While generations before had Choose Your Own Adventure books, today’s generation has “Sender Unknown: The Woods,” a newly released game that launched itself up the iTunes app store charts this month. The app was created by Lisa Brunette, a video game design professor at Webster University.
This is not Brunette’s first foray into the world of game design. She previously helped design for Big Fish Games and other smaller indie gaming companies. This is, however, the first game she has worked on that has had a completely independently produced release.
“Sender Unknown” is a part of the “text based adventure” game, a genre rooted in player interactivity and brain games. This genre has been rising steadily in popularity over the last few years.
The plot is simple but effective: the main character signs up for a social media messenger and gets an odd message from a stranger. She claims she is in trouble, stranded in the middle of the Ozarks and has a gang of wolves on her tail. It is now up to the lead character to go find and rescue the woman.
“The game is very choice driven,” Brunette said. “There are a lot of possible outcomes, depending on how you work your way through the story.”
The game makes use of a stat system and meticulously keeps track of every choice the player makes in order to tailor the game accordingly. By recording certain traits in the character’s personality based on choices (i.e. empathy, resourcefulness, etc), the game’s potential outcomes adjust accordingly. Certain levels or storylines may vanish due to a lack of one trait or appear due to an excess of another.
“I had wanted to do something like this for quite a while,” Brunette said. “Something very choice driven, with many outcomes possible. Stats become really important and lead to multiple outcomes, which is what I always love in games.”
The game plays like a vintage role-playing game (RPG), with more puzzle solving than one would expect. While typically games in this genre offer two options per scenario, this game offers three or more, creating many more possibilities for a unique and player driven narrative.
The game’s popularity has attracted local gamers. Webster’s own Marissa Camp, an art major, has not put the game down since downloading it.
“The game is so unique and fun,” Camp said. “It has a great story which a lot of phone games don’t.”
The game currently boasts a 4.2 star out of 5 rating on the iTunes app store and features scores of glowing reviews from credible game reviewing sources.
The game caught the attention of Brunette’s fellow professors as well; Game Design professor Josh Yates recently become an enthusiastic fan.
“We were surprised to see it skyrocket up the store rankings so fast, that speaks highly of the game quality,” Yates said. “Lisa is very dedicated to her craft. We can always count on her to work hard at it.”
This is not the end for Brunette. She is already hard at work at her next game idea. Though mum on the details at this point, Brunette revealed that it will be a “match 3” game, like Candy Crush, and feature a highly detailed plot and realistic dialogue, something Brunette takes very seriously.
“The game is unique for a matching game because it really pulls you in, you are always very involved,” Brunette said. “That’s always what I look for in a game.”
In addition, Brunette is teaching a new class later this spring, a game writing course, which she considers her specialty. She is hopeful there will be more game-related courses offered in the future.
“[This class will] make you look at games like you never have,” Brunette said. “A behind the curtain glimpse into that world.”