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LudoNarraCon 2022: a round-up

LudoNarraCon 2022, apartment building, stairs, girl, laptop, dog
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I enjoy finding out about upcoming adventures at expos.

But playing narrative titles at such events can be difficult. They tend to get lost among the bright lights, loud sounds and over-enthusiastic PR staff, and projects that rely on telling a story and creating an atmosphere can find it hard to do so in a crowded environment.

LudoNarraCon is therefore an awesome idea. Organised by Fellow Traveller, the first digital expo took place in May 2019 and has since become popular with fans of the genre thanks to its focus on narrative and innovative video games. The fact that it’s free and hosted entirely on Steam means you can forget about lengthy queues, deafening noise and sweaty bodies; simply sit back, download demos to experience the games for yourself, and check out the developers during live streams.

My initial impression of the event which took place from 05 to 09 May 2022 was that it was a smaller affair this time. However, checking the official website revealed this wasn’t the case: 42 titles were on display, around the the same number as the showcases in previous years. I think this reaction was due to many of them having either appeared at earlier LudoNarraCon or other digital expos recently, or already being available for purchase through Steam. It’s a trend which seems to be affecting real-world events too.

I’ll talk a little more about this later. But first, let’s get to the important stuff: here’s a quick trip through the demos I managed to try out this time. Which of them managed to make it onto my ever-growing wishlist?

Arctic Awakening

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

Set in the Arctic North, GoldFire Studio’s project is a first-person adventure which takes place after Kai’s plane crashes into the snow. Will he and his court-mandated therapy bot manage to escape, figure out what cut their aircraft in two and discover what’s making those strange noises after dark? Unfortunately, I got stuck in the cockpit of the debris whilst trying to chase off a bear – but as this demo was one I picked to play because it made me think of a cross between Firewatch and The Long Dark, I’ll be keeping an eye on the game.

Beacon Pines

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

Hiding Spot’s upcoming point-and-click is a bit of a weird one for me. On one hand, the demo made my list because of the mentions of Twin Peaks on the Steam page and I like that kind of vibe in my video games; but on the other, I don’t tend to go for titles which feature anthropomorphic animals as characters. Saying that though, I can’t deny that I enjoyed what I’ve seen of it so far and the way the creepy story is set within a mysterious book which keeps track of your choices. Maybe this is another one I should keep an eye on.

Behind the Frame

Wishlisted: no

I had a feeling that Silver Lining Studio’s release wouldn’t be for me because, despite its overwhelmingly positive Steam reviews, the gameplay isn’t my thing. But I decided to download the demo because the visuals look like something straight out of a Studio Ghibli film and I wanted to see how well they would work in a game. Although it didn’t make it onto my wishlist, this title about an aspiring artist on the cusp of finishing her final piece for a gallery submission is gorgeous and I can see why so many reviewers have praised it.

Card Shark

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

Ever wanted to cheat your way to the top of society and fleece your adversaries out of their money on the way? Then Nerial’s project could be just for you. I enjoyed everything about this intriguing demo: the 18th-century France setting and history, the way the lighting effects and music add to the atmosphere, the need to play your opponents better than you play your cards. The only thing is that I wish I was better at it: I kept getting caught at the table and it turns out that fellow gamblers don’t take too kindly to cheaters.

How to Say Goodbye

Wishlisted: no

Although I didn’t try it myself at the WASD expo last month, I read several articles about the event afterwards and most of them mentioned this upcoming puzzle game by Florian Veltman and Baptiste Portefaix with praise. Its story is inspired by children’s literature and is about a group of ghosts looking to discover who they were and why they’re still here. The demo was charming and featured interesting puzzles which seem like they’re going to get more challenging as they progress, but I’m not sure this is a title for me.

Mask of the Rose

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

I don’t enjoy visual novels, especially romantic ones, but there were so many things about Failbetter Games’ project that made me want to download the demo. Its setting of Fallen London, a city which has dropped through the earth and now resides in a vast cavern; an investigation into the first murder since the Fall; and a cast of curious characters who all seem like they’ve got something to hide. I love these elements – I just wish the genre was different and I could play the title as a point-and-click. Perhaps it’s another one to keep an eye on.

Minds Beneath Us

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

It’s no wonder I downloaded the demo for BearBonesStudio’s title. Tell me about a point-and-click set in a dystopian future, with a storyline about artificial intelligence (AI) and a protagonist who can shape the relationship between characters through their choices, and I’m going to be all over it. The mention of a ‘data ghost’ on the Steam page just added to my curiosity. While the demo was certainly intriguing and I loved the mix of 2D and 3D graphics, it was difficult to tell where it was going so I’m putting this on the ‘maybe’ pile for now.

Nine Noir Lives

Wishlisted: no

A comedy noir adventure featuring a cat detective? The description for Silvermode Studios’ project sounded awesome and the feline title art is brilliant, but I’m sorry to say the demo didn’t live up to the expectations set. My main issue with it was that there was just far too much dialogue where the player was required to passively listen; it was over 15 minutes before I was able to make my first real move and I was beginning to get distracted. I managed to get through the demo but I don’t think I’ll be purchasing the full release.

The Fabulous Fear Machine

Wishlisted: no

Like Mask of the Rose, this is another game where I wish I could change the genre to a point-and-click. In Fictiorama Studios’ simulation, you play as a new Master of the Machine after being called to greatness by its mysterious keeper and must spread fear through dark Legends to achieve your deepest desires. The demo was fun and the pulp-horror style suits the game perfectly, but I suck at titles which involve strategy after the tutorial levels. It’s such a shame because I loved the developer’s first release, Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today.

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown

Wishlisted: yes

I ran out of time before I could get around to playing the demo but the game has been added to my wishlist based on the strength of its trailer and central mechanic alone. Falling Squirrel and Creative Bytes Studios’ audio-based action-adventure places players into the worn leather boots of a blind adventurer. It comes with the usual RPG elements such as the ability to choose equipment, playstyle, companions and quests – but it’s all done through sound alone and without visuals. Maybe it will make an appearance in our GameBlast23 marathon schedule.

Fellow Traveller’s digital expo fills the gap and enables fans of narrative titles to come together online to celebrate the adventure genre.

This year’s LudoNarraCon seemed to be feature more games which were already available through Steam or had appeared at earlier expos, so I didn’t play as many demos as I’ve done in previous years. A similar trend was seen at both WASD last month and EGX in October. Is it because the threat of COVID is still having an impact on game development? Should we expect to see fewer unreleased projects at future expos? And does it mean that after their rise over the past three years, digital expos are now on their way out?

There are a lot of gamers out there who are eager to return to real-world events after multiple lockdowns, so I guess a decline is somewhat inevitable. But I believe LudoNarraCon will always have a following; as mentioned at the start of this post, traditional in-person expos don’t always suit narrative games and it’s usually better to experience these in a quieter environment. Fellow Traveller’s digital expo fills that gap and enables fans of narrative titles to come together online to celebrate the adventure genre.

It will be interesting to see how the gaming landscape has changed when LudoNarraCon returns once again in 2023. Head over to the official website for more details and follow Fellow Traveller on Twitter for updates.

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