Let’s cut to the chase because you’re likely busy and I have a short attention span: Spate is described by its developer as being “as much Mario as it is Dear Esther”. This is Dear Esther for those who don’t really keep up with the indie game scene (you’re dead to me). And this is Mar– never mind.
Basically, Spate is a platforming game with oodles of atmosphere, but we all know that that can go either way (see Limbo and then see the disappointing Deadlight). Spate, however, has a number of positive attributes that seem to be steering it in the direction of memorable rather than oh-dear-God-I-want-to-jab-shards-of-rusty-metal-into-my-eyeballs.
The game is being made by Eric Provan who has a background in artwork for the film industry. He’s worked at the Jim Henson Creature Shop (!), Sony Pictures Animation and is now busy at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He’s bringing all this movie knowledge with him to Spate, so expect “things like subliminal messages, color changes to subconsciously affect mood, foreground and background layering to add depth, camera angles that evoke emotion, and provocative story points that include death and drinking.” I’ll take two of them.
Spate follows the noir infused investigation by a Detective Bluth. Unfortunately for our main character, he has a drinking problem and is addicted to absinthe. This is how he numbs the pain brought on by the death of his daughter. I can hear the depressing monologues already.
This drinking problem manifests as a gameplay mechanic. At any point you can get Bluth to whip out a bottle of absinthe and take a swig. In gameplay terms this will allow you to run faster and jump higher, but it will also cause inbred southerner levels of crazy hallucinations. Those hallucinations will alter the game world visually but also physically, which means you’ll likely find yourself drinking a lot in order to reach certain areas. According to Provan, “the mechanic is meant to mirror the emotional seesaw battle of drinking.” Dead kids and alcoholism – heavy days.
The game is set on an island that’s had a string of mysterious disappearances; these disappearances are what Bluth is investigating because nobody else will and he feels he has nothing else left to lose. It’s also been raining for pretty much as long as anyone can remember, which, Provan jokes, makes “Spate the most damp game ever made”. So Bluth’s investigation takes him through this string of bizarre locations which only become more bizarre the more he drinks. It’s that classic “one man’s decent into madness” trope, but there’s no denying that it looks really good, possibly a little emo and very definitely soggy.
The game has a Kickstarter but by now that’s so passé so let’s go to Steam Greenlight instead if you want to profess your interest and intention to purchase this steampunk indie platformer. If you want to read more, then here’s the official website, and recently Joystiq did a rather interesting interview with Provan – find that here.