Shape of the World - A psychedelic Vancouver
How childhood memories and the forests of Canada formed this in-game world
Work, family commitments, travelling – chances are that your life changes a lot as you grow up, and playing video games can sometimes take a hit in the process.
You’ll always have that passion, that drive to play them, but for whatever reason you can’t put in the lengthy gaming sessions that you used to. With this being a common occurrence, people’s preference for game styles and the longevity of each game can vary – as well as the experience that the game gives them, opting for more of a winding-down, relaxing playthrough as opposed to hacking limbs off a demonic creature in a sci-fi inspired universe.
If you’re looking for a casual game to pick up and enjoy for a couple of hours, something that offers a tranquil and awing world to venture through – look no further than Shape of the World. The game sees players wander through a colorful ecosystem of flourishing flora, rambling waterfalls, burgeoning mountains and glowing monoliths, with graceful creatures to keep them company.
Speaking to Fanatical, Stu Maxwell – Lead Developer at Hollow Tree Games – talked about how his childhood memories helped shape the world… of Shape of the World.
“Shape of the World is my attempt at creating a place where we can get lost as adults,” says Stu. “When I was a kid, my parents took me to the Banff Springs Hotel, which is outrageously huge, even now. When you’re a kid it just feels like an infinite labyrinth of exploration, there are moments when you’re completely lost, but it’s so much fun because you know you’re still in the hotel.
“As adults we don’t get to escape like that very often, we know our world so well that we’re often on auto-pilot, so this is a place to try and capture those moments of relaxing and engaging exploration without any deadlines. You continue your journey from your last save point unless you decide to start again.
“The world is actually linear, in that I created each ‘level’ and defined the contours of the environment, the landmarks and so on. What changes is the life around you, the trees, the creatures and the places they grow. You might come back through an area that you know, but realize that the trees have all changed color, or that they’re not where they used to be.”
A quick glance at the chart-toppers will show you a flurry of shoot ‘em ups, action adventures and RPGs with various aspects to each – combat, missions, etc. We asked Stu what it is about this particular type of genre, of pure serene exploration, that he thinks is appealing to gamers.
“Well I think there are lot of people right now who have very busy lives, kids, work, social, sport and then there’s this layer of technology and endless notifications over the top,” says Stu. “So, it’s nice to be able to integrate some of the slower paced relaxation of a first-person explorer to your routine. A lot of people come home after a stressful day and they play hardcore games that create a lot of momentary stress too, that’s not for everyone.”
You only have to look at the exploration and walking sim-based games genre over the past few years to see how players have taken to a more casual approach to gaming, what with Journey scoring highly when it was released on the PlayStation 4 in 2012, and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture in 2015 – quoted as being a “stunning experience”.
“I’m a big fan of more abstract games,” says Stu. “So, Journey and Flower and Proteus were games that really got me thinking about how we can create experiences that give people something interactive to occupy their downtime, without necessarily challenging them with insanely difficult enemies or precision platforming.”
Shape of the World features beautiful, illuminated colors in a world that interacts and alters with each journey. Stu spoke about the sights and sounds around his home in Canada and how they helped construct the world in which players will explore.
“It’s really inspired by some of the parks and forests around my home in Vancouver, as well as the Pacific West in general,” says Stu. “I’ve spent a lot of time riding my bike around this part of the world and one of the amazing things about the environment are the changes between the seasons. The colors of the leaves even the tone of the light as it filters through the branches changes drastically, so I tried to distill that down to its very essence and as I experimented I kept pushing the palettes further and further.
“So now we have a game that’s quite psychedelic, while still very reminiscent of the forests that I love.”
Shape of the World is described as a “1-3 hour escape from work, anxiety and stress” – prompting a soothing atmosphere that anyone can enjoy, whether it’s a for a couple of hour or longer. Those with anxiety and other mental health conditions may find the game comforting and stimulating too, surrounding themselves with a world full of wonder and serenity.
We asked Stu whether this relaxation element was always a key component of the game.
“That’s something that has evolved gradually with the development of the game,” he says. “Four years ago, when I started on the very first prototype of the game, it was just an experiment, a challenge for me. You think, can I hold down a job and develop my own game at the same time?
“Then we had our first kid, work started pushing more responsibility my way as I gained seniority… you know things just started to get crazy!
“Now we’ve just had our second child, I’m running a team at work and all the while still chugging away at getting this game out to all the amazing people who backed it on Kickstarter. So, you can imagine that this became my place to escape and relax.
“It’s the game I’ve played little bits of every night for the last four years, my zen garden, my place to relax and escape. It’s short and sweet, not because we couldn’t have made it long, but because it’s not meant to be a slog to get through it, you should feel like you just walked through a beautiful garden breathing in fresh clean air.”