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Lifestream Preview

by Eric Arevalo, game reviewer and beta tester

An indie developer with a mission

It has been quite a long time since a game has kept me playing through the night until the sun rises the next day. Very few games have the power to demand all of my attention, since I tend to get distracted by all the games that I play at any given time. A rare game has recently appeared that did just that–an interactive fiction game by indie developer Christopher Brendel and his company, Unimatrix Productions.  Unimatrix Productions is a very small company made up of three individuals, and I am very amazed after seeing Lifestream what a small indie developer can do with a limited budget and team. I have always been such a huge supporter of indie games, the passion that indie developers have in making them, and especially those indie developers that produce games that stand out from the others. Unimatrix is one of the indie developers you should definitely keep an eye on as they release Lifestream and other games in the future.

Lifestream, currently in beta testing, is the first interactive fiction game that will be released in April from Unimatrix. It is the first of many games that are scheduled to come out this year, utilizing the engine that they created, known as Storycentric Worlds. It is an engine that has been in development for many years, and it will allow other developers to make their own interactive fiction games just like Lifestream. Unimatrix Productions is definitely on a mission with Lifestream and their Storycentric Worlds Engine. They want to change your mind as to how you view and play text-based adventures, and they have definitely changed my mind about them. Lifestream is an interactive fiction game…but before we delve into what Lifestream is as a game, it is very important to first see what interactive fiction games are all about and how Unimatrix hopes to revolutionize this genre of gaming!

A new direction in interactive fiction

Lifestream is an interactive fiction adventure game (also referred to as a text-based adventure) in which story is one of its most important aspects. Today, story is one of the last areas worked on in many games, but that is definitely not the case here, as story is front and center in Lifestream–and it is one that will take you on an unforgettable adventure from the moment you start playing until you complete it. When I read about the types of games that are coming from this indie developer utilizing their Storycentric Worlds Engine, I was intrigued because story is going to be of utmost importance, and story is very important to me. A good story is what motivates me to play any game today, and if that fails I tend to go to another game that will give me a story that matters to me.

When I read that this game was going to be a text-based adventure game I assumed that it would be similar to regular text based adventures of the past that did not interest me as much, since they were simply games with nothing but text–no art, no sound effects, no music, and almost no interface. They told a good story, and I always wanted to keep trying them, but the lack of many of the modern things seen in other games that I could not do without.

I was proven very wrong when I recently tried a beta version of Lifestream, and it made me a believer as to the mission that Unimatrix has set out to accomplish with their games. Lifestream is definitely a new direction in interactive fiction games that will merge the best of classic text-based adventures with a very slick and well-constructed interface, beautiful art of the many locations that you visit, beautiful character portraits that remind me of classic Sierra games, a well-designed compass that helps you navigate through the game, awesome music and sound effects, and (above all) a story that is well-crafted and full of suspense and mystery. Hopefully, Lifestream will have you truly understanding why story is so very important in games. But what is Lifestream, you may ask? Let me take you on a worthwhile journey as we explore the many reasons why you should buy this game in April and why Lifestream is truly a new direction in interactive fiction!

Lifestream - An amazing interactive fiction adventure that sets a new trend

An unforgettable story full of mystery and suspense

Lifestream is the story of a young man named John who goes on an amazing adventure full of suspense, mysteries, and revelations to find his father who has gone missing. Even more interesting is the fact that John’s father is a local priest named Father Randolph who works at a nearby parish. You learn at the beginning of the game that Father Randolph had been researching something known as the Lifestream before he went missing. The Lifestream had become such an obsession to Father Randolph that it had taken over his entire life. There is also a secret, very dangerous, and ancient brotherhood that you eventually learn about whose mission is to protect the secrets of the Lifestream…but to reveal what the Lifestream is here would be to give away a very important story element of the game.

Once you learn the revelations of the Lifestream, you will understand why it needs to be protected and why Father Randolph had become so obsessed with researching it. But there are others who wish to possess the secrets of the Lifestream, and they will do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission! Combine a mysterious and ancient secret, a son searching for his father, a brotherhood that will stop at nothing to protect its secrets, and you have the makings of a grand story that will easily take over 8 hours to complete and even many more hours if your obsessed with finding everything in the game like I was.

In the game, you play as two separate characters: John and Father Randolph. As John, your mission is to search for clues as to what happened to your father. At the very beginning of the game, you visit the Victorian house where you grew up (and the last known location of Father Randolph) in search any clues as to what may have happened to him. The game is divided into many different chapters like any great story should be. It is definitely a big game to tell a grand story, and I do not regret at all the many hours that I spent in playing it. In one chapter, you will play as John as he searches for clues left behind by Father Randolph. Then in the next chapter, you actually get to play as Father Randolph as you research the mysteries of the Lifestream, why he became so obsessed with it, and what ultimately caused him to go missing. You will switch between playing both characters in different chapters throughout the entire game, playing as John in the present and Father Randolph in the past.

