Monorail Stories preview: connected threads
I still make a point of checking the Kickstarter website every week.
I’ve been doing this for several years now despite the quality of new campaigns gradually decreasing. Sometimes the video game category is totally empty. Then at others, it’s filled with subpar mobile games and ‘gangster shooters’ being made by kids still in secondary school – and it seems like everyone is attempting to make a romantic LGBTQ+ dating simulation visual novel nowadays.
Occasionally though, something unique pops up which grabs my attention. This was the case last Tuesday when a search on the platform pulled back a familiar thumbnail in the results. I’d played the demo for Monorail Stories as part of The Big Adventure Event in February last year and wishlisted it immediately afterwards, and here was Stelex Software now trying to raise funds for their project.
It’s a minimalistic adventure which is more about choices and interactions between characters than mind-bending puzzles. The story takes place on monorail which joins M and L, two mountain-cities connected not only by the tracks but also by a long history of envy, grudges and political tension. Co-owner and 3D Artist Tania Maccarinelli describes these as fantastical places with a strong link to reality, inspired by surreal literature and art along with manga from the 1980s and 1990s.
Our two protagonists are Silvie and Ahmal. On one hand we have a young, creative woman voiced by Ivy Dupler, who moved to M for love but is still trying to find her place in the world; and then on the other, a banker living in L voiced by JC Marquez, who grew up inland during a very turbulent childhood and has always struggled to fit in. They commute on the monorail in opposite directions and at different times of day and, just like the cities they inhabit, have some similarities but are radically different entities.
Every day is a new chapter in their shared story even though they’re unaware of it, and there’s beauty to be found in smaller, ordinary tales like these.
Although they don’t know each other, they still affect each other’s lives through the stories they influence on their commute. They choose which of their fellow commuters to talk to, how to treat them and what to do as the monorail makes its run over the Bay. This is the thing which attracted me to Monorail Stories during last year’s The Big Adventure Event: every day is a new chapter in their shared story even though they’re unaware of it, and there’s beauty to be found in smaller, ordinary tales like these.
There’s a cast of colourful characters to interact with on your daily journey. When travelling as Silvie in the demo, we meet her lazy and carefree friend Mark who offers a shoulder of support after a bad night. When playing as Ahmal, you can potentially end up angering a grumpy man while trying to return a lost item and can choose whether to support or ignore a man who has just lost his job. Some are acquaintances while others are strangers, and it’s up to you whether you get to know them.
Although I’ve mentioned above that the focus isn’t on puzzles, there’s a minor one here which shows how the protagonists connect. Silvie accidentally leaves her lucky blue scarf on the monorail in the morning which is then found by Ahmal: will he choose to keep it for himself or deposit it in lost-and-found? The evening then sees Silvie walking the length of the carriages, meeting several characters while looking for the password for the box and discovering if a kind person has returned her scarf.
A short summary screen is displayed at the end of the first day in the demo. This gives you an overview of the choices made during the 15-minute segment and the affect some of them had. Did you give a kind answer to Mark when he asked what was going on or were you angry? Did you choose to talk to the shady girl and the writer, or did you simply pass them by? It looks like hearts are gained by doing good deeds but taken away when you negatively affect another commuter’s day.
The choices you make on the monorail affect everyone’s shared stories and lead to one of multiple endings for the protagonists. These can be unlocked at different times throughout the game and create very different outcomes. The Kickstarter page advises that most of the conclusions are somewhat connected while others clash – and it sounds like there will be a few surprises too. As well as adding replayability, the developers say they wanted to tell different stories within a single game like a ‘matryoshka-effect’.
You don’t necessarily have to make the decisions for Silvie and Ahmal on your own though. Alongside the standard single-player mode, a friend can join you in the asynchronous multiplayer with Twitch integration: what one player does on their turn will affect how the story plays out for the other. There will also be a ‘season story mode’, which offers the ability to define a new commuter and experience the city from another perspective, with new content and stories planned to be added at regular intervals.
The Kickstarter campaign for Monorail Stories is due to finish on 16 June 2022 and, at the time of writing this post, over 27% of the £4,239 funding goal has been pledged already. Get on board and try the demo for yourself, and follow Stelex Software on Twitter for updates.