The longest day for gaming

Today is officially the longest day of the year. Here in London, the sun rose at 04:43 this morning and is due to set at 21:21 tonight. That gives us a total of 16 hours, 38 minutes and 20 seconds of daylight – so what better way to use it than cramming it full of video games?

Unfortunately for most of us, we’ll be stuck at work and so there’s very little chance of that happening. Bosses seem to frown upon you skipping out of meetings to find a quiet room to play your Switch, for some reason. But what if you’d been prepared and had arranged to take the day off: which games would you be spending it with? Here’s a breakdown of my own longest day.

04:43 to 05:00:

Just enough minutes to make a cup of tea and gobble down some toast. If you’re going to do an extended gaming session, it’s a good idea to get some breakfast before you start.

05:00 to 07:00:

Time to warm up with The Elder Scrolls Online. After recently purchasing the PC version so my other-half and I could play with Tim and Jake from GeekOut South-West, we’ve become hooked all over again and reached just under 50 hours in our first week alone. This time I’ve gone for something completely different and am aiming for a tank build; in the past my characters have tended to focus on magic and healing. It’s a change I’m liking though, because I love being able to run into battle and feel like I’m immovable.

07:00 to 10:00:

At the time of writing I’m partway through Lamplight City and think I’ve only got a few hours left, so what better time to finish it. I tried the preview build back in August but it’s taken me a while to get around to playing the full version. If you like detective stories it’s definitely worth a go: certain gameplay elements are like L.A. Noire and going down the wrong line of questioning can close parts of your investigation or cause you to accuse the wrong person. It’s pretty ambitious for a point-and-click.

10:00 to 13:00:

Draugen has been on my radar since March 2014, when Red Thread Games shared the world premiere of its trailer during a developer session at EGX Rezzed. I adore the Dreamfall series (even though I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to finish Dreamfall Chapters) so the thought of playing another narrative-driven release from the team makes me excited. While investigating the disappearance of the protagonist’s sister in a remote village called Graavik, I’d made a quick sandwich to keep me going.

13:00 to 15:00:

Now for something completely different. Steam’s recommendations can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss but occasionally it does throw out something interesting. El Tango de la Muerte is a quirky little rhythm game where you have to learn the tango to win the heart of your loved-one. Inspired by the best Latin American soap operas and with a touch of melodramatic humour, I can see myself spending a couple of hours on the dancefloor and throwing a few shapes (digitally-speaking).

15:00 to 21:00:

Next up would be Observation. Stories Untold turned out to be one of my favourite games of 2017 so I’m looking forward to playing No Code’s latest release. The idea of uncovering what happened to Dr Emma Fisher and her crew through the lens of the space station’s artificial intelligence (AI) sounds intriguing – and there are bound to be a few surprises if the developer’s previous title is anything to go by. During these six hours of investigation, I’d also take delivery of a Chinese takeaway for dinner too.

21:00 to 21:21:

Maybe there’d be time to fit in a quick quest in The Elder Scrolls Online before the end of the day? I know what would happen though: my other-half, Tim and Jake would already be online and we’d end up playing for several hours.

So there you have it: the video games I’d spend the longest day of the year with. Now how would you spend your own?

Lamplight City: an adventure worth investigating

After visiting the Rezzed expo in April, my other-half pointed out how many more narrative games were on display than in previous years. It then struck me that many of these had cast the player in the role of a male detective. What was this new obsession with investigating the unknown, upholding the law and bringing wrongdoers to justice?

Not that I was complaining though, because I really enjoy investigative titles where it’s necessary to interrogate suspects and seek out clues to get to the truth. There were a number which caught my eye at Rezzed with one of my favourites being Lamplight City by Grundislav Games. It stood out for several reasons, not least because it was being developed by the creator of Shardlight and was set in an alternative steampunk-ish ‘Victorian’ past; the fact you could move on if a case seemed unsolvable, with the story adapting to your choices, was intriguing.

The title takes place in 1844 and although it seems like the city is a beacon of progress and advancement in the New World, it rests upon foundations of poverty, class struggle and crime. These shadowy corners of Lamplight City are part of the territory for private investigator Miles Fordham. But with the murder of his partner Bill Leger unsolved and his grip on sanity slowly loosening, can he find justice for his clients and track down the killer before his entire world falls apart?

