We’ve got to hand it to adventures with intriguing settings and nonlinear structures.
Ihave a few credits on games, mostly for composing music. Until recently, I had thought Thimbleweed Park’s ‘HintTron 3000’ would be the strangest, but it seems I’ve outdone myself. Technically, it’s more of a grizzly cameo in Lamplight City, an adventure game by Francisco Gonzalez, of Shardlight and A Golden Wake. I knew the story was going to be dark when I signed up for the weird role, but I was actually a little shocked when I saw how ‘my content’ is presented later in the game. I’ve now played the detectives’ first case...
The game opens with a horse and carriage ride. You’re meeting a florist who has fallen victim to a spate of burglaries. An airship, the HMS Ligeia, drifts optimistically overhead. The city is shrouded by an orange, industrial haze and your partner likes to drink. It’s recognisably rooted in 1844, although probably in an alternate universe. I’m not sure because, even after trying to research the setting, the whimsical technology presented has a kind of arrogant plausibility to it. Can you enlarge plants with aetheric currents? Did people try?
I love that history can be more than you imagined. My grandmother was born in 1910 and she told stories about World War 2 that I’ve never heard, or found referred to, anywhere else. Her sister self-published a memoir which details how the family’s women worked, loved, and lived, in ways I hadn’t even considered. Alternate universes can also challenge the lens through which we view the world. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go may seem grotesque, until you read about the real life trafficking that mirrors the story’s ‘fictional’ tenet.
Again, the presence of an interracial marriage in Lamplight City didn’t
... it is relatively rare for the genre to allow you to fail along the way.
immediately make me think, “Oh, this must be an alternate universe.” I simply became interested in finding out more about the legality and prevalence of this through history, because it’s not hard to imagine people loving each other, regardless of circumstance, through the ages. There’s also commentary on spiritual and medical practices (bloody leeches), that seems to obscure the line between what we ‘know’ people experimented with and where their imagination may have led to, in private.
This ambiguousness suits a detective story and investigative approach. Where a dubious doctor has tranquilised a man from whom you need information, concocting a way to get him right again makes for a good puzzle. Supernatural elements, including in the form of ghostly commentary, might be blamed on trauma and medicine, but in a way that doesn’t quite explain moments of curious insight. Gonzalez cleverly foreshadows events, too. As soon as I ‘looked at’ the airship, I knew what would happen to it later.
So, what cameo role could I possibly play in such a game? I remember a point and click adventure from the early 90s. I can’t tell you what it was, but it was mostly green, black and white, possibly with a grid based inventory. The moment I recall most clearly is finding a touchpad in a basement and realising I needed to cut the hand off a dead body to open the door. As a young teenager, I thought this was the pinnacle of puzzling. I’ve seen severed hands in games since. Now I am one. My credit is ‘Severed Hand Model’. How great is that?
My gruesome appendage isn’t an inventory item, sadly, but it’s interesting to note that the action in Lamplight City often progresses as a result of decision making, in addition to finding and using objects. In fact, I accidentally offended a couple of characters, which appears to lock content. When I failed to find enough evidence to lead to a trial, I willingly contributed to the framing of an innocent man. The game treated these as a valid choices and the story continued. Although the first case is explicit about when you’re ‘failing’, future cases may be less so.
I also remember finishing Laura Bow: The Colonel’s Bequest. I was like, “Cool, that’s that.” And then there was a little cutscene where Laura was floating down the river on a steamer thinking, “Gee, everything that happened was a real shame, best forget it and move on with my life, maybe the police will find the answers.” And I was like, “Wait, what?” The idea that you could finish an adventure game badly was a revelation. Again, I have seen this many times since, but it is relatively rare for the genre to allow you to fail along the way.
I’m pretty proud to have a strange cameo in a game as cleverly structured as Lamplight City, and with such a thought provoking setting. Due for release in September, there will be a number of cases to solve, which seem tied together by an overarching plot, perhaps similar to in The Darkside Detective. It’s definitely one for fans of the adventure genre and branching narrative systems. If you decide to visit this colourful past, made slightly askew, make sure to look for me. I promise I’ll give you a wave.