I really enjoyed being able to see the game from two different perspectives, that of the son who searches for his father, and that of what happened to Father Randolph as he attempts to learn the dangerous secrets of the Lifestream. This should give you an idea of why I spent so many restless nights enjoying this game, as the story kept getting better and better with each new chapter as the mysteries and events of the Lifestream kept unfolding!

I don’t remember the last game I finished, but I completed the beta of Lifestream, and there are not that many games that have the power to hold my attention for so many days and hours. That is what Unimatrix hopes to accomplish with their games and other games made through their Storycentric Worlds engine: well-crafted stories, where the story really matters and will motivate players to play, complete, and remember them for a very long time to come.

Many other unique elements that make this interactive fiction game stand out

Beyond the very important story element of Lifestream, there are many more elements that appealed to me as a gamer when I played through the beta of this game. As I mentioned earlier, I was not sure what to expect when I first read about this game; but after playing for so many hours, I came away with the realization that they truly have the right idea in how to make these types of games stand out–not only through Lifestream but through the Storycentric Worlds Engine that powers this game and future ones to come.

A very well-designed and modernized interface

As you start the game, you will already see the many different unique elements that stand out. There is the modernized interface that was designed very well and not like the interface of many classic or current text games that severely limit what you can do and how you can play. A game’s interface is another very important element, and I found the one in this game to very easy to use. There is the main game screen in the center where the story unfolds, along with beautiful artwork at the side of the story area, which depicts the area that you are currently in. Then there is an awesome compass near the bottom left of this main center screen that allows you to easily navigate through the game.

Near the bottom right of this main screen is also where your objectives and choices are located. As you play through each area of the game, you will be given choices that you can click on to learn more about the area, inventory items that you can find, as well as puzzles that you can solve. The choices that you will make will sometimes determine how the game plays, and it is interesting to see that sometimes those choices will lead to either positive or negative outcomes.

To the left side of the screen are many individual buttons that will help you as you play the game. There is the inventory screen button, where the items that you find throughout the game will be located, and even a journal screen to read journal entries and other important documents that you find throughout the game. There is also a character button that you can click on that shows your current objective, your character’s portrait, and the points that you have earned through puzzles that you have solved and areas that you have searched.

Remember the glory days of the Sierra adventure games of the past that rewarded you with points for completing all of the various tasks?  Remember their beautiful character portraits? Lifestream has these elements, and it brought back so many fond memories and a huge smile to my face as I completely enjoyed reading through every document, completing every puzzle, and searching every area to get as many points as I could achieve. This game also has 30 achievements that you can work for as you play through the game, which will encourage exploration.  The game even features a bonus scene that will be unlocked if you complete every achievement. The interface stands out in this game. because it has everything you need to help tell a grand story! It is very easy to use, which is not often the case in many games that utilize a very poor interface. I have played many games in the past that had poor interfaces, and it made it difficult to play the game which is why it is great to see an interface where the developer definitely understands what players are looking for.

Artwork that impresses and complements

The game primarily utilizes artwork and text to tell its story, along with great music and sound effects. You would think I would be very disappointed because there are no voices, animations, or videos in this game; but I definitely was not, as there are many other better elements: from the awesome and memorable story, the well-designed interface, fun gameplay, to the beautiful artwork, masterful sound effects, and emotional music that prove that you don’t need them. For me, it does not matter the budget that went into a game’s development, as games that have had millions of dollars poured into them have failed to impress me.  What it takes to grab my attention in games are the elements I just described in Lifestream.

Beautiful artwork in the game is used to depict the various locations you visit, characters you meet or play as, and other elements. I was surprised and very impressed by just how much I enjoyed the art in this game, considering this is from an indie developer with a limited budget. I am very particular about many things, and one of them is the graphics of a game. But the artwork complemented the game very well and set the mood and pace of the story as you explore the many different locations.

At the beginning of every chapter, you will also see cutscenes in the form of artwork and text that move the story forward at a great pace and help the player appreciate and understand the story even more. I was not actually expecting to see the amount of artwork that is in this game, as there are over 150 pieces of original art. All I expected to see before I played the game was text, but I was pleasantly surprised that the amount of artwork in this game helps to enhance the story to a much higher level than I hoped.

Music and sound effects that help to create an awesome atmosphere

As much as I was surprised by the impressive amount of artwork that was included in this indie game, I was also surprised by the amount of sound effects and mood-specific music. Lifestream is definitely an emotional game that will make you feel many different moods as you play through it: happiness, anger, sorrow, suspense, and so many other human reactions. Lifestream creates an awesome atmosphere through the memorable story, the impressive artwork, along with its excellent sound effects and mood-specific music.

