Owlchemy Labs has always created unique takes on popular genres. The indie developer’s first game, Smuggle Truck, is a racing game that tasks players with smuggling illegal immigrants over the border. Their previous game Jack Lumber adds a silly story to the Fruit Ninja formula. The main character goes on a log killing spree to avenge his grandmother who was killed by a tree.
The developer is turning to Kickstarter for their next project, Dyscourse, a game that aims to put a different spin on the survival genre. The game has a bright art style, funny characters, and numerous, vastly different endings. Imagine being Jack from the TV show Lost, except you’re on a cartoony island with less serious characters.
According to Alex Schwartz, chief scientist at Owlchemy Labs, “Dyscourse is a psychological survival adventure where you play an over-educated barista who crash lands on a desert island with a bunch of annoying plane passengers.”
The game takes place over the course of multiple days with each day lasting four to six minutes in real time. Every day, the main character, Rita, has to keep the survivor group alive by finding food or defending against the island’s predators. When she’s not fighting for survival, she has to keep the group from tearing itself apart.
If Rita manages to keep the group together long enough, rescue eventually arrives. Or she can purposely sabotage the group and watch as it goes up in flames. It all depends on how the player wants to play the game.
Dycourse will have a branching storyline with many different endings. Schwartz says he wants players to be able to get vastly different results based on their choices. Maybe one player manages to get to the ninth day with everyone still alive while another has the group eat each other by the third day.
“I think having the ability to play as you want and define who Rita is as you play is really important,” says Schwartz.
The game is meant to be played multiple times, to see the multiple endings or experiment with different choices. Owlchemy Labs is trying to include a mechanic that will allow players to rewind to certain important choices to see how the scenario would play out had they decided differently.
However, the studio is working to make sure that there will be no clear “good” choices or “bad” choices. There will be positive and negative outcomes that result from player decisions, many of which will affect the other survivors.
“We should never assign a choice you make as right or wrong,” says Schwartz. “It’s more about what relationships deteriorated from this grey area moral choice and what relationships were strengthened.”
Maintaining a good relationship with the survivors will be just as difficult as dealing with the wilderness. The other characters are based on archetypes of the people that you meet on a plane – the annoying tourists or the old lady in retirement. Players have assumptions about these characters, which can turn out to be false.
“What we’re trying to do is turn those judgments on their head in an interesting way to show that the superficial appearance of someone is not always how they are,” says Schwartz.
He talks about one character who is supposed to represent the typical internet junkie, the guy who sits at his computer all day and never goes outside. This would not be a person who the player would expect to do well in a survival situation. But then later in the game, maybe the player finds out that this guy binge watched a marathon of a survival show and has retained a lot useful information that can help the group.
Owlchemy Labs is working in other things that one finds in a plane, besides the annoying people. Suitcases that fell out of the cargo area will act as random loot chests, which can be found scattered around the island.
The studio is also looking into including pet carriers that have furry friends who can raise the group’s morale and help with surviving on the island. There are numerous other features that the team is experimenting with.
“We implement a lot of mechanics but we don’t want to get people’s hopes up if it goes away when we realize it’s not fun,” says Schwartz.
However, being a Kickstarter game, Dyscourse has shared a lot of information with its supporters. Schwartz says he turned to the popular crowd funding site because it’s better than finding an investor.
“Kickstarting really helps with creative freedom, getting validation that your game is wanted by people out there, and getting cash flow sooner,” he says.
Owlchemy Labs is planning to show a playable build for Dyscourse at PAX East in April, with Rita’s full scenario. The full game will launch with a bonus scenario in which all of the characters are video developers. The studio is also planning to include at least one more scenario in the final release.
As of now, Dyscourse has raised a bit more than half of it $40,000 goal. The funding period ends on December 6. Visit the game’s Kickstarter page to learn more about the game and donate if it’s something you’d like to play.