Yonder is a new game. I like to help indie devs, so today I thought I’d call out and comment on a new game set to hit the PS4 and Windows markets this July. Called “Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles”, it’s primarily an exploration and building game targeted it a casual audience: no fighting and very little “story”. For once, a game targeted at my kind of crowd – if I still played games, that is.
~ Table of Contents ~
- Design and Development
- Concluding Remarks on the Game
- Culture Commentary
~ Info ~
The game is created in Unity. You can see photos on the made with Unity website.
The game is built on simple yet effective graphics, a basic premise, and an aura of freedom. The gameplay revolves around exploration, trading, building, and performing mini-tasks like fishing. It’s a giant sandbox, and given its UI, one immediately thinks “Minecraft”. Fortunately, the UI isn’t a bunch of pictures of cubes, and I doubt anything you’ll be building will look like Legos.
The entire game story can supposedly be completed in 8 hours, but it’s designed to be a never-ending game, so don’t expect a gripping plot.
It’s graphics seem to pay tribute to the styles first championed by Nintendo, but its game play takes a much more casual gamer approach. Many gamers immediately call out “Zelda: Breath of the Wind”, but it’s not like BOTW was unique either.
~ Commentary ~
Design and Development Commentary
If you’ve been waiting for a while for a game that actually modeled itself after the old Nintendo 64 graphics, the graphics of Yonder seem to fit the description: they are cheap. Despite the praise for eye-candy, the real magic is in the shaders for lighting and grass. The grass looks excellent, and the sunlight is stellar (pun intended). The ambient lighting gives the whole thing a pleasant feel. Ironically, the game uses simple shadows, perhaps appealing to a cartoon-look, but these are basic shadow meshes – no ray-tracing. Perhaps more work was done in optimizing them?
The models (for characters, animals, houses, etc) are not fleshed out, perhaps intentionally or perhaps (more likely) it’s too much work. This shows up especially where meshes have few polygons. The most impressive models are the trees, which contain lots and lots of leaves. They look awesome and really set the tone for the world. One nice thing about the meshes is that they all look solid, not some thin-plated facades to let the designers cut corners.
Overall, I think the feel of the game is due to the ambiance from proper lighting as well as the consistency in the model design that makes the game components stand out and stand together as a whole. But for a game created in Unity, the graphics are not impressive.
Much of the work seems to have been put into the variety of mechanics – from interacting with townspeople (talking, getting tasks, trading) to farming, fishing, and foraging – and the expanse of the world. There are 8 worlds, which is alot of work from a dev standpoint depending on how much each world has that makes it unique. Each world has only one creature calling it “home”, not counting fish, so that’s 8 total species plus “minor” or global species. Some of the videos I watched seem to reveal the mechanics are fairly similar among creatures. Skimping here or saving time? Animals wander, follow you around if you win them over, and may have young, so there are a number of mechanics, but it does make me think some variance among species and activities would be nice. Otherwise, they are all clones with a different mask… er, I mean “mesh”.
From a developer standpoint, it’s alot of work. It seems the devs divided their focus so they could add things to the features list. The basic features seem to be more or less standard pipeline features from Unity. The difficult part may have been just gathering all of those parts together and clocking the long hours to get it done. *applause*
I’m not a gamer, so the likelihood of me giving you an enjoyability rating is next to nil. It’s even closer to zero given that the game is only for PS4 and Windows – neither of which are in my possession. But I can comment on a few game facts.
~ Pros ~
The variety is nice. You can harvest a few different things, which can be used for trading or building or fulfilling other tasks. What all you can do is still a mystery, but at least there are plenty of people and creatures to interact with.
I like the choice of resource management for inventory. It’s a proven, recognizable concept (albeit frequently used): a screen with everything in a nice box. I’m curious if there will be limitations on the size of one’s inventory. I’m inclined to think that only games with a purpose of “advancement” towards fulfilling a goal (such as completing the story) would properly utilize a limited-yet-progressively-expanded inventory.
The game doesn’t involve combat, so you don’t need to fear something sneaking up on you, destroying your work, or killing your progress. And with a relaxed story, this means fewer distractions.
Pro or con, but the game doesn’t make it complicated to gather resources. It seems to be a fairly simple walk-up-and-hit-it approach. Mallet dominates the shovel in games. To compensate for its simplicity, it would be nice to see if this game has flexibility in how and what it allows you to build.
~ Cons ~
First, a minor point. The game doesn’t allow swimming. Sort of sad given that exploration games could always add a level of depth by allowing diving. As it is, a body of water is just for fish and fishing. Having seen the fishing, I assume the game mechanics are only designed to allow player interaction at the surface of water and any more than that would add a level of complexity that the creators may have felt wouldn’t add anything.
