online murder-mysteries.

The most recent were Post Mortem Los Angeles: Death in La-La Land which was gifted to us by Kevin from The Lawful Geek, a choose-your-own-adventure about a murder which made us feel as though we were dropped straight into our own noir thriller. Next up was the more ‘budget-friendly’ The Mysterious Museum version of Exit The Game, an escape-room-in-a-box we’d purchased a couple of years ago but only got around to playing during a power-cut one evening.

I’ve really enjoyed experiences like this since taking part in my first escape room in 2019 and am always on the lookout for more. Fortunately, there have been a few Kickstarter campaigns to scratch that itch. I backed Key Enigma’s project for Hack Forward last February when I heard it had been ‘so carefully designed that it may be impossible to distinguish reality from fiction’ and, after receiving an email from the company at the end of last month, pledged my support to another campaign they recommended.

Natalie and George created one of the first European escape rooms their native city of Lucerne, Switzerland back in 2014. Four years later they felt the need for a new project and the Sealed Book Project was born in early 2018. Readers are faced with mysteries and puzzles that must be solved to progress the thriller narrative in what they’re calling ‘challenge book games’, and the experience is complete with visuals, sound effects and music to ‘intensify the overall effect’.

The first two games are already available from the App Store and Google Play and are completely free. PRAELUDIUM’s story starts with an announcement by a representative of both the Church and Science that he has created something considered impossible; where is this artefact all these years later and has it ever been used? The tale continues and gets even more complicated in CODEX, when Zoé and Marc set out on a journey that takes some unpredictable turns and lifts the curtain on a few secrets.

Sealed Book Project’s Kickstarter campaign is for the third challenge book game in the series. Not much is given away about EXITUS’ narrative on the project page but we’re told that it begins in Switzerland before readers are sent all the way over to the other side of the planet, to a place ‘veiled in mysticism, legend, mystery and buried secrets’. It sounds as if it can be played as a standalone experience however so there’s no need to have completed PRAELUDIM and CODEX first.

So how does it work? The EXITUS app on your mobile device reveals the story and, when the main characters are faced with a riddle, it’s there for you to solve in the accompanying physical book. You’ll also need to occasionally use the ‘artefacts’ that come with the game to reach a solution. Once you have your answer, you can enter it into the app to discover whether you’re correct and continue your journey; and there’s an additional Riddle Only mode for those who are all about puzzles rather than narrative.

The creators say that some of the challenges will require the same specific solving strategies that you’d use when completing a real-life escape room. Players will need to apply not only analytical thinking, attention to detail and ingenuity, but also certain physical actions. Don’t worry if you get stuck though: an in-game hint system will give you three progressively more informative clues before revealing the full answer so there’s no need to feel frustrated or reach for a walkthrough.

I decided to back this campaign despite never having heard of the Sealed Book Project or their first two challenge book games because of my love for puzzles and escape rooms. EXITUS is estimated to be ready in November 2021 so there’s plenty of time for me to try PRAEDULUM and CODEX before it arrives. We’ve got a lot of streams coming up for #DaysForDonations for GameBlast21 so if we can manage to hook up our tablet to our software, you might see them on Twitch soon.

At the time of writing this post, over 180 backers had pledged more than 80% of the £11,033 target so there’s every chance that the campaign will be successful by the deadline of 17 February 2021. Check out the Kickstarter page if you’d like to get involved and give the Sealed Book Project a follow on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the project’s progress.

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Related: double trouble

The COVID-19 lockdown has caused many people to reconsider their career direction. And it seems as though some have decided to make the leap into video game development; at least, that’s the impression I get from all the new campaigns on Kickstarter recently.

It’s been a mixed bag for the platform over the past several years. Sometimes the video game category is empty, or stuffed with sub-par mobile games and ‘gangster shooters’ being made by kids still in secondary school. Then at others you’ll find several projects worthy of your backing, as has been the case for me over the past few weeks: I’ve now made pledges to over 40 campaigns and that number is likely to continue increasing.

My latest pledge is towards another entry in the adventure genre: Related, under development by three-person team FRACTALCATZ. It’s not a game I’d ever come across before the campaign appeared in my Kickstarter search results one morning even though the first of three chapters is already available for purchase at a small price on Steam. The reviews so far are very positive; players have praised the game for its creepy atmosphere and are looking forward to seeing how the story progresses.

So where does that story begin? Meet conjoined twins Jessica and Julia, who are locked in one body. The girls have been living in an orphan asylum since their early childhood and they don’t remember how they got there or whether they ever had a family. With the scornful attitude of the orphanage personnel and attacks by other children, the list of their troubles is long and although they have each other for support, they have conflicts just as all siblings do.

Fast-forward a few years and Related’s plot is now narrated by a grown-up Jessica. After suffering from a series of continuous nightmares, she decides to go back to the abandoned orphan asylum to try and collect her memories: will she find the answers to questions she has tried so hard to forget, and learn the biggest mystery about herself? Chapter one can be played for free until the Kickstarter campaign ends on 03 December 2020 so I took the opportunity to give it a go.

