Just what is this game "A Valley Without Wind" from indie studio Arcen Games all about? Read on to find out.
Procedural World Filled With Choice And Customization
At first glance it looks like your average 2D Metroidvania title, just
with magic instead of guns. The difference is choice: except for a
brief linear intro mission, this is all a procedural open world.
than linear levels, the emphasis here is on tactical combat and
strategic planning. The overlord is strong, you're weak, and you need
to figure out how to fix that and go kick his or her butt. In a lot of
respects the mentality is that of a strategy game (makes sense given our
past games, eh?), but rather than it being an army of characters you
control, it's just one character at a time.
The amount of customization is pretty crazy. There are "only"
something like 40 spells you can directly craft at the moment, but there
are also passive enchant buffs that you can apply to yourself.
Enchants change anything from how you move; to how your spells behave;
to how you light your way, or if you can breathe underwater, etc.
Enchants are procedurally generated like loot in Borderlands or Diablo,
and there are a few hundred thousand unique combinations possible at
this point. Various items can be scavenged out in the world, too, such
as magic scrolls to turn yourself into a bat, heatsuits that make lava
easier to deal with, and so on. Figuring out how to best customize your
character to match your skills as a gamer is one of the cooler aspects
of the game.
The Community Vs The Self, Permadeath, And Thinking Outside The Box
you choose your first character, the game warns you not to get too
attached. It's not a question of IF your character is going to die, but
WHEN. Upon death, the character is gone forever -- and most of the
time, a vengeful ghost arises from their corpse and makes the area you
died in even harder. So, uh, tactical retreats aren't just for the
faint of heart in this game.
It's not like permadeath in a roguelike, though, where the mechanics
are overtly punitive -- we're not out to punish the player. When you
die you get to choose a new character immediately, and you keep all your
inventory, enchants, and general progress in the game. There are some
minor character-specific things that are lost, but it's nothing remotely
We've also tried to emphasize choice with "community focus versus
focus on self." There's a lot more that we want to do in that area in
the future, but what is there is pretty nifty already. You can rescue
NPCs and construct buildings for them, and in return those NPCs can help
you out via long-range magic scrolls, for instance.
I really love games where players get an opportunity to show their
cleverness, rather than just jumping through a set of hoops the
developer set out. In your average Metroidvania title, each challenge
has one solution (see red door in Metroid = shoot with missiles), and
that can be really fun in its own right. But in AVWW each challenge
tends to have four or five solutions (at least), each with their own
pros and cons. If you play as a bat you don't have to worry about
jumping, but you also deal less damage, get blown about by the wind
more, and can't go into lava or ice age areas. And so on.
I like to tell the story of this one player who, during the beta,
made essentially a melee fighter using the spell Death Touch and some
jump-related and defense-related enchants; he managed to kill an
overlord with this build, and I was blown away that this was even
possible. It took a lot of sideways thinking to make the build in the
first place, and then a lot of skill to bring down an overlord using
that build. That's what I mean by encouraging players to show their own
cleverness (as well as skill).
Adaptive Gameplay, And True Freedom Without Being Directionless
a linear game, the difficulty curve can be set by level designers. In
an open world, that's not possible because we don't know where you're
going to go. So what we did was make it adaptive to how you play:
monsters have a general baseline difficulty to start with, and then they
upgrade as you demonstrate your proficiency. Killed 100 regular bats?
Okay, we get it, you're good at killing bats. Time for... bats on
You can literally go almost anywhere you see in the open world --
including right into the overlord's keep at any time. Come on, it's no
secret where the oppressive dictator lives. The problem is that the
monsters surrounding his keep will probably kill you before you even
reach his front stoop. But if you're so good that you could avoid
getting hit at all by enemy shots, you could just go right into his keep
and take him out with your starting pea shooters. Realistically it's a
lot more fun to actually play the game and buff your character
appropriately before going for the take-down, but even then you get to
choose when and how that take-down is going to happen.
Each world is literally endless. When you beat one overlord, and
thus save one continent, a new continent that is bigger and more
complicated opens up. Some things carry across continents, others
don't. It's kind of like a "New Game+" option that a lot of RPGs have,
except better because you can still go back to your old continent any
time, and there's a lot more direct continuity. Each continent should
take most players 8-14 hours to complete, but that really varies
enormously depending on how much side exploration they do.
One immediate worry with a game of such scope, with such long-form
goals, is players feeling directionless. That was certainly something
we struggled with early in the public beta, and with AI War as well.
Thanks to the help of our core fanbase, we've managed to put together a
system that guides without being directive. The "planning menu" in the
game gives you suggestions on what to do at all times based on your
current status, but you're free to ignore those suggestions and do
whatever you see fit. It also includes the equivalent of an entire wiki
right in the game itself, so that you don't have to go looking at
external sources to find out where arcane ingredient #7 is, etc.
Where We Hope To See This Go Next
This has been our most
successful beta so far by a factor of at least 4:1, and we had really
positive showings at both Minecon and PAX East. Players willing, my
hope is to be able to focus on building more of this game for the next
3+ years to take it from what is already massive (30-40 hours to even
see all the content at the moment) to something gargantuan like AI War.
As with AI War, the hope is to do tons of free content on an ongoing
basis, and then a few optional paid expansions with larger content-drops
along the way.
Speaking of AI War, that game has been out since May 2009 and we're
still doing almost weekly free updates to it; and we have at least two
more expansions planned regardless of how well AVWW does. We know that
some folks' faith in post-release content has been shaken in light of
various recent events with other developers, but we have a three-year
track record of being there on an ongoing basis. We don't intend to
stop that anytime soon.