The Tribeca Games Spotlight is one of the few (if any) showcases with no reveals or surprises. Rather, it announces the games in advance and then spends its time taking a good long look at each title. Last year’s was great, as it included Immortality. There are seven games in the spotlight this year. Since there are so few, I’ll be recapping each individually.
A Highland Song
A Highland Song is a narrative adventure game set in the Scottish highlands that follows a teen on her way to the sea for the first time. Her goal is to reach the lighthouse where her uncle lives. She’ll learn the history of the area while having to survive the weather. The game starts at one point and ends at another, but there are all sorts of paths to travel in between.
What the character is doing has to make sense within the narrative. The game is a platformer because it suits the narrative. Her abilities are also realistic: she’ll get hurt if she falls from a great length, needs time of rest to recover stamina, etc. The game’s art is a hand-drawn 2D illustration. The individual elements are hand-painted before being assembled digitally.
A Highland Song will be released for PC via Steam and Nintendo Switch; its current release date is “coming soon.”
Goodbye Volcano High
Goodbye Volcano High’s developer, KO_OP, is a modern studio. It is fully remote and staff vote on decisions that will affect them. The game is a cinematic visual novel about dinosaurs that follows Fang in their final year of high school. But a meteor is coming, and everyone may only have one year left to live. What would you do with one year left? Fang is gearing up for their future as a musician, before then realizing they may not have a future anymore.
The game started out as a dating sim, with the dinosaurs at the end of the world being the hook because it taps into the anxiety of current times. It turned into an anime-type story less focused on dating and more focused on the emotional aspects of the end of the world. Music is really important to the game and the studio, central to the identity of the people who make the game and the game itself. The game’s evolving soundtrack adapts to choices made.
Goodbye Volcano High will be released for PC vis Steam, PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 4 on August 29.
Chants of Sennaar
Chants of Sennaar is an an original adventure based on the myth of Babel. A group pf people tried to build a tower to the sky, angered gods who cursed them with different languages. Players will encounter five different peoples, each with the own cultures and languages. The game is about understanding the reason for division… and perhaps restoring harmony.
The game is mostly an adventure game with some puzzle aspects, also some action and stealth. Players will solve puzzles to understand languauge. They will act as a translator, a diplomat, and even a scientist. Violence does not have to be the way to solve things. Chants of Sennaar is a journey of tolerance and openness. Its artistic direction is inspired by European comics of the ’70s and ’80s.
Chants of Sennaar will be released for PC via Steam, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One on September 5.
Layla is an astronomer who loves looking at the night sky. She’ll have to restore stars back to their constellations. These aren’t western constellations, though: the developers took a lot of care into researching Middle Eastern constellations. These days, people don’t know about constellations or the stories behind them.
The sky is important because of the sky god connection. Layla uses the constellations to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. The game is 2.5D and rather cinematic.
There are 65 million in the Middle East people who play games, but a very sparse amount of developers work with a focus on the Middle Eastern mind. Nightscape changes that.
Stray Gods: The Role-Playing Musical
Stray Gods: The Role Playing Musical may very well be the first of its genre out there. Players take on the role of college dropout Grace, a woman in the modern world who encounters the last of the greek muses who dies in her arms and passes on her powers. Turns out, the gods are alive and well and hidden in the modern world.
Key decisions are made during musical numbers. The songs have branching parts that all link to each other. The developers brought in Broadway talent, so you know the music will be performed well. There is a cast of complex, thoughtful characters; each has the potential to be a favourite. Gaming is about joy, and making games can also be about joy.
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical will be released for PC via Steam on August 3.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series
I’m not thrilled with Telltale after their fiasco a couple years back, but I do support Deck Nine (Life is Strange: True Colours) so this puts me in a bit of an awkward spot. Either way, here we are. The Expanse is a huge IP, spanning from books to a television show and now to a video game that gives players agency – their choices shape the overall story. The story takes place years before the first season of the television show, so it’s kind of a prequel in that sense.
The game was created using motion capture. The emotional performances are enhanced through technology and animators. There are things in the game that aren’t really part of the show, like zero gravity. It comes at the same character through a different medium.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series will be released for PC via Epic, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series, and Xbox One.
Despelote is a slice-of life adventure game that revolves around soccer. It is set in Equador, specifically in Quinto, in 2001 when the country’s soccer team was close to qualifying for the world cup. The country was coming out of a big economic crisis at the time, and all of a sudden they were on the world’s stage. Even non-soccer lovers were excited. The story is told through the eyes of a child kicking around a ball at the park. The first focus is the relationship with the ball; it is less about a match and more about your relationship with the ball and the environment.
The game is 3D to feel physical, but with 2D hand-drawn animation. It has noisy backgrounds but clean characters. All the dialogue is improvised, and all the characters played by people the developers know. The name comes from the word “pelote,” or ball;” “despelote” essentially means a mess.
Despelote will be released for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series in early 2024.