Like many sport designers, Chandana Ekanayake retains a giant doc stuffed with potential ideas, one which he retains updating as concepts come to him. One which’s caught round is the idea of being a falconer: having a chook that you could possibly practice and take care of, whereas working collectively to unravel issues. “I believed the entire concept of getting a falcon as a mechanic may be attention-grabbing,” he says.
So when Ekanayake fashioned Outerloop Video games, and started exploring concepts for the studio’s first sport, the chook idea got here up early. He put collectively a scrappy prototype utilizing premade belongings, and was struck by the feeling of watching the chook fly off, solely to return again and relaxation in your arm while you name it. The impact was significantly pronounced in digital actuality. “Seeing the chook at a distance even early on, with actually crappy belongings, that scale change was a ‘Wow’ second for folks,” he says. “So now we had to determine what the gameplay was.”
The result’s Falcon Age, which launched this week on the PlayStation four and PSVR. (You may play the sport each in VR and on a standard tv.) What began as a bare-bones prototype has become a surprisingly emotional journey. The bond with the chook remains to be on the core of the expertise; the truth is, Falcon Age has gained a cult following on Twitter because of a gradual stream of cute gifs, that includes falcons giving fist bumps or sketching footage in a pocket book. Beneath that, although, the sport tells a strong story a few struggling group combating off oppressive colonizers.
“We get you in with the chook,” says Ekanayake, “and we observe up with the story.”
Falcon Age opens along with your character, a younger lady named Ara, in a jail labor camp. A skittish robotic leads her via the identical routine every single day, which begins with a collection of questions on compliance and ends with exhausting labor mining for minerals. Then sooner or later, simply outdoors of her cell window, she sees a falcon combating with a guard drone and within the ensuing battle, a child chook leads to her cell. Ara nurses the chook again to well being, and trains it to observe her and hunt. Finally, the 2 escape jail and meet up with Ara’s aunt — who simply so occurs to be a grasp falconer. Her aunt not solely helps information Ara in the best way of falconry, however exhibits how her budding expertise can assist within the struggle towards the colonizing robotic pressure.
One of the vital irritating issues about fashionable blockbuster video games is their lack of ability to meaningfully discover political subjects; video games like Detroit: Develop into Human and Far Cry 5 have used the sheen of political imagery, however failed to truly say something of substance. That’s a part of what makes Falcon Age so refreshing. It doesn’t pull any punches. Early on, there’s a scene that’s disturbing in its familiarity, when Ara — whose full title is Sarangerai — tells her aunt about how her captors shortened her title as a result of they couldn’t pronounce it correctly. Later you’ll meet residents who don’t mince phrases, saying issues like “anybody who would promote a planet’s inhabitants the concept they’re nugatory besides as a useful resource is an entity bereft of a coronary heart.”
Ekanayake has been making video games for greater than 20 years, and he needed to type a studio partly to inform tales you don’t normally see within the medium. “For me beginning Outerloop, my large focus was additionally having under-represented characters in tales,” he says. “Having grown up in Sri Lanka, a former British colony, I at all times favored the concept of telling a narrative from the colonized perspective.”
He sketched out the preliminary narrative himself, and ultimately he introduced on 80 Days author Meg Jayanth to flesh issues out. “She made it good,” he jokes. The 2 additionally bonded over the same upbringing that helped inform the story and its vivid characters. “We each actually needed to make a imply outdated Asian auntie that makes you are feeling responsible about your life selections,” Ekanayake says. Later Cassandra Khaw joined to fill out the writing crew, having beforehand labored on video games like The place the Water Tastes Like Wine and Sunless Skies. (Khaw additionally beforehand labored at The Verge.)
What makes Falcon Age work is how that critical story is balanced with playfulness, significantly your relationship with the falcon. So as to get via the sport, you have to work carefully along with your chook buddy; the falcon can knock a drone out of the sky so you possibly can destroy it, and can hunt for meals and collect fruit when you direct her to. The chook feels startlingly actual, due largely to the lifelike animations. The crew spent lots of time learning birds, and even spent a day with a falconer, and the hassle exhibits. Falcon Age’s chook is essentially the most real looking online game creature I’ve encountered since Trico in The Final Guardian, although she’s fortunately not as temperamental and can at all times reply while you name.
It really works nicely sufficient as a normal sport, however Falcon Age actually involves life in VR. Having your chook companion truly look instantly at you is startling, and the varied interactions really feel that rather more participating while you’re utilizing your physique. You may seize treats and feed her, and maintain a PlayStation Transfer controller as much as your face to imitate a whistle and name her. Issues additionally get a bit foolish: you possibly can costume up the chook in hats and scarves, and there’s a particular merchandise that transforms the grownup chook again right into a cute child. These lighthearted moments are vital in a sport with such a critical story. “I needed to verify there was this stability,” Ekanayake says.
All through growth, the crew has targeted totally on selling the chook side of Falcon Age; you don’t must go far to seek out cute gifs of a falcon in a hat or shaking fingers. Alongside the best way, they’ve found an enormous neighborhood of chook followers that they didn’t even know existed. In truth, the falconer they labored with truly reached out to them after seeing the sport introduced at PAX. It wasn’t some large pre-planned advertising and marketing scheme, however the sport appears to have touched a nerve.
“I’m adopted by lots of chook lovers now,” Ekanayake says.