Monday, January 23, 2017

Danielle's Inferno: To Hell and Back

In this article, game designer Sande Chen takes a look at the game, Danielle's Inferno, from One More Story Games.

Greetings!  So sorry for the delay.  I was not among the souls who boarded Flight 666 bound for HEL on Friday the 13th, but I did get to visit a personal hell of sorts. The 9 levels of hell, to be exact, depicted in Danielle's Inferno, the game adaptation of the short story by Olivia Rivard. Released last December by One More Story Games, Danielle's Inferno was adapted by William Hiles and Blair Leggett using the company's proprietary software, Story Stylus. Luckily, I already had some experience with existential journeys from visiting the Ten Courts of Hell at Haw Par Villa, a Singaporean theme park about Chinese mythology.

Pudding the hellcat

The quirky vision of hell's circles portrayed in Danielle's Inferno is not as gruesome as the Ten Courts of Hell, which (students beware!) vividly prescribed eternal evisceration for exam cheaters and plagiarists.  Rather, aided by no-nonsense spirit animal Pudding, the player descends into the 9 circles of hell of Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery, featuring demon waiters with Poors Light, the Lucifer-approved beer of Hell, and upwardly mobile demon workers ho-humming through BDSM whipping, gluttonous force-feeding, metamorphosing sinners into shit, your basic flaming pyres, and the like. The player must solve a puzzle and get through fart and elimination jokes to get to the next level.

It's a point-and-click adventure, but I would call Danielle's Inferno point-and-click adventure lite, because so much of it is text instead of AWSD action.  It's the next step after a visual novel and seems geared to players who are taking the leap from linear to non-linear media.  For instance, the limbo level gently guides the player through a hidden object clickfest to introduce the basics of what players need to do in further levels, but to the more savvy player, this is rather tiresome, especially when the interface with its inventory and Combine Items functionality clearly indicates that the platform has a lot more potential than a hidden object game.  There is mostly branching narrative that goes to the same outcome no matter the choice, but new conversations open up based on player actions and the branching does lead to additional dialog.  The key to Danielle's Inferno is exploration and that's really where the game shines.

So much of the enjoyment of Danielle's Inferno is from reading item descriptions.  Click on rocks, signs, clouds, whirlpools, oil slicks, etc. The background is full of new surprises. The limited sound effects and music also add ambiance.  I especially enjoyed the puzzle where I had to find Cerberus' doggy toys.  I played detective as I badgered demon waiters for clues.  In a later level, there is a logic puzzle. 

While Danielle's Inferno does not showcase the interactive dialog or the combine items puzzles of a traditional adventure game, the Story Stylus platform has that potential and indeed, there are other games from One More Story Games that go in that direction. Danielle's Inferno is more simple in story structure and may have more text than necessary, but what it does, it does well. For players who enjoy visual novels or point-and-click adventures but want a short complete game to play in an afternoon's time, Danielle's Inferno fills that void.

I would also add that I don't think Danielle's Inferno is appropriate for children. Even though it's mostly text, there are sexual themes and violence. And Hitler.  It's rated age 13+, but parents should play through first and decide.

For teachers who may be interested in using Story Stylus in classrooms to teach Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, check out One More Story Games' pilot program. Games in Ye Olde Classroom.

[Disclaimer:  I received a download code for the game from the developer as a gift. I was not obligated to provide a review. The above is my unbiased opinion. I may have future affiliation with the developers since I am evaluating the platform for my own game development purposes and may be listed on the site as a storyteller.]

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Upcoming Class: Designing Games For Impact

Photo: Lalesh Aldarwish
My class, Designing Games for Impact, continues next Wednesday on January 11.  Last time, we discussed PSAs, social impact games, and the art of persuasive messaging.  This second session will focus on how to deliver emotional impact and create more meaningful games. 

Whether you are an entertainment developer who wants to add another layer to gameplay and story or an activist or educator who wants to reach out through video games, together we'll discuss different methodologies to achieve your goals.

As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, offers Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price. 

The details!
Designing Games For Impact
Date:  Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Time: 6:30-8:30 PM

About Me 

Sande Chen is the co-author of Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform. As a serious games consultant, she helps companies harness the power of video games for non-entertainment purposes. Her career as a writer, producer, and game designer has spanned over 15 years in the game industry. Her game credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus, MMO Hall of Fame inductee Wizard101, and the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher, for which she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing. She has spoken at conferences around the globe, including the Game Developers Conference, Game Education Summit, SXSW Interactive, Serious Play Conference, and the Serious Games Summit D.C.