In most games, when you die the experience is over. In Last Life, death is just the beginning.
The upcoming adventure game is a detective story with a twist, where you're investigating your own murder from beyond the grave thanks to a 3D-printed body. It's a unique and stylish blend of noir and science fiction, coupled with the increasingly popular episodic structure found in games like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. For developer Sam Farmer, who's been passionate about science fiction and transhumanism for years, it's also a project that's been brewing for some time.
"I decided to make an adventure game based around those themes I loved," he says. "The idea of investigating your own murder came soon after, and then my imagination basically exploded, which, in this case, was a great thing."
"It's like Orlando, Florida. But on Mars."
Last Life takes place nearly a decade after a massive disaster has left Earth uninhabitable, forcing the few surviving humans to scatter to different colonies throughout the galaxy. One of those colonies is on Mars, but it isn't quite the sci-fi city you might be imagining — it's a tourist destination called MarsTopia that's been turned into a makeshift settlement for refugees. "It's like Orlando, Florida," says Farmer. "But on Mars."
Private investigator Jack Parker is one of those survivors, though his stay on the red planet doesn't last long as he's gunned down just prior to the events of the game. However, he has a slim chance to find out who did it — once every year deceased MarsTopia residents are temporarily brought back to life in 3D-printed bodies so that they can enjoy a special holiday appropriately called Dead Man's Party. Parker decides to use that time to find out just who killed him, and hopefully find a way to extend his time in the new body. Farmer says the game will be heavy on atmosphere and story, much like the surreal and beautiful adventure Kentucky Route Zero, but with some light action sequences and good old-fashioned sleuthing to round out the gameplay. You'll be searching for evidence, interrogating witnesses, and generally being a traditional PI in a non-traditional body.
A traditional private investigator in a non-traditional body
Farmer seems particularly interested in the science and technology behind the world. When trying to decide on the setting, for instance, he consulted with some scientists from NASA about reasons why people might want to go to Mars. It turned out the best financial incentive was tourism. A similar level of thought and care appears to have gone into other aspects of the game's backstory and world building, such as the temporary body lead character Parker finds himself in. "The 3D printing idea just feels like a natural evolution of the technology," says Farmer. "I mean, we're already printing organs. And I'm fascinated by the implications of this tech and how it could lead to a post-scarcity society."
Currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign, Last Life has already attracted the attention of game studio Double Fine. It will be one of the first games to fall under the "Double Fine Presents" banner, which means that the studio will be helping Farmer with everything from distribution to localization, as well as consulting on the crowdfunding campaign. (Double Fine previously ran a massively successful Kickstarter to fund development of this year's excellent adventure Broken Age.) "Just to meet my personal hero, Tim Schafer, is mind-blowing," says Farmer.
The initial bout of funding will allow Farmer and his small team to release the first episode of the game, which is expected to launch by around May of next year. But he already has a three-episodic story arc planned out, with the goal of releasing subsequent episodes on an annual basis. "Last Life takes place in a fully imagined future universe, rich enough in scientific, technological, political, and economic battles to spawn many stories and many important themes," he says. "The world presents an awesome stage to present controversial issues in a unique way." The story and its structure are inspired by everything from Twin Peaks to The Walking Dead game series.
With Kentucky Route Zero, Broken Age, and Telltale Games' ongoing efforts, we're seeing something of a renaissance for traditional adventure games, and if funded Last Life could be the latest on that list. And its sci-fi detective theme has the potential to offer some interesting new twists on the format.
"An adventure game is really a perfect vehicle to challenge players abilities to deduce what's going on," says Farmer, "and reward them for looking deeper to uncover the truth."