Continuing to drip-feed thoughts about games I played at EGX, let's talk about Far From Noise [official site]. It's a gorgeous, ruminative game I found in the Leftfield Collection. It's also one of those games that I thought I might not write about because of how I felt at the end of the demo, but I keep coming back to it so clearly it has stuck with me.
Far From Noise (or at least as far as the demo told me) has you play as an unseen character trapped in a car which is teetering on the edge of a cliff. I say "cliff" but it occurs to me that for most of the game you see the car from behind so the steepness of the drop and whether it's something to worry about is something you're largely taking from the character's worried dialogue.
Speaking of which: your only source of interaction with the game is in choosing dialogue options as the character ponders their predicament. It's an interesting premise because it requires you to slow down your interactions with the game - you can't do the usual thing of constantly pressing buttons and moving about.
It's also lovely to look at. Time passes and different nature makes brief appearances - birds, gusts of wind, a deer - and all the while the sun is slowly sinking over the watery horizon.
Here's the part where I wasn't really gelling with the game, though: there's a magical realist element in the form of a talking deer espousing a kind of "embrace the now" philosophy you might find in a yoga class as you teeter on the edge of the cliff. At points that can be curiously engaging (as in, when it was talking about taking deep breaths I was taking deep breaths as well, altering my own state of relaxation, so that was cool). But then the platitudes started to stack up and the deer started to irk. The dialogue with the character in the car was also starting to grate as sometimes the options didn't quite seem to flow, or there wasn't an option for the avenue I wanted to pursue. I couldn't tell how much of the deer stuff was tongue in cheek. It matters to the extent that it would affect how I feel about the intent of the game, but in that moment, whether it was intended as humourous or not, I found myself becoming really impatient, aching for the demo to finish.
I mean, reading that last paragraph back, the game does try to keep a sense of humour in the situation as a whole - it's not entirely po-faced - so I'm thinking the deer is intended to be a little ridiculous but not to the point of mockery, just absurdity. There's also a chance that the dialogue is supposed to pin you in or restrict you in certain ways to mirror the situation with the car. So the premise is interesting, and despite losing my interest about... two thirds through the demo? the game still provoked thoughts that felt more in line with criticism of other media. It's also a work in progress and very pretty so I'd like to revisit it further along. Especially given the demo didn't include any of the pay-offs mentioned by developer George Bachelor in a previous blog entry so it's really hard to get a sense of whether this was just part of a mood trajectory you go through as you play.
As per the website:
"You're stuck in the car, balancing on the edge of a cliff, unable to move; your only solace and potential saving grace lies in a conversation with a stag. I won't be going into any details about the story or characters, but the conversation will branch off a lot of different ways and the way you play (the conversation you have) will determine the conclusion of the story in a considerable way, with many different conclusions. So the whole game is a conversation, basically. A dramatic, cinematic conversation."
And further to the themes of nature and spirit:
"The conversation mechanic remains the sole interaction, but the themes of the game have grown. Inspired by the transcendentalist writings of John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, themes of nature and soul have become central to the game."
If that tickles your fancy, Far From Noise is over on Steam Greenlight at the moment. Bachelor plans to launch it some time this year.