Episodic games are all the rage these days. From Dontnod’s award-winning Life is Strange to Io Interactive’s Hitman, the format offers many possibilities for developers to expand on content and/or storytelling. The periodic releases also give gamers the opportunity to come together as a community and share strategies and theories as if they were discussing a TV show. To those interested in what the model has to offer, up and coming indie studio Humble Grove will be releasing their debut title, 29, on November 29.
I had the chance to play an early demo where character Bo an Ao play a text-based game with their friends (something in the vein of A Mind Forever Voyaging, except this one has graphics). The short sequence falls right into the game’s premise, where Bo and Ao are in the process of moving out of their flat. Through them—the protagonists— the player gets to explore their place, engage with friends, host BBQs, play video games, or just lay in bed and chat. The text-based game is just as trippy and abstract as 29‘s trailer, where walls phase in and out to reveal different environments. Visually, it’s a simple yet stunning moving piece of art but getting down to its context, the title might get lost in translation.
29 will be the first chapter in a series called No Longer Home, which serves as a semi autobiography of developers Hana Lee and Tom Davison and their experiences. The chill, mysterious, and highly artistic tone of their work is the kind of thing we could only get from developers pouring their hearts out. It’s easy to see No Longer Home becoming one of those obscure classics few people have actually played but everyone knows someone who knows someone who speaks very highly of it. It might struggle to find an audience given how abstract it is, yet it might find devoted fans in a heartbeat.
If I’m being honest, the demo was very short and focused solely on the text-based game. The characters get to interact a bit and through them, we decide the fate of the text-based character, who seems to be in-between places much like our unusual heroes. This short adventure gives an idea of 29’s overall tone and how close the cast is, but it doesn’t quite transmit what it feels like to be Bo an Ao, to be packing up their things and waving their goodbyes.
Character development is a very important aspect of such games whether they have a larger concept or not. If 29‘s demo is anything to go by (and I hope it isn’t), No Longer Home might suffer from a bland story that gets lost in what the protagonists feel instead of who they are. And yeah, sure; Bo and Ao are both trans non-binary and are each moving back in with their parents, but outside of that, we know very little about them. Who exactly are these people? What makes them palpable? How can players relate to them? If anything, the short demo will leave players asking many questions and genuinely wonder who these people are and why we should care about this game.
If no reason for attachment is provided during the course of the final release, it will be very difficult for me and potentially others to remember No Longer Home is a thing—especially because each episode will be released with more than a year between them. There’s no denying that Humble Grove has style and ambition seeing as how 29 is shaping up to be a trippy and abstract title. However, it’s important to give the characters personality just as much as it is to realize the game’s concept. One won’t fare without the other.
29, the first chapter of No Longer Home, comes out on Steam and itch.io on the 29th of November, with further chapters having 12 to 18 months of development time between them.