Northern Powerhouse: Last Towns Standing (Review)
Whilst developing my own game in Twine for the exhibition with Raspberry Pi, as part of their Raspberry Pi Creative Technologist Programme 2015 – 2016, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Hwa Young, who has also recently made a project using Twine. The game, entitled ‘Northern Powerhouse: Last Towns Standing‘ was made in collaboration with young adults from Burnley, Wigan and Hull. With the help of a few select artists and experts, they developed their own dystopian version of these familiar northern towns, as well as stories and narratives to go alongside. These stories come in the form of an interactive text adventure game, and this is a review of the final product, which you can play here.
As an already established fan of anything that revolves around dystopia and futuristic fiction, I was excited by the concept even before I had a chance to start playing the game. Speculative fiction is interesting to me not only because it allows for us to indulge in thought experiments of future world settings, but it also gives us a chance to reflect on the world we live in. Often these are vast, complex ideas that can be difficult to explore and understand. However, when playing Last Towns Standing, the enthusiasm of the participants is clear, and it pleases me to see that they clearly thought deeply about their vision of The North in 2065.
The story presents this future setting through the stories of various characters who call the cities home. You, the player, are able to play through the game as these characters. The game is quite episodic, in that each story is largely unrelated and can be understood as a separate story. Yet, as you play through, you begin to see the little connections between the stories, and understand the larger picture of the world as a whole. The North has become a scary and often dangerous place, and you struggle just to keep the characters alive and safe. The well written narrative and dialogue mean that, despite the short-and-sweet nature of the majority of the stories, you find yourself invested in their well-being. I often found myself wishing a story was a little longer– what happens next?! Then, you move onto the next and find yourself invested all over again.
Each new story and each new character drip feeds you information about this fictional world being created before you, and you end up building a map inside your head- not only of the locations, but of the people and the relationships, and the context of the situation. I often felt as if more imagery and fictional maps would have added to the experience, although perhaps this would kill the player’s imagination a little. Still, I think having more visual representation would certainly have been a creative addition, and perhaps more will be developed in the future.
At times the decisions made felt either inconsequential or unavoidable; no matter what you chose, there was only one path, only one final outcome. As much as I tried, some characters could not be helped, but I think this is partly the point. The experiences, although in the future, are also documentations of things that have already happened in this dystopian future, and therefore there is nothing really that the player can change. This is both disheartening and gripping.
If you enjoy imagining visions of the future, this surreal yet hard-hitting text adventure is a fantastic way to do so. I love dystopian fiction, but this is unique in that it is interactive fiction, and this definitely adds a fun and inventive depth to an already well-explored genre. I hope that the young adults involved are proud of their efforts and their vision, and of the final product. This is a project that any aspiring artist could be proud of.
As well as the game, which you can play online for free, the project is touring as an exhibition, presenting fictional artefacts, called ‘artefakes’ from the in game world. If you’d like to see the exhibit in person, dates will be announced here.