It finally happened. Earlier this week I reached the end of the line with the Nancy Drew adventure game series, playing and finishing Nancy Drew: Sea of Darkness, the last title released in the series so far.
I won’t lie to you, I haven’t played them all. I don’t have some of the earliest entries in the Nancy Drew series, and while I could get them, there are some control and gameplay restrictions with these titles, the first generation of HeR Interactive’s homebrew engine for Nancy Drew, that make these games unattractive to me. From the inability to scroll down with the mouse wheel on the interface to the need to repeat menial actions, such as using a key on a door to open it every time, they’re too clunky.
Mind you, that last thing showed up in Nancy Drew games well up to Shadow at the Water’s Edge, the one I mentioned weeks ago as a title that freaked me out for its phenomenal handling of Japanese horror, but it’s something that in the latest titles they did away with, much to my pleasure. Having known such comforts, going back to older titles is unappealing to be honest.
There are other games in the series that I started playing but left abandoned, mostly because they had “undercover gimmicks” that got on my nerves. In some of the earlier games in the Nancy Drew series, particularly when Nancy is undercover, she’ll have to do some recurring chores to keep up appearances and the games force you to do them, such as cooking for guests at the Icicle lodge or managing a store in Waverly Academy. These activities often carry penalties if you skip them too often, and as focused as I am on the mystery, it gets on my nerves that these activities get in the way.
But now, what’s next? It’s not the end of the road for me with the Nancy Drew series, as there are still a couple of titles I have yet to play which stand in that sweet spot between the older mechanics and the latest entries, such as Trail of the Twister, the game I’m now on. Also, I’ll probably go through a few of the latest games, even if I’ve already finished them, on stream or as a let’s play on YouTube, because I’ll be honest, this series is superb and it deserves much more attention than what it gets.
As for the Nancy Drew series itself, Sea of Darkness is the last game available, but there is a new one on the horizon, though it’s uncertain now just how far away it is.
Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem began as just another game in the series, meant for release some time after Sea of Darkness, which had the announcement trailer before the credits, just as it’s been with every game in the series.
But something changed along the way. HeR Interactive decided to move away from the engine they’d been working on and improving for years and move the development over to Unity. This of course meant a great delay on the release of the new Nancy Drew game. In the past few months, HeR Interactive has offered apologies for the delay but we still don’t know when exactly Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem is coming. As they mentioned on the original letter:
Your suggestions for more expansive environments, better visuals, more compelling story lines, longer game play, more characters and more dangerous situations with player consequences got us thinking, and we agree.
One of the major limiting factors that prevents us from implementing many of these changes is our current proprietary game engine. Thus, we have made the exciting decision to move to a Unity-based platform for our games. However, this move will affect our development schedule resulting in a delay in the release of our next game, Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem. At this time, we can’t confirm an exact launch date, but we hope it will launch sometime in 2016. Even though we have started the process of adapting our games for this platform, it’s not something we can do overnight. Working on Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem is a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us at HeR Interactive. We are creating something we are really proud of and we don’t want to compromise on quality. We promise it will be worth the wait.
Some fans get antsy, a bit desperate and of course pressure HeR Interactive for information on the development process and progress, which is something most developers never want to comment on, as times change wildly, especially when you’re shifting technologies and tool sets.
What most Nancy Drew fans don’t understand are the repercussions of that technology change. The first and critical of them is that any progress on Midnight in Salem had to be scrapped and started anew in Unity, with the old material serving merely as reference. Unity has its own language, its own mechanisms and tools and logic, and thus it’s highly unlikely it would be compatible in any way with a homebrew engine.
Then comes the development of new custom toolsets so that those who have worked on the Nancy Drew games for years can create the content in the game with tools configured to function in familiar ways. Depending on the programming language used in their internal engine, there is also the learning curve for Unity, no matter which supported language they choose: C#, Javacript or Boo.
The greatest challenge though, and related to the previous point is that with new technology and new tools, the developers at HeR Interactive have the unique challenge of creating something new and fresh that will take the Nancy Drew series into the future, while still keeping enough elements in there, particularly in UI and gameplay logic and mechanics that will be instantly familiar to veterans. That’s not easy.
This is even more difficult when you consider the small Unity demo they released near the end of 2015, where they had converted the museum main room from Labyrinth of Lies into Unity. Instead of the point & click movement we’re used to for the series, they opted for free roam and mouse view. For a demo, it’s ok, but they will probably have a few meetings to decide if this control scheme and playstyle matches what fans expect. I’m all for it, mind you, but there are purists out there who will at least expect to have both modes available, like Obduction had.
I don’t see Nancy Drew: Midnight in Salem releasing soon, perhaps not even in 2017. The letter HeR Interactive posted in October 2016 mentioned they were not where they hoped to be in terms of development to commit to a launch window, and based on the above points, it’s understandable and you know what? It’s fine. Let them take their time so they can deliver with the quality we’re expecting.
Still, I can only hope I’m wrong and we have a new Nancy Drew title releasing in 2017. In the meantime, I’ll play the one I have yet to finish and I’ll do my bit to get the series out there, because even among adventure fans it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. At least not from what I can see.
Edit: A few days ago on December 2017, and after a now infamous period of complete silence from Her Interactive, the Nancy Drew developers published a new letter to the fans, letting them know that Midnight in Salem was still on track with a potential release date of 2019. You can find the letter here.
Sadly, the letter contains very few details, specifically the state of the game. It mentions a few of the things I spoke of in this article when I first published it, such as the change in technology, but without anything concrete behind it.
One of the common responses to the letter on social media and the Facebook page in particular is that this was merely a letter meant to appease some of the more rabid fans so they would stop asking about the new game at every instance, such as the Twitch streams.
It’s hard not to agree with that sentiment in the face of Her Interactive’s deafening silence up to this point, as the letter truly doesn’t say much, despite being a few paragraphs long. I think a few more details would have been better, such as the state of the game, perhaps a few screenshots, even concept art. In other words, physical evidence that Midnight in Salem isn’t stuck in some development hell.
I suppose now we’ll have to wait and see if that vague 2019 date becomes a reality or if Her Interactive will then push it back further while still claiming it’s on the way and peddling the previous titles at heftier discounts.