It’s Myst meets Lost meets Lara Croft on Windows 8 — with a virtual reality twist.
That’s one way to wrap your head around “Adera,” a hidden-object mystery game that will unfold like a television show on Microsoft’s new operating system, in a series of episodes across multiple seasons. Part of a portfolio of games being released on Windows 8 under the Xbox Live brand, Adera is designed to appeal in part to adult women who wouldn’t normally be heavy Xbox Live gamers.
Microsoft gave the first public preview of the game during the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle over the weekend. Developed by HitPoint Studios and published by Microsoft, Adera has elements of a casual game, revolving around a series of hidden-object challenges and puzzles. Adera also has the characteristics of a Hollywood production, with a mysterious story line told in part through eye-catching cinematics.
Adera will work on any Windows 8 machine, but it was made with tablets in mind. In addition to using multitouch controls, people who play Adera on tablets will will be able to take advantage of Windows 8’s sensor support — leveraging accelerometer and gyroscope technology to pan around certain scenes in the game by moving the tablet through the physical space around them, creating a dynamic window into the virtual world.
“It’s a hidden object game but we really wanted to turn the crank on the genre,” said Microsoft’s Jim Hawk, executive producer of Adera, during an interview at PAX. “It’s been getting stale. People have been seeing the same thing. We wanted to bring a lot more to it.”
In every room, there’s something extra to find, beyond the objects needed to complete the mission. The idea is to make the episodes replayable and immersive, and keep people engaged with the story.
The first episode starts with the protagonist, Jane, exploring a mysterious helicopter crash site where another character, Hawk, needs medical attention. It’s not clear exactly what has happened, allowing gamers to figure out the story line as they solve puzzles and explore new scenes.
“Writing a story like ‘Lost’ is really hard,” Hawk said. “It’s not just about what you’re telling people in the story, it’s about what you’re not telling them, as well. In order to take that extra step, to hold information back to create intrigue, you have to know what you’re doing in the fifth season.”
Adera is just one of dozens of Xbox Live titles that will be released for Windows 8, tapping into the features of Microsoft’s online gaming system, including achievements. But the company is putting a particular emphasis on Adera as a way of broadening the audience for Windows 8 games beyond existing Xbox Live users, and expanding the appeal of Xbox Live in the process.
“What we really want to do is bring Live out to the masses and make them understand that there’s something there for everyone,” said Frank Pape, studio manager for Windows 8 games at Microsoft, citing the demographic of women ages 35 to 55 years old as an example.
“We’re going to bring a game that’s right in their wheelhouse and bring Live integration that they’ll find really compelling, and will become addictive for them, as opposed to throwing your typical ‘arcadey’ fast-paced, 18- to 26-year-old male titles at them,” Pape said. “We have some of those in the portfolio, as well, but we know we have to focus on that broader audience and bring them over to Live.”
Microsoft is also aiming for a global audience, localizing Adera into 40 languages, which involved hiring voiceover actors around the world.
The first episode will be free, with about three to four hours of gameplay, and future installments will be available for purchase at a price not yet announced. Microsoft has struck deals with PC makers to preinstall the game on millions of Windows 8 PCs, making it visible on the Windows 8 Start screen with a live tile that will update gamers when new episodes are available.
By the way, you may have noticed that the executive producer of the game shares a name with one of the main characters. Asked about that, Jim Hawk laughed and shook his head, explaining that the character’s name was inserted by the developers in an early build, and it stuck.
Another interesting factoid: The CEO of the game’s developer, Massachusetts-based HitPoint, is Aaron St. John, the younger brother of Alex St. John, a fixture in the gaming industry who was one of the driving forces behind Microsoft’s push into video games during his time with the company.
Adera launches along with Windows 8 on Oct. 26.