Best of Rezzed 2015: Knee Deep

After every expo we attend, the 1001Up team choose a title that particularly stood out for them. First up this time is Kim and for her best of Rezzed 2015 she’s picked theatrical adventure Knee Deep.

Title overview

Name: Knee Deep
Developer: Prologue Games
Publisher: Prologue Games
Release date: To be announced
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: Linux, Mac, PC
More information: Official website

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Kim says…

Something most readers probably don’t know about me is that I love the theatre. I had plenty of ballet lessons when I was young (not that I have a modicum of talent, mind you); one of my fondest memories was being taken to Cats when I was about nine-years-old; and I’ve now seen The Woman in Black on six occasions. So when we received a press release at the beginning of March advertising that Knee Deep would be appearing at Rezzed this year, I immediately added to the list of games I wanted to try out at the expo.

Advertised as ‘a theatrical adventure game set in the swamplands of Florida’, it sounded as if it was going to be right up my street. The story unfolds in the backwater town of Cypress Knee, when a washed-up Hollywood actor is found hanging from an iconic tower at the centre of the Chief Roadside’s Wonderland resort. Players investigate this mysterious suicide through the eyes of three characters: cheeky blogger Romana Teague, local newspaper reporter Jack Bellet and cynical private investigator KC Gaddis.

From my limited time with the ‘Romana’ section of the game, I can already tell there are a number of unique things about this adventure. This includes the presentation: it’s inspired by the drama of live theatre and the screen becomes a stage on which the story unfolds. At the beginning players are able to choose between options to ‘silence phone’, ‘tune the orchestra’ and ‘read the playbill’ as they ‘settle in for a night at the theatre’. An announcer warns that there should be no videos or flash photography before the curtains open on the Wonderland resort tower and a spotlight focuses on the dangling corpse of Tag Kern.

Rather than walking off-screen to the next location as is usually the case in adventure games, characters are instead transported to the next ‘scene’ on a moving platform and set-pieces are guided into place. For example, as Romana leaves a police interrogation, the set turns in the background until she’s in a parking lot. She receives a message and pulls out her phone as a screen lowers behind her to display the text; and her anonymous contactor can be seen under a spotlight in the distance with their back turned to the audience.

As a blogger she publishes articles whenever she uncovers something juicy and players are able to ‘choose a spin’ for these. You can go cautious, edgy or tabloid in the approach to your work and the characters around you will act differently depending on which is picked; for example, activist Robert Woodstep may appreciate the attention if you decide to go edgy when reporting on his landmark protest. This seems like a mechanic personal to Romana and her background so I’m interested in seeing how it will be implemented for Bellet and Gaddis in upcoming episodes.

The press release we received stated that Knee Deep is inspired by works such as Kentucky Route Zero and The Wolf Among Us, and Prologue Games is placing the emphasis on dialogue choices here rather than traditional puzzles. Conversations evolve based on decisions made and there are consequences to your actions – according to the official website, these could lead to an investigative breakthrough or in someone getting hurt. Time is displaced as you work to solve the mystery of Ken’s death and characters make references to events which haven’t yet happened onscreen; it’s obvious the town of Cyprus Knee is hiding plenty of secrets.

I noted that the atmosphere reminded me a little of Twin Peaks; not a coincidence, as writer Wes Platt is a fan.

Colin Dwan, owner of Prologue Games, has spent the past nine years creating interactive experiences in both games and marketing. He has spent time on projects such as Fallen Earth and The Last Barfighter, and most recently acted as a consulting engineer and producer with Spark Plug Games on the licensed Firefly Online title. I had the opportunity to chat to him briefly after trying out the demo and noted that its atmosphere reminded me a little of Twin Peaks; not a coincidence he told me, as colleague and writer Wes Platt is a fan.

From my short time with the demo I can’t yet tell whether the ‘theatre’ presentation has any meaning other than being a style choice, but it’s a unique approach to a video game and I’m looking forward to seeing more from the Prologue Games team. It feels as if you’re sitting amongst an audience and this gives a certain sense of detachment from the story. Perhaps this will encourage players to be more ‘aggressive’ with their choices in blog posts and conversations, as the consequences could appear as if they’re happening to somebody else; an interesting idea.

Knee Deep is about characters, nuanced storytelling and the melodrama of swampland Florida, and you’ll have to pull back the curtain and reveal the true story behind this backwater community. The first episode of three is due to be released later this year and we’ll bring you further updates as we receive them. In the meantime, why not head over to the official website where you can pre-order a discounted season pass for all instalments.

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