Same storm, different boats

A visual novel based on a true story about an invisible man, a bunker, and a make-shift gun.

You can play the game here: https://artbybokani.itch.io/same-storm-different-boats

Concept

“After decades among the hidden homeless, Dominic Van Allen dug himself a bunker beneath a public park. But his life would get even more precarious.”

A point and click game that tells the true story of Dominic Van Allen and how he built a bunker in London’s Hampstead Heath, in 2016. The visual novel is based on an article in The Guardian by Tom Lamont and the player has to decide whether Dominic is guilty as charged. The player reads his story and interacts with items belonging to Dominic to gain clues.

The game highlights how we live in the same city but experience life very differently, throwing a light on the ‘invisible homeless’.

As the storm of Covid 19 raged in 2020, I wondered where Dominic van Allen is now.

Before the pandemic, I used to volunteer in a night shelter at a Catholic church in central London and would sometimes serve breakfast. I have met men and women like Dominic, we have talked over meals about their lives. I was thankful for the honour of hearing their stories. They inspired this artwork.

In memory of my friend with whom I used to volunteer, for the way she made everyone she met feel valued and dignified.

What went well

The story: I was really inspired by this story a friend sent me. The dialogue and the narration really provides a rich source of material. On further research I found more details about the story from local news reports.

The story flows well in fungus and I was able to place the text in helpful scenes to give subtle information as well as more explicit information for the player to learn more.

The aesthetics and visual impact: I had originally started creating the story using photographs I had found online but found that I could not achieve a consistent ‘look and feel’. So I tried using filters and this still did not work well. I wanted to lend the story an aspect of human touch and the ‘scribble’ filter really achieved that with the down-to-earth sepia filter, I felt it made the story more poignant than other graphics. I could also add things to the images (e.g. the items in the bunker) and they did not look ‘photo-shopped on’ but were a seamless image.

The music: I was looking for an emotive but unobtrusive soundtrack for this and delighted to find copy-right free music producers on YouTube, they usually make music for influencers :) This would give it both a contemporary effect without the bouncy, commercial style. I also wanted the type-writer effect to have more of an ‘vintage’ sound than the more modern ‘beeping sound’.

Functionality: Overall fungus worked well to create an easy to navigate game (from the player’s perspective). The dialogue was also great and I like that I could add the portraits easily. I had to use this as a way of showing more images, i.e. the pictures on the phone. I wanted to give the impression that Dominic was showing you images on his phone as sometimes happened when I had dinner with our guests at the night shelter.

What went wrong

Clickable objects: I think the game could have been more engaging with clickable, draggable objects but I had spent too much time on the visual effect and consistency of the game narration that I found there were many glitches with my sprites. I ended up mainly focusing on using the character and portrait functions to tell the story. I used the menu option in the bunker where I really would have preferred to have clickable items.

Voice over: The Guardian has an audio version of this story. This would have been great to slice and use at least for the narrator if not but I ran out of time and was concerned about the licensing on this. It would have been great to add more the environment by

The Verdict: I would also have liked to save the votes of each player so they can see how many people voted innocent/guilty.

Flavor text: Not all the text in the game used Unity functionality. I would have liked to animate more text and make the effect of the game more ‘alive’ and dynamic. I also would have liked the text in posters, the mobile phone and t-shirts etc to be more visible.

General Unity/Fungus woes: Literally hours spent trying to work out why the text was loading all at once (I had made hidden text visible, turned up the alpha), items were rendering in the wrong place why the background music was no longer working (I had muted the game preview) and clickable items were not responding (I ran out of time to work this one out). Instead of scene changes I ended up using ‘view’ changes in the commands as per the Fungus example, ‘Hunter’.

These details, some still outstanding, were distracting when I play-tested the game. I also wanted to be able to go back to previous texts, and also have a smoother game exit.

Future development

This could work really well as a series. I have two ideas I would want to develop, telling the story of my Ignatian camino across northern Spain, like a modern Canterbury Tales and a series about the impacts of climate change in many parts of the world as different stories.

Fungus is really great for developing these. I was able to source images quite easily online and bring them together well to tell this story. I think with more time and a dedicated team this could be an exciting area of my art practice. The AI I used to edit the images could even take my paintings so I could bring that aesthetic into a visual language for telling stories that are important to me.

Credits

Game designed and produced by Bokani

Words and original story: Tom Lamont, “The invisible city: how a homeless man built a life underground” The Guardian

Music: Oak Studios, ‘The Road’ and ‘Sohne’

Images: Images sourced online, edited using Lunapic.com and Canva.com by Bokani

Game production software: Fungus, Unity 2019

Artist