Canada Route Zero: Highway Of Tears Demo

By Adam Smith on July 22nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm.

Digging through the RPS archives can be rather alarming. Highway of Tears looks like the kind of game our keen eyes may have spotted so I dutifully typed the first few letters into the ‘tag’ search – ‘h-i-g-h-way To The Reich’, the form completed itself and waited for my approval. No. Bad form. Bad RPS. I’ll deal with this situation right away. I wonder what other innocent words produce a single disturbing response?

Highway of Tears caught my eye because it has a strong set of influences, including Kentucky Route Zero, True Detective and ‘the mythology of the Haida aboriginals’. That already makes for a more attractive point and click prospect than ‘comedy anti-hero’ or ‘rubbish [insert job title]’. A demo is available.

The current demo is described as ‘rough’, having been made for submission to an event a month ago. Feedback on the GUI in particular is encouraged.

In terms of narrative, the game is based on a series of real disappearances along a remote highway in British Columbia.

You play as Sofia, an african-american documentary maker. Together with your cameraman Caleb you travel to the town of Augier’s Peak, up in the wilderness of British Columbia, to find out what the hell is going on over there. Three girls have gone missing there recently, and you will have to interview people, investigate locations and unravel secrets that could eventually lead to an explanation for this mystery, and an understanding of the cultural significance these events have on the people in that region.

But is Sofia a rubbish documentary maker? Will there be zany hijinks? I’m guessing not and I’m glad to see a few adventure games with a serious tone emerging from the development mines. Very much looking forward to seeing more of this one.

Oh, and I’ve fixed the Highway to the Reich issue, or at least counterbalanced it.

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55 Comments »

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  1. Fomorian1988 says:

    An African-American woman protagonist? What has the world come to? Oh, the horror of not having a bald white man as the player character!

    This sounds interesting, if only because of the sources of inspiration. I’ll definitely check out the demo.

    How do you manage to find so many interesting games, Adam?

    • dethtoll says:

      I’ve always thought the stereotype was brown-haired scruffy white dude with a 5-o’clock shadow. And I’ve been noticing it ever since they started popping up regularly around when LOST was popular.

    • Turkey says:

      I take it you haven’t played that many point and click adventure games before.

      • Fomorian1988 says:

        I did, in fact (which you might somewhat guess from latter part of the comment) – I was mostly being snarky.

    • Qetsune says:

      Silly you! Everyone knows people only complain about the lack of playable female characters, it’s just fine and dandy for there not to be male characters because men know that it’s just a game.

    • rexx.sabotage says:

      So, since the fact that the protagonist is an afican american is so integral to the game that it is crowbarred in as an essential part of the game’s description can we assume that she has magical negro powers?

      No? Then why can’t she just be Sophie, the filmmaker?

      • The Random One says:

        Because plenty of people would be interested in playing a game with an African-American protagonist, and the video game landscape is usually so flat that without that bit of information people might (sensibly) assume the protagonist is white.

      • roryok says:

        I was a little on the fence about it too, but I think he’s right.

      • hedgefield says:

        Fair point, I put it there mainly for the reason of showing that the game was from a different perspective than the usual dudebro angle, but I can see how having to specify ethnicity is maybe not the way to do it. I think a fair compromise is striking that word from the description but putting a screenshot or a profile photo next to it. I’ve at least removed it from the site and the presskit now.

  2. Darth Gangrel says:

    Highway to the DANGERZONE? How dare you make a Top Gun reference in a game without guns!?

  3. dethtoll says:

    Highway to the Deutschland Zone?

  4. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    Highway to the Reich is a road trip movie set in the Wolfenstein: NWO universe, no?

    • JFS says:

      The one with the Need for Speed Autobahn spin-off game? Where you had referees shooting drivers for making too many left turns?

      On topic, the game and its idea look brilliant. The atmosphere reminds me of Virginia, which was featured last week or so.

    • Kollega says:

      For those of you actually interested, “Highway to the Reich” is an addon for Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge, and was mentioned in one Flare Path column. It’s probably the least awesome and least interesting use for that kind of name, I’ll give you that.

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    Lacero says:

    Those petrol stations in the middle of nowhere in america always remind me of deus ex.

  6. teije says:

    This looks like many gas stations I’ve been to in rural Canada, minus the African-American documentary maker however. And the car doesn’t have enough rust.

    • hedgefield says:

      Ha, well that’s because it’s a rental ;) I liked the idea of them having a very decent, small, european car amidst all the rusty oversized dodges and landrovers up there.

