Hearld, an Interactive Drama
I came across Heard and Wispfire studios when Nick Witsel the Narrative Designer and Producer of Herald began following me on Twitter. Admittedly, I brushed the game off because I was so busy with other games from bigger AAA developers and publishers. Herald frequently came up in discussions about games embracing diversity such as race, gender and sexuality in video games. My interest was peaked by the diverse cast of characters on the high seas. Typically, the protagonist is a white character but here, Devan Rensburg the main protagonist is a multiracial man, working as a steward onboard the HLV Herald. As a multiracial woman I was eager to play the game after I learned of this. It would be nice to play a character that was developed to look like me, that I didn’t have to customize. This lead me to take the leap and try out the demo from their Kickstarter page. Don’t worry the game is funded and expected to release some time in Q2 2016!
From the website: “Herald is an interactive period drama that plays as a mix between a visual novel and a point-and-click adventure game. You are Devan Rensburg, a man who struggles with his mixed heritage. As steward of the HLV Herald, it’s your job to take care of all the passengers, be they rich or poor, important or downtrodden. Set during a time of great inequality and injustice, players are given the choice how to deal with various dilemmas resulting from 19th-century colonialism.”
Race, class, and religion are the heart of this game. Set in an alternate version of the 19th Century the player must navigate the world as Devan. The player will find themselves immersed in dramatic backstory and a completely character driven game. What I like best about this game was the change in making a multiracial character, who suffers with his identity and his place in the world. Devan could be extremely flawed if the player allows him to go down that path. The player is faced with the choice and the choices are reflected in the gameplay. This choice allows for character development and as such the player can determine the type of person they want Deven to be. Deven can turn into a sympathetic protagonist understanding the plight of the others suffering racial injustices around him. Additionally, he can change into a hardened man, uncaring about the racial disparity on the ship. Although, with the demo there isn’t much revealed you learn a little bit about the Captain of the ship and another character that is a non-white officer who stole a gun. The story promises a dynamic plot and will keep players interested in the characters relationships.
The game is your standard point and click game, where the player must navigate the mostly confined space of the HLV Herald. There is nothing revolutionary or novel about the actual gameplay, although it pushes towards more of a visual novel than a point and click game. The game is full of dialogue. Typical of point and click games a journal provides clues to solving puzzles and keeping track of dialog, characters, maps, and places. The game feels much more like a visual novel if the game continues this way the visual novel will become more apparent than the point and click. I hope there is voice acting the in the full version of the game, I understand it won’t make or break the game but I do enjoy voice over.
Wispfire created a beautiful hand painted world for the player to explore, mixing 2D animated portraits with 3D environments. The character tiles are cleaner than the clickable screen. The main gameplay area seems slightly blocky to me but, it didn’t take away from the game, it just made me remember older games. The real star of the game is in the character tiles. They are clean and well animated and make mostly human movements. The entire games takes place on the ship and attention is given to each detail of the ship from the clickable items to static backgrounds.
Overall, I think Wispfire is pushing the boundaries of the gaming world by diving so deeply into a highly sensitive topic. Now more than ever is a great time for video games to embrace diversity and realize that more than just one type of gamer. With more games taking steps to show diversity I think this game might certainly be the game carrying the torch. Wispfire does not sell the game short and focusing the entire game on characters. Asking the player to question everything they know about race, religion and class. It is certainly worth the preorder on their website. You will be nothing less than impressed, I certainly was.