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Bone Voyage is a Colourful Seafaring Adventure — Friday Freebies Club

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Group projects were my worst nightmare back in university. Coordinating schedules with people I didn’t know very well, the uneven division of labour, awkward oral presentations, and a generally sub-par end result made these projects the least favourite part of my studying days. Breda University of Applied Sciences must be taking a different approach in this necessary evil of higher education, as Bone Voyage, the title created by a group of Breda students dubbed Team Cobblestone, is a charming swashbuckling adventure with a high level of polish and attention to detail. While a few rough edges are still present in the title, this throwback to old-school adventure gaming is well worth a look.

Bone Voyage centres around Arthur, a man who has recently passed away. Waking up floating upon the ocean, he is scooped up onto the vessel of Captain Murray, a ship manned entirely by a cheerful crew of skeletons. Discovering he has become a skeleton himself, Arthur searches through the ship to find out if there is any way he can return to the land of the living, making friends and solving puzzles along the way.

As an ode to adventure games of the past, the gameplay in Bone Voyage revolves around communicating with other characters and helping them resolve an issue. Chris the crab is addicted to the knowledge found on bottle caps and needs Arthur’s longer reach to help find them. Steve Seagull will give gameplay advice, but only if Arthur brings him a cooked fish, which will require catching the fish and finding someone to cook it.

The puzzling is pretty straightforward, with a focus on conversation chains where helping one character get an item will help the next. The process is perhaps a bit too linear and would be made more dynamic by utilising something like the rule-of-threes present in old school LucasArts games. For example, in the original Monkey Island, for protagonist Guybrush Threepwood to achieve his dream of becoming a pirate, he had to prove his skills in sword fighting, thievery, and treasure hunting. These goals can be tackled in any order, allowing the player to step away and try something else if they get stuck. In Bone Voyage, on the other hand, the only puzzle available at a time is the current one. While getting stuck is rarely an issue, offering more choice in what to do would result in more dynamic gameplay.

An interesting twist to the formula Bone Voyage introduces is how Arthur moves around the world. As a skeleton, he can pull off an arm grab something out of reach, or pop his head off to explore small spaces. I love the idea, but in practice, the free-roaming head caused some problems, with the vent system being frustrating to navigate and the small size of the head causing it to get stuck in the ship’s geometry. I was unable to finish the game because of this problem, unfortunately, because Arthur’s head got stuck in a cabinet while trying to snoop around the captain’s room. A ‘return head to body’ button would be helpful in avoiding this problem.

The Steam page cites partial controller support for Bone Voyage, and for the most part, it works. The tutorial omits controller explanations, but the inputs can be found in the pause menu. While most of the game can be played with a controller, code entering scenes only work with a mouse, and the camera is much too sensitive for the control stick, particularly in the tight vent sections. Adding a look sensitivity option would be helpful. A toggle for running would also be a better choice than holding down the left stick, which can become uncomfortable after a while.

While the game had a few issues with the controls, I was absolutely blown away by the presentation. The models are just beautiful, a colourful cel-shaded interpretation of the afterlife. The wind passes by in curly white gusts, and each character looks distinct despite their boney appearance. The style reminds me of Rare back in their prime, with larger-than-life characters, stylish transitions between scenes, and cheesy but enjoyable humour. The script has a few typos, with the smooth-talking Jazz using his music to ‘woe’ the ladies, but nothing to the point of confusion.

The music of Bone Voyage is similarly impressive, big stirring off-to-adventure type stuff. I was reminded of the type of music Zelda titles feature, that promise of the great unknown.

Overall, I was really impressed with Bone Voyage. The puzzles need a bit more work, and I was disappointed that I was unable to finish the title due to a bug, but the head popping off mechanic was really interesting, and I found the music, art and writing to be top-notch. I’m excited to see what these talented young developers will create in the years to come.

Community Discord user Dismount that Dinosaur also checked out the game:

“I played some of the game, and keeping in mind that it’s free it isn’t bad, in fact, they could probably charge a few pounds for it. The art style and sound effects are nice and ‘cutesy’, but I wish there was voice acting and that the conversations were more dynamic than a speech box and a 2D drawing of the character’s upper half. I always loved the voice acting in old 3D point and clicks (like Syberia or Longest Journey)”.

Thanks for your thoughts, Dismount! Next week, we’ll be taking a look at Mutropolis: Mars Episodes, which is a public speaking simulator in which you have to convince investors to fund your archeological mission on Earth. The game can be picked up on itch.io here. Discussion will be happening in the Discord server, or you can email me.

