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Polyptical Discourse: The Kingsport Cases

There’s probably a Greek myth about ambition*, in which a chap of limited means egregiously overreaches and ends up having his face used as Hades’ loofer for the rest of eternity. The Kingsport Cases certainly has its arms extended far and wide, but I’m hoping its fate will be kinder. It’s a Kickstarter project, with an alpha demo, and while the cash target is a mere $20,000, the scope of the game is enormous – Lovecraftian horror with procedurally generated maps, characters and mysteries. Delicious.

While H.P. Sauce Lovecraft may well have been a purse-lipped purveyor of terrible opinions on his fellow humans, I do enjoy the chap’s ideas about cosmic horror, and it’s impossible to deny the influence of his writing on my own thinking and the wider arena of this culture called pop. I’m an admirer of the deeply flawed but atmospheric Dark Corners of the Earth and am surprised, most mornings, by the lack of a sequel, spiritual or otherwise.

The Kingsport Cases, with all of its random elements, may not be that game. The focus on unpredictable stories, characters and maps could create messes rather than mysteries, but the procedural plots are generated from basic blueprints, ensuring the designer and writer can hang the code’s creations from a solid structure.

Will [Kingsport] start to feel the same? Is the game truly infinite? At some point, yes, you will dry up the storylines, locations, and overarching plots. The only things truly infinite are the characters and random maps. But with four planned locations, a minimum of 20 story blueprints in each one, dynamic goals and several divergent paths based off adaptive story-telling, you’d probably have to play through the entire game at least 20 times to see identical content again.

With an estimated 2-3 hours of gameplay per case, meaning 8-12 hours in one playthrough, that’s 160 hours to 240 hours of gameplay before you start to see things playing out exactly the same…That is 8 scripted games worth of average playtime in one product, if the average game’s playtime is roughly 30 hours.

Think contained areas, perhaps with reality-bending extensions and detours, and a focus on investigation rather than running, jumping and punching. And that is precisely what I’d like from a game called The Kingsport cases – mysteries to solve, people to interact with and abominations to discover in the darkness. Hurrah.

The alpha demo is available right now. I haven’t been able to try it because I’ve been stuck on a small raft with an ancient laptop for the last two weeks. This is the first time the tides have carried me within range of a wifi signal.

There are only thirteen days left on the Kickstarter clock and Kingsport still needs almost $15,000 to succeed. I’m charmed by its ambitious attempts to terrify and intrigue me, and perhaps you will feel the same? If so, you could vote for the game on Greenlight, if Gatsby isn’t hogging the damn view, his eyes like drops of sour champagne.

*Maybe just look toward waxy-winged Icarus or the appalling driving of Phaëton. The modern version of Phaëton’s story would star a teenager called Freddy or Percival-Alphonse who, despite his youth, looks almost exactly like Boris Johnson’s haircut. Infuriated that his father – an investment banker/lawyer/cabinet member/judge – won’t let him drive his zippy sports car, the floppy follicular fussbucket throws a tantrum until mummy and daddy acquiesce, then proceeds to lose control almost immediately and is on the verge of ploughing through a crowd of plebs who are queuing for a pasty outside Greggs when an armed policeman intervenes and saves the day.

The lesson is easily understood – never let a non-Euclidean haircut drive a car.

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Adam Smith

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