  7. rockman29 says:

    Very interesting story it’s start out on. There is a IRL problem with kidnapping of women on highways in rural Canada.

    “In terms of narrative, the game is based on a series of real disappearances along a remote highway in British Columbia.”

    I see it was already mentioned… lol.

  8. benzoate says:

    FYI: The real highway of tears (wikipedia) that this is based on. I am very curious how they handle such a ‘heavy’ subject.

    edit: I should clarify, this is what the title is based on. I have no idea whats-so-ever how much of the actual game is based around the actual events.

    • The Random One says:

      Heavy indeed, especially since the last reported disappearance was in 2011.

      • DelrueOfDetroit says:

        And given that it is part of the larger problem of 1181 (by RCMP standards, so you know, actually more than that) missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

  9. FFabian says:

    British journalist – standard go-to reference: Nazis -> not surprising

  10. angrychair says:

    I am concerned that this game will not handle the subject matter well. The Highway of Tears is a sensitive topic in BC, not just because of the unsolved murders and disappearances as recent as 2011, but because it is emblematic of systemic racism.

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    J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    I can’t download the demo. Actually, I can download it, but then Chrome rejects it, claiming its malicious.

  12. gigan says:

    I hitched on that HWY before. I’m no chicky poo but it was creepy.

  13. Yogurt says:

    The summary makes me wonder if a designer from the Netherlands understands this tough local story enough to handle it well. The Haida are a coastal First Nations group from a different part of the province than the Highway of Tears. Highway 16 does continue to the island of Haida Gwaii, but the section where the murders and disappearances happened is between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

    The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council represents some of the First Nations who have lost women, and they continue to work to keep people safe. This is an ongoing concern in B.C. and not a piece of history.

    The reference to mythology is a bit alarming too. I really hope it doesn’t turn out that a magical monster is blamed for the murders.

    Chrome flagged the game as malicious for me too, and while I’m sure it’s a false alarm, I haven’t gone through the steps to try the game yet. These are just my worries based on the summary.

  14. Tukuturi says:

    Native peoples usually don’t like it when their oral traditions and religious beliefs are referred to as mythology. It’s like referring to someone’s powwow regalia as a costume. It’s denigrating. Also, I know both legal and colloquial terminology is different in Canada than it is in the US where I am from, but “Haida people” is generally less asinine than “Haida aboriginals.” They are people after all.

    I know this seems nitpicky, but if some white Dutch guy is going to appropriate Haida culture for his game (a prospect politically and ethically fraught enough as it is) he might want to actually talk to someone from the Haida nation and get these sorts of things straightened out.

    • P.Funk says:

      I once talked to a native guy and when I tried to call him an aboriginal he said “Just call me an indian, thats what I think of myself as”. It was funny. There’s a proud tradition of walking on eggshells with respect to aboriginal people. That’s Canada’s lot I guess since we didn’t completely wipe them out, instead opting for the cultural rape and destitution treatment.

      I still think its a bit stiff to call it denigrating to use the term myth.

      • Tukuturi says:

        The issue is that most people (antagonistic atheists aside) wouldn’t call the story of Jesus a myth, or the Qur’an a book of myths. The term myth is normally reserved for dead religions or the religions of brown people, which for a long time were considered to be echoes of dead religions themselves. For many Native people, their oral traditions are their history, and they want them to be treated with the same respect as one would treat Western history. Similarly, their religion is part of their living culture, and it shouldn’t be treated as a throwback or a curio.

      • Tukuturi says:

        On the “Indian” thing: I live in Oklahoma, where Indian is generally acceptable and in some cases preferred. In other places, it is viewed as racist. In either case, referring to a group of people by their specific cultural afilliation is always preferable if possible. Using Indain or Native or Aboriginal as a suffix to that cultural affiliation is unecessarily othering and dehumanizing, however. You might say “North American Indians” or “Native North Americans” when talking about Native groups in general, but if referring to the Haida specifically, there’s no need to call them the “Haida Aboriginals.” Just call them the Haida.

    • allen says:

      You white people will jump at the chance to defend a minority. Like you think they can’t speak for themselves or something.

      • Tukuturi says:

        If you’re curious in learning more about this subject from the perspective of a Native historian, I recommend the work of Roger C. Echo-Hawk.

