I love Noir—the style, the tropes, the characters, everything. It’s one of my favourite genres. So when I saw Knee Deep on the Rezzed floor I had to take a shot. Also, someone I know with really good taste in adventures recommended it, so you know, double shot.
I sat down to play it without knowing what I would see as I knew next to nothing about the game. What I got was a theatre play taking place on-screen, with me both the audience and the force behind all the events and character actions.
The game itself will feature three characters, each with their own motivations and stakes in the plot, but with several links between them, though they will never work in concert, just meet and perhaps compare notes. For the Demo, we saw the first character, Romana Teague, a blogger for a news-site. What she’s done will depend on your choices but for me she was on the last line with her boss after she hacked the competition’s web page and left some random picture in there to mess with them. Only she got caught doing it. Some of the decisions came while ‘working’ the case and others during the interrogation scenes with the cops, as they asked for what I had done and I just went with my gut. As is often the case with these games, I can’t help but be a good guy and I went for the nicest options available.
The game is character and conversation driven and the only thing you’ll do is talk to people and make choices. I’m not usually a fan of these, because I don’t feel any challenge in them and it puts me off but there was something about Knee Deep that kept me hooked. Maybe it was the desperate reporter or the mysterious suicide of a famous Hollywood actor linked to a creepy cult called The Church of Us. There were scenes with cops accusing me of things that hadn’t happened yet, as the character moved from past to present and back, and it all just made me want to know more. I guess I wanted to know “Why?” which lately I’ve found is important for me. So good job on that, Prologue Games.
When the characters move from one scene to the next, they do so physically. As this is stage play, they’ll leave one ‘set’ and move on to the next, which will then fold open like a pop-up book and reveal the interior. It’s a very clever way to handle the stage play angle. Better yet is the transition between locations and stages. The character, Romana, will stand on a platform and it will take her from one stage to the next, where new locations and investigation points are.
But it’s not only the conversations that affect what happens. As a blogger, Romana needs to put up posts every time she uncovers something and you get the choice of being cautious, edgy or just go full-on tabloid. Characters will react differently to you depending on which ones you choose. One of my article submissions was full-on tabloid rag, sensationalising the death of the actor and the consequences to the film he was working on and the next character I spoke to called me out on it. Then I spoke to the victim’s girlfriend and reported on how her statement conflicted with others and immediately afterwards had a very threatening conversation with the head of the Church of Us. Dude was seriously creepy.
I spoke to Colin Dwan, part of the Prologue Games team, about these consequences and the branching paths and he told me there were both micro-consequences and macro ones. The micro will affect the current scene and conversations while the macro-consequences have greater effects on the progress of the story. According to Colin, your actions can make characters hate you completely or refuse to talk to you ever again.
On the last day of Rezzed I managed to talk to the other member of team there, Wes Platt, the writer behind the story. Turns out the man has a fine appreciation for the classics. When a writer mentions Chinatown as part of his influences, you know they know the good stuff! Beyond the good noir (including Chandler of course) I found a lot of the game comes from Wes’ on experiences as a journalist in Florida, where the game takes place. He mentions he used to report the weird stuff happening around town before Facebook made that a popular thing to do, so he infused the writing with his own experiences, which might be why the characters felt so real.
According to Colin and Wes, what we had on the show floor was just the first segment of the first episode, which will release later this year. The game will feature three episodes of about 3 hours each. You can already preorder it from their site, so go do that!