The first chapter Video poem last night brought me right back to the early zeroes. I still remember sitting at the family computer in our living room begging my parents for more internet time because I wanted to chat with my friend on MSN Messenger. We had to buy internet hours in those days, and between my young teenage self and my three brothers, we completely ate up those meager weekly limits, always begging for more, more, more as we were completely engrossed in this new world online. .
Fortunately, Emmett doesn’t have to contend with such antiquated restrictions in the Videoverse, as his portal to the Internet is built right into his massive Nintendo DS-like home console, the Kinmoku Shark. Besides being used to play games reminiscent of the old 16-bit classics, there is also a The Nintendo Miiverse social network on Shark, which Emmett uses to communicate with friends, post fan art of his favorite Feudal Fantasy game, and feel part of something bigger. What hasn’t changed since those early days of the Internet (or the Internet today) are the types of people it interacts with – sure, there are trolls, but there are also a lot of good people who support it, and the emergence of a seemingly new user (and budding fan) Vivi is quickly becoming the focus of Videoverse’s current free demo available as part of Steam’s Festival of Storytellers.
I love Hypnospace Outlaw in front of it, Videoverse sees you navigate through the pages of an online forum, scroll down and read comments, post your own from a selection of fixed responses, and have the freedom to hit Like and Report as you see fit. But Videoverse is much more serious than Hypnospace, wearing its heart on its sleeve, as Emmett occasionally chimes in with his own thoughts and fears based on what you’re currently viewing. He’s a shy guy who recently stopped posting his work after some negative comments he received, but luckily he has two friends, Marcus and Zalor, who talk him back into it. You occasionally chat with them via the Shark messaging portal, and there’s even a detachable camera that can be turned on to turn your and their Mii-like avatars into expressive pixel character portraits, tossing text messages back and forth in classic MSN style .
It’s a real time capsule of how I interacted with the internet in those early days—the Videoverse takes place in 2003—and how developer KinmokuGames captures the excitement Emmett feels when mustering up the courage to publish his artwork, not to mention the elation , which occurs when it gets a few likes, is absolutely spot on. The characters speak in their own slang, ignoring any semblance of punctuation (like you do in an online chat), and even the protomemes of the era (remember Weeble and Bob?) are also relevant.
But even in this 30-minute clip, it’s clear that Videoverse isn’t just making up (illegal) Internet jokes from 20 years ago and getting it over with. Take, for example, the Feudal Fantasy community. Although this is clearly a game of real life Final Fantasy games (I see you, Final Fantasy VIII initial scars reference!), the way it blends anime and a more historical setting makes it feel separate, putting you right in Emmett’s shoes as you continue to dig into this cool new thing, which you I just discovered. Also, along with the more obvious early 00s memes that the Off Topic pages talk about, there are a lot of posts that either have no real life references or that I just don’t know what to do with their monochrome threads still feel like a new and mysterious place where a lot is happening beneath the surface.
As Emmett explores the newly formed Feudal Fantasy community, another user also catches his eye – the aforementioned Vivi. With their blank avatar, Emmett wonders if they’re a new Shark user, especially since he hasn’t seen them before, but he’s also instantly taken by their gorgeous artwork. Unfortunately, other trolls in the community quickly shoot it down with horrible comments, prompting Emmett to do something about it. I promptly reported them in my walkthrough (as is appropriate when there’s a button to push), but Emmett’s own thoughts on the matter indicated that he would have led me down this reporting path anyway.
It’s not yet clear how much the story will guide you in this way in the final game, but you still have a fair amount of freedom in how you interact with the Videoverse otherwise. You can be a jerk, you can be nice and supportive, you can play the middle ground, and the tone and overall vibe of the community will change and adapt accordingly, the developer said, so I’m excited to see how it all plays out in the final game. However, for now, your encouraging message to Vivi has resulted in them eventually sending you a message thanking you for your support and a like from them to one of your drawings. Emmett is beside himself with joy, but just as he decides to leave the Videoverse for the day, the demo comes to an end, leaving me anxiously wondering what will happen next with his newfound friend.
Luckily, I won’t have to wait long to find out, as Videoverse is currently slated to launch sometime between July and September of this year. Besides, there is still a day free demo if you want to try it for yourself, then go for it Festival of storytellers ends tomorrow, April 1st.