ⓘ Telling Lies (video game)

Telling Lies (video game)

ⓘ Telling Lies (video game)

Telling Lies is a narrative video game developed by Sam Barlow and Furious Bee and published by Annapurna Interactive in August 2019. As with Barlows previous title, Her Story, the game uses live action full-motion video of four people as part of video calls made between them, and the player will need to use tools provided from the game to piece together events and what statements may be lies to determine the overall mystery.


1. Gameplay

Barlow describes Telling Lies as a "desktop thriller" like Her Story, where the player becomes involved in a drama that is played out through stored video clips and other information presented on a virtual computer desktop. Telling Lies provides the player with numerous video segments that in the games narrative, cover a two-year period and which have been stored on a stolen hard-drive taken from the National Security Agency. The player has the ability to search the hundreds of video segments on keywords as to piece together timelines, events, and interactions, all to try to understand why the four central people have been the subject of electronic surveillance, as well as the nature of the player-characters role in these events; this character appears female and can be seen in a virtual reflection of the in-game computer screen to the actual player. However, these clips only provide the video and audio from one side of the conversation, requiring the player to determine which clips may match the other participants, as well as potential interactions with around 30 other people. Players can scroll forwards and backwards within segments, highlight certain words in the video subtitles to use as search, and keep notes within an in-game memo pad. The player only has a limited amount of time within a single playthrough to scan material from the hard-drive, and would have to restart from scratch losing all notes and bookmarks if they want to see more. Barlow estimated that the content within Telling Lies is about four to five times longer than Her Story. There are three different endings that the player may reach through the game, depending on which characters videos they explored most frequently.


2. Plot

In 2019, Karen Douglas, a former FBI agent, goes back to her apartment at midnight to turn on her computer and access the content of an external USB drive. She then watches the videos by searching them using keywords.

David Smith, the main character, was an FBI agent. He and his wife, Emma, have a daughter Alba. After David went undercover, Emma’s mother, Laura, moved in. During Davids mission, Laura developed dementia and eventually passed away, despite medical care by an anaesthesiologist named Steven who was hired by the couple.

It is revealed that when David was Emmas then-boyfriend, he killed Paul, who was Emma’s abusive ex-boyfriend. David waited outside for Paul to enter Emma’s house. Then David went inside and used his pistol to shoot Paul, who was unarmed, in the lungs, and then watched him bleed to death, with Emma as an unwilling accomplice.

During the years of 2017 and 2018, David was an undercover special agent supervised by an agent named Mike, working on a case code-named as Green Dagger. The aim of the operation was to demonstrate the intention of environmental groups to break the law and commit acts of terrorism. The main target of the operation was a group called "Green Storm" lead by an activity named Riordan. To infiltrate this group, David was to begin by infiltrate a smaller team called the "Organizing Group" led by Eric and Peter.

The Organizing groups main target was a corporation in Detroit, Michigan called Prosperen, who wished to build natural gas plants in the area. In particular the organisation was building a pipeline which the activist groups believed would pollute the water source. Mike instructed David to use the alias David Jones and infiltrate the group. They targeted Ava, who was referred to as" Snow White”. David approached Ava and developed a romantic relationship with her, based on their mutual love for music. David gained Ava’s trust and used this to get invited to the Organizing group.

The Organizing Group was initially made up of Eric, Chris, Peter, and Simon. Simon was secretly a black flag agent providing information to the FBI, an arrangement David was unhappy with as he felt Simon was unprofessional. As David begun to ingratiate himself with the group, he discovered that Peter, one of the leaders, had previously slept with Ava while she was underage, drugged her and filmed some of what they had done. David brutally attacks Peter, receiving an official reprimand from the FBI, and incurring Avas anger. Unashamed, he then proceeds to use a contact from his past, Harry, to acquire drugs which he plants on Peter to frame him.

As David gets increasingly edgy, he decides to out Simon as a Black Flag Spy. While these actions, and his growing closeness to Ava, alarms Mike, it also impresses Eric, and David moves forwards with the plan. He invites Riordan and the Organizing Group to discuss plans to disrupt movement on a key bridge which Prosperen needs access to proceed with the pipeline. While staying on the boat, Ava reveals that she is pregnant with Davids child.