Second, the game allows for animal befriending. Ok, that’s cute. I watched a few events and came to the conclusion that there isn’t much to this activity. It’s too simplified. Perhaps some people want that, but it’s also not very rewarding. It would be nice to see different creatures require different techniques for winning them over.
Finally, what’s the point of all this? I like the idea of a casual, relaxing game, but I also understand from a human perspective, this game is akin to a walk in a zoo. At first I thought it might make a nice kids game, but it’s rating is dropped because of “crude humor”, which wasn’t shown in the demo videos.
Youtube channel Playstation Access had a rundown of the game where I got much of my info. So why not hear some commentary about an Aussie-made game from Aussies?
~ Concluding Remarks on the Game ~
From a gamer’s standpoint, I’d say it’s definitely something that “casual” or relaxed gamers would want to look into. It’s a virtual safari that lets you feed the animals.
From a developer’s perspective, it’s quite a bit of work, but it’s standard piping – no ground-breaking or bleeding-edge tech here. Just lots of sweat, late nights, and weary, burning eyes. Kudos to them for sticking it out.
~ Culture Commentary ~
Being a good philosopher, I’ve already begun contemplating the game and its effects on society. This game definitely models escapism, which many recent games are attempting and which “casual gamers” pursue. As a culture, there isn’t as much to look forward to. The rest of life isn’t all that interested. I recently overheard a remark about kids growing up. Some years ago, kids wanted to be firefighters, policemen, and other respectable day-workers, scientists, and, well, grown-ups. Now they want to be Youtube stars, blogging stars, and music stars. I watch friends of mine play games alot, and I’m well aware that society in the modern world is collapsing in on itself in many ways.
I spoke about the debt crisis in a previous post, and that was one area of collapse, but another area of collapse is societal dreams. I can find more encouragement these days to become a game dev or gamer or artist than a scientist or technician or something I’d find more worth-while. The former is cheap and everywhere, but the latter is a steep slope full of potholes and determined by roulette. You fail and you’re not only out of money, you may never get back up!
The collapse in society around games is just a matter of feeding the monster. People crave entertainment because they’ve been fed good entertainment in unrestricted quantities. There’s no end to the number of pictures, video, and games out there. So people see it and want more, and they’re willing to pay for it.
On the other side, you have poor devs who see the demand and pursue that because that’s where the money is and it’s easy to get help for it. More games creates more demand. On top of that, you can create a game like this with only two guys. Success and having the game pay itself off is a different matter. Roll the dice, and hope you’re game is a hit. Creating some technology that people can use isn’t so easy. For example, the other day, I was reading about a trucker who wanted some logging system for his truck. He’d pay $60 or so. Peanuts considering the point of selling software cheap is because you usually have lots of people to buy it, which isn’t the case for a select industry. Sadly for him, he doesn’t realize the software in his truck is proprietary, and it’d cost alot more than $60 to get the licensing worked out for some indie dev to even touch the code, nevermind writing an extension to it. But that’s just one example. For other things, you may need more than one guy to make it economical, and hope you don’t stumble on some sharp-eye-sharp-tie who will Steve-Jobs you or Bill-Gates you out of owning your company.
Back to Yonder (lol), I’m actually pleased to see there’s no combat nor emphasis on an adversary. There are too many games falling into that category. Fighting is a cheap way to add action. I know a number of people argue that games don’t have an effect on people, but that’s wrong. A mature individual can certainly decide to not mimic what he does in a game, but more and more young people are playing video games, and their social tendencies are being set by how they play games, how they interact in games, and what they experience from games. Kids are becoming more anti-social, more rabid, and more rude. And it’s not just younger kids. People my age and older who have played games their whole lives become “hard-core”, and I don’t mean that in a good way. They are more tolerant of violence, more tolerant of bigotry, more tolerant of hatred, and more disrespectful (towards everyone – adults, women, and even the creators of the games they play). Of course, it depends on the kinds of games you play. I’ve seen people get pretty upset playing Tetris, but you don’t walk around thinking of slaughtering people after a few rows of blocks didn’t line up your way.
I am inclined to think that the gaming market has shifted focus significantly, thanks to the mobile phone. Even my mother plays a game now and then rather than picking up a deck of cards. Convenience has spoiled us. It makes me wonder how much more or less energy overall (both bio and electrical) playing a card game on a phone rather than playing the real thing. I doubt they difference is too small to be insignificant, no matter how trivial it may be. It would depend on who played and how, but remember – the phone is always on, batteries need to be replaced, and the marginal cost of the digital world will add up over time. It already has, though it hasn’t all come crashing down just yet. I think society will collapse long before we run out of fuel, of course, but supposing everything else is resolved (such as the debt crisis and the nuclear missile crisis) – if we continue to do things like playing soccer on the computer instead of running around a lawn, one day, the former may be the only thing our children can do.