Adventure X

Celebrating narrative games at Adventure X 2017

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In a small corner of London, last weekend, bleary-eyed from the early morning start, with our laptops, banners and marketing materials tucked under our arms, a very small army of indie game descended on Goldsmith’s University. The occasion?Adventure X 2017, a convention dedicated to narrative games.

For those who don’t know, I’m making a game with two other women. We’re called 3-Fold Games and our first game is Before I Forget and Adventure X was our first outing among our peers. We didn’t know what to expect, so with excitement and trepidation we filed past the people already in the queue to get into the show, took our exhibitor’s wristbands and set up our table.

Adventure X is a two-day festival dedicated to adventure games, interactive fiction, visual novels and narrative-led games. One of the most impressive things about this unique event is that it’s free, not-for-profit and the whole thing is funded via Kickstarter, every year.

This year, for the first time, Kickstarter backers could be put on the guestlist on certain tiers, but if they didn’t claim their entry before noon on the day of the event, that spot could go to someone else.

Indie game development is not a great way to make money, in fact, the teams often have day jobs and fund projects themselves, which makes getting to events expensive. On top of that, the games industry is notoriously middle-class and the cost of entry to some expos creates barriers for people without the financial support of a good job, wealthy parents or a company expenses. So, the fact that Adventure X strives to maintain its free entry policy is an important part of making games accessible to more people.

The event itself is a small, intimate affair, with one hall of around 20 developers showcasing their latest work. There are no huge sound systems assaulting your senses, just lots of laptops on tables and gamers immersed in intriguing stories.

I didn’t get to play as many games I would have liked because I was busy tag teaming with my progammer Claire, as we personed our stand and talked to all the people giving us feedback on Before I Forget. However, I did play a few and here are the ones that stood out:

Bury Me My Love
This game from French studio, The Pixel Hunt, caught my eye from across the room because it’s a pastel-shaded delight, with delicately lined, hand-drawn style graphics. Behind the beautiful art style lies a difficult story of migration from Syria to Europe. Bury Me My Love is a narrative phone game and uses text messages between the two main characters, as one tries to flee from Syria and the other offers advice and encouragement.

You play as Majid and the game tracks his wife, Nour’s, journey out of Syria to Europe. The dialogue is natural and broken up with ‘photos’ as Nour and Majid send text messages to each other. But the tension is palpable from the moment you realise that Nour isn’t packing to go on holiday.

Nour’s troubles start when her cab is delayed and then she has to pay more money than she thought to get taken to a different city because there’s been a bomb along her original route. As Majid you have to offer advice, which could make or break Nour’s journey. The choices are never easy ones and then you have to wait to hear back from Nour to see whether they were the right ones.

Crucially, these are the decisions that refugees are making every hour of every day and you wonder how they ever make it. Needless to say, Bury Me My Love is one of the titles earning a bit of a buzz. It’s already up for awards and deservedly so. It’s out now on Android and iOS.

Growbot
You know I like beautiful games and Growbot is one of the prettiest. It’s a point and click adventure about a little robot, the cutest little robot you’ve ever seen, who is trying to save her space station from destruction from some pesky crystals.

The quality and intricacy of the graphics blew me away and then I discovered that the whole game was the work of one woman, illustrator Lisa Evans. Growbot is a whimsical, children’s book illustration, sci-fi adventure wrapped in a message of environmentalism and nurturing.

It’s just so beautiful and quirky, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to want to play it. But it’s not just pretty, there are mechanical-based puzzles, as well as environmental clues and puzzles for that tradition 2D adventure game feel.

You can follow its development via its Steam page.

The Almost Gone
From Belgian developers, Happy Volcano, The Almost Gone has a minimalist style that places the player at a distance from the main action, in the style of games like Monument Valley and Pavilion. The game opens with a room with no roof and two of the walls missing, so we can see inside, much like a theatre set or doll house. From there, the player can turn the whole scene to reveal new parts of the room and new clues.

The game plays with the idea of reality. Not only does the narrator question what is real, claiming that the books are glued to the bookshelf because it’s all fake, but you then find things that break the fourth wall even further. At one point you also find a telescope, which toys with the idea of viewpoint and draws the player in from a macro to micro perspective.

This is a beautifully clever mystery game, with a dark heart, written by a famous Dutch author, thanks to some funding from the Dutch government and I can’t wait to play more. Follow progress here.

Alongside more fantastic games than I have space to cover here, were two days of incredible talks. Stand out speakers included Jon Ingold of Inkle Studios, talking about the development process behind their upcoming game, Heaven’s Vault.  Ian Thomas of Talespinners gave a rollercoaster talk on narrative without dialogue, delivering what could have covered hours of advice in just 30 minutes.

Over the two days, highlights were Brian Moriarty, Lottie Bevan with practical advice and a slot on voice acting, which brought together Doug Cockle (Geralt) and Rolf Saxon (George Stobart). The highlight for Sunday was Zak Garriss, narrative designer for Life is Strange: Before the Storm, who gave an insight into how he runs his writer’s room, with really sensitive and heartfelt advice for new writers.

Adventure X is a little-known event and on day one it was a victim of its own success, as people had to be turned away, so it may have to move to a bigger venue for 2018. It offers a really supportive space for indie developers and places a really important emphasis on narrative, which is often lacking from other industry events. It’s a fantastic event and long may it continue to grow.

You can find all the links to the games I didn’t get to play and couldn’t cover here on the Adventure X website. All the talks are also available online.

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