Thursday, March 3, 2022

When In Spain: Intruder In Antiquonia

's most recent Next Fest only lasted a week and by the time I noticed it had started it had already been up and running for a couple of days. As I said then, five demos seemed like a reasonable number to get through before it finished but I downloaded seven anyway.

As it turned out, even five would have been optimistic. I only managed to play through three before the gates slammed shut on the last day of February and thanks to the arrival of Guild Wars 2's third expansion, End of Dragons on the same day, so far I've only posted my thoughts about two of them, Albert Wilde: Quantum P.I. and Crowns and Pawns

The third, which I'm going to talk about today, is Intruder in Antiquonia but we'll get to that in a moment. I just wanted to reassure everyone I will still be covering the rest of them, eventually. I checked this morning and three of the links are still in my Steam Library, working, even though the festival is over. The fourth, Children of Silentown, has been removed but the demo itself remains up on the game's Steam page. You don't get off that easily!

So, Intruder in Antiquonia, then. Hmm. This is an odd one but then aren't they all?

One of the more interesting things about playing through a series of game demos in quick succession like this is the way it highlights the choices different developers make about what to promote or withhold. It must be a difficult decision, whether to push what you feel is your strongest suit in the hope of setting the hook or whether to keep the bait out of reach to make it seem even more tempting.

I thought it was strange that the Crowns of Power demo focused so heavily puzzles in a very restricted and everyday environment, when the bigger part of the game's appeal seemed to be reliant on exotic locations, plots and characters. The demo for Intruder in Antiquonia takes almost exactly the opposite approach. Not only are there are no puzzles whatsoever, the introduction specifically warns you it isn't possible to use any items from inventory at all.

What you can do is visit a number of locations and talk at some length to a number of characters as you try to unravel the beginnings of a plot. In theory, given my preferences, I probably ought to have responded more favorably to this approach but I found myself distracted by several factors, some within the control of the developers, others not so much.

I did mention in the first of my Next Fest posts that I thought "Intruder in Antiquonia" was an awkward title. I was basing that mainly on the heavy-handed allusion to "antiquity" in the name of a town known to reject modern technology. What I didn't know then was that the game comes from a Spanish developer, Aruna Studios based in A Coruña. 

That changes things. Firstly, it means all the dialog and text in the game, including the title, is translated. Secondly, it makes the name of the town a more nuanced pun than I realised. In English, "Antiquonia" sounds like the kind of name a very unimaginative children's writer might give to the setting for their dull fantasy novel. In Spanish, it sounds like it might be an actual place. I've stayed in Antequerra several times, for example.

I know Spain very well, having been there maybe thirty times or more since I was a small child, not to mention being, technically although not in any culturally meaningful manner, half Spanish. Ironically, Galicia, the province where Aruna Studios is based, is literally the only part of the Spanish mainland I've never visited.

That may or may not explain another of the distractions that kept me from engaging fully with the demo as I was playing. I've spent a lot of time in a lot of small Spanish towns and I can't remember many of them looking much like Antiquonia. I spent more time than I'm sure the developers intended trying to figure out whether that was because the graphics, which manage to be both extremely detailed yet oddly generic all at the same time, were just not very convincing or whether it might be that small towns in that particular part of Spain, unfamiliar to me, really do look like that.

To make things even more confusing, some of the setting looked more like the Cotswolds villages close to where I live than anything I've ever seen in Spain. It made for a disconcerting experience but one that may be unique to my own particular set of circumstances. It's a truism to say we bring more to art than we take from it but truisms are truisms because they're true.

Seperating the objective from the subjective is an impossibility, of course, but attempting to sail as close to that gravity well as possible without being sucked into the kind of philosophical black hole no traveler of the thoughtways ever escapes, I'd have to say I did not find the graphics "beautiful", as advertised. 

That's not to say I didn't like them. I did. I thought they were charming and idiosyncratic in the way Richard Scarry's illustrations can be. They have something of that child's instructional primer about them, even though there's not an anthropomorphic animal in sight. 

The exteriors, as I said, had a somewhat generic feel to them but the interiors, by contrast felt as though they were probably taken from photographs. The illustration of the tree on the side of the desk in the clinic reception area looks entirely too specific to be other than drawn from life.

Except that, when inspected, it gives a message relating to keys. I couldn't help wondering whether, when the full game appears, one of those keys might not be needed for the plot and maybe that was why it was there. It's impossible to know because all such interactions have been excluded from the demo.

All we have to judge the potential of the game by, then, are what it looks like and what people say to each other and therein lies yet another distraction. The English translation is good but it's not always idiomatically perfect. 

For example, the highly-structured Spanish hotel system has a whole category called "Hostal", which correctly translates into English as "Small Hotel". "Hotel", however, has a much more specific meaning in Spanish, while the very similar "Hostel" has an equally specific meaning in English. Navigating these subtleties requires whole paragraphs of explanation in guide books.