It’s just what you’d expect from a point-and-click in terms of gameplay and adventure fans will feel right at home. The environment can be explored and interacted with by clicking the mouse and objects collected are stored in your inventory, with the option of being able to examine some of them more closely for clues. Certain items require multiple clicks before anything happens; there were a couple of moments where I felt I was stuck, until I clicked on hotspots again and caused an action.

The movement speed is pretty slow in the scenes where you control Jessica as a grown-up and her movements are slightly uncoordinated. However, I got the impression this is deliberate rather than down to poor animation. You’re able to double-click to make her run in the flashbacks to her time as a child so her speed as an adult feels like a design choice. Perhaps this has something to do with the narrative and there are secrets about what happened to Jessica and Julia waiting to be uncovered.

The first chapter took around an hour to complete and contained several puzzles. The solutions for these all felt logical despite the surrounding plot and situations being rather creepy so, if they provide a feel for what’s coming up in the rest of Related, I’d say we’re in for an adventure which isn’t overly challenging and pulls you in with its story. It’s worth noting here that some of the objects involved are quite dark and include a bloody knife, so this probably isn’t going to be a game to let your young kids play.

But if you’re looking for a title with an eerie atmosphere, it’s worth checking out. There was something about the music and sound-effects which instantly put me on edge and made me almost hesitant to continue into the next scene for fear of what I’d discover next. As mentioned above, the Steam reviews so far have highlighted this aspect of the game, and this initial chapter is a great set-up for the coming episodes and getting to know the main characters without too much being given away.

In fact, the only worry I have right now is about the portrayal of mental health. What I’ve seen so far doesn’t give too much cause for concern as it seems there’s going to be more to the story, but consider the protagonists and setting – two girls trapped inside the same body and living in an orphan asylum – and you’ll see a situation ripe for clichés and tropes. I hope the developer handles this in a sensitive way and I’m willing to make my pledge to give them that opportunity.

At the time of writing, FRACTALCATZ have managed to raise around 10% of their £12,730 target. Head over to the Kickstarter page for more information or to become a backer before 03 December 2020, and you can stay up-to-date on progress by giving the team a follow on Twitter.

Murder on Space Station 52: dark matter detective

Towards the end of last month, I celebrated the backing of 40 successful Kickstarter campaigns. How was I to know that during the week after completing the draft for that post, another project would come along which would potentially push that figure up to 41?

To be honest though, it’s not really much of a surprise that I made a pledge to Made From Strings’ project for Murder On Space Station 52. I’ve developed a soft-spot for narratives involving investigations and mysterious murders over the past couple of years, so combine that with the point-and-click genre and you’ll have my attention. It was the promotional video that sold it to me: hopefully we’ll see a similar sort of humour throughout the full release when it’s ready in January 2023.

The story obviously takes place on Space Station 52, once a well-known hot-spot and prominent tourist destination. The lake there helped supply the local 5-star restaurants with some of the universe’s best seafood; the Grand Millenium Hotel housed some of history’s biggest stars and politicians; and it was a place to relax and enjoy some of the most luxurious things in life. Sadly, it is now a shadow of its former glory and is nearing its end, with many residents having already moved on.

Enter Edward Locke, a technical engineer assigned a new post by the Trowe Company who discovers an odd melancholy which taints the few individuals left on the station. He starts to have visions and brushes these off as being brought on by jetlag while investigating a malfunctioning moisture cylinder – but he realises they’re much more than that when he finds the mangled remains of the engineer he was sent to replace logged in the machine. After fainting and awakening in the doctor’s office, he’s plunged into a case of deceit, mystery and murder.

Most of the crowdfunding campaigns I’ve come across recently have offered a demo for potential backers, making it easier to decide whether a project is one worth supporting. Unusually that’s not the case for Murder On Space Station 52 so the only information available right now is on the Kickstarter page. From what I’ve learnt so far, it seems as though it’s going to take the format of a classic adventure in terms of gameplay so I’m expecting inventory, dialogue trees and puzzles.

This is going to be mixed with some ‘modern ideas’ and players will be able to earn themselves in-game currency by exploring the world and accomplishing tasks. You can then purchase cosmetics, accessories and an aquarium that can be filled with strange and otherworldly creatures. Don’t forget about your mission though: it’s important to collect evidence, question suspects and consult your murder board if you’re going to catch the killer and discover more about the protagonist than he ever could have imagined.

Murder on Space Station 52, video game, Kickstarter

As I’ve written before, Kickstarter isn’t a store and backers aren’t placing a pre-order; it’s a way for creators to raise independent funding for their projects and work with their audience on the chance to make something special. But it’s important to never part with cash you can’t afford to lose because there’s no guarantee you’ll receive the final product and you should always do your research before making a pledge – including trying a demo if a developer has made one available.

I hope the lack of one in this case doesn’t prevent Made From Strings from reaching their £7,735 goal by the deadline of 16 November 2020 but I have to admit that it’s something of a risk. As mentioned above, it’s unusual to see a crowdfunding campaign without a demo nowadays. Sometimes you just have to take a chance on a campaign when you like what you see on paper though, and perhaps enough other people will get a good feeling about Murder on Space Station 52 to get it across the finish line.

If you fancy getting your hands dirty in space, check out the official website for more information and follow Made From Strings on Twitter to stay up-to-date on progress.