Shocking everyone, or at least me, the first act of the long-in-development, long-troubled Hiveswap finally dropped on the internet and made itself at home, nestling into some fresh newspaper that it shredded to make a sort of little nest (wait, that was my brother’s cat. Hang on).
Hiveswap came out! Well, not the whole thing, mind you. Just the first act, which takes about three hours to get through. I backed it way back in the past, when it was going to be a three dimensional game developed by the Odd Gentlemen, back before whatever precise source of bullshit went down went down that caused Hussie to build his own development studio using nothing but his masterful hands (or whatever).
I figured there would be some form of game, eventually, and as more and more time passed, I became less and less confident that it would be any good (or at least, the webcomic upon which it was based was for me a very time-and-place thing and I wasn’t sure it would hold up). That the first thing I heard about the release of the first of x amount of episodes was a mere three hours seemed to boost my view that we’d have something that was in essence a delivery of goods promised but not much better than that.
It’s a pleasant thing to be completely fucking mistaken on several levels - first, that the game is very well written, and while it is quite short, there is a lot of stuff in there for those willing to click on lots of things. Hussie’s writing is, as it turns out, still great, and the games protagonist(s) are all written in a believable way, which is to say they are all very much Children on the Cusp of Growing Up in the way you tend to remember these things. That it is set in the 90s (1994 to be precise, I think) means there are plenty of references to stuff that I, at least, grew up with (shouts out to Clarissa Explains it All, among other things).
Fortunately this isn’t Let’s Make Some References and Pretend That Makes it Good: The Game developed by Seth McFarlane (although if it was it would be called Let’s Make Some References and Pretend That Makes it Good and Also Be Kind of Low-Key Racist: The Game). This is background noise for those willing to look into it - it’s a self-contained narrative in its own world and characters with actual personalities! Hussie’s writing has always been strong, as it turns out - I’ve gone back and started the long trek through Homestuck again and as it turns out my enjoyment of it was not solely a time and place thing - Hussie establishes his characters with a sort of efficiency that boggles the mind and makes you quickly come to care about them even as they are doing things like resisting the urge to bleat like a goat and shit on their desks.
It also reminded me of how enjoyable adventure games can be - you solve some puzzles, you read some jokes, you experience a good story. The puzzles are not difficult, though they can be a bit fiddly from time to time. The game is pretty good about leading you to the solution without much fuss, unless of course you desire fuss. As for its ties to Homestuck, there are some pretty obvious ties to that narrative, but like some of the other references, it is not necessary for enjoying the story (some examples, kept vague but blurred anyway in case you’re ultra-sensitive to anything remotely spoilery: the identitiy of your father and babysitter, the presence of Betty Crocker’s products, the likely identity of the person running the hint functionality). You might figure some of what’s going on out a bit faster with the benefit of having read Homestuck but the game explains itself to the novice well enough.
I ran into a few interface quirks (sometimes it read a single click as multiple clicks, which meant I missed a few jokes and narrative bits I had to go back for), but they’ve patched it a couple times since I last booted it up so maybe that’s fixed? The music is very good, the look of it is true to the comic, and it is, overall, a satisfying way to spend three hours. By the end of it I was very interested in seeing how the story evolves and desired further adventures, which means it does the thing you want an episodic game to do, I think. Certainly it tickled me more than any of Telltale’s post-Sam and Max fare has managed to do (with the exception of Fable, but even that was not fantastic and was more just a workmanlike noir narrative given to me, a sucker for noir narratives).
So, that all said, who else has played this? Who else is interested in playing this? What do you, the readers, think about children and trolls and hives and houses and hoofbeasts, eh?