I suppose you could call Tacoma an adventure game, although it more of an interactive story than a game. There are a few instances where you need to figure out people’s passcodes, but they’re so easy to figure out that they don’t really count as puzzles.
You play as Amy Ferrier, a contractor sent to Tacoma station by Venturis, the company that owns Tacoma. A short while ago an accident happened and the station, which had housed six human employees, one AI named ODIN, and a cat, is now abandoned. Your job is to explore the station and retrieve AI-recorded data and ODIN’s wetware.
The AI-recorded data takes the form of recordings that your augmented reality device allows you to see as though you’re glimpsing into the station’s past. All the characters are represented by colored silhouettes of themselves. You can rewind and fastforward in order to follow different people and occasionally access their emails and other files.
I can’t say too much about the story because it’s fairly simple and it’d be too easy to give everything away. The big question, as you’re playing, is what happened and whether anyone survived. Although you play as Amy, you aren’t privy to her thoughts. She knows more about the situation and what’s going on than you do, but it’s okay, because nothing in the game prevents you from taking as much time as you’d like in each area of the station. Just make sure you don’t leave a particular part of the station until you’ve done everything you want to do - I’m fairly certain you can’t go back or, if you can, AR data will no longer be accessible in that area.
As you travel through the station, you learn more about each of the characters: E.V., the station administrator; Clive, the operations specialist; Natali, the network specialist; Roberta (Bert), the mechanical engineer; Andrew, the botanist; and Sareh, the medic. You also get to see them interact with ODIN and, if you purchased the game through Steam, you can try to find the station cat in order to get one of the Steam achievements. I had fun trying to think of where the cat might decide to nap in each area, although I did worry that I'd end up witnessing its death. (Spoiler:
the cat makes it through just fine.)
The cast is diverse, both in terms of race and sexual orientation. As you look through their belongings (to whatever degree you’d like - I was curious and it didn’t feel too creepy, so I looked through every drawer and locker I could), you find out more about how they all got along and what their problems and issues were. My favorite character out of the bunch was probably Sareh, who had anxiety and panic attacks due to an event in her past, but who was still competent and professional despite that. I really liked her and ODIN’s interactions, even as I worried about ODIN being the only one she could confide in.
As someone who loves AI characters, I enjoyed ODIN and I loved the role he played in the story. I did find myself wishing for a bit more from him - players don’t get much of his perspective until the very end of the game.
Tacoma is very short. Even though I spent quite a bit of time exploring and looking at unimportant things like random packages, wrappers, and coffee mugs, I finished the whole thing (minus a few Steam achievements) in about four hours. That said, my biggest complaint about the game wasn’t the length, but rather how playing the game affected me physically.
When I first started, I couldn’t play for more than 20 minutes or so before developing headaches and nausea. I tried messing with the Gameplay and Graphics settings, turning off “head bob” and trying out different FOV settings, but it only seemed to help a little. The best solution I found was actually remembering to wear my glasses while playing. I don’t usually wear them at home and rarely wear them while watching TV or playing games, and it almost never causes a problem. In this case, though, it turns out they were vital. They never completely got rid of my headache and nausea problem, but without them I’d probably still be creeping my way through the game in 20-minute increments.
All in all, this was a simple and fairly short story told in a fascinating way. I loved getting to find out what happened in bits and pieces via AR data, files, notes, ads, and emails. Although I found myself wishing that the story had been a little bit more flexible and allowed for other endings, I was happy with the one ending players were given.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
I'm not a writer and have no idea how good or bad their pay is in comparison to other options - this just caught my eye. I figured I'd post in case anyone was interested or knows someone who might be interested. As far as I know, their stuff is less visual novel and more text-based "choose your own adventure." I own one of their works, Choice of Robots, but haven't tried it yet.
ETA - And, oh hey, there's at least one author I recognize in their lineup. Sorcery Is for Saps was written by Hilari Bell and Anna-Maria Crum. I haven't read any of Bell's works, but I own Fall of a Kingdom, the first book in her Farsala trilogy. Dang, now I wish Choice of Games had an "Author Browse" feature.
And another one: Max Gladstone wrote Deathless: The City's Thirst and Choice of the Deathless.