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Friday Freebies Club

Mutropolis: Mars Episodes Gamifies Public Speaking — Friday Freebies Club

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Mutropolis

The year is 5020. Humanity has abandoned Earth long ago, settling on Mars despite the planet’s barren resources and thin atmosphere. Most people think Earth is better left in the past, little more than a relic of humanity’s beginnings. You, on the other hand, believe you have discovered something of value left back on the old deserted planet – the city of Mutropolis, a glittering monolith filled with old-world treasures like jewels and coffee. Long thought to be a myth, you are confident you have found enough evidence to prove that the fabled city is real. Now all that needs to be done is to convince a group of your peers to fund an investigation to find the city. Stepping up to the podium, the words you choose next will determine the fate of your dream expedition.   

Created by two-person development team Pirita Studio, Mutropolis: Mars Episodes serves as a prologue to Mutropolis, a point-and-click adventure due out later this year. Playing as a roughly fifteen-minute dialogue tree of choices, this bite-size preview gives a good indication of the kind of style and humour the final game will contain, and offers an intriguing glimpse into a strange far-flung future. 

The game begins as the player’s adorable scientist shuffles up to the podium, looking nervously over the crowd. The audience are displayed as a series of dots in the upper left hand corner, which light up green when they like what you say, and turn red when they are less than impressed. Gain the approval of the majority of your audience, and the expedition will be funded. 

Impressing the audience is trickier than one might initially expect. The protagonist has plenty of different evidence he can show, but not only must the right evidence be chosen, the way the information is presented will affect the audience’s reaction too. Will people understand the implications of the dove’s unusual diet? Are they more likely to respond to a stirring call to action about the role of the wind in archaeological research, or should the scientist be more matter-of-fact on the subject? Should he present every piece of evidence he has found on the location of Mutropolis, or only the strongest one to avoid information overload? Each choice will shift the audience’s opinion, and it will probably take a few attempts to understand what these future people desire. My first run-though I was purely factual, which impressed a fraction of the crowd, but not nearly enough to get funding. An entirely over-the-top approach was no good either, however, with only one person supporting me at the end. After a few more tries, the right combination of facts and flashy presentation got me over the line. 

The questions are randomised each time, and some will sway the crowd more than others, with certain questions upsetting the whole crowd if answered incorrectly. Some harsh punishments made sense – forgetting the name of a colleague is a big gaff, but others seemed a bit excessive, like not getting an exact creation date from analysing a jewel. 

I would have liked to see the stress of presenting represented more as well – the incident with mental blanking on a person’s name has absolutely happened to me in the real world, and added tension to what is otherwise a rather calm game. Have all the worst nightmares of performing a presentation included in the randomiser, like dropping notes, the projector malfunctioning, mispronouncing a word and getting called on it, all the sorts of things that make one feel like crawling under a rock. Persevering under tougher conditions would also add more impact to victory. The victory screen could use an overhaul, since at present it only shows whether or not you succeeded at funding your expedition. This would be the perfect spot to play a trailer for the full game. A link for the trailer exists on the main menu, but showing it off more prominently would make sure players who enjoyed the game know that more is to come. 

Despite the simple presentation, Mutropolis: Mars Episodes is overflowing with personality. The scientist character is super cute, reminiscent of the style used in Broken Age, and the information displayed on the slides also has an appealing cartoony appearance. I really liked all the reactions from the crowd, with the future people taking great interest in the dangers of exploring a cactus field and the candy-based diet of early humanity. Sound design is minimal, but suits a quiet presentation environment, with crowd shuffling noises, claps and booing. 

The dialogue is well-written, but suffers from a few translation errors – ‘survivals’ rather than ‘survivors’, ‘mummy’ when referring to human remains in general, and some incorrect usage of plurals. The game has no issues to the point of confusion, but a run through of the script with a native speaker would be beneficial. Another issue to address is the text colour of the crowd’s comments. The colour of a statement changes depending on the speaker, and a few of the colour choices blended in too much with the stage, making it hard to read. Changing out the orange and brown hues for something different would aid immensely in legibility.

Overall, I liked my time with Mutropolis: Mars Episodes. The strange future depicted in the game intrigued me, and using persuasion skills made for an interesting twist in a dialogue-heavy game. I’m looking forward to seeing the full release of Mutropolis later in the year.  

Next week we’ll be taking a look at Magic Mouse, a top-down dungeon crawler set in a fantasy word. The game can be picked up on Steam here. For discussions, visit the Only SP Discord or you can email me here.

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