In a recent chance email encounter, I was very kindly put in touch with the team from Application Systems by PR Consultant Emily Morganti and offered a preview copy of Lamplight City. This started at the opening tutorial in which the circumstances around Bill’s death were shared before moving on to the first of Miles’s solo cases. I’ve wracked up almost 3.5 hours with the game so far so if future cases are of a similar length, I’m guessing we can expect around 15 hours of gameplay which is quite substantial.

The thing which surprised me the most about Lamplight City initially is the way it handles inventory. When you start up a point-and-click adventure, you expect the traditional inventory-management system at the top or bottom of the screen along with puzzles where the solution involves combining items. But this isn’t the case here as all of the action is instigated with a single click of a mouse button which is case sensitive – so forget about using every object with every other object in your possession.

For example, when Miles wants to test a theory about how a burglar managed to break into a flower shop after discovering a gap in a window frame, he says he needs something ‘long and thin’ to conduct an experiment. A quick trip downstairs and he picks up a hanging basket hook but this isn’t deposited in an inventory bank; instead, clicking on the gap again results in the action of using it to lift the latch. While this is initially disconcerting for experienced adventure gamers, you can see how it helps streamline the game’s interface, menus and puzzles.

Lamplight City, video game, conversation, dialogue tree, man, woman, faces, questions

So where does Lamplight City’s core gameplay lie if item-based challenges are essentially done away with? Most of your time in the private investigator’s shoes is spent examining crime scenes, interrogating suspects and getting information by any means necessary. The title is very dialogue-heavy with plenty of people to talk to and questions to get through, but it does a great job at weaving in the characters’ backstory in a natural and conversational way.

It also makes it possible for the player to misinterpret evidence or miss vital clues by throwing in multiple suspects, false leads and different outcomes, but still be able to progress. I’ve read that there’s even an option to mess up so badly you can’t play the final chapter and instead receive a totally negative ending. This freedom means you can follow the law or make your own rules but be warned: the way you act as Miles affects people’s attitudes towards you and can prevent you from accessing certain locations.

At one point during the preview, I interviewed a woman who seemed to be hiding something in her back room so I created a save here to test each option and see how much the outcomes differed. Ignoring the subject meant I could continue to talk to her and left her house on my map. But sending her off to make tea so I could take a sneaky peak before pulling her up on it caused her to become angry – I was thrown out, access to the location was removed, and the woman was added to my list of suspects.

Lamplight City, video game, detective, question, kitchen, cook, servant

This means your actions carry more weight than is standard for adventure games and can have real consequences. You don’t get infinite tries to convince a character to open up and, if a location is closed off because they don’t want to talk, there’s a chance you could miss an important clue and bring a lead to a premature end. It’s therefore entirely possible to accuse the wrong person of a crime and have choices made during earlier cases come back to haunt you later.

I found that thorough yet sensitive questioning made it easy to figure out who the real criminal was in Miles’s solo outing, although the title presented another possible suspect along with an interesting story element about ‘aethericity’. By the end of the preview I had two people in my sights and three options when it came to wrapping up the case. I could knowingly accuse someone who was completely innocent; I could throw the book at the suspect despite his extenuating circumstances; or I could give them a chance at a future.

In a blog post by creator Francisco Gonzalez (warning: it contains a few minor spoilers), he wrote: “In some cases you might be called upon to make moral decisions and determine if the person who actually did it deserves to be punished for their crime.” He also wrote about the option to declare a case as unsolved, adding: “Failing to solve too many cases will change elements of the story and have a negative effect on Miles’s self-confidence and mental well-being.” It’s all very intriguing.

Lamplight City, video game, Miles, Adelaide, Husband, Wife, home, living, room

It’s also worth mentioning how Lamplight City handles some of its themes. While they’re not a primary focus, the city is fractured by class, race and sexual orientation divides and it gives the sense of a society very close to the edge. For example, a conversation with a lowly assistant about his forbidden relationship with an aristocrat of a different race reveals some of the struggles Miles has experienced in getting others to accept his marriage to singer Adelaide.

