Thursday, February 8, 2024

I Remember When It Was All Fields Round Here...

In the words of Friedemann, its lone and single-named developer, Summer House is "a small game with no goals or challenges". Having spent half an hour with the demo, I'm not sure I'd even call it a game at all. It's more of a construction set or maybe just a toy.

That's no kind of criticism. Not everything needs to be a game and frankly there are quite a few things that say they are that I wish wouldn't. Sometimes it's enough to play with the Lego. You don't have to tell a story with it.

With all that, there is some minimal form of progression. It's not flagged up and it took me by surprise when it happened but it's there. 

Gameplay consists of selecting construction pieces with the mouse and placing them onto the screen to make buildings. If you keep at it, eventually you get new pieces. That offers some minimal incentive to carry on building beyond the sheer pleasure of turning nothing into something.

If a big notice telling me I'd opened a new possibility hadn't popped up in the center of the screen, I'm not sure I'd have noticed. The control system is incredibly simple and at the same time quite vague. You select one of the icons on the left and then click LMB and a object of approximately the kind you'd expect appears on your cursor: a wall, a roof, a door, a window...

Each time you click, you get a different object until eventually you get back to where you started and the whole sequence goes around again. It sounds annoying but I found it very easy to get used to and even easier to use. If you would like more immediate access to the specific item you're after, you can click the magnifying glass for a full screen of everything in that category instead.

All the pieces fit together flawlessly. If they overlap it still works. You can move them about as much as you like to get an exact fit but just about everything I placed already looked like it was in the right spot. 

The whole thing is side-scrolling 2D with a very convincing depth of perspective. Considering you can only place items face-on, the results are amazingly nuanced. I did wish there was a way to place items at right angles to the PoV so I could put windows in a side wall but it may be I just hadn't placed enough pieces for access to something like that to appear.

The demo only gives you one of the three scenarios from the full game; The Sea. The other two are The Mountains and The City. After a certain point, a big "Thank You for playing the Demo" popped up and I thought I'd hit the time limit but after I cleared it I was able to carry on just the same as before.

I ended up playing for a shade under half an hour, by which time I'd built up the entire sea front. I could have gone on building but as you can see from the picture immediately above, I'd begun to move past charming, unspoilt Mediterranean fishing village into over-developed tourist trap so I thought I'd better stop.

The game is set to release exactly a month from now, on 8th March. From what I saw in the demo, it's certainly ready. I wishlisted it but I'm not sure I'll buy it. 

I find it hard to say how much use I'd get out of something like this. It does what it sets out to do just about perfectly but whether what it's doing is enough to hold my attention for more than an hour or two is something I don't think I'd know until I tried. I suspect that I'd start to feel I was wasting my time after not too long but that seems to be an increasing theme for me with all video games these days. It's no reflection on Summer House.

As for how much it's going to cost... I couldn't find any indication at all on Steam. You would think that would be pertinent information for a demo of a game about to go live next month. Maybe the developer is just too relaxed to think of such things. If they spend all their time playing Summer House that seems entirely possible.

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