A story-driven nonlinear point and click adventure set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk world.
About this project
COLUMNAE: A Past Under Construction is a Windows/Mac/Linux nonlinear point & click adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk world. The story of COLUMNAE is set more than a century after an environmental catastrophe made the air on the surface of the earth unbreathable, and the rich locked themselves up in Deus: a closed heavenly settlement built upon gigantic metal pillars called Columnae. Beneath Columnae, a huge apparatus Machina was built to automatically extract underground resources and pump them up via pipes, through Columnae and into Deus. Trying to escape the lethal environment on the surface, those not wealthy enough settled in Columnae, where they now live by parasitizing on resources coming from Machina. Not only unable to enter Deus, but also unwilling to cooperate with people living on nearby Cliffs, the society of Columnae is plagued by corruption, political manipulation, power struggle and poverty.
COLUMNAE relies on classic point & click adventure mechanics, but also features a non–linear approach persistent throughout the gameplay, allowing a huge replayability. Additionally, we introduced a concept of retrocausality: chapters of the game are not played in chronological order, which allows the player to affect not only the future but also the past of the main character and the world surrounding him. Depending on the your actions within each chapter, yet-to-be-played chapters are placed in an appropriate “version” of the past or the future.
COLUMNAE is set in a world ruined by a gradual environmental catastrophe which made the air on the surface unbreathable about 140 years ago. The story is focused on a society descended from people who couldn’t afford to inhabit Deus – the “city in the clouds”, in the moment when the ecological disaster was imminent. Deus is a closed town surrounded by a mechanical steel shell, and built upon 127 gigantic (over 600m/2000ft high) metal pillars – Columnae. Beneath them, a huge underground machinery, called Machina, was built with the purpose of automatically extracting and processing resources and sending them via pipes through Columnae and into Deus. This way, Machina was constructed to indefinitely provide all the necessary resources to the people living in Deus, so they would never have to leave it again – and to this day, they never did.
Building of Deus was financed by public money and promoted as a public space – open for everyone and intended for recreation and relaxation, with a “smaller part” designated as a luxury residence area. In reality though, Deus was secretly envisioned with the knowledge of the upcoming catastrophe in mind – as a permanent refuge for the wealthy and powerful. The society now living inside the columns settled there in an attempt to escape the lethal environment on the surface after Deus was locked down. Since then, they had no contact with the inhabitants of Deus, and they are parasitizing on the resources coming through the columns. But the people living in Columnae are far from innocent themselves and during the last century new power structures have emerged to replace the ones abandoned below.
COLUMNAE is a story-driven game with classic point & click adventure elements such as puzzles and dialogues. In addition to these familiar mechanics, COLUMNAE introduces the concept of retrocausality which along with nonlinear nature of the gameplay allows the player to affect the future as well as the past of the story. The game is divided into eight chapters, but you won’t be playing them in a chronological order. The content of the currently played chapter is always the result of the choices made in all of the previously played chapters, and those choices will ultimately, (through one of the countless possible paths) lead to one of the eight completely different, world-changing endings.
Point & click elements. The core of the gameplay draws from the classics such as the Monkey Island series. Finding the right items, combining them, talking to NPCs — it’s all there, but we try to avoid pixel-hunting and senseless puzzles which can only be solved by brute force. Also, thanks to nonlinear nature of the game, at almost any given moment you will have one or more alternatives to the quest/puzzle you are currently trying to solve which will minimize the chance of feeling “stuck”, without the need for us to “dumb down” the puzzles.
Nonlinear story and RPG elements. On the other hand, some elements of the game resemble those typically found in role-playing games. You will make “moral” decisions, choose between sides in conflicts etc. and this will open some opportunities, lock out the others, and sometimes drastically change the world and the story. In contrast to typical RPGs, these consequences will not be represented by numbers (e.g. good-evil scale or “standing” with factions) but will manifest as hand-crafted situations, long lasting sub-plots and meaningful relationships with NPCs. Because we write the stories instead of “calculating” them, every possible path will have its own internal logic and twists, instead of being a pile of unrelated events artificially flavoured by numerical “stats”. All of the decisions will ultimately lead to one of eight unique, world-changing endings, but the number of possible stories will be much greater because any of these endings can be achieved by following a number of different chains of decisions and quests during different playthroughs.
