GAMETECH: Walking in a Walden wonderland

Walden, The Game, might sound like a joke, but it’s happening, writes Ronan Jennings

GAMETECH: Walking in a Walden wonderland

“RATHER than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” That’s a quote from Walden, a book published by Henry David Thoreau in 1854. It’s a text about living in nature and getting in touch with your needs. Well here’s one truth for you, Mr Thoreau — video games aren’t exactly the best place to experience nature as they tend to require couches and pixels. That hasn’t stopped someone making a game based on your book.

Walden, The Game, might sound like a joke, but it’s happening. Due for release this spring and developed by the Game Innovation Lab at the Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, it’s an experience designed to make people think about the pace at which they are living and how to adjust work-life balance.

“Games are kinds of rehearsals,” said lead designer Tracy J Fullerton. “It might give you pause in your real life: Maybe instead of sitting on my cellphone, rapidly switching between screens, I should just go for a walk.”

Sounds a bit like using cake to wean someone off biscuits, if you ask us.

The game allows you to go for walks in the forest, become a bean planter, listen to music and hear excerpts from Thoreau’s text. If you work too hard, the colour starts to drain out of the world, leaving the landscape grey.

If you don’t forage to eat, however, your character can faint. Furthermore, if you don’t keep your work-life balance in check, Walden The Game cautions: “Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude, and interacting with visitors, animal and human.”

Let’s be brutally honest here. Diversity is welcome in gaming, but Walden, The Game is not exactly jumping to the top of our must-play list. It sounds both preachy and misguided, an attempt to hammer home a belief system through gaming rather than an effort to take the medium in any new directions. More than that, anyone who has played Skyrim, The Witcher 3, or the stunning Horizon Zero Dawn will know that the representation of nature in those games is the very cornerstone of their success. Watching the sun rise over digital mountains may never match the real thing, but it does do a very fine impression. If, like me, you’ve often paused your adventure to take in that sight, or perhaps reeds dancing in the wind, or water flowing downstream, then we suspect gaming has already made Thoreau proud. And that’s the truth.

MARVEL GAME FOR OFFERING FREEDOM

At least Walden, The Game will tell a new story — and we’ll reserve our full judgment until we play it. Marvel, on the other hand, faces a very different challenge. How do you make Marvel stories compelling in the video-game industry? The answer, according to Marvel Games creative director Bill Roseman, is to let developers tell their own stories, instead of someone else’s.

“We want to give our partners freedom to look at all of Marvel history and to pick from what interests them,” said Roseman, bashing together Hulk and Spider-Man action figures while making explosion noises.

“It’s a bit like we’re saying, ‘Hey you’re the chef, you’re going to make this meal. Here’s all of the ingredients. You pick the ingredients that you like and make a new meal.”

Bill really made a meal of that analogy.

He also said Marvel wasn’t going to pressure developers to release games that coincide with film dates. With a new Spider-Man game in the works from Insomniac studios and Telltale working on Guardians of the Galaxy, we should see the fruits of this approach later this year.

A NIOH BRAINER

To prove that there’s always room for new stories in gaming, look no further than Nioh. The action game has sold over 1m copies since its launch a few weeks ago, a fantastic achievement for a new franchise will relatively little marketing.

Considering that Nioh was released as a PS4 exclusive, the number seems even more impressive. It’s great to see Team Ninja, creators of one of the best action games ever in Ninja Gaiden, back with a bang.

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