Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lifestream Demo Impressions - Unimatrix Productions

Unimatrix Productions is set to release it's first game produced with the Storycentric Worlds development system on April 25th. As the possessor of a new Windows PC, I was fortunate I was able to have a look at the demo and see what Storycentric can do.

Lifestream's interface resembles some early CRPG setups.
Lifestream is a point and click horror adventure about a son and a father, lapsed religious beliefs, and ostensibly mysterious supernatural realms. This whole package gave me a very John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles vibe with (non animated) node travel and a spooky old house. The interface draws heavily from CRPGs with tabs for inventory, a map screen, journal entries, and player stats with the current objective listed. There is a compass rose with clickable buttons to navigate.

The entire presentation feels solidly implemented. The game installs with all the gravitas of a studio title. Art is presented in variously-sized panels and the buttons thump with the assertiveness of choosing a Diablo character. Sounds and short music cues accompany each decision impressively. Hopefully this won't grow tedious during longer play as there are some audio and animation cues that aren't skippable. It's thrilling to see a discovered route appear on the compass in a puff of smoke several times at least.

The map screen fills in as you explore.
I spent a good 30 minutes with the demo, admittedly speed-skimming through some large text blocks. Unimatrix suggests the full game is a healthy 8+ hour experience, but the demo does a great job of indicating how deep of an implementation this is. I collected journal entries, achieved achievements, discovered and equipped inventory objects to unlock new areas (an equipped item has its own button; the game won't explicitly alert that it can be used) and of course puzzled over combining two inventory objects to create a new one. The inventory combine is a bit fiddly--the game tutorializes the method, but without being told so I wouldn't have kept clicking those two objects over and over unsuccessfully for the few tries it took to make it work.

Text cutscenes!
I'm quite impressed otherwise by the mechanical presentation. The actual story (of the demo) of Lifestream is a horror setup well-trod: We discover through recollections and diary entries that Randolph Holton (a Catholic priest) has grown increasingly distant and obsessive over some ancient manuscripts and hasn't been heard from for the past two weeks. His son John decides to break into Randolph's neatly-furnished but creaky old manor to sort out what's happened, rummaging through possessions whilst reminiscing how the Padre would sip brandy at his desk. There are some very adventure-gamey ways to progress, such as a locked drawer's combination device being a clock that requires the missing broken minute hand to operate. These solutions won't be unfamiliar for seasoned adventurers to deduce, but as a tutorial of every way to interact with the game (and as a short demo) they work. I found it quite retro and comfortable to play a game that felt like I'd just cracked open a box from Babbages.

Surely nothing bad happened here.
At the moment, Lifestream and Storycentric Worlds games are to run on PC, Android, and iOS. Mac users (I feel you!) may have to wait for a planned HTML5-based update. I'm curious how different the game will look on phone and tablet platforms as all the screenshots on the website appear to be desktop layouts. The studio also plans to release the development tools for Storycentric to interactive fiction authors who can create and share their own games for free, or potentially market under the wing of the developer in a fashion that sounds very similar to Choice of Games label.


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I create IF games which can be accessed via IFDB, or browsed on my fancy website.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this up! I was wondering how it would turn out to play in practice.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for writing this up! I was wondering how it would turn out to play in practice.

    ReplyDelete