Last year saw the extremely pretty pitch for adventure Jenny LeClue [official site] perform rather well on Kickstarter. Aiming for $65k, they finished with a whopping $105,797. And they also broke new ground by setting a realistic release date! December of 2016. In fact, they’re looking likely to beat that by quite some months, maybe even close to a year. And in order to demonstrate how far they’ve come already, a short demo version of a portion of the game has been created, and will soon be released into the wild. I had an early peek at it last week, and am delighted to report it’s looking really rather good.
It’s immediately obvious how many artists there are making up the independent team behind Jenny LeClue. It’s ludicrously good looking, 2D hand-painted backgrounds, with absolutely gorgeous animated characters. What’s also revealed in this little snapshot of the game is that the writing could end up being pretty strong too.
The demo that will be put out isn’t going to be wholly representative of the final game. Lots of elements are missing, most notably the promised ability to inspect characters while talking to them, look for clues (such as bugs in their hair, I’m promised) that will influence the conversation as it takes place. But you can already see that this genuinely is an attempt to approach point and click adventures in a fresh way.
The main prong of this is an attempt to avoid the vocabulary of adventures. If you’re me, and there’s only a six percent chance that you are, then you were a child in the 80s, playing text adventures, then graduating onto graphic adventures in the late 80s and 90s. And as part of that generation of games players, you will have learned a secret language. A language where it makes sense to stick the chewing gum to the chicken feather and attach it to a ladder. As a native tongue, when faced with similar puzzles in modern adventures, it comes naturally. But people not of that era, and indeed people who were but didn’t play adventures, such thinking is the absolute gibberish it plainly is. And it’s fair to say that too many contemporary adventures are made by those who grew up with the genre, unable to realise that to most people, they’re barking nonsense. LeClue wants to avoid this entirely.
Instead the focus is to be on telling the story. In the demo build, interactive objects were permanently highlighted with little diamonds. A system that even in the 15 minutes it lasted (the final demo should be twice as long), it managed to get gags out of. The notion being, Jenny has extraordinary detective powers, and these diamonds represent her keen instincts for what to investigate. The game also plans to recognise when you’ve been staring at the same puzzle for too long, and start to introduce in-context clues, nudges, and eventually outright explaining what to do. (I assume, and hope, there will be the option to switch this off, for those of us who enjoy getting stuck.)
In the short section I played, Jenny is attempting to search a study without getting caught, stumbling around in the darkness, seeking light, and avoiding making too much noise. But all from a fairly traditional 2D point and click perspective. What it was really about, however, was demonstrating how the game intends to muck about with storytelling.
There are three main protagonists in LeClue: Jenny, the narrator, and you. The conflict between the first two becomes apparent, with Jenny able to contradict the story being told by the narrating voice. There’s a lovely moment where when trying to use a radio, the narrator points out that Jenny wouldn’t do that, as the noise would attract attention. Click again, and she defies the narrator, causing him umbrage. As the game goes along, apparently the power struggle between the two of them is explored, and potentially the role that you take in it will come into play.
Talking of clicking again, what most stood out to me was something I’ve been wishing adventures would consistently get right for years. In the study in which this segment took place, there was a deer skull on the wall. I “looked” at it, and got an excellent surprise zoom in on its face, eyes lighting up red, and an orchestral sting. A lovely, silly gag. And because I am mean and was trying to find fault, I looked at it again. And blimey, if it didn’t do a variant on the same joke, but with different angles, and a different piece of music. It worked, twice. A third look, and a new gag appeared explaining why she didn’t want to look at the scary thing a third time. Kudos. That’s exemplary. If the game is capable of consistently offering multiple takes on gags, and of blocking off viewing the same joke twice without losing necessary information for the player, then it could really shine.
With strong intentions to break the fourth wall, lots of mysteries for Jenny to solve in the order the player chooses, and the exploration of authorship through how it’s all presented, this is shaping up to look pretty darned interesting. You can make your own impression when the full demo build is released some point around the end of March/beginning of April.