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    imperialus says:

    I don’t know if I’d call it inverse racism… I mean people are able to produce games, films, books ect. from well outside the confines of their culture all the time. The first one popping into my head at the moment likely because she just recently passed away, is Nadine Gordimer who was a hugely influential anti-apartheid activist who wrote books from the perspective of Blacks living in townships in spite of the fact that she was an English emigre to South Africa…

    That said, it appears as though the developer of the game has an extremely superficial understanding of the subject matter. As others above me have said it’s a pretty touchy subject, and given that one of the major issues surrounding the highway of tears is the fact that many Heida believe that the RCMP, media, government and Canadian society in general has completely ignored what has been happening to their young women just ramps up the need for sensitivity.

  16. dtallstone says:

    I come from Northern BC. I live along the Highway of Tears. Every day I still wonder what happened to Ramona Wilson before her body was discovered abandoned near the Smithers airport 20 years ago, this hurts seeing this article posted especially more since the anniversary of her disappearance just passed not too long ago. I don’t know if this dev lived in the area or has any real connection to the on going tragedy that is the Highway of Tears. A systematic failure by the RCMP to properly investigate the murders of real people, mostly First Nations, on BC’s northern highways. Similar to the systematic failure of the RCMP to investigate the murders of Vancouver prostitutes (mostly First Nations), until Robert Pickton was finally arrested and convicted where they found the remains of many victims on his pig farm. This lighthearted attempt at gamifying a depressing ongoing mystery is disrespectful to the families who have lost loved ones, to people who stay awake wishing they could see their children again (or people wanting to see their friends again) and feeling utterly helpless that they cannot bring them home safely. If he wants to make a crumby Unity powered adventure game mystery, that’s one thing, but don’t tackle subject matter that communities are still reeling in grief from, or trying to sprinkle mythological elements that he just googled just because it sounds good on paper or in articles like this. At face value this game announcement is incredibly offensive to the families and friends of the Victims still suffering out here, and given this is a white man vaguely touching on a genuine issue Native American communities are dealing with is borderline racist. So please, I hope this developer rethinks the narrative of this Game he wants to make and plot a new course to something he has a better understanding of.

    • abomb76 says:

      Not often I see an article on RPS that hits so close to home. I give Tim kudos for coming onto this forum and asking for input and advice to correct things – I think that’s very brave and should be applauded!

      As far as the real-world Highway of Tears goes, unfortunately it’s still a very real and sad thing. Even the RCMP are implicated as suspects in these heinous crimes: http://www.citynews.ca/2013/02/13/mounties-abused-b-c-aboriginal-girls-human-rights-watchdog-alleges-in-report/

      Pray for the victims and their families, and let’s keep games separate from current events. Last thing we want to do is trivialize the pain that people are living. This is the reason I did not play Battlefield 2 after spending countless hours playing Battlefield 1942 – it just didn’t sit right with me to be playing a game about a current war. We can’t allow ourselves to become that desensitized to what’s happening right now outside our living rooms.

      I mean what’s next, a Kickstarter for a game where you play an Israeli commander planning an invasion of Gaza to root out Hamas ‘terrorists’ while giving out achievements for inflicting certain levels of collateral damage and civilian casualties?

  17. Grayman says:

    My first thoughts were also about the title. The game is going to offend at least a few people no matter how well or unwell handled.

  18. babbler says:

    I’ve taught in that region of British Columbia. One of my former students is currently on trial for the murder of four women (one whom was just 15 years old).

    I don’t know how I feel about this game popping up.

    • hedgefield says:

      Wow, that’s awful! So you knew him personally? That must have been intensely chilling, I can’t even imagine. Was it by chance Cody Legebokoff? I’ve read about him, really harrowing how someone can just turn around and do something like that.

  19. MickMick says:

    Chrome says this demo file is malicious so haven’t played yet… anyone downloaded, played and not exploded?

  20. hedgefield says:

    Hello everyone, Tim here, creator of HoT.

    Thank you very much for your replies, they have really made me think about how to approach this story. I never meant to offend anyone, but I can totally understand from your replies that someone feels that way, and if so, I’m honestly sorry.

    When I first heard about the Highway of Tears I was as horrified as anyone to learn that so much evil can exist, and that it repeatedly struck in a place already full of tragedy. I’ve read through the official Board of Inquiry report on the murders, plus a lot of articles about the events, the situation around Vancouver, the psychology of serial killers, and I’ve watched several documentaries, so I am aware of the poverty, drug addiction, survival sex trade, aboriginal discrimination and downright indifference and failure on the part of the RCMP in taking decisive action, especially in the Pickton case, where so much tragedy could have been avoided if they had taken it seriously.

