Since the release of games like Gone Home and Dear Esther, we’ve gotten a lot of games that work in a similar nature. Players explore the environment, look for clues to piece the narrative together and are on their way after a two to five hour experience. Casey and Scott Goodrow, two brothers developing The Wild Eternal, have set out to make a rather unique adventure game that’s quite a bit more involving than your traditional “walking simulator”.
Want to see what I mean?
— Casey Goodrow (@caseygoodrow) June 28, 2016
We hope you enjoy the interview and be sure to let us know what you think about the game in the comments section. A reveal trailer for The Wild Eternal is coming soon, stay tuned.
ONLYSP: To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourselves as game developers and how The Wild Eternal came about?
Casey Goodrow: Sure! So, Scott and I are brothers. We spent a large part of our childhoods playing games together, both on computers/consoles as well as out in nature. When we decided to make our first game together, all of this played a part in our decision-making process.
We went on a lot of hikes early on, discussing what kind of game would be interesting to us. We knew we wanted to make something 3d and first-person, because of how immersive it can be, and because not a lot of indie developers were making 3D games at the time (this was around January 2013, things have changed a bit since then!). From that sprang the idea of a valley filled with fog, two explorable spaces.
Above: A clear view of your surroundings. Landmarks rise above the blanket of fog, indicating points of interest, places to go.
Below: A foggy forest of interwoven trails and obstacles.
The original concept for the game was that simple; start on a vista, see somewhere you want to go, descend into the fog, get very, very lost.
ONLYSP: Interesting, and from what I’ve seen of The Wild Eternal that you’ve shared so far, it’s really not what you’d consider a “walking simulator,” is it?
Casey Goodrow: Scott was actually very concerned about the game being too simple at first. Initial inspirations were indeed games like Proteus and Gone Home.
Scott Goodrow: We’ve had endless discussions about what genre we fit into best, it’s been a struggle to find the words! Casey is privy to FPX, First Person Experience, which I think does us justice.
One of our design goals has been to create a game that gives each player a unique adventure. While getting lost and finding your way is at the core of it, we wanted to explore what it meant for each player to get lost and find their own way — we didn’t want a cookie-cutter experience for each person. So this meant designing a non-linear story game.
Down below the fog, you’ll find a whole host of opportunities that will shape your adventure. Friendly and bizarre critters will challenge and interest you. Fragments of story are littered… everywhere. And throughout it all, you’ll find valuable artifacts which you can offer up to the local gods in exchange for permanent, meaningful player buffs: the ability to understand critters’ thoughts, being able to jump like Superman, fruit that befriends and controls wildlife, a lamp that creates magic orbs to mark your path… each player will find different choices and choose what’s most interesting to them, and that shapes how they interact with the world.
ONLYSP: So what’s the basic premise behind the storyline for The Wild Eternal?
Casey Goodrow: If you follow us on Twitter, you may have heard us refer to our main character from time to time as Grandma. The game is about an old woman named Ananta, who has lived a long life in a war-torn fictional 15th Century Himalayan countryside. She believes that after she dies, she will be reborn anew, and this is the last thing she wants. So she flees death and finds a magical valley and a talking fox. Wouldn’t you know it, the fox says he can help her escape the cycle of rebirth, if only she’ll help him with this other thing…
ONLYSP: A talking Fox you say…that leads to some very annoying memories of a certain song from not too long ago…
Casey Goodrow: Our fox has a lot to say, I can tell you that ;) Let’s put memories of that song behind us!
ONLYSP: Haha! I was kinda just picturing your fox following the player around and singing that song until you finally hunt it down and make it stop.
So you said you wanted to avoid making The Wild Eternal too simplistic, what kind of gameplay elements are in the game that keep it from being dubbed a walking simulator?
Casey Goodrow: We threw a lot of ideas around at first. Mysterious narrative? Critters that pose more of a threat to you than you to them? Collecting artifacts (which we call tribute), and exchanging them for power-ups (which we call blessings).
One of the things we really wanted to do was set the player up to tell their own stories. This meant providing a relatively non-linear experience with a lot of player agency.
ONLYSP: Cool. So what kind of interactions will you have with the different animals in the game? I know from watching some of the clips you’ve posted that they’ll occasionally interact with the player and even mimic what the player does? Like the jumping deer for example.
Casey Goodrow: The interactions are largely determined by the type of critter you are interacting with. Each critter type has its own unique temperament and interests. Rats and tigers are both curious about the player, but get too close to a rat, and it’s just going to run away. Get too close to a tiger? Expect repercussions!
We have a nice range of critters to interact with. The rats and tigers are more mundane, but as you progress through the game you happen upon stranger and stranger creatures, like the man-headed deer, which we call Pogostags.
Scott Goodrow: That’s right. And each has several different behaviors which change based on what’s going on around them. Observing these behaviors from afar is one set of experiences, as the critters can interact with each other. Engaging them yourself is another set of experiences, and those can change depending on what blessings you’ve discovered.
ONLYSP: So is there any type of danger present in the world? If I recall, I saw a video of the tiger chasing the player around?
Scott Goodrow: Ooh, yeah, let’s talk about death!
Casey Goodrow: Okay, so there are dangers like the tiger, or falling from a cliff, or drowning, etc. Your experience playing the game will largely feel pretty safe, but there will always be at least some threat of conflict on the horizon. That said, our death mechanic is very forgiving.
