"There is something comforting and nostalgic about swapping tales across a fire and WTWTLW is bringing that age-old tradition to gamers."
Depression-era America was bereft of material possessions and wealth but rich with small stories of everyday Americans making the best out of their unfortunate situations. These stories are part of our folklore, our culture, and Where the Water Tastes Like Wine attempts to bring these stories to life in a video game. This adventure game from Dim Bulb Games ditches a main narrative in favor of several branching vignettes, all with their own twists and resolutions. The game is a collection of short stories instead of a novel. There is something comforting and nostalgic about swapping tales across a fire and WTWTLW is bringing that age-old tradition to gamers.
You play as a skeletal hobo man walking across a 3D rendering of the United States. For our demo we were in the South, near Alabama, and the simplicity of the muted color design paired with the low poly graphics was pleasing to the eye while also conveying the bareness of the time period. Points of interest on the map are demarcated by small burning fires, and going to investigate them will bring you to a 2D drawing of whichever other weary traveler is finding solace in that flame. The art style is very monotone and uses very dark, almost charcoal lines to emphasize the harshness that comes from these characters surviving whatever trials they have been through. They will tell you what they've faced, and although it wasn't in our demo, the developer confirmed that these interactions will be fully voiced in the final project. After listening to someone's story, you internalize it, and that person and their story get filed away in your menu just waiting to be retold. Later, you may run into someone looking to hear something lighthearted and you can look through your logs to pick the appropriate tale to relate. You become a vessel, picking up bits of people's lives and passing them on to others. Due to the nature of oral communication, some details get muddled and some stories become larger than life and lose their original meaning, but that is just the way it goes.
The main goal of this game is to meet as many people as you can as you wander coast to coast and trade stories back and forth until you have heard someone's entire tale. When this happens, their true form is revealed. During our demo we met a rough looking man who, after telling us what he had to say, turned into a menacing red-eyed dog right in front of us. Imagine social links in a Persona game. In WTWTLW, you need to keep interacting with these people over and over until you "max out their social link." Every individual story is penned by a different writer to ensure each interaction has a unique voice.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is showing a lot of promise. I haven't seen very many games with its folksy art style and gameplay. It is a visual delight and the writing felt authentic. It will be Dim Bulb Games' first release, but the company was founded by Johnnemann Nordhagen, the man who did all the programming for Gone Home, so the team has plenty of experience that really shows in their demo. America may be a relatively young country, but its folk tales and oral traditions are timeless. It is exciting to see their spirit captured so thoroughly in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.