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May 9, 2023 (Originally posted on Neocities)

LuNaCoDe23, or LudoNarraCon Demos of 2023

When I’m busy with other things, Steam sometimes comes up and is all like “hey go play some demos” and I’m either like “I’m busy” or “fine I’ll play only a few so I can still do other stuff this weekend” and then end up having a writeup take a bit more time after that if I choose the latter, whether or not I publish it before the end of the event. In this case I picked three demos from things I’d heard about prior to make it easy and also because they seemed the most interesting at a glance.

Goodbye Volcano High
This game, which has been weirdly hyped up by Sony for the PS5 but is also planned for other stuff, appears to be a high school drama simulator, not specifically the drama class or whatever it’s called but teen angst in general. Even the band the lead character is in is called “Worm Drama” which feels like a pretty random name. The game acts a bit like that old TV show called Dinosaurs, where it depicts dinosaurs as having a society parallel to the current human one, but instead of a nuclear family gathered around a TV and the dinner table, this is about high school seniors with smartphones doing whatever it is they do, like texting or watching whatever viral things and such. I can imagine this having a depressing ending about the end of the world as well, given it’s been mentioned specifically that a key point of the plot is dealing with the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs as the commonly accepted science goes. Also, instead of puppets and costumes it’s more of a French anime style, which is just what I call Western-made anime-looking styles that just “feel” a certain way, but the developers are actually from Quebec from what I can look up, a notably French province of Canada, so I guess I’m not too far off.

As far as the actual demo, it’s that Telltale style of having up to four directions to make dialogue choices that don’t entirely match up with actual dialogue, sometimes with time limits, and this icon pops up to indicate “whoever the hell is on screen will remember that” or something because people just need immediate feedback on these “choices matter” games instead of figuring it out for themselves. There are also QTEs in a way, but more in the form of a rhythm game that seems to involve a bunch of different types of inputs at once kinda like what that one Miku game looks like at least, but maybe slightly more complicated because of how a bunch of commands will overlap sometimes. Also the dialogue had noticeable pauses between every line as if it had to load every single line at the exact moment it had to play, though I’m running everything on this PC off an SSD that runs decently otherwise. There were even a couple occasions where a line didn’t play at all so there were just subtitles with no matching audio. The audio balancing is also a bit weird sometimes, for instance one scene just had a really loud splort noise twice while the rest was more a normal average volume, including other weird sound effects like a modem taped to a school bell.

I really just checked this one out of curiosity and got about what I expected, so not much interesting to me that I’d follow up on later. Also the demo is certainly focused on console presentation because not only did it require a controller, I had to force quit to exit at the end, because there was no quit button back on the title screen, following the really long black screen after the demo ended at what felt like a random point, because there wasn’t some big “what happens next” moment, just more teen angst and confusion on what they were doing over a weekend.

Sucker for Love: Date to Die For
I’ve heard of the preceding game(s) in this series, and this one’s a new one, now featuring a goat demon, possibly exclusively instead of the multiple interests in the previous game as far as I’ve heard. Having recently played Paradise Killer, I can certainly see that there’s appeal in voluptuous humanoid goats, and I’m kinda wondering how far this is going to go in games and other media. For one thing, there’s the whole Toriel from Undertale thing back when that came out, though in that case it was more the fandom doing the voluptuosity, and in this game and Paradise Killer it’s canon.

The presentation is like a subbed anime displayed on an old tube TV but wider than usual to fit the usual modern flat screen, which becomes a bit messed up if played on a resolution that’s not 16:9 exactly and adds this glitchy mess at the bottom sometimes, usually during dialogue, which makes it harder to read the text. When it’s not doing dialogue, it seems to be able to fit the screen correctly at times. For the record, I have a 1200p monitor as opposed to a 1080p one hooked up to that PC, but same horizontal resolution, and that somehow threw it off instead of letterboxing like the above demo did.

There’s a grid-based movement system for exploring the house to gather items for rituals with a point and click approach on top of it, a bit like those virtual tours of places where clicking on things moves to other rooms or interacts with stuff. It also has an item which is effectively an anti-horny spray bottle, and not having played any previous in this series I’m not sure if it’s a reoccurring thing, but it’s used to skip past segments where the player character is being hit on if it gets uncomfortable. The prompt only came up once though, but I didn’t feel like messing with it as I was wondering if it would have been required to avoid an early game over and was seeing if a bad thing would happen. It didn’t. It was just a weird introduction. I’m also not sure if using it frequently can derail the story either and how branches might go if there are any in the story.

This demo felt a little short but covered the basics I suppose, and I’m not sure how long the actual game will be anyway. Also the visual novel elements are very basic in options, not having text speed or auto advance for voiced lines, but there is a fast forward button.

Times & Galaxy
This one seemed the most interesting to me, partly for being more gameplay focused, even if the gameplay involved is largely just talking to people and finding items in the world, but largely because there’s neat robot and alien designs, and the player character is a robot. Also this was made with people having journalism experience presenting a simplified version of how that job is carried out in several aspects. As a bonus it actually mostly seemed to handle my weird monitor correctly after some fiddling in the settings to toggle the fullscreen.

There is some limited customization for the player robot, mainly picking one of three models, though only one was available in the demo, but they all look cute to me. Then there’s selecting a few colors for the palette, where I went with a CGA-based magenta/cyan/white as that’s just what came to mind, as well as picking from a set of pronouns as that’s been a somewhat recent addition to games.

The home ship has a number of rooms that seem to be there just for the sake of being there, which is interesting enough, plus they’re populated with a number of neat characters of various alien and robot types as well as humans. All the characters are presented in a way that seems to be getting more common, in indie games, the flat animated characters in a 3D environment, though this time the player robot has a backside when moving away from the camera.

The actual assignments seem to be limited to just one room full of more colorful character designs, as well as the player and anyone who tagged along. After investigating enough during an assignment, there’s a basic article assembler to fill out that includes the core parts from the headline to some flavor text, and this determines the spin of the article, and then this in turn determines how well the article goes over and the opinion of the paper from the general public.

There seem to be at least two missions in the demo, both covering different types of assignments, but the second one broke halfway through during a scene transition to advance the plot and the screen was stuck left totally black, but still sounded playable, just not able to see anything except for menus. As this one seemed the most interesting, hopefully all those weird bugs get patched before release, but it seems like it’s not due to come out for another year, so I’ll just have to keep this on the radar for a while.

So that was a set of demos I had time to briefly go over. At least some interesting developments on the indie side of things even if the demos are a bit rough in spots, but some are also pretty early so hopefully plenty of time to smooth things out.

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