At E3, appointments behind closed doors are the only place where you can really get a feel for a certain game, away from the hustle and bustle of the exhibit halls.
For Shape of the World I did not quite have the luxury of quiet: I had an appointment to meet with the lead developer of the procedurally-generated first-person exploration game, Stu Maxwell of Hollow Tree Games, at the busy IndieCade booth.
It’s kind of hard to describe what Shape of the World is. Calling it a walking sim can seem right, but doesn’t give it justice. Exploration is more on the dollar. Open-world almost-aimless wandering hits the bulls-eye. So what does that mean?
While he demoed the game before I played it, Stu told me a story about what happened to him when he was young. While on vacation with his family, Stu was told to stay at the hotel the family had booked while his parents went off to a party. So, being the curious and bored boy he was, Stu went up and down floor after floor after floor of the hotel, trying to stay lost and not cooped up where he knew the way. This feeling of exploration and free unrestricted unfamiliar wandering is what Stu has aimed to recreate in Shape of the World.
Starting off and finishing in the same area, the vibrant and colorful demo world with trees and shrubs and simulated water and floating glowing fish literally grows around you as you explore and collect spherical “seeds” by walking through them. Touching the seeds can also make stairs form too.
Players can also jump in the world with a touch of the button. Another button makes things grow where you’re pointing with the first-person camera. By pressing a different button (varies by whether using controller or keyboard), players are able to “destroy” or “erase” almost everything in the environment, even the fish. You’ll know if you can destroy or erase it by if the object glows when you get close to it. That ties into the thing I loved the most about Shape of the World: almost-unlimited freedom.
Other than the glowing fish that help guide you back to a general direction, players are free to explore the almost-boundless environment. However, the game still has an overarching goal: find, get to, and walk through triangle-shaped gates that change the “theme” color of the world around you – in my case pink to purple. There is no clear end to the game, but that isn’t so much a problem as a premise: the enjoyment of wandering and seeing the world randomly generate around you, and seeing how you randomly affect it: infinitely-engrossing, and masterfully imitating life itself.
Not knowing what’s coming next, and trying to remember if you’ve passed a certain area already but not recognizing it because of the new vegetation in the vicinity was a gag that didn’t get old for me during my hands-on time, and I hope it won’t become old for you either when it comes out later this year (or early next year at the latest) on the PC, Mac, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. It’s even confirmed to have Oculus Rift VR support soon too (but not at initial launch, most likely).
You can support this beautiful game on Kickstarter. Even though the $60,000 goal is already reached, Shape of the World is too engrossing to not want to help its development more.
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