October 12, 2013 8:05 PM | Paul Hack
Nick Yonge's atmospheric science fiction adventure Emerald has met its Kickstarter goal and is tallying up stretch goals now. So far, the number of endings has increased from 6 to 10 and there will be 2 more rooms added to the abandoned starship where the game is set. There's only a few days to go in the campaign and to help make this game bigger and even better. I had a chance to play through the prototype, and I'm more excited about Emerald than ever.
Upon first entering the derelict ship, the corridors are dark and deserted. I took a moment to get used to the controls: The up and down arrows move you forwards and backwards, and the left and right arrows rotate you. You are always situated with your feet towards the bottom of the screen, so rotating has the effect of revolving the entire ship around you. Movement is smooth and a little bit like swimming, and captures what it could feel like to float weightless through a maze. Note that the developer does plan to tweak the controls.
I followed a somewhat visible path, passed some odd square shapes that didn't look like part of the bulkhead, and soon found myself in a chamber with some power and better lighting. It was the control room. I found a terminal and didn't hesitate to reactivate the ship's power. I want to take a moment to point out how nice the terminal interface is. It's easy to read and the way you activate something by holding the spacebar until a small bar fills gives every decision a weightier feeling.
Activating the ship's power gave me access to a map of the ship's layout, which also listed a set of potential objectives for me. There were other systems on the ship that needed to be restored manually, but getting to them would prove to be a challenge. By restoring power to the ship, I had inadvertently activated the automated defense systems. Now I knew what those little squares I had seen before were.
They sit in place, emitting pulses around them in concentric circles. I learned quickly that crossing one of these rings would awaken the defense drone at the center, who would doggedly pursue me until I left the room. There were also stationary guns blindly shooting down corridors, and I had to dart across their line of fire in between bursts of whatever kind of projectile can pierce a person but not a hull.
Honestly, I wasn't expecting the action part of the game to be quite so intense. Fleeing drones with the room spinning around me as I tried to keep my bearings and stay alive got pretty insane at times. Fortunately, if you're hit, you simply respawn where you entered the room. Maybe hit points or a limited shield could alleviate some of the often brutal difficulty.
After activating most systems, I was treated to interactive flashbacks of my time on Earth. Who was I before this? What did I leave behind and why? I got vague, melancholy impressions, but the character's backstory (and that of the ship) will be considerably expanded in the final version.
The decisions I had to make during the course of the game were deliciously tough. Should I risk trying to make it to the relativistic dampener in order to protect myself from the timey-wimey effects of near-lightspeed travel? Should I go ahead and enter a cryogenic preservation chamber and wait for help or press on with the ship's mission? Or is it time to try and turn this thing around and head back home? Your choices ultimately determine which of the game's many endings you get, making the replay value extremely high.
The simple, even abstract graphics, helped by the awesome audio design, really made me feel like I was floating through the drone-patrolled corridors of a mysterious starship, on a lonely, uncertain mission to decide my fate. I felt every missile impact and every weighty decision.
The Emerald prototype is built in Flash, but the game is being rebuilt--and expanded--in Unity. The general style is in place, but there will be more graphical effects and a lot more story. Get in on the action at the Emerald Kickstarter page.