    As I read more and more about it I felt like I had to somehow raise awareness, and tell a story that at least introduces people to these events. As an outsider I concede that I do not have the personal connection to these events that would give me credibility in writing a story like this, but I would never use the outline of these events as a cheap way to create a ‘cool mysterious story’. But you raise a valid point that perhaps because of that I had better no try in the first place as it risks offending people or not doing the tragedy justice. And that would be the last thing I want to do.

    So in that light, I agree with the suggestions that it is better to distance myself from the real-world connection. The story in my game was already fictional, not referencing any real victims or specific cases, and set in a fictional town, so in effect the story could already stand on its own without the true story angle. I want people to be able to enjoy my game and learn something from it, without feeling personally offended by it because of the weight of a cultural trauma hanging over it.

    I was also aware that the Haida people live in a slightly different region, so changing locations should also mitigate that disparity somewhat. There is only one specific fable from their heritage I am referencing, not a sweeping generalization of their culture at large or anything like that, so I have faith I can handle that well.

    Do you guys think that would ease your worries, or is there more I should reconsider? Right now the game is still quite malliable, so I am 100% open to suggestions, or if someone wants to be a consultant on the narrative part to make sure I treat a subject like this with the gravitas it deserves, I’d be thankful.

    New titles I’m considering: Highway of the Lost, Augier’s Peak, The Forsaken. Any other suggestions are welcomed.

    I hope this is a good solution, and if anyone want to discuss anything related to this or trade thoughts on the subject, feel free to comment or email me.

    Regarding the feedback on game-specific stuff like art and GUI: thanks too for the kind words and the constructive criticism, I will respond more in-depth to those things once the matter of the story and subject has been resolved. I won’t move forward with those things too much until I know people are content with the new direction.

    Thanks,
    ~Tim

    • Yogurt says:

      Hi Tim:

      I’ve had the chance to play the demo now. I enjoyed the art style, the time pressure of the dialogue, and the easy movement between locations. Putting us in the role of the murderer in the opening is an effective and creepy start.

      However, the Canadian references seem decorative, just a costume for the story you want to tell, and many people will find that distasteful, given the painful real history. The references seem uninformed in places. For example, “Vancouver, Canada” is a city, and it has nothing to do with this story. The region you’re describing is a province called British Columbia.

      It felt weird to have a native person immediately explain what his name meant in English. He was unusually mystical too. By the way, Adoette is a Kiowa/Great Plains girl’s name (admittedly I had to look it up).

      I will give you a pass on the occasional “eh” in dialogue, because I do say that every day.

      Using “ridiculous” to describe the number of missing women strikes the wrong emotional note. When someone has a ridiculous number of something, there is an element of humour or absurdity to it — “I have a ridiculous number of ceramic frogs” — that’s not present here.

      Suggestions:

      Any story about missing women in the Pacific Northwest, especially along a rural highway, is going to draw connections that will set a very high bar for your game. It’s not impossible to tell a story or write a game about the Highway of Tears, but missteps are so easy to make, and people will get angry about anything that could be seen as exploitation or appropriation.

      Consider changing the story of the murders in your game so that it doesn’t bring up associations with the Highway of Tears.

      Does it matter for the game that the murders happen along a highway? If they were connected to something else — a lake or town or mountain pass, then the association to the real murders would be less blatant. You’d want to use a different map than Highway 16’s Burns Lake.

      Does it have to be a string of sexual murders? If the victims weren’t all young women, you’d have more freedom to tell your own story.

      Also, right now, the game’s story seems to be about a rash of recent disappearances, rather than a long intermittent history of 40+ years. Adoette talks about how people are changing their behaviour, for example. And maybe that’s the story you want to tell: a series of murders are shaking a community and this journalist wants to look into it. If you want a historical connection (in the story), then maybe there was a similar series of murders 50 years ago and 50 years before that. This opens the door to your supernatural element.

      Thanks for being open to the concerns expressed in the comments here. Best of luck with your game!

      • hedgefield says:

        Thank you for your advice Yogurt. When you put it that way it sounds logical to disconnect it from the highway aspect aswell, which I agree is a stronger departure than just changing the name. The fact that it takes place around a highway is indeed not important for the story.