Retrocausality. The stories of COLUMNAE will be told in eight chapters: events from Chapter 2 happen after those in Chapter 1, events from Chapter 3 after Chapter 2 and so on. However, they will not be played chronologically, but in the following order: 4, 1, 3, 5, 7, 6, 2, 8. This twist, along with continuous branching of the story based on your choices, will enable you (as the player) to affect not only the future, but also the past of the character you are playing and the world surrounding him. The concept of retrocausality is perhaps best explained with an example (not a real in-game situation, so not really a spoiler): if you (as a player) decide to avoid being seen by the policeman in Chapter 4, then there must be some reason in your character’s past why he would do that. Maybe he’s a wanted person? Or he distrusts the police just because ACAB? Or he had some not-so-pleasant experiences with them earlier? But perhaps it has nothing to do with the guy being a policeman at all, but because he’s a really boring person whom the protagonist knows from his childhood. Which of those possibilities is true will be determined by some other actions that the player chooses to do during Chapter 4. And then, when Chapter 1 starts, the character will be placed in an appropriate version of it depending on the decisions the player made during Chapter 4. Of course, during Chapter 4 you also do some stuff that leaves the usual “future-consequences”, so it will also affect what happens in chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8. Combination of the effects of your choices gets more and more complex with every advancing chapter, leaving you with a sense of an open world, but still the one with a meaningful story.
Your actions will shape the story, and affect the personality and the past of the protagonist, so there is not much to write about him. Not because he doesn’t have an eventful past or interesting character, but because both of those are up to you as a player to build by choosing his actions during the gameplay. However, there will be no stats, classes, alignment or feats for you to choose for him, nor will you be able to “select” his background and profession before the gameplay begins. Instead, every choice during the game will affect his personality, his abilities, his motivations and his past as much as they will affect his future, so your next gameplay could make him a completely different person in many aspects.
Meet eleven important characters (including the rebellious girl, the editor of “The Columnist”, the inventor of Marvellous Flying Capsule, Honorary Chairman of the Democratic Republic, Oil Baroness and the leader of Air Pirates among others) in our Update #2.
But these different paths you are able to take will also reveal different versions of the other characters, their pasts, motivations and agendas. For example, if you learn that a certain NPC is being helpful and honest to you in one playthrough, it doesn’t mean the fact will stay the same in the next one. Of course, some general facts about them remain the same in all the possible universes, and you will never know in advance which facts about the NPC are the same and which are different. This, and the fact that the game will feature more than 50 unique characters that you will be able to talk and interact with (and many more “extras”) will make every new playthrough of COLUMNAE a distinct and fresh experience.
Backer-exclusive T-shirt featuring your favourite character from COLUMNAE. Different illustrations, colours, and sizes will be available.
COLUMNAE Secret Key porcelain container, limited edition, handmade by Igor Stangliczky. Igor is working in the fields of handcrafted design, digital graphics and sound art, see more of his work at http://stang.rs.
What do we need the money for? We’ve been working on COLUMNAE part-time and without any budget for three years now, and we could continue to do it that way. But as our team is a small one and the game we want to make not so much, by continuing to work only part-time, it would take us many more years to finish it in this scope. However, if the campaign is successful, three of us will have an opportunity to quit our day jobs and commit ourselves full-time to making COLUMNAE a reality, and the game we always wanted to play. If we succeed, we are confident we could finish it in a year and a half.
Successful crowdfunding campaign would not only allow us to focus full-time on COLUMNAE, but also to hire additional people to help us with development. Three of us are pretty versatile and able to do the majority of what is needed, but for some things we have to rely on others (for example proof-reading, as we are not native English speakers).
There are also other expenses: with the successful campaign, we could finally buy some decent hardware to make and test the game properly – without it, Mac and Linux versions would not be possible to make.
Risks and challenges
COLUMNAE: A Past Under Construction is the first project of Moonburnt Studio, so if Kicksatrter is successful many challenges still await us – publishing and marketing games is not something that we’ve ever done before. As for finishing the game, as we have a playable build with core mechanics implemented, all the possible paths for the full game already written, and the artstyle developed, we feel confident enough that we can and will finish it on time.