Eric Doty's Troubadour and the melancholy of growing up

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Eric Doty's Troubadour and the melancholy of growing up
Lucy doesn't belong here, wherever this is. With each step, her body artifacts and glitches slightly as if she's being derezzed from a virtual environment. Her internal thoughts pop up in old Windows 95 prompts as she moves about a convincing urban sprawl.

This is Troubadour, the first game from indie developer Eric Doty and Zak Alexander. Doty, who spends his days working at Microsoft, wants to tell a meaningful story in an easily digestible experience – a brief game, about 30 minutes in total, that will tell the story of protagonist Lu's ascension from responsibility-free teen into the personal accountability of adult life. Doty is handling all writing and game development, while his friend Zak Alexander tackles the art side. The game is presented in a 16-bit art style, inspired by games of old and Capy's recent opus, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery. The soundtrack is being provided by Alexander's friend Dallas "Deezign" Stoeckel, a local LA musician.

"We've been working on this for about four months in our free time in order to create this four-to-five minute demo," Doty noted prior to my PAX Prime demo. "We hope to release on PC and Mac next year, for a 20-to-30 minute game."

Troubadour's beginnings actually stemmed from Doty's last creative endeavor, Steamfunk. It's a comic he wrote and successfully funded through Kickstarter last year. "That did really well and that was kind of my compromise because, at that point, I wasn't ready to make a game yet. It was a good way to be creative and build confidence up, to put something out there and have people read it."

Afterwards, Doty found he was ready to begin development on his first game. He took a lot of inspiration from other indie developers by playing Benjamin Rivers' horror adventure game Home, followed by Cardboard Computer's Kentucky Route Zero, then The Fullbright Company's Gone Home. "You're seeing a lot more of narrative-driven games, to the point where some people wouldn't consider them games – they're just interactive stories," Doty said. "I really like that. There's always a place for Halo and Call of Duty – I play those games every year and love them – but what I'm really passionate about on my creative side is can I make these almost nugget experiences that people can just get in, get out and enjoy the atmosphere of it all. It's fun."

Troubadour is certainly more interactive story than game, in my estimation. It has the look of a video game, and I played it with a controller, but it's more an interactive ball of yarn – a player grabs the lone strand jutting out from the ball, holds onto it, then starts to unravel it all. Players are simply along for the ride, able to interact with certain game elements here and there.

You move Lucy from Point A to Point B, but rather than emphasizing gameplay mechanics or high scores, Troubadour favors the journey and narrative. "I have a theory that every story can be told in every medium. Obviously, if you want action, it can be a movie or it could be a game. But I think when somebody feels like they control the protagonist, it speaks to you so much more. And also when you're sitting down at your computer with headphones, or you're lounging back on your couch at home, you just put yourself into a different mindset, whereas when you're watching a movie, you pull out your phone and start goofing around on Twitter. At least with this, you're engaged."

The PAX Prime demo for Troubadour was incredibly brief but showed a lot of promise for a tale involving a girl struggling with coming of age. Doty drew inspiration for the story from his own life – when he was an introverted 8th grader and started to come out of his shell, transitioning into a professional work environment and simply growing up. The struggles of dealing with that are evident in Troubadour and in an abrasive Lucy, who clearly feels like she has better things to do than be stuck in some video game.

"Having to deal with that and grow as an individual, that's the story I'm trying to tell. And whether it's a female character or male or a kitten, I think that story rings true with anybody as they grow up."
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