LudoNarraCon 2021 Is Happening Now! I Played 3 Spooky Demos
LudoNarraCon, the premiere digital convention for narrative games, is on now, running from April 23rd to the 26th. As part of LudoNarraCon, developers have put up demos on Steam and Itch to show off their narrative games, much like last year’s event. I saw that this was happening, and in the interest of not writing 10,000 words, I picked 3 demos that would resonate with horror fans.
Nuts is a nature exploration game. You are a researcher sent into the Melmouth Forest to study the habits of squirrels. The game opens with you in a small travel trailer, stuffed with the supplies you’ll need for your solo research. You’re not completely cut off from the world though, with a very 90’s corded phone to keep you company. You’ll receive calls from the head of your department, who wants those juicy squirrel updates. You’ll also have access to a TV, a fax machine, and a printer to better complete your tasks.
NUTS is a beautiful game, utilizing a minimalist, two tone art style. While playing the game, I couldn’t help but think I was playing a suped-up Gameboy game. This is not a bad thing of course, with the clean lines and simple colors belying a complexity in the model work that I definitely enjoyed. After getting a camera, you place it at the base of tree that has been marked on your GPS. After setting up a camera, you’re free to go back to your trailer and wait for night’ which is when you get to watch your footage. Over 10 days and nights, I followed the habits of a singular squirrel until I found it’s den. What was inside the den is what takes NUTS from curious nature game to outright horror. I’ll let you figure it out for yourself. NUTS is currently available on Steam here, and you can try the demo while LudoNarraCon is happening.
Mind Scanners is a little bit Papers, Please. I love Papers, Please so a new game in that same style is sure to dazzle. The game begins with a note informing you that The Structure has taken your daughter. The Structure is not explained explicitly, but you’re left to assume its a kind of Judge Dread-esque Megacity 1 kind of situation. The note stipulates that only class 3 mind scanners have access to your daughter. This is followed up with a notice that you have been hired as a mind scanner. A mind scanner’s job is to cure mental illness. To do this you have a range of horrifying tools. There is a device that sucks illness out via the patient’s vocal chords, which consists of turning a dial very slowly as the pitch and volume of your patients voice starts as a hum and ends up akin to a scream. It’s all very unsettling stuff.
Completing these “cures” provides you with a small amount of Structure currency, which is good, because you’ll be charged a flat amount at the end of every day. If you fail to pay, you’ll be booted from The Structure. There is a strict time limit each day to travel to, and cure a patient. This timer also acts as a sort of currency for upgrades. Some diseases are better cured with specialized tools, but researching them will cost you some of your precious time. If you fail to cure a citizen before time has run out, you can finish up the next day so long as you’ve made enough to pay your daily upkeep. The demo currently features 4 cases for you to cure, with diseases ranging from Robotosis: valuing robots above humans, to Psychomania: Thinking you can do mind scanning better than a mind scanner. The whole thing is set to a brutal dystopian backdrop featuring a resistance that you can help, and a corporation you can subvert. Available May 20th, 2021 on Steam, with the demo available during LudoNarraCon.
Beacon Pines is a spooky cute isometric adventure game where you play as a deer. The game opens to dulcet acoustic guitar sounds, and focuses on a book. The rest of the demo will be told through narration from the person writing the book, interspersed with gameplay. You play as Luka, a deer. Luka’s dad is dead and his mom has gone missing, but he’s not going to let that put a damper on his summer vacation. Joined by his friend Rolo, who is a tiger, they decide to check out the spooky abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town. With some checking around, you’ll discover “charms” throughout the world. Charms are words or actions that can be used for “turning points”: which are moments in the story where you can branch off depending on your answer.
An early example of this is when you’re explaining to your grandma what you’re doing with Rolo that day. Depending on how thoroughly you’ve checked the world, you’ll have about 3 charms to use. This turning point is fairly inconsequential, so you can answer however you want. As I continued on with the demo I found that some turning points drastically change how the game plays out moving forward. It can end in a sort of fail state, or change up who is in a location and when they’re there. This is all done from, “The Chronicle”: a book carried by Luka that allows you to go back to turning points and provide different answers. Utilizing this system opens up so many different avenues that I’m almost certain I didn’t discover everything the demo had to offer. Beacon Pines does not have a concrete release date yet, but it’s definitely one to keep an eye on and you can try the demo during LudoNarraCon.