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Hiveswap Act 1: Kansas City Shuffle

Joey Claire is not having a good day. Not only is her home under siege by an army of black eyeless monsters, but she has been separated from her conspiracy loving younger brother, Jude Harely. With no adult in sight, the two will be forced to stay one step ahead of the beasts in order to stay alive. But unfortunately for Joey, the monsters will be the least of her worries when she is spirited away through a strange portal machine in her attic. Sending her to an alien world full of horned teenagers on the brink of civil war.

In a world this bonkers, what else could possibly happen?

Hiveswap is a point and click adventure game based on the popular web comic, Homestuck, created by Andrew Hussie. Hussie himself acting as the executive producer and co-writer along with the game's director Cohen Edenfield. The development team included a number of popular artists and animators including: Adrienne Garcia as lead animator, Angela Sham (animator/cutscene illustration) and Hillary “Rah”Esdaile (Environment Art Director). Toby Fox, of Undertale fame, was also contracted to compose the game's musical score.

The game was funded via a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, reaching its target goal within days of its announcement, successfully garnering over 2 million dollars in funds. Development was a slow process, however, due to Hussie having to divide his time working on the game and finishing the webcomic. Several major changes occurred during this time period, including an art style shift from 3D to 2D animation. Said animation was created in-house by the newly founded WhatPumpkin Games Inc. Hussie stated the change was necessary as a way to reduce costs to the project and help create content quicker. The game's first Act was released on September 14th, 2017 with subsequent Acts yet to be announced.

Given the Homestuck comic's profound success as a satire of the point and click adventure game genre, having an official game simply seemed like the next logical step for the series. A step that the comic's legions of fans obviously supported, if the Kickstarter campaign is anything to go by. However, Hussie was clear even in the early development of the project that the story taking place was going to be wholly separate from the comic. Same technical universe, but different characters and plot. With maybe a few cameos and references for long-time fans. At the same time, newcomers to Homestuck would be able to pick up the game without having to read the over eight thousand pages of the comic. But that meant the pressure was on both Hussie and his creative team to create characters that could stand on their own with their comic counterparts and a narrative unique to Hiveswap. The several year wait did little to satiate eager backers who had been promised the completed game several years before the official release date.

So in the end, how does Hiveswap hold up next to the Homestuck comic?

Given how this is only the first act of the narrative, it is probably still too early to answer that.

But as a starting point, Hiveswap has the potential to not only meet expectations but surpass them.

How does gameplay tell the story?

Point and click adventure games can be hit or miss with certain gamers. Mainly due to the genre's attempts to challenge players to think outside the box. Which can be rewarding when done right, but more often than not it creates frustration when a puzzle solution is maybe a little too complicated for its own good.

Hiveswap doesn't really take the time to worry about that.

It isn't out to force gamers to solve obtuse problems. In fact, it takes time to poke fun at the genre. In reality, Hiveswap's point and click gameplay is used as a vehicle to tell its story. The numerous interactive items located in every explorable room provide fun tidbits of the character details and world building.

Making Hiveswap's greatest strength is its presentation of its likable main characters and witty sense of humor. Despite all the crazy shenanigans she finds herself in, Joey's down to earth personality makes her easy to become attached to. Her younger brother Jude, on the other hand, is quirky and eccentric but clearly has a close bond with his sister. Most of this information you get as much from the examining the environment and interacting with different objects than actual dialogue. Whatever item you can pick up and whatever else in the room that you can interact with, there is a unique box of text for every situation. Providing more character focused information or just a quick laugh.

Though you do not have to be an avid or even casual Homestuck fan to get into Hiveswap, there are plenty of references littered throughout Act 1. The most obvious one being the inclusion of the Troll homeworld, Alternia.

A world populated entirely by horned teenagers who have been taught that the color of their blood determines their social status. Where the elite are permitted to commit acts of genocide simply to get a cool selfie background. Though Act 1 only has so much time to really delve into this new setting (one that was only briefly explored in the Homestuck comic), the promise of exploring this strange world is the perfect hook to end on. Enticing longtime fans to stick around while newcomers get their first look at what is to come. Smart move on the part of the developers to make the story accessible but still engaging to both audiences. Not to mention the budding friendship between Joey and her new companion Xefros promises to be quite adorable.

What makes the Animation Unique?

Despite what What Pumkin Games Inc. may have been originally hoping for with 3D animation, the decision to switch to 2D has clearly worked to the game's benefit. Both financially and aesthetically. The animated cutscenes, created by Adrienne Garcia and the team (found in the credit's list here), have the same charm as a classic Saturday morning cartoon. Remaining consistent even in-game as the characters idle animations set them apart (such as Joey's adorable nervous animation, or Jude exaggerated stretch animation)

The character designs have the distinct Homestuck look but are certainly more polished with proper proportions (no missing arms here). Other key story scenes are told through still shots (much like the comic) and while they may not be as engaging as the animated scenes, they serve their purpose and are well drawn enough to get the point across. Though they can be used for great comedic effect. (namely, a scene involving Jude's carrier pigeons which we will not spoil here).

However, the real MVPs of Hiveswap aside from the animators are the background artists. Given all the detail that has gone into this game's art design, I sincerely hope there will be an art book once the full game is complete.

What are the flaws/problems?

Since the game's release, there have been a few technical issues in regards to the framing and loading transitions. There were even a few occasions where I would look out the window and the gorgeous background would disappear into a giant black void. These problems are superficial and the development studio have been quick to get to work on a patch that will potentially fix these issues. Regardless, they can take players out of the story pretty quickly.

On the whole, the game's writing is on point, but every now and again there were a few noticable typos that would reek havoc on my dyslexia. Forcing me to reread the text box. Which, given all the reading there is to be had in Hiveswap, can be aggravating at times.

Hiveswap is also a short game, clocking in at around 3 hours all the way through. Normally, this could be considered a detriment given how long the development process was. However, given how this is only the first act, the shorter length is a simple nitpick.

Final thoughts

Though it is difficult to judge Hiveswap on only its first act, the setup for this unfolding story is masterful. Not only are the main characters established, but also the tone, settings, and the ongoing mystery will inevitably frame subsequent events. Even as a longtime Homestuck fan, I found myself far more invested with this introduction than I was with the actual comic.

It is hard to say when the next step in Joey's journey will see the light of day but it is clear Hussie and his team are not messing around. Even if it was only a taste of what is to come, it is clear that the faith given to this development team by its fans was not wasted in the slightest. Creating a short, but fun experience for fans of classic point and click adventures.

FORMATSPC, MacOS, and Linux via Steam
/Humble Bundle
FROM What Pumkin Games Inc.

- To find out more information on Hiveswap, check out the website or follow on Twitter.

- Hiveswap's Soundtrack can be purchased on Bandcamp.

- Check out these cool interviews with Hiveswap's animators & artists: Adrienne Garcia, Angela Sham, Gina Chacon, Phil Gibson, and Anastasia Kinzel!