Exploring engrossing worlds has long been at the heart of gaming, but one ambitious indie team is about to invite players to drop some of the baggage that we've become accustomed to taking along for the ride.
Recently honored with awards for Most Innovative Game and Best Indie MMO at PAX East by website MMO Gamer, "Wander" is the creation of a small studio based largely out of Melbourne, Australia. Described as a "collaborative, non-combat, non-competitive MMO", Wander invites players into a universe that is bereft of weaponry, and defined instead by fantastical creatures, serene panoramas, and the freedom to shape your own experience.
According to the game's Creative Director, Loki Davison, the process of taking Wander off the path of well-trodden game conventions has been a source of inspiration. "I feel like combat can be a bit of a crutch; if you give someone a weapon, they know exactly what they’re expected to do with it. Removing that aspect gives us, as game designers, a challenge and we have to explore new and more inventive ideas. Early players—especially those who have high-stress lifestyles—really enjoy the soothing and relaxing atmosphere."
Wander's writer, Crystal Flinn, agrees. "Don’t get me wrong, I love violence in games. However, it’s not necessary to tell a good story and give players an engaging experience. Sometimes I’ll be playing a game—and even though I might absolutely love it—I'll still find myself thinking, 'Is indiscriminately murdering everything in sight really my only option here?', and I know there are countless other gamers who feel the same way."
So what can players expect? Wander's website offers further explanation on the finer points of gameplay, starting with the intriguing revelation that you begin life "as a giant tree" amid a sprawling rainforest. Over time, you'll become imbued with the power to take on new forms that aid you in uncovering the secrets of land, sea and sky. To heighten the joy of discovery, you're also invited to forge friendships with fellow Wander players and make your way through the world's lush, tropical landscapes together.
To create the game's awe-inspiring locations, the team turned to CRYENGINE. From Crytsal's perspective, the decision was simple. "The look of the game is vital to making sure the player is fully immersed in the environment and the experience, so it was very important for us to choose the best engine for the purpose. Honestly, when Loki told me that CRYENGINE was an option the decision was made, as far as I was concerned!
Underscoring the versatility the engine offers for indie developers, Wander is slated to come to both PC and PlayStation®4. "Console is really attractive for a developer," says Loki, "because you can make sure that each player has the exact same experience. We also liked the input options with the DualShock 4, for example force feedback and gyroscope. It makes the flight much nicer! We also love the touch pad and have implemented it heavily in our gameplay."
In the works since 2012, Wander is scheduled to launch later this month. For Loki, reaching this point has been an odyssey which first began with discovering the social power of gaming. "I grew up on a farm in rural Australia where the nearest kid my age was 30km away, so playing online MMOs was a great way to meet and interact with lots of different people all over the world. The journey to get to launching Wander involved lots of strange life experiences, and then using them to inspire me. I worked and saved up my money for quite a few years and then went for it. The first few months of the project were spent trying to collect the right people and getting the basic idea worked out. We’ve tested a lot of features, cut those that didn’t fit, and polished the ones that did."
Like Loki, Crystal's path to working on Wander started with a revelation of what games could bring into her world. "Believe it or not, I never really got into gaming in any significant way until I was about 14. However, that was right around the time The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy 6 and, most importantly, Chrono Trigger came out on SNES. Needless to say, the rest was history. It was playing these games (as well as watching Sailor Moon religiously) that really got me interested in writing stories and creating characters. I even went to art school while continuing to write in my spare time. Eventually I kind of realized that I was as good or better at writing than I was at art. Then, circumstances brought me from Canada to Australia, where I ended up meeting Loki."
As the imminent arrival of Wander approaches, it is these shared histories, and the hard graft of around 25 others working on the game, that have breathed life into its unique form. And as she ponders the question of whether early buzz from press is a source of pressure, Crystal neatly sums up the simple ethos at the heart of the project. "There’s definitely pressure, as well as the desire to live up to that expectation; but we do love the love! It’s great to feel so supported when we’re making something that’s a bit more unusual than what most people are probably used to."
To get behind this "more unusual" venture, visit www.wanderthegame.com and follow the team's progress as they strive to take gaming off the beaten track.