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How one man is creating open-world exploration in Frontiers

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Game developer Lars Simkins would like you to experience a sense of wonder. And accomplishment. Maybe even a laugh or two.

The one-man show behind upcoming open-world role-playing game Frontiers, Simkins is attempting to share his love of the unknown. The developer admittedly avoids long hikes, but loves to hop fences and scout unfamiliar territory; he and his wife make an effort to explore rainforests, especially in Costa Rica, every few years.

"Novelty is like a drug to me so I get a little buzz from seeing around the next corner or looking in that next building," Simkins said. "If the places I'm looking are beautiful or interesting in their own right, then that adds a lot to my experience ... really I'm like that rat with the hard drug wired into its brain, hitting the lever for another hit. I want to see more, more, more, and I want to know there's still more to see."

Frontiers challenges players to tread new grounds and survive the harsh wilds by hunting for food, gathering plant life and building supplies. The game includes a Minecraft-like crafting element that allows players to create new items based off of blueprints. Additionally, it will feature sub-disciplines for players to hone their skills.

Simkins says he feels almost "uncomfortable" calling the game an RPG, as its elements are heavily simplified. There are no classes in Frontiers, and players instead start as an apprentice in an organization known as the Pathfinders Guild. Experience is gained by exploring new regions and exploring paths. Frontiers does feature an RPG-based combat system, with players being able to upgrade weapons with magic skills or crafting. Other abilities are picked up from NPCs or books and range from magic attacks to hang gliding.

"The player's here to explore, not to grind."

"I make a point only to include mechanics if they don't discourage exploration," Simkins said. "If I find during testing that I'm being held back by some mechanic or other I alter it or remove it altogether. The player's here to explore, not to grind."

Natural threats will play as much of a role as animal threats, but players should still be wary of wildlife. Bears pose a pretty nasty threat, Simkins said, and the game's seas are plagued by Lovecraftian-inspired Leviathans. Humans pose a definite danger as well, but in a different kind of way.

"Human threats ... are resolved with dialogue, so you'll have to think your way through them," Simkins said.

Survival is the darker half of Frontiers — a force that pushes players to recognize their own mortality. It's a driving factor in real life, but a difficult one to convey in virtual territory.

"In real life, if I want to see over the next hill I have to decide if it's worth the effort of getting muddy or losing a shoe, and if it's worth adding that distance to my trip back," Simkins said. "Maybe it's getting dark, maybe I'm hungry — I have to take in and process a lot of information to make that choice, so I'm totally engaged. But if I could just teleport over there, all that brain activity would shut down. I might as well just stay home."

"Unless you're reckless it's pretty hard to die in the midst of civilization," Simkins added. "But head out into the wild and it's as simple as twisting your ankle at the wrong time. It puts things in perspective."

Simkins would like to implement co-op into Frontiers eventually; exploring his world with a friend "seems natural," he said. His hope is to hire another programmer to really nail it. As of right now, the burden of work falls directly onto him, with the exception of musical work from freelance composer Steve Barnes.

Frontiers is currently collecting votes on Steam Greenlight. Simkins also launched an IndieGoGo campaign in an effort to flesh out content, recruit programmers and artists and more. The campaign is seeking $80,000 and ends Monday, July 1.