Night School Studio is a small independent game developer. But it’s earning a reputation for leadership when it comes to smart, dialogue-based games.
Its last game, Oxenfree, came out in 2016, and has sold more than 1.5 million copies. It was a side-on perspective tale of teens talking while solving puzzles and working on their relationships. Now, Night School is preparing for this year’s release of Afterparty.
Afterparty is about two young naifs, Lola and Milo, who find themselves in a version of hell that’s basically a string of sleazy bars populated by various lowlifes and edgy characters. Our heroes use dialogue to talk their way into a situation in which they can escape from hell, which includes a drinking challenge against Satan.
Afterparty’s early moments set the stage with noir-ish lighting, moody color work, and snappy dialogue. There are also an abundance of gross jokes. At the start of the game, some unfortunates, hanging from lampposts, try out their one-liners, while a demon pukes up green vomit.
As in Oxenfree, conversation comes in two flavors. First, there’s the non-interactive kind, which hum along rapidly, clattering along in ironic, snarky, occasionally confrontational hues. Then there are optional dialogue trees, which pop up during conversations, making them feel organic and natural. It’s too early to tell how far these chatty options affect gameplay in the long term, but in the short term, they either take me where I think I need to go, or they take me someplace I didn’t know I wanted to be.
While bar-hopping in hell, I learn the importance of handling my booze. Part of the game is about choosing and drinking cocktails. These come in different flavors and open up new dialogue options. So, if I glug a “Bloody Stool,” I can access a tough-talking style of conversational gambit that works a treat on spineless NPCs, but less well on those with a more vigorous nature.
So, the game is giving me opportunities not just to select from conversation options, but to influence the core nature of those options. I’m attracted to the idea of a game that tasks me with reading the personalities, moods, and motivations of NPCs, and reacting accordingly. As a core puzzle, outwitting other characters through observation and street smarts seems like a fun challenge.
As in Oxenfree, dialogue is accompanied by other activities, such as physical and logic puzzles. There are also bar games, which are not so much diversionary mini-games as part of the overall challenge. Afterparty is due out this year for Windows PC and Xbox One.