Last night at our conference room at The Yard, the Circle played host to long time adventure game creator, Dave Gilbert. The affable Gilbert, who resides in Brooklyn where he toils to make his Wadjet Eye productions, sets all of his narrative-rich games in New York City. That includes Unavowed, his latest effort, which has received generally stellar reviews thus far.
In the horror mystery that is Unavowed, you’ll meet demons, monsters and ghosts who lurk around Chinatown, Astor Place, Prospect Heights, Tompkins Square Park – and who even emerge while you’re boating in the East River. “I live here and I love New York City. That’s one reason why I set my games here,” remarks Gilbert as he demos the game for 10 of us.
Ben Chandler, Gilbert’s artist, lives in very rural Australia on a sheep farm. When he’s not making art, you might see him shepherding a large flock. But from the lurid beauty of the artwork, you’d think he was a loyal denizen of the Lower East Side. Chandler has been to New York a few times, and when he doesn’t know an area, “I send him photos,” explains Gilbert. It’s a long distance partnership rife with trust that has worked out very well.
While the game boasts a combination of frights, creepy tension, humor and gore (check out the cop character antics in a nightclub early on), it’s Gilbert’s homage to the gameplay of Mass Effect that has struck a chord. There’s a depth of choice here, like when you pick three characters to join your team. In one moment, you ask, Will the fireball-pitching Eli help me kill the monster fast approaching your speedboat? But you need more than his fireball. Or will the agile Mandana impale him on her sword? But I need more than her sword. (By the way, Logan Cunningham is one of the excellent voice actors in Unavowed. Logan hosted our inaugural New York Game Awards in 2012! and did a terrific job.)
Gilbert and Circle members talk about the work of the great Roberta Williams and then, the supreme difficulty within iconic 90s games like The 7th Guest, which was ground-breaking but daunting. “People tell me that my puzzles are too easy. But I don’t want them to be searching Google to get answers.” That removes them from essence of what Gilbert is trying to do with story.
Once Gilbert was done, we repair to our roof deck to converse casually and sip on vodka. As the crescent moon rises, Gilbert looks down at the Lower East Side melange, a boisterous garbage truck speeding, the goth night revelers, a bottle crashing, the culmination of angst or anger. “I used to live near here,” Gilbert muses. It’s completely right then, that New York City lives in him, and forever in his games.
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Author/journalist Harold Goldberg is the founder of the Circle and the New York Game Awards. Twitter: @haroldgoldberg