Earlier this week, I picked up on the increase in the number of narrative games on display at Rezzed this year. The ‘detective’ theme seemed to be popular also, with several story-rich titles featuring male investigators who were trying to solve some mysterious or vaguely-supernatural case related to either unexplained missing persons or gruesome murders.
This was a great thing for me: everyone has their own individual reason for playing video games and mine tends to be for a good story. Give me a title where I can get lost in its world and wrapped up in its plot for hours on end, possibly with a few twists thrown in for good measure, and I’m a very happy gamer. But this increase in narrative projects on show at expos also comes with a downside.
Here’s an example. One of the games I’d added to my to-do list for Rezzed was The Peterson Case, a cross between The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Outlast by Quarter Circle Games. When I asked how scary it was, the developer I chatted to (I really should have made a note of his name) told me that it was less ‘jump-scares’ and more ‘atmospheric’; but they’d left the horror part of the project at home, feeling it couldn’t be adequately shown at the event.
I knew this would be a title I’d end up purchasing and playing shortly after starting the demo. The graphics were detailed and shadowy, impressive considering the game is being made by a three-man team; and I was enjoying the gameplay, getting to know Detective Franklin Reinhardt through items scattered around his office. But within five minutes, I stepped away from the keyboard and thanked the developer for his time.
Narrative games tend to get lost at expos. It’s the stands full of bright lights, loud sounds, over-enthusiastic PR staff and free merchandise that immediately attract attendees’ attention; and their projects are usually those full of explosions and gunfire. A seat in front of a monitor displaying a quieter story- or text-rich title is likely to not see as many bums and it means some excellent work gets overlooked in all the noise.
It’s particularly difficult to show games such as The Peterson Case at events like Rezzed, as Quarter Circle Games’ developer pointed out himself. They rely heavily on creating an atmosphere and its far harder to get the most from it in a crowded environment at an expo than at home on your own in front of your PC. This was why, he explained, they’d made the decision to not bring the horror part of their project with them.
Then there are titles such as Disco Elysium by ZA/UM and Lamplight City by Grundislav Games, RPGs and adventures which feature a lot of text in their gameplay. It’s hard to read every word and not be distracted by the crowds around you or the noise seeping in through the headphones; and not fully taking in their meaning properly leaves you confused as to what you’re meant to be doing, which compounds my next point.
Although I love going to shows like Rezzed, there’s one aspect of them I don’t completely enjoy: having people watch me play video games. There’s something about a developer standing there while you’re trying to work through their demo and not mess up which makes me feel really awkward (it’s one of the reasons why I no longer apply for press passes). I’d much rather play at home where nobody can see me struggle with a puzzle.
Narrative games deserve all the love they can get as their stories enable us to see through another’s eyes and form our own ideas about the societies we live in. Sadly though, expos and conventions aren’t always the ideal place to get that attention: the constant noise and crowds detract from the hard work and passion which has gone into making them and it can be hard to truly see the world the developer is trying to create.
That being said though, a great project which contains something special will stand out regardless of the physical environment around it. I’ve been attending expos for the past six years now and have had the opportunity to play a lot of demos in that time; and this experience has taught me how to recognise a title I’ll likely enjoy within the first few minutes of sitting down at a stand.
If you’re going to a gaming event this year, give these ‘quieter’ games a chance and you might come across something you love. If you’re struggling to fully experience a demo due to the noise and crowds, or if you feel awkward playing in front of people, don’t be afraid to tell the developer that and ask if you can contact them at a later date to find out more because their project has caught your eye. Trust me: they’ll appreciate both your honesty and interest.
And who knows, you might even find your new favourite video game this way.