Mood-specific music happens in this game as you progress through the many different locations and chapters of this game. When you’re exploring the environment, the game’s music will be light and soft, but when the story calls for it and there is tension and suspense, the tempo and intensity of the music will change to reflect the mood you should be experiencing. Lifestream includes a powerful hour-long soundtrack, and when you play this game yourself you will see how much the music helps you to experience many different emotions that you never expected and allow you to feel the same emotions that John and Father Randolph are feeling themselves in the game!

Sound effects were also something that I honestly was not expecting. In specific moments when the story calls for it, you will hear the click of a secret passage being opened in the house you are exploring or a table that has been thrown in another room, or the sounds that you hear when you have scored points for completing various tasks. Lifestream includes many sound effects for appropriate events that happen in the game and it was just another of the many elements that made this game stand out.

Gameplay that excels and puzzles worth solving

This is an interactive fiction adventure game, but don’t think that you are going to just be reading and doing nothing else. This game has a tremendous amount of gameplay, high replay value, and many diverse and fun puzzles to solve. Gameplay excels in this game because there is so much to do, explore, and find. In this game you will play in many varied locations: as John, you will explore a huge, expansive, and beautiful Victorian home; and as Randolph, you will explores a small town church as well as other locations. You won’t get lost either in this game, as there is the well-designed compass that allows you to navigate and an impressive mapping system that shows the locations you have visited. Some locations will not become available to you until certain points in the game, and you will have to figure out puzzles and mysteries to progress to them.

As an example of the excellent gameplay in this game, there is one area at the very beginning where you will need to find the combination that will open a padlock that blocks entrance into a shed. In that shed are many items that you will need to further progress in the game. In another part of the game you will need to find the ingredients of a potion that will summon a spirit, and yet in another location you will need to fix a broken well so that you can discover if there is anything left behind by your father that was hidden down inside. In yet another area, solving a puzzle involving a piano will be vital in finding a hidden key that opens a locked chest. Father Randolph has hidden many journal entries throughout the Victorian house and surrounding estate for fear that others might learn of the secrets of the Lifestream. As the character John, you must find all of these journal entries and ultimately learn about what has happened to your father…and the revelations you will uncover will definitely be worth it! The puzzles that are included in the game were fun to figure out, relevant to the story and, above all, definitely worth solving.

You will be able to explore so much in this game, find so many different types of inventory items that will be used to solve puzzles in the game, journals left by Father Randolph, important documents that will help you discover the mysteries of the ancient Lifestream, and so much more. There are so many fun and diverse types of puzzles that it truly felt like I was just playing a regular adventure game but told through impressive artwork, text, music and sound effects. There are about 30 achievements to find in this game, over 8 hours of gameplay, along with over 600 points to achieve by exploring everywhere, talking to many different characters which you will meet in the game, completing puzzles, and finding many different  types of items that will help you in your journey. Lifestream is definitely a game that will not disappoint you with its intense and fun gameplay!

An indie developer with a passion and drive to make awesome indie games

Unimatrix Productions is definitely on the right track with both Lifestream and the Storycentric Worlds Engine. Indie developers like Unimatrix that have the passion to make great story-centered games should be applauded for what they can do with a small team and a limited budget, especially when they are able to produce an unforgettable interactive fiction adventure game like Lifestream. In addition, the powerful Storycentric Worlds Engine that the game was made with will allow other developers to make games like Lifestream. Unimatrix mentions on their website that developers will be able to make all types of games with their powerful Storycentric Worlds Engine, from adventure games like Lifestream to mystery, sci-fi, drama, comedy, fantasy, and many others. I am definitely looking forward to other games produced by Unimatrix in the future, as well as the ones that other developers will make with this engine. If Lifestream is any indication from the huge amount of hours that I have played, developers will indeed have a powerful engine to craft their own stories and worlds!

Lifestream sets a new trend and direction in interactive fiction because of the many unique elements that help it stand out from all the others. Lifestream combines the best of what made classic text adventures great along with a well-designed modern interface, an unforgettable story, impressive artwork, great sound effects, and a masterful and emotional soundtrack, along with gameplay that is very fun. The game excels to create an interactive fiction adventure game that you will not regret purchasing! Mark your calendars, as Lifestream will be released in April.

Lifestream is definitely worth waiting for, especially when small indie developers like Unimatrix Productions show us what can be created when a developer puts their heart and passion into a game and, in the process, set a new direction in interactive fiction both through this game and the Storycentric Worlds Engine!


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