        I’d love to talk more with you about the subject since you probably know a lot more than I do, but I’m typing this from an iphone as my internet is om the fritz so I’ll keep it brief :) I just wanted to remark that by mentioning Vancouver I meant the situation in the downtown eastside, a place of crime and prostitution where Pickton was active as a serial killer (or at least his victims came from there). Pickton was one of the first cases I read about, along with Bobby Jack Fowler, and what got me interested in finding out the history of this region. If you feel like discussing the things you think I need to learn more about, you’re always welcome to email me at hello@timhengeveld.com

        Could you specify where I used the word ‘ridiculous’? I don’t entirely recall, (in the dossier?) but I will remove that.

        And a good point about expanding the diversity of the victims! I remember that I originally had a story where the victims were both male and female, but had to drop that because all of the Highway victims are female. Thanks for that suggestion, that will make the story stronger.

        • Yogurt says:

          The “Vancouver, Canada” part is actually in the game. It’s onscreen text near the start of the game, where it establishes the setting.

          “Ridiculous” appears after the opening sequence where there’s a white-text-on-black card that explains how part of Highway 16 is known as Highway of Tears, and why.

          Thanks for the reply!

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    Melody says:

    Care to expand on why you think it’s insensitive?
    Because from how you’ve worded it, it seems it’s insensitive only because it’s tackling a serious subject matter, rather than because it may have handled it poorly.

    (thanks, benzoate, I didn’t know that ^_^)

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    Melody says:

    Even if what you say was true, that’d be plagiarism (or unauthorized use of copyrighted material, etc), and would have nothing to do with insensitive handling of a delicate subject matter.

  23. WiggumEsquilax says:

    As a male, I won’t pretend to speak for women. But as a Canadian, there’s been a LOT of evidence surfacing, thanks heavily to the CBC (our crown corporation broadcaster), that literally hundreds of aboriginal women have been getting picked off.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/grassroots-database-launched-for-missing-murdered-native-women-1.2710313

    The rate of aboriginal (first nations) women being killed, 528 women between 2000 and 2008 was, 10% of Canada’s murders. Aboriginal women comprise 3% of Canada’s population.

    The very rural population of the affected areas has made it difficult to track crime. Or even know that a kidnapping has taken place. What’s more, Canadian aboriginals tend to NOT get along with government personnel, never mind provincial/federal police.

    Too many land thefts, forced relocations, broken promises, frequently horrible elementary and high school conditions, and casual disregard for aboriginal medical well-being over the centuries from the government. Too much federal money going missing in the last few decades, due to complete absence of accountants keeping track of where funding provided to first nations is being spent; to the tune of billions of dollars lost. Problems which now fuel each other.

    With no-one caring what happens to a few rural aboriginal women, it appears to have been open season for serial killers/rapists, for at least the last couple of decades.

    As long as the game gives the subject matter it’s deserved respect, I don’t see a problem. I actually encourage drawing attention to the subject matter. If, however, it’s a spiritual successor to Full Throttle (and it probably isn’t, admittedly), then there will be a -very- big problem. From me personally, if necessary.

    Maybe I should play the demo rather than making unsubstantiated assertions. Nah.

  24. WiggumEsquilax says:

    Whoops, wall of downer text.
    Next time I summarize.

  25. Tukuturi says:

    I am seriously skeptical of this being treated with the maturity and sensitivity that it requires. The fact that it’s being made by a white Dutch male designer writing for a black Canadian female protagonist and apparently dealing with Haida culture as a kind of curio doesn’t inspire much confidence.

  26. Tukuturi says:

    I am seriously skeptical of this being treated with the maturity and sensitivity that it requires. The fact that it’s being made by a white Dutch male designer writing for a black Canadian female protagonist and apparently dealing with Haida culture as a kind of curio doesn’t inspire much confidence.

  27. roryok says:

    Jesus. 528?

  28. FFabian says:

    Sounds like some sort of inverse-racism: Because he is a white dutchman he can’t handle difficult “black” topics?

  29. Tukuturi says:

    I don’t think that’s the case, but when someone from a dominant culture is writing in the voice of someone from a traditionally subordinate culture, it tends to usurp the actual voice of the latter in a kind of literary colonialism. Also, it runs the risk of coming across as mocking. I think it’s generally better, in games as in other forms of expression, for people to tell their own stories in their own voices.

  30. willy359 says:

    I wrote a novel a few years back that heavily involved a Canadian native culture not my own. The only practical approach, I think, is to say, “I’m going to write a human story in a human voice,” and then do that. The rest takes care of itself.