Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
LudoNarraCon, the online-only digital festival celebrating narrative indie games, has now wrapped up its second-ever event. With it came sales of some great indie titles with a narrative focus, demos for trial and some interesting panels on great topics. Coda, a game that sees players ‘blinking’ through memories is one of the games I got a glimpse of privately. It’s an interesting takeaway of a game. Frankly, it’s one gamers won’t want to miss in the future.
Coda posits a very interesting premise. You awaken in a boat, in a mystical open sea. An anthropomorphic fox is with you and you soon learn you’re on your way to the afterlife. You get a bit chatty with the friendly and coy fox and before long, you’re asked to recount memories of your life. And so, the game follows.
Now you’re experiencing flashes of memories of the character’s life in the game. Each scene and memory is articulated nicely, with limited visibility of the moment in question. There’s darkness all around you, making you blind to all except what the game wants you to see. It feels like a spotlight is cast upon you, performing a stage play of your own life. Care must be taken here, though. Coda uses your webcam on your PC to monitor your eyes. A distracting, ever-ticking metronome will appear to indicate moments you’re being recorded. Blink at the wrong moment and you’re instantly thrust out of the memory and onto the next. Much like memory in our real lives, Coda has one main rule: blink and you’ll miss it.
This was a fun mechanic to even watch as a third party. The streamer that was running through the demo often blinked at inopportune times and joyfully laughed at themselves for the mistake. Coda’s idea here is for you to want to see as much of the story as possible. Naturally, you’ll be challenging yourself and the mechanic. Witnessing this was a delight, and only had me keener to get my hands on the product myself.
There’s more at play here in Coda though. You’re more than just a fly on the wall. Blinking also serves as an action/select button for the game. This allows for other interactivity in the game. Your character in the game is a creative, thus allowing for you to do other activities such as playing a piano, painting or even capture photos, launching you into further memories.
An emotional journey is expected in Coda too. As similar with an individual’s real life, tales that’re heartfelt, funny, thoughtful and even tragic will all be present. Exploration of familial love and loss, and even the experience of living as a tortured artist are all here, and told well. Yes, you can expect it to be a very narrative focused game that’s quite feelsy.
Even as someone who’s not typically a PC gamer, the very existence of Coda excites me. I got the privilege of chatting with Oliver Lewin, Graham Parkes, Will Hellwarth and Bela Messex of GoodbyeWorld Games. We chatted about everything from plans for the game’s future and how they even got a working rig for the game in VR. In regards to the technical challenges that the team faced but also overcame in development. They’re confident in the game, and so they should be.
“The biggest challenge is in designing [Coda] so that the detection performs well no matter the context. If a player is laying down in a poorly lit room with the laptop on their stomach, or if the sun sets and changes the lighting in the room, or if the player moves around a lot…these are all conditions we needed a robust system to account for and recalibrate to. We’re glad to be on the forefront of something new, but we also look forward to more games using unconventional forms of player input.“
Another fantastic element that I noticed in my time viewing the Coda demo is the pairing of narrative themes and gameplay. It’s quite clear that this wedding of the two was important to them too. The Goodbye World Games team spoke to this. “There was a clear sense that in making a game that used blinking as its central mechanic. Memory should be a chief concern thematically, since blinking emphasizes the things you miss as much as it emphasizes the things you see. So we knew that the scenes in the games should be memories and not things happening in ‘real time’.”
Coda is an exciting, gorgeous and near heartbreaking indie I can’t wait to get my hands on. The demo’s ending in particular had me believing Coda was going one way, but instead totally forked into another. I was reeling, to say the least. Examples of showcased games like this are proof once more that LudoNarraCon has been nailing highlighting the importance of narrative games.
LudaNarraCon’s showing of panels may have wrapped up but sales and demos of games on the lineup are still available for the next few days on Steam. Jump in while you still can. While you’re at it, give GoodbyeWorld Games a follow to keep up to date with what the super cool team’s doing with Coda. We know we will.