From its pixel art to its point-and-click interface, Lucy Dreaming looks every inch a LucasArts adventure – but this is a game that literally speaks with a British accent. Title character Lucy is a bright young thing who lives a typical middle-class life in the north of the UK – though there are signs everywhere that things in the family home are ever so slightly askew. Lucy’s brother is permanently holed up in his bedroom, and has a faintly sociopathic streak (throws hamsters out the window, hangs Lucy’s teddy bear from a noose, that sort of thing).
Her mother enjoys shooting various luckless animals as a hobby, as the assorted stuffed heads hanging from the walls attest. Meanwhile, Lucy’s father seems to have disengaged from reality altogether, and appears to spend his waking hours squatting on a yoga mat in the living room, meditating to relaxation tapes.
Such is the backdrop for a playfully surreal adventure, which takes place in Lucy’s day-to-day reality and deep inside her recurring nightmares. Lucy Dreaming is the work of husband-and-wife duo Tom and Emma Hardwidge (full disclosure: Tom Hardwidge is the brother of Ben Hardwidge, editor of Wireframe stablemate Custom PC), and the debut title from their new studio, Tall Story Games. The Hardwidges both come from creative backgrounds (brilliantly, Emma once worked as a set and prop-maker for TV’s Pingu) and now run their own digital agency – and it was at their agency that they made their first point-and-click adventure, Where’s my Cloak?, for a museum in Bath. That project eventually led to Lucy Dreaming – a much larger game, but one that shares the same affection for classic LucasArts adventures, and a quintessentially British sense of humour.
“The humour is very much a consistent theme in the games,” explains Tom Hardwidge. “We needed to avoid any bad language for Where’s my Cloak? as that was aimed at younger players, but the manner in which all of our characters observe and comment on the world has become something of a trademark across the games. I grew up watching Blackadder and Monty Python, and their surreal and sardonic wit has heavily influenced my writing.”
The game’s dream setting allows them to move the story between an unpredictable array of settings, from a haunted house to the depths of space, but tying everything together is a classic assortment of puzzles: the playable demo sees Lucy make creative use of a badminton racket in order to make her pillow comfier. “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as an obscure puzzle,” Hardwidge says. “People talk about ‘moon logic’, where the solution to a puzzle simply cannot be worked out by any reasonable means. For me, any level of obscurity is acceptable as long as you include the right hints and signposts along the way. The situations that Lucy finds herself in are, by definition, obscure. There are scenarios, characters, and objects that, out of context, just don’t make any sense. As the designer of the puzzles, it’s my job to ensure that the player is able to figure it out without resorting to using every item with every other item.”
For the game’s development, the pixel art assets are created in Photoshop (“It does everything I need in terms of the sprites, animation, and backgrounds”), while the environments are built in Visionaire Studio. “It’s a game engine designed specifically for creating 2D and 2.5D point-and-click adventure games,” says Hardwidge. “It offers the functionality you’ll find in the LucasArts classics, as well as more complex interface options, custom scripting, and shaders to create beautiful, modern adventure games.”
With the demo providing a proof of concept, Tall Story Games have turned to Kickstarter to get funding for the full game. As with any crowdfunding campaign, there’s an element of uncertainty involved, and preparing for it has required a considerable amount of research and planning. “We’ve read books, examined blogs, chatted to other developers, and done a lot of second-guessing,” Hardwidge says. “We think we’re ready, but time will tell.”
Assuming it all goes well, though, Tall Story has big plans for Lucy Dreaming, including a fully-voiced track that runs through the entire game – as Hardwidge points out, there over 1000 lines of dialogue in the demo alone. And speaking of the demo, readers should look out for a hidden surprise tucked away in its campaign. “It’s worth mentioning that, as a prequel, the demo contains completely unique puzzles and no spoilers for the full game,” Hardwidge explains. “There’s also a competition running until later this year – if you find the hidden Easter egg in the demo, you could win a starring role as an NPC in the full game. It’s not easy to find, but there is a logical sequence of events that will lead you to it if you pay close attention.”
The demo’s available now from lucy-dreaming.com, where you’ll also find links to its Kickstarter campaign.