This may be hard for some to remember, but back in the day games had to rely on their stories and mechanics over cutting-edge graphics. Granted, this was mostly due to the graphic limitations of the time. Still, even as technology has evolved our love of sharing stories remains constant. This is certainly the case for indie developer Christopher Brendel. When he started making games, he knew he wanted to focus on their narratives with an emphasis on storytelling over graphics. “I’m not the best artist; I’m a writer at heart, and my primary interests in games lie in their the stories and characters.”
From there, Unimatrix Productions was born. The development team currently consists of Brendel and his fiancée, writer Elle Smith. The two collaborate on the stories and scripts for the games with Brendel doing the programming.
They combined elements of traditional point-and-click adventure titles with different aspects of interactive fiction, gamebooks, and visual novels into a new game engine, aptly named Storycentric Worlds. This “new breed” of text adventures ditches the clunky text parsers and walls of words in favor of an accessible user interface with context-specific choices. The stories here have darker undercurrents and surprisingly subversive themes and supernatural elements.
Crafting The Story Web
Unimatrix has since released three titles in their Storycentric Worlds series, with a new one on the way. Each stand-alone game strives to deliver quality storytelling infused with interactive elements to draw the player into the world. There are certain reoccurring elements and characters throughout the overarching stories (all of which are carefully detailed in the series’ spoiler heavy online codex). This grounds the often supernatural tales in their own universe which players can revisit with each new title.
For all this innovation, the games remain rather graphically limited. As such, the developers exercise a good measure of creativity overcoming these obstacles, often with quirky yet clever results. When player feedback prompted a more graphic-heavy format, Brendel rebuilt the game engine to accommodate it. As such it’s possible to watch the series evolve with each new title.
They just released a demo build of their newest game, Stonewall Penitentiary which scales back on the UI in favor of a more immersive on-screen navigation method. Having struggled a bit with the auto-mapping in Shady Brook, the simplified movement options were much appreciated. This is also the first of their games to feature full voice acting, with mixed results. It would be easy to nitpick the project’s limitations and shortcomings, but it’s far more entertaining to just accept them and move on. The gameplay evokes enough of an old-school aesthetic that it’s easy to overlook such faults and just enjoy the campy delivery. After all, you’re here for the story, not the polygon count. You can appreciate what they’re trying to do, even if they do occasionally miss the mark. Regardless, Stonewall Penitentiary demonstrates a massive leap forward for the engine.
Better With Age
Each game looks and plays better than the last, showing a clear progression of Unimatrix’s story-driven gameplay. According to Brendel, they don’t plan to quit anytime soon. “I already have the next six games outlined and written, and so I’m quite ahead of what’s been released so far in terms of story. I am quite excited to share these stories as the series continues and events begin to fall into place between individual games.”
The first three games of the Storycentric Worlds series are available through Steam and itch.io, as well as iOS and Andriod. You can also download the Stonewall Penitentiary demo ahead of its release later this year.