the artistry and psychology of gaming


A Story About My Uncle

A Story About My Uncle

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

This week, we go over the river and through the woods, er, caves in our finest suit to visit a fond relative.

A Story About My Uncle

Nobody ever really asks why rocks float in video games

Genre: First Person Adventure
Link to Game:
Game Info: Developed by a group of students at Södertörns Högskola across 11 weeks and released as freeware in July 2012

It’s Thanksgiving today in the US; a time where turkeys run for cover, pumpkin pie sales hit an all-time high, and football reigns supreme; but at the heart of the holiday is the importance of being near one’s family. Sure, some of our family members are found close to home, while others are found across great distances. To get to some relatives, some of us have to travel across state lines, across country borders and oceans, and in the case of Uncle Fred, one’s journey takes them to another world entirely!

A Story About My Uncle was created by a group of students from the game program at Södertörns Högskola in Sweden, as part of a fascinating assignment to make a first person game that was non-violent. The player takes control over a father reading a bedtime story to his daughter, asked to recant the one about “Uncle Fred.” The player then assumes the role of the father years ago as a young boy, when he one day journeyed to his Uncle’s laboratory to find him missing. After trying on a newer model of his Uncle’s “adventure suit,” he accidentally trips onto a transport pad, and is launched far away to an unknown location.

Instead of the typical guns and cover found in first person games, A Story About My Uncle plays out more like a 3D platformer that happens to be in the first person similar to Mirror’s Edge, only with a bit more airtime. The adventure suit our hero wears comes equipped with a super jump that can be launched upward or forward, helping him climb great heights or cross large gaps. With further upgrades then comes the primary hook of the game; a grapple beam. With the beam fully able to attach to any surface (both stationary and mobile), the player is granted an enormous amount of mobility within small areas, and in progressing through the game, learns to combine jumps with grapples, and even string grapples together (eventually up to 3 per jump, more or less turning you into Spider-Man) to keep moving forward.

Uncle Fred’s beam has the edge over Aunt Samus

Chances are you won’t stick the landing at least a few times; either shooting off to an area you thought you could reach, or having your inertia halted by running into a stray stalactite, sending you down into the deep chasms below. Fortunately there are no lives, and you respawn at your last standing point on solid ground. Offering a helping hand through the worlds, along with keeping with the game’s overall narrative, is the handiwork of your Uncle Fred, although not voluntarily. The adventure suits leave a trail of markings in the locations where super jumps and grapples are used, so if you get stuck unsure of where to jump to next, you can survey the area to see which route your Uncle went. I felt this was a clever way to guide the player without constantly needing to hold their hand or explicitly relaying what to do.

The environments are well detailed and impressive to look at, containing familiar looking setups but with an otherworldly appeal to them. In keeping with the non-violent theme, there are no enemies within the game (save for perhaps gravity); just obstructions and surfaces. This does not mean you are alone in this world however, as once you reach the second area, you come across a village with some strange looking inhabitants. One of them does have a pretty awkward walking animation you’re forced to endure while you follow him, but regardless it was nice to have some friendly beings in the game to avoid dissolving into the isolating atmosphere of Metroid Prime, another series known for the occasional 3-Dimensional grapple.

Cave dwellers know how to throw a party

With its non-violent standpoint, A Story About My Uncle is a great success for its liberating game play and thoughtful level design, as much as it is for being able to convey an engaging and immersive story behind it all. While playing, the narrator (the father) continues reading on as though the player is acting out the story for the daughter, and only adds to the wonderment that he is feeling right along with you as you continue your search for Uncle Fred.  The game’s ending, which comes following a well fashioned game of “Red Light, Green Light,” is also well relayed, and balances out well a sense of humor and emotion that really only a proper bedtime story can have. While the ending is not entirely what one might expect it to be, it is undoubtedly a happy one.

A Story About My Uncle contains three (and a half) levels of platforming/grappling fun. It’s an exciting game for adventurers, explorers, and for those that enjoy a good narrative (I don’t make this comment often, but I really did enjoy the voice work), wrapped up with an excellent presentation and art design. The game will only take around 2 hours or so to complete, so it’s an easy game to fit in as the holiday season starts to ramp up.

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