David discusses with a new Black Flag employee who has infiltrated Green Storm their plan to try to trap Riordan into getting involved in a direct attack, namely destroying a bridge. However during the meeting the Black Flag employee doesnt follow the script, and Davids speech is not well received. A frustrated David calls Mike only to discover that Mike has agreed with Black Flag to hold off on Green Storm, and just arrest the Organizing Group, including Ava. David argues strongly that the operation should continue, and that Ava should not be arrested, but Mike tells him to kill David Jones His cover name.

The Organizing Group is then arrested, including Ava who is on a call with David when the arrest occurs. While David expresses anger to Mike, Mike notes that David had been withholding information in his reports, including Avas pregnancy. David tries to continue meeting with the Organizing Group, but Karen Douglas, his field supervisor, bursts in an attempt to provide him cover to leave. David is furious with Karen, but after some discussion back and forth with Mike, he agrees to withdraw. Ava is heartbroken by Davids sudden disappearance, and outraged by Davids decision to leave her money.

During this mission, David had been having regular conversations with a sex worker named Maxine Williams, who ran a webcam chatroom with multiple aliases. David paid her for conversation, and over time shared personal stories with Maxine including his identity as a federal special agent, and his relationship with Emma and Ava. As his life falls apart, David, believing he has a real connection with Maxine, tries to connect with her. She first bans him, and then, when he comes back with a different credit card, reveals that everything he knows about her is a lie, and that she has recorded all their conversations, and will release them if he keeps following her.

David decides to track her down, using Harry to find her, and locates her. Maxine is prepared, and has already released the videos, and shoots David in the leg, with the police arriving shortly after.

After being shot, David reconnects with Mike, saying that David Jones is dead. Some time passes, during which David is living alone, estranged from both his wife and his girlfriend. He tries to reconnect with both, but both reject him. David finally breaks down, and decides to commit suicide by blowing the explosives on his boat, potentially destroying the bridge as well.

Finishing reviewing some of the videos, Karen uploads and leaks the video content she has watched. She destroys the hard drive of her computer, bypasses the FBI agents who are searching in the area, and walks up the stairs to the rooftop. She smokes a cigarette and enjoys the sunrise.

The mid-credits scene shows one of the three women’s fate, depending on the videos the player has watched. Both Emma and Ava move on to a new life without David and continue to raise their daughters. Maxine leaves her place in Cleveland, Ohio and decides to open a cam agency in New York. Maxine goes on to become a novelist writing crime stories with strong female leads’.


3. Development

Barlows work on Telling Lies began in January 2016 as a "spiritual successor" to Her Story, with a narrative unrelated to the first game, though it continued to use full-motion video as its central gameplay element. Through some had urged him to make a direct sequel to Her Story by creating another murder mystery and putting another actor in place, Barlow wanted something that was more risky, and utilising the aspects of Her Story where the player got to know more about the main character through the clips. He came to the concept of electronic surveillance as a central theme in part of being a parent himself and wanting to keep track of his own pre-teen-aged sons online activities. In reading up about surveillance methods used by the National Security Agency and MI5, Barlow read up on the Optic Nerve program and found that it had several similarities to Her Story, including the ability to search on stored video and audio through keywords.

In July 2017, Barlow announced that the game, titled Telling Lies, would feature three to four key characters. He described the game as a combination of the films The Conversation 1974 and Shame 2011. The game was published by Annapurna Interactive and shooting for the game had been scheduled to start in late 2017 or early 2018. For filming, Barlow wanted the conversations between characters to appear natural, ideally filming both actors as they conversed but from different locations. To accomplish this, they were able to rent out a compound that had a number of different homes and buildings that they could make appear like the different locations that were called for in the script, including scenes where they were moving about the compound. In this fashion, the actors recorded their lines in their separate locations over video conferencing calls, with Barlow and other directors running between the sets as needed to provide direction. The shooting was done mostly in chronological order of the narrative story, with over 100 hours of footage captured. Only about ten hours of this were used for the game itself.

By March 2019, Barlow released the games first trailer. The game was subsequently released on 23 August 2019 for Windows and macOS personal computers and on iOS devices.

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