Mainstream video games have fallen into a dry formula—the tried and true roads developers know they can follow with little risk, and ensure they’ll still have jobs to go to next year. But indie developers are a different breed. If they can make a game and still have enough money left over for Ramen the project was a success. For them, it’s still about the game, and the game is their art.
There are plenty of odd and, well, interesting indie games out there, but every now and then one comes along that’s so original it changes everything. Deshori could become one of those games.
“Even though newer games have been trying to move further into focusing on the gameplay than the story, I’m still a sucker for a good story,” said Deshori developer Derek Sneed in an e-mail interview.
He says that while the way mainstream games are heading looks cool, “I feel that the industry’s focus on presenting fantastic visceral excitement in a violent way is devaluating games as a medium of expression.”
With Deshori, Sneed hopes to create a game that goes beyond this by bringing in gameplay elements that are difficult to create—a sense of both wonder and fear.
Deshori is a first person game based around adventure and survival. The player crash lands on an alien world after their fleet is attacked by terrorists. They wake up in a vast wilderness stretching beyond the horizon. They have no weapons, and the world is filled with both mystery and danger. Your ultimate goal is to get off the planet and rejoin a cosmic battle taking place far off in the sky, while enjoying the scenery along the way.
Sneed doesn’t want a hollow game. He wants something with the depth of a good movie.
“The core of good films are always deeper than the things we see before we reach the end,” he said, noting Braveheart was about freedom and fighting for what you believe in. Hook was about family and not taking them for granted. “Deshori is about learning, the benefits of nonviolence, beauty in nature, and taking risks.”
That being said, Sneed says he still enjoys the mainstream games—two of his favorites being Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2, which he describes as “the Tarantino films of games.”
But the idea is diversity—not all games need to follow the model of adrenaline and violence to be entertaining.
“I just want to keep pushing and growing the types of games we don’t see as often, so that people can have a ton of different choices when it comes to picking something they enjoy,” he said.
Visual effects will play a big part in Deshori, but in a way more akin to Minecraft than Battlefield 3. They’re simple, “But I like it,” Sneed said. “It’s mysterious and it’s different.”
An early video of the game shows vast sand dunes, strange plants swaying in the wind, and mysterious structures far off in the distance. Sneed notes the final game will be a lot more lush, and will have deep forests, caves, abandoned cities, and some unique biomes. “But I plan on retaining its simpleness,” he said.
A big inspiration for the Deshori was a camping trip Sneed took in Yellowstone a few years back. “In essence you go there to stare at stuff; everything is gorgeous,” he said. “The thing about mountains is they’re huge. HUGE. That’s the main reason people stare at them.”
He said that was one of the main inspirations for the game’s first demo: “Just really big things.”
The first demo set players down in the alien world, with a faint beeping and a “huge friggin, white arch off in the distance,” Sneed said. “People that played it went straight for the arch.” As they drew closer to the arch, the bleeps grew louder, and once at the foot of the towering arch, “you could hear the sound coming from the arch; emanating and beating as if it were some alien structure.”
“The demo was atmospheric and people thought it was cool,” he said.
Creating a sense of wonder is no easy task, since, as Sneed notes, it requires the player’s willingness to be in awe, and to evoke any deep response. But he has a few tricks up his sleeve that could make the game immersive enough to meet that goal.
Fear will have a key role in this. “There will be a lot of dangerous, pretty things out there,” Sneed said.
“I realized the other day that fear is one of the most immersive aspects of games today,” Sneed said, adding that he was playing BioShock recently, and physically ducked and cursed as a splicer jumped out of nowhere swinging at him with a pipe.
He said that while any seasoned game developer will attest to how hard it is to evoke real fear, “learning it myself is pretty cool.” Part of the plan is going with the model set my Amnesia, where the player will have no way to defend themselves against enemies—you need to sneak, run, and hide from them.
Sneed also wants to mess with your sense of ownership. Players can set up camps where they can store their items, but “you’ll want to protect it and make sure you’ve got it in a safe location, so that if you piss off the natives they can’t find it and steal and break you’re stuff.”
“Most everything in your camp will be found by you, gathered by you, and made by you. So to have it messed up will be really frustrating,” he said.
Deshori will have a complex AI system, complete with food chains, different types of nomads, and territories.
Sneed said he enjoys “living breathing worlds,” and games with “AI doing their own thing. GTA did this for me. The gangs fighting, people swearing at each other. It’s glorious.”
The animals in Deshori are based on real animals and behave similarly, but with each having “just enough of a twist so it seems otherworldly,” said Sneed. Some animals will travel in herds, grazing on plains, while predators hunt them. Different animals react differently to the player. Passive animals will run, while others will attack.
The NPCs will be similar. “Nomads will set up their large campsites and light fires only to be gone the next time you pass,” he said, adding they will also “kill stuff and eat it and chop down trees and hang out together. They interact with each other and talk and tell stories.”
But the nomads can also turn violent if the player irritates them.
“You’ll get to interact and be a part of all this stuff, but in a lot of ways you’ll just be a silent observer, continuing on your way,” he said.
The AI system Sneed wants is a bit out of his league, so he brought on another programmer, “_Madk” Kirschner to handle it. Kirschner now handles the programming and Sneed takes care of the art. They’re both working out how everything works. He says that while he wants the world to seem alive and real, “I want the game to be fun,” and he and Kirschner talk about “different little details and systems we can add purely for fun.”
Deshori is currently on Kickstarter, which they’re hoping will bring in enough to speed up development (and buy coffee). Sneed says regardless of how the Kickstarter campaign goes, he and Kirschner will do their best to get Deshori into the hands of gamers—and those in a giving mood can also donate to the project through Sneed’s website, penutbuttershoes.com.
[vimeo id=”30343871″ width=”600″ height=”350″]
* Images courtesy of Derek Sneed