I suppose I should clarify; you can’t actually die in the game. When you get knocked unconscious the fox carries you to a nearby safe space, and you wake up and can have a conversation about the thing that just pummeled you.
Unfortunately the fox doesn’t care about your stuff. So he leaves some of your belongings behind. We haven’t talked about your belongings yet!
ONLYSP: Let’s talk about that, no game is complete without collectibles! But based on what you’ve told me, I’m going to assume these collectibles are quite integral to the gameplay experience.
Casey Goodrow: As you progress through the game you can find 3 categories of items: Keys, Tribute, and Tools. Keys enable you to progress to later stages of the game, tribute is currency, and then there are tools…
Tools are fruit, a compass, and a diya, which can all be augmented through the blessing system, giving them entirely new purposes as the game progresses. Unfortunately tools are left behind if you are knocked unconscious, so you’ll have to go back and find them if you want them, which can be hard, given the foggy nature of the game.
ONLYSP: Interesting, so kinda using some pretty old school mechanics to get players to progress through the levels? How big is the environment that you’re building, or is each area sort of its own level?
Casey Goodrow: The game is split into 4 Acts. The player can access all levels within an act in any order, and move between those levels freely. The game has locked gates between acts (this is what you need keys for), but within each act the experience is extremely open and non-linear.
This means that when you enter Act 2, you might choose to enter Heaven’s Gate, whereas I might choose to enter Royal Hills. Your experience navigating Act 2 is going to be very different from mine, in fact you may never even need to enter into Royal Hills!
Scott Goodrow: The levels are each quite big, especially when it comes to how much content they’re stuffed with. We aren’t doing anything procedurally, either. It’s all hand-crafted. It’s been a lot of work, haha.
ONLYSP: So if players want to see everything, it’s most likely going to require more than one playthrough? Are there multiple endings in The Wild Eternal?
Scott Goodrow: It really depends on the type of player and how they navigate. You can see everything and experience everything in one playthrough… but you don’t have to. If you’re the kind of player that wants to find everything, you can do that. If you’re not, that’s fine too, though we do have some gameplay mechanics which encourage you to go back and explore past spaces. How you navigate them and how you perceive them will change as you learn more about the story and the core mechanics of the game.
As for multiple endings…
Casey Goodrow: We’ve considered having a couple of player chosen endings, but nothing is set in stone yet. I would add that the player can always, at any time, travel back to previous acts. Once a door is opened, it remains open, and navigating the world gets faster as you unlock certain blessings.
ONLYSP: Going back to the narrative for a second, is the story going to be something that’s up to player interpretation for the most part?
Casey Goodrow: Yes. The interesting thing about delivering story in these types of games, especially in a non-linear setting, is it totally has to be pieced together by the player, and we provide a lot of pieces. The player character and the fox both have their own stories to tell, but in addition, and interwoven, is a backstory about these Gods with lofty ideals kinda screwing everything up, as well as some smaller more personal stories about the people who lived there. So there’s a lot to piece together.
It’s also I think a story about suffering and self care. We provide a lot of opportunities for personal reflection through our narrative. Often, the player will have a conversation that’s full to the brim with stuff that they need to kinda digest and think about and, as they wander the environment, can hopefully continue to think about.
ONLYSP: I’m super excited to see more developers taking more time and care with their narratives to make the player actually think about what they’re digesting and discuss it with others. Seems like gaming narratives have really matured over the past two or three years.
Scott Goodrow: Totally agree. it’s been really exciting to watch that maturation happen. While The Wild Eternal is technically single player, I think it makes for a great game to play on the couch with others. There’s just so much to discuss and think about.
Casey Goodrow: I’m excited too! There’s so much good stuff coming out now.
ONLYSP: How many hours of gameplay are you expecting players to get out of The Wild Eternal?
Casey Goodrow: That’s a hard question! For a new, non-completionist player, I would expect each level (on average) to take 1-2 hours. We are currently expecting to chop up the release into two parts. Part One, which is just about ready for Steam Greenlight, will ship with 5 levels. Part Two will have an additional 6 levels.
Scott Goodrow: Part One is usually about 6-7 hours if you want to experience about 70% of the content. Finding the last 30% that you missed will probably take another 2-3 hours if you’re feeling compelled to experience everything you can.
Casey Goodrow: And then there’s this other thing that we are hoping, which is to create a game-world that people want to return to even after they’ve completed it, just to be there. If it hits that spot then infinity gameplay time ;)
ONLYSP: That’s a pretty impressive amount of content for a two person dev team. Is PC your only target platform at the moment or do you have plans to bring it to consoles as well?
Scott Goodrow: We’d love to get onto other platforms eventually, but yeah, for now PC is our target platform.
ONLYSP: Do you have a target release date for The Wild Eternal?
Scott Goodrow: Hopefully Early Access very soon, we’ll let you know.
ONLYSP: Awesome. Well, thanks for taking the time to speak with me about the game guys, is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know about The Wild Eternal before I let you go?
Casey Goodrow: I think we’ve pretty much covered it! If you have any readers in the Chicago area that are interested in trying the game, we will be at BitBash on August 13. Thank you for the interview, Nick!