The Homestuck videogame isn’t as dense as the comic

But then again, what is?

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You know where you stand when it comes to Homestuck. Even if you don’t know what Homestuck is, you’ve already taken a side. The infamously dense webcomic has more than its fair share of rabid fans, avid haters, and egregiously apathetic bystanders, to the point where author Andrew Hussie was able to easily Kickstart a Homestuck game, earning an amount of cash that would stagger the wildest imagination.

Well, okay, it was closer to $2.5 million (and my imagination is pretty wild) but that’s still a lot of money for a lot of unknown variables. The Homestuck Adventure Game (now known as Hiveswap) was one of the first big Kickstarter success stories. Now, almost three years later, we get to see where all that cash went.

Hiveswap (Mac, PC)
Developer: What Pumpkin
Publisher: What Pumpkin
Release: Spring 2015 (Act 1) 

Right off the bat, What Pumpkin creative director Jess Haskins told me that Hiveswap isn’t just for Homestuck fans. Instead, it’s taking an approach similar to the Sam and Max series; there will be fun references to the source material, but you won’t need to be a devoted fan to enjoy yourself. From what I saw, the humor was never overtly referential — at least, not that I noticed. A paragraph clowning on the proper pronunciation of ‘SNES’ tickled my funny bone, but maybe there’s some wacky argument in the comic where Troll Boy stabs ConAirFan_420 (I know very little about this comic) over a SNES argument.

Make no mistake, however: this is absolutely a Homestuck game. The art style immediately evokes those first Homestuck panels, and you are transported to the troll world Alternia early in the game. (Trolls are some kind of alien.) Haskins also told me there would be direct connections to the story depicted in the comics, despite Hiveswap taking place 15 years before the events of Homestuck.

To my surprise, the game’s story is easily digestible. You play as Joey Claire, a young girl living in 1994, waiting for the next Highlander film to be released. One day, some crazy monsters appear in your backyard, forcing you to hide in your room and your kid brother to hide in his treehouse. Once you escape the home in which you have been stuck, you find a portal that sends you across time and space to an alien world, kicking off a grand adventure.

From the concept art I was shown, the game has a real Last Starfighter ‘stranger in a strange land/hero’s journey’ vibe. There’s a doomsday device, a ticking clock element, rebels, an oppressive force, the usual. And that’s okay! There’s something to be said for a classic story. Even though Hiveswap will likely deliver twists and turns, it feels like they’ve nailed the fundamentals.

There’s also a narrative branching aspect to the game. Players will have choices to make in the story, but there will also be literal branching paths, described to me as a “fork in the road.” Taking one path will give you access to an area you wouldn’t have seen if you chose the other path. In theory, this should give Hiveswap some replay value, but it remains to be seen if the shared content will be worth seeing twice or if players will be able to pick up from previous autosave points. Even the best point-and-click games aren’t eminently replayable, so that’s a problem the team at What Pumpkin will have to overcome.

The game also looks great. Even if you’re apathetic towards Andrew Hussie’s art style, it’s hard to deny Hiveswap unique art style. Between the music and the silent physical comedy, it feels like an old-school LucasArts game. If the puzzles aren’t horribly obtuse, it will have one up on those classic adventure games. There will be light puzzles framed as SNES-era RPG combat, but most of the puzzles will be of the ‘use item on problem’ variety.

I’ve always had to appreciate Homestuck from a distance. Like I said, that comic is dense as hell, but if Hiveswap manages to be as charming while not being more obtuse than a brick wall nailed to another brick wall duct-taped to a grad-school physics textbook…well, that’ll be alright by me. It certainly seems to be heading in an accessible direction, and that’s no bad thing. All that’s left is to stick the landing.

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