There are quite a number of games where communication with one another is necessary to complete a task, co-op FPS games (Battlefield), MMORPGs (World of Warcraft), and MOBAs (League of Legends). What would happen if the outcome of a game was entirely dependent on how players interacted with each other in that chat system?
As mentioned last week, Cloud Chamber is a game based around real scientific theories of astrophysics and nanoparticles, and uses a Reddit-inspired chat system to foster a discussion about the story being presented through videos and documents; discussion is necessary to succeed, and contributions must be made by all. In Cloud Chamber, contribution by players must come in the form of original comments, replies, or votes on previous players’ comments. Your comments are rated, and the highest-rated comments are the most influential, allowing those players to have more access to a greater number of clues. Because of the human element, there’s some potential for things to go wrong, and indeed, even with the small group I interacted with while playing, there were already unhelpful/questionable comments being posted in the game’s chat system. While they didn’t detract from the gameplay, it may be a harbinger of things to come in a wider release. This is a risk taken with any social media, however, and may just present more of a challenge to some players.
As a result of this, an offline single-player mode where you could just explore at your leisure would be nice, particularly for people who are interested in the story and the science, but may not be particularly adept at communication with others. While this would yield a similar playing experience to Gone Home, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As it is, you must create a login with your email address and a password in order to play. This may make some folks uncomfortable, so just be aware of that.
Cloud Chamber has 10 levels with a number of “nodes,” or sections of information/interaction, contained within. Each node has a video or a document, and every single one contains at least a small part of vital information. The video is part of a documentary that was being made about The Petersen Institute, where Kathleen Petersen is being trained by her father, Gustav, to take over the business. Kathleen seems to be following in her mother’s footsteps – Ingrid Petersen found a strange signal and went insane trying to decipher it, before dying under mysterious circumstances. Early in the game, players see Kathleen becoming unhinged at the thought of the signal and how it affected her mother, and quickly thereafter find out that Kathleen has gone missing. Why is she missing? Where did she go? Is she still alive? This is the mystery you must solve.
The music, sounds, and video clips are extremely well-done. The music is categorized as EDM (electronic dance music), and there is an option to mute it, if you’d like (though I would advise against muting). The videos, even with the glitches that add tension to the story, are well-acted (particularly for a video game) and contain key points in a way that’s not in-your-face; you must watch and consider them, forcing viewer engagement without being heavy-handed about it. While some of the chemistry between the characters is stilted, this also feels natural, somehow, given the subject matter. The documents contain key words that pertain to real-world scientific theories and controversies, and while you might be able to figure out what’s going on without looking any of them up, you’d be missing out on a pretty cool story if you ignored them. Navigation is a very simple point-and-click system, using ESC for menu options. The landscape you travel on your journey to glean more information is very pretty, with dynamic interaction through topography to give visual clues as to the importance of the items you must examine. Everything is explained very well as you play, so no confusion should arise, there.
While no price has been announced as of yet, the uniqueness of this game’s interaction system, and the level of deep understanding that’s possible (thereby extending play time) leads me to think that it will likely be worth picking up at whatever price they set (within reason, of course). Replayability depends on how in-depth your first playthrough was, and whether you want to interact with a new group of people or not. For science geeks, social media mavens,and casual gamers who like puzzles, Cloud Chamber is a game to anticipate, for sure. It will be released on Steam sometime July 2014.