First posted on 20 May 2013. Last updated on 20 May 2013.
At first glance, Digital Media Workshop may appear to be merely just another nondescript production company based in Long Island, New York. Founded by Mike Morrison, the company has actually been in operation since 1997, specializing in audio and video media productions such as music and video digital editing, recording, and mixing. Other services that the company provides include 3D design and animation, web and print design, motion graphics, and video production.
The inspiration for Prominence originated back to around 2000 when Morrison wanted to showcase his studio's sound and video production capabilities to new clients. After initially shelving this idea, Morrison recruited Kevin McGrath in 2005 about turning it into a game. Both Morrison and McGrath were avid adventure game fans. It was decided then that Prominence would also be based on an original sci-fi story that Morrison had previously written. Little was revealed publicly about the game's development for next 8 years, despite the fact that the game was originally set to be released in 2011. Finally, in May 2013, the company revealed the first in-game footage of the game, providing a teaser to the many fans who had been waiting patiently for the game's release since its initial announcement.
Recently, I have been privileged to be granted access by Digital Media Workshop to a special preview build of Prominence. This playable build covers the first and second acts of the game (the game is purported to have 4 acts) and provides a good glimpse of what gamers may expect from the full game when it is finally released.
Prominence begins with a narration giving a brief history of the planet Letarr and its inhabitants. It speaks of a mission to arrive at a distant planet, renamed New Letarr, to prepare it for colonization. The mission, however, soon goes awry when disaster strikes the space vessel that has been sent to travel to that planet. The cinematic opening plays out over an ambient and ethereal vocal soundtrack composed by Morrison himself.
The game is played from a first-person perspective. You take on the protagonist role aboard a huge vanguard space vessel heading for New Letarr. The game begins with you wandering in a dimly lit hallway outside of a locked inner medical facility. You have no recollection of what has happened to you or even who you are. You also discover that there is no power to the terminals or other machineries nearby. Naturally, your first task is to find a way out and explore the rest of the vessel.
This preview build allows you to access only the first, second, and third levels of the vessel. Once you gain access to the rest of the compartments, your next task is to locate the Power Control in order to restore main power to the vessel. Upon restoring the power, you will have access to the numerous consoles aboard the vessel called Location Communication Terminal or LCT, from where you can glean information about other seemingly missing crew members. You will also need to locate ANNIE (Advanced Neural Network Information Entity) in the Central Computer Control and try to repair her back to operational status. It is at this stage where you begin to discover who you are.
The story of Prominence is engaging. Although it begins somewhat slowly, it evolves methodically and soon draws you deep into the mystery behind the ill-fated mission. The game does a good job to make you feel as if you are physically aboard the vessel, looking for any tangible clues that may explain why you are there. The vessel is large and includes many compartments such as Medical, Power Control, Data Archives, Colony Communications, Security, Central Computer Control, Manufacturing and Waste Processing, and others. Many unnamed sections of the vessel are also explorable, including ventilation ducts, storage rooms, elevator shafts, service corridors, and numerous connecting hallways.
Initially, you appear to be the sole survivor aboard the vessel. The first character you will meet is the vessel's central computer ANNIE. Once you regain access to the terminals, you will learn the names of the various crew members and their roles on the vessel. Whether or not you will get to interact with some of the crew later on remains to be seen in the full game.
The interface used in Prominence is minimalistic. Navigation through the node based environment is done using the mouse. Hotkeys on the keyboard are used to access the main menu, skip a transitional scene, and toggle enhanced vision or objectives display once they become available later in the game. The developer claims that the final build, unlike this preview build, will have support for subtitles.
The puzzles in Prominence are mostly inventory based, in which you have to search for usable objects from your surroundings and know where to use them later. You also need to combine some objects in the inventory. The earlier puzzles in the game revolve around restoring power and making small repairs to the vessel. The puzzles that are playable in the preview build are logical and tie well to the story.
The musical scores in Prominence are emotive. They range from mysterious to creepy to even spiritual. Background sound effects are prevalent, such as the ambient humming or grinding of the operating machineries aboard the vessel. ANNIE has an appropriately sounding metallic, robotic voice. The voiceovers for the other crew members are clear and well acted.
The pre-rendered 3D graphics in Prominence are well done. The game is built using the developer's own proprietary game engine. The machineries and instrument panels aboard the vessels look realistic and are properly textured. Reflections and shadows are appropriately modeled. The holographic images are congruent to the sci-fi theme of the game. However, the environment as a whole looks a bit too cold and sterile.
In all, Prominence appears to be a promising first project and transitional step for Digital Media Workshop as an adventure game developer. The preview build offers about 2-4 hours of play time, so the final build is expected to exceed this at a minimum.
Prominence is scheduled for release in 2013.