Homesick, video game, box art, window, table, chairs, grass, flowers, abandoned, old. petals

Preview: Homesick

The Kickstarter campaign for Lucky Pause’s adventure Homesick was Kim’s first experience with crowdfunding. Has the small team been able to pull off their ambitious project?

Title overview

Name: Homesick
Developer: Lucky Pause
Publisher: Lucky Pause
Release date: May 2015
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: PC
More information: Official website

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Kim says…

I first came across Homesick shortly after starting the original 1001Up website back in February 2013 and it has come to hold a special place in my heart even before release. Its description as bringing ‘a beautiful 3D world and a first-person perspective to the great point-and-click adventure game genre’ and a promotional video citing some of my favourite classic titles as inspiration resulted in it being the first Kickstarter project I ever backed, and I’ve been following its progress closely since the campaign was launched over two years ago.

Unfortunately the road hasn’t been smooth for Lucky Pause’s starting project. The small team were involved in a copyright dispute with original composer Joy Autumn in late 2013; in an interview in January 2014, Creative Director Barrett Meeker told us with regard to the crowdfunding campaign: “I would say our biggest challenge was that we were just figuring it all out as we went along”; and raising enough funds to reach three stretch goals has caused the game’s scope to grow from the original plan. The proposed release date of July 2013 has long since passed.

But points go to Barrett and Communications Director Morgan Wyenn for keeping their backers updated along the way, and the screenshots they’ve provided on a regular basis have looked amazing. Now Homesick’s time has come and the title is finally ready to be released tomorrow on 28 May 2015. As a Kickstarter backer I was lucky enough to receive my Steam key last week and spent a couple of hours over the weekend immersed in Lucky Pause’s world, as you can see from my gameplay video below; but has it been worth the wait?

As Homesick begins, players find themselves waking on a bed in a decaying room with bright sunlight streaming through the windows. There’s no explanation as to who you are, why you’re here and alone, and where you actually are. Old letters and crumbling books scattered around the environment could provide clues if only you could make sense of the unfamiliar writing, and a peak outside could help you get your bearings but the light is too bright for your eyes. There’s only one thing for it: to leave this room and explore the world around you.

We tried to prise details about the plot from Barrett during our interview but weren’t successful: “The story will be revealed as you play the game, which I think will be part of the fun of the game overall. So I don’t want to ruin it by giving it away!” The official website explains that it’s necessary to ‘find the remnants of the building’s inhabitants to discover who you are, what happened, and what you need to do, as you try to escape in both your nightmares and the waking world’.

This lack of hand-holding totally suits the title’s atmosphere and adds to an abandoned feeling that encourages the player to discover further secrets about the world around them. So far I’ve entered a number of rooms outside of my starting point including what appear to be a library, nursery and sports hall, among other locations; is this an old hospital, boarding school, a sanatorium or something else entirely? During the daytime it’s possible to explore but certain areas are inaccessible either due to the sunlight being too bright or locked doors blocking your way. A safety axe can be found on one of the walls but you’re simply too frail to lift it.

It’s that same feeling you get when scouring the books in Myst’s library for the first time, where you can piece fragments together but none of them make sense just yet.

As mentioned above, documents are scattered throughout the environment but they’re all written in a strange code that’s so far undecipherable. It feels as if the knowledge they contain is so close – almost like a recollection on the borders of your memory that’s just outside of your grasp; that same feeling you get when scouring the books in Myst’s library for the first time, where you can piece fragments together but none of them make sense just yet. I’m hoping we’ll have the opportunity to read Homesick’s documents at some point and that they’ll reveal more about the backstory, but without the need to manually decode each one. Some are pretty long so players will be here for a while if that isn’t the case!

At the beginning of the game we find half of a drawing which shows a stick figure among some blue flowers and it’s clear that these hold significance for the protagonist. Some of the puzzles I’ve encountered so far involve locating a water source so you can water what at first glance appear to be weeds; for example, a bucket can be placed underneath a leak in the ceiling, which can then be widened with a pointy stick. Bringing water to the plants causes them to blossom and petals to float through the air, a gorgeous scene which you can see in the screenshot above.

After the blue flowers have blossomed, an audio queue warns the player of tiredness and advises that it’s time to go to sleep. I’m in two minds over the effects used here: the yawning sound is somewhat over-the-top and has a tendency to break the atmosphere, but a visual clue would have compromised Homesick’s uncluttered interface and so it seems as if it was the right design choice. Once you’ve found somewhere to rest your head and close your eyes, the world around you changes completely and it’s time to face your nightmares.

Homesick, video game, window, shadows, tree, sports hall

By day the rooms around you are peaceful if a little eerie, but by night your surroundings are dark and sinister. Inky black tentacles rise from the floor while screams and shouts can be heard in the distance; and even though I haven’t yet encountered another being, it’s difficult to the feeling that something is right behind you. Text that made no sense earlier now appears as letters in front of your eyes, but you’re unable to read more than a few signs so far; stay still for too long and the tentacles will rise up to consume you but fortunately you’re able to move at twice the speed during darkness to avoid their reach.

During our interview last year Barrett told us that there’s a connection between these day and night worlds: “Certain things you do in one world will affect the other, and both play an important part of the story.” For example, you’ll need to switch on lights during the daytime so you can find your way around at nightfall; and the axe you were too frail to lift earlier is now firmly in your hand so you can strike down locked doors that stand in your way. Unblocking the path causes you to wake from your nightmare so you can continue your exploration during the daylight hours, and calm your pounding heart.

The ‘night mode’ has a completely different feel and the juxtaposition of themes – dark versus light, peace versus fear – takes the game in an interesting direction. I’m looking forward to seeing how Lucky Pause has made use of these worlds, whether the mechanics experienced in both will evolve as the game progresses, and finding out more about the link between the daytime and the protagonist’s nightmares. After approximately two hours with the game, I’ve unlocked the rooms on the starting floor but it feels as if I’ve only just scraped the surface of Homesick’s mysteries.

All of the locations I’ve come across so far have been beautifully-detailed and hold a certain exquisiteness despite their lack of colour.

All of the locations I’ve come across so far have been beautifully-detailed and hold a certain exquisiteness despite their lack of colour. One of my favourites has been the sports hall: once you’ve solved the puzzle and figured out how to get to the water-source, the tree that grows in the centre of the windows provides a shocking flash of green that makes for a lovely contrast to the faded environment. It’s almost as if the blue flowers mentioned above and other plants are a visual representation of the protagonist’s hope. Barrett explained for us last year: “I think the atmosphere is one of the key emotional drivers for the game. Homesick really centres around trying to create a space and atmosphere for you to really soak in and feel.” He has definitely achieved this objective and his talent as an artist shines through.

What I’ve seen of Lucky Pause’s first project so far makes me hopeful. I’ve backed plenty of Kickstarter projects over the past two years and unfortunately they haven’t always lived up to the promises made on their campaign pages; I guess that’s the risk you take when buying into someone’s dream but I really have received some downright shockers! Homesick might just be the one to break that trend however. If you like adventures that combine unique mechanics with plenty of atmosphere, all wrapped up in a gorgeous visual package, then this one is for you.

Nothing I’ve experienced so far has made me doubt that backing this game was the right thing to do, and I can’t wait to see where the rest of it takes the player. It’s hard to believe that this is the work of such a small team; but if Homesick is an example of what they’re able to achieve then Lucky Pause has a bright future ahead of them. You’ll be able to get your hands on the title on Steam from tomorrow but if you can’t wait that long, watch my gameplay video above and make your pre-order via the official website.

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