Softa med oss – The Last Assignment (2017)

SoftaTitle
The game’s title screen, with the main character and what I assume are the game creators.

I admit that a big reason for me wanting to write about this game is a certain provincial pride. Softa med oss – The Last Assignment (I would translate the first part as “Chill out with us”, “softa” is an anglicism from the word “soft”, in this case meaning to hang out in a relaxed manner) was created by Jenny Hellström, Kate Ekberg and Josefin Wahlgren when they were students at the LBS (short for “Ljud & Bildskolan”) high school in Helsingborg, my home city. I first became aware of the game when the local newspaper had an article on it, since it had won two awards: Best 2D Graphics at the LBS Game Awards, and Best Diversity Effort at the Swedish Game Awards (both competitions are mainly for student and hobbyist game makers). I will probably be writing about other games from these competitions in future posts, but local patriotism forces me to start with this one.

SoftaTrain
The introduction, with the main character sitting on a purple train of a sort commonly seen in southern Sweden.

At the start of the game, you can choose between three different names for the main character, but this choice is immediately ignored in favor of the name “Blabla”. She has just arrived in Helsingborg as a first-year student at, you guessed it, the LBS high school. The main goal of the game is to complete a scavenger hunt of four items, and while doing so making new friends, collecting them in your “friendships book”. Speaking of which, are “friendships books” a thing in other countries? A book of pre-printed pages with questions to be filled in by your friends and frames in which to put photos or draw pictures, usually popular among pre-teens? I can’t seem to find any references to them in English. With the rise of social media, I’m not even sure they’re used much by Swedish kids nowadays.

SoftaFriendBook
The “friendships book”, with some characters describing personal secrets.

Anyway, Softa med oss is basically a short and simple adventure game, where you steer Blabla with the keyboard and click on things and people to interact with them, solving some puzzles to get items that can in turn be exchanged with the people at school for other items. It’s divided into four separate levels, each on a different floor of the school. While the main scavenger hunt is linear, there are many instances where you are given choices than can affect details in the plot. The most obvious ones are the dialog choices that causes different reactions from the people you talk to, which in turn affects what is written about them in your friendships book.

SoftaHardWork
The school principal, most likely based on the creator’s real high school principal.

The tone of the game is very lighthearted and jokey, with perhaps one or two mentions of relationship drama between characters. I suspect that many of the characters are based on actual people that the game makers knew at school, and there are probably many references and in-jokes that you will only understand if you went to the school specifically during the years the creators did. And yes, as the “Best Diversity Effort” award suggests, the characters are pretty diverse, especially when it comes to gender and sexuality, which is all taken for granted without being the focus of the story.

SoftaLove
Click on the pride banner to get an uplifting quote from John Lennon.

While endearing, colorful and occasionally funny, the game does have some problems, including some bugs that can suddenly make certain interactable object non-interactable unless you click on other things in a certain order. The game doesn’t explain all the parts of the control scheme (it too me a while to figure out that you’re supposed to click on things, not just steer the game with the keyboard), and perhaps most importantly it gives you several resolution options, but some of them cuts off the sides of the game window so you can’t see what’s there, making it impossible to progress unless you start the game over with the correct option. Another notable problem is that while the game is in English, it’s often badly written, with many spelling errors and grammatical problems. Oh, and the game music mainly consists of one tune being played over and over. It’s not a bad tune, but it does get a little repetitive even considering the game’s short length.

SoftaChocolate
For reasons I don’t quite understand, a chocolate ball stuffed inside a bread roll is considered a Helsingborg treat.

However, I almost hesitate to bring up these problems, considering the context of the game. As the title suggests, it was made by the creators as their final examination project at the high school, not as a commercial product. It might not even have been intended to be show outside the school environment, with the awards perhaps giving it more attention than intended. I can certainly say that I wouldn’t hold up my high school examination project as an amazing artistic achievement (it was a theatre show, please don’t ask). Softa med oss should probably be seen as an early, imperfect but promising start for a group of future game creators.

SoftaGarrett
There are of course references to many other games in the form of posters.

Speaking of which, the three creators have gone on to create an indie game studio called Imperial Peach Studios. Thus far they haven’t released any other games, but they are apparently working on an as yet unnamed 2D postapocalyptic survival adventure. I wish them all the best and look forward to what they might create in the future, even if it’s not a game set in Helsingborg.

SoftaMedOssCrew
The three game creators, with one of their awards.

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