There’s also the husband of a victim who reveals that his marriage is one of convenience; and although it’s never directly mentioned, it’s implied that it’s his sexual preference which gives him cause for public shame. Add to the city the increasing pressure of machines replacing people in the workplace through the use of ‘steamtech’ and you’ve got a game which seems to effectively resonate with the issues the real world is facing today, while not indiscreetly parading them in front of the player.

Something else picked up on by Gonzalez in his blog post was that we’ve been conditioned to accept that playing a video game means we always have to win, and that ‘winning’ means getting everything absolutely right. Here’s a game which offers something different and more realistic in certain ways, and that’s what makes it so interesting. To quote the developer: “It’s a much more rewarding experience when YOU solved the case, rather than when Sherlock Holmes wasn’t allowed to fail the case.”

Lamplight City is due out on 13 September 2018 so we don’t have long to wait. Visit the Steam page or official website for further details, and give Grundislav Games a follow on Twitter for all the news.

Rezzed 2018: playing detective

While at the Rezzed expo recently, my other-half pointed out how many more narrative games were on offer than in previous years. It’s one of the highlights I mentioned on in my round-up post published this week: I came away from the Tobacco Dock adding more upcoming projects to my wishlist than I’d done during any other time at the event.

A few examples: handmade adventure Harold Halibut by Slow Bros. is one I backed on Kickstarter and looks impressive hands-on. Midnight Hub’s atmospheric Lake Ridden caught my eye at EGX last September and the new section of the demo was great. Futuristic thriller State of Mind by Daedalic Entertainment seems like something I’ll be able to get my teeth into; and my stepson was pretty taken with Backwoods Entertainment’s hand-painted Unforeseen Incidents.

After having some time to reflect since Rezzed, something else struck me. So many of these narrative games cast the player in the role of a male detective trying to solve some mysterious or vaguely-supernatural case, usually related to missing people or murders. What is this new obsession we have with investigating the unknown, upholding the law and bringing wrongdoers to justice?

Not that I’m complaining at all. The following titles look like they’re going to be excellent.

The Sinking City

First up is a game by Frogwares, developer of the Sherlock Holmes series, which is set in an open-world inspired by the works of Lovecraft. Players find themselves in a city dominated by a supernatural force and suffering from floods, and it’s up to them to find out what has taken control of the minds of its inhabitants before they succumb to madness themselves. There’s no release date as yet but this is definitely one to watch out for.

Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death

As the Ripper stalks London’s streets, players join Arthurian immortals Sit Lancelot Du Lac and Morgana Le Fey on a quest to stop history’s most infamous murderer and save the city. I was able to switch between both characters (the latter portrayed as a dog) in Salix Games’ demo in order to question people and solve puzzles. It’s hinted that Fey isn’t actually a canine, so that could add an interesting element to the project.

The Peterson Case

Described to me as a cross between The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Outlast, Quarter Circle Games’ project looks amazing; I had to stop partway through the demo because I didn’t want to spoil it for myself! Set in a location near the Roswell UFO incident, Detective Reinhardt must explore a deserted house to find out what happened to its missing residents. He soon discovers an unearthly presence within, which is hot on his trail…

Lamplight City

This turned out to be one of my favourites at Rezzed which is no surprise: it’s being made by Grundislav Games, the creator of Shardlight, and has a very ‘Wadjet Eye’ feel about it. Set in an alternate steampunk-ish Victorian past, Miles Fordham must solve five cases each with multiple suspects, false leads and different outcomes. I like the fact that you can move on if a case seems unsolvable, with the story adapting to your choices.

Disco Elysium

I didn’t get to play Disco Elysium by ZA/UM until the final day of the expo as the stand was constantly busy, but it was worth the wait. It’s an interesting mix of detective-show and isometric RPG where players can choose the type of cop they want to be through an original skill system which takes feelings, doubts and memories into account. Kick in doors, interrogate suspects, or simply get lost in the city of Revachol as you unravel its mysteries. This one was my game of the show.

The fact that more narrative games were on offer at Rezzed this year was one of its highlights for me; and I love a good detective story so I’m really looking forward to playing those above. That being said however, it can be challenging to give such titles the attention they deserve at expos and this is something I’ll be delving more into later this week.

If you got a chance to play the games above at Rezzed, what did you think? Were there any other titles which caught your attention out on the show floor? Let us know in the comments below.