In the demo the obvious false-friend is used and it made me wonder what was going on. The implications of an amnesiac being sent to "a very nice hostel" by the authorities are very different indeed to the same person being sent to "a very nice small hotel." In real life that might lead to an embarrassing misunderstanding. In a game it sets narrative expectations.

The narrative itself, I found intriguing. The protagonist, Sarah, is found unconscious on the road into town. She's taken to the local clinic, where she's dignosed with retrograde amnesia, meaning she can remember general facts and processes but not specific personal details. She doesn't know who she is or how she got there, in other words.

As the demo proceeds, Sarah wanders around talking to people and it emerges the name on her I.D. card is made up of bits and pieces of the names of other characters living in Antiquonia. One of them is at the center of a mystery involving a girl, who went missing years ago. Could that girl be Sarah?

Someone has reserved Sarah a room in the hotel under the name on her obviously false I.D. although it's a room you never get to see in the demo, something I found quite annoying. Other than that, I was able to visit all the locations I felt I wanted to see. There aren't many, just the reception areas of the clinic and the hotel, the town square, the police station, the convent on the hill and the appartment of the paramedic who, conveniently, has just about the only internet-capable computer in the technology-hating town.

I won't go into all the details of what you can do and what you learn from doing it but I will say enough was revealed that I would certainly have carried on trying to unravel the plot had the demo not come to a sudden stop after about forty minutes. Play enough of these point&click mysteries and too many similarities can start to push through the surface but characters with personality will do a lot to push those similarities back out of sight, which is what happened here.

Once again, based on the demo, this is a game I'd happily play if I got it for free but for which I can't really see myself paying money. That must be very disappointing for a developer to hear, although possibly not as much so as "I wouldn't play it if you paid me."

I also suspect that the Spanish small town setting of Intruder in Antiquonia contributed a good deal to my interest, even if it did confuse me more than somewhat as well. It's possible that the game's obvious technical limitations, (The animations are particularly basic.) the occasionally stiff translation and the sometimes lackluster graphics would have led me to a more negative response had I not felt such an affinity for the locations and the characters.

On finishing the demo I didn't immediately wishlist the game but having thought about it some more as I wrote this post it seemed worth doing. I may not buy the game but I don't want to forget about it, either. It's supposedly due out fairly soon, "Q2 2022", so I'll watch for that and for whatever reviews follow.

I guess that means the demo did its job.


  1. I feel like the main thing a demo has to do to be intriguing and "do its job" (to me, anyway) is leave you wondering about something. A mechanic you see a little bit of but don't get to play with, a story hook, something. If I play a demo and I can't see anything for the game to come but more of what I just played, I'm usually pretty satisfied and don't feel a need to look into it further.

    1. It depends, doesn't it, on whether you start from a premise of "I think I'd like to play this game" and try the demo to see if you're right or if you think "I have no idea what this game is" and play the demo to find out. If it's the former, presumably you want to come away feeling the whole game will be more of the same; if the latter, having your curiosity satisfied will probably end all further interest... unless it then becomes a game that would have fallen into the first category had you known then what you know now.

  2. As a professional UNIX geek, the "hacking" screens looked pretty good.

    I have to admit that I am quite thoroughly tired of the "amnesiac" opening. It's an excuse that only gets lazier with each succeeding generation of games. An acquaintance of mine wrote a very successful AppleIIGS / console game (made available on Switch in 2020, I just discovered — weird) in 1990 that opened like this: even then it was a bit tired.

    Thanks as always for your excellent reviews!

    1. I agree, when it's used, as it usually is, purely to avoid the problems of having a backstory and (particularly in RPGs) pre-existing skills and equipment. In this case, though, it is actually integral to the plot, which appears to revolve around identity. That seems fair enough, although even then I'm pretty sure there have to be more original and elegant ways to get to the same place.

  3. Developer here.

    Thanks for the detailed review! And thanks for pointing out the issue with the translation of "hostal". We had the translation go through a couple of professional proofreaders and they didn't notice it. Probably because we failed to provide good enough context on what we meant...

    Oh, and you are right. Galicia looks very different from the rest of Spain. If you have only been to the sunny side of Spain, I recommend you check it out. You have to be careful with the weather (it rains a lot here), but it's a very beautiful region, especially if you like nature.

    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment. I'm probably more attuned to the intricacies of the Spanish hotel system than most because not only have I uded it extensively for decades but I ran the travel department of a large city bookshop for several years so I've also read a lot of travel guides and talked to a lot of travel publishers.

      I've explored every region of Spain except Galicia, which was where I was plannning on going in 2020, right before Covid hit. I haven't yet been back to Spain but hopefully I'll be going later in the year, flying to Bilbao, although I won't get as far as Galicia. Maybe next year!

      I enjoyed the demo more, probably, than comes across in the review. The characters and the story made me want to learn more and the graphics are charming. Looking forward to seeing the finished game. Good luck with it!


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