The Flame in the Flood is a survival game with a difference. Rendered in distinctive style, it's the story of a girl and her dog, travelling down river, trying to stay alive.
The game, shown at Microsoft's E3 conference today, is certainly beautiful. It is also challenging, calling on the player to make lateral connections between objects and problems in order to find resolution. This isn't a game about fighting, but about exploring and experimenting. It is a series of puzzles set against a backdrop of procedurally generated physical locations.
Over the course of a full game, the water-rafters pass through a number of different biomes based on environments of the American south. Some are post-industrial, others are former-residential, still more are dead zones that are mostly barren and devoid of supplies and life. Players progress by finding items, matching them with others and crafting better gear, which help keep various survival meters ticking up against cold, hunger and hostile animals.
"There are a couple key points that differentiate us from many of the survival games out there," says developer Forrest Dowling. "The biggest and clearest is the river and the raft. That's not something I've seen much of out there, and it serves as a driving force that will always be pushing you forward.
"We wanted the experience of this game to be one of movement, which comes from pretty standard survival methods. If you're lost in the wilderness, you generally aren't going to be thinking about how to build a homestead or start a farm. You're going to be following water downstream or heading downhill until you hit some hint of civilization."
This is a game for someone who likes to think their way out of trouble. "From very early on, we knew this game would not be for everyone, and that's OK," says Dowling. "There's been a number of very successful titles recently that ask a lot of players, ranging from Dark Souls to DayZ, that are helping prove that there's a substantial audience for games that challenge players to figure out complicated systems with minimal direction."
Dowling says that, after working on big budget titles like BioShock Infinite, creating a smaller game is liberating. "I found Irrational to be an incredible place for solidifying and refining a lot of my prior experiences as a developer," he says. "There was always a huge focus on the idea of being ‘player facing' at Irrational, which is a lesson we carry with us constantly.
"Player facing means most simply that you need to be constantly focused on that which the player sees and hears, as opposed to the big ideas that aren't on screen, or the fancy technology that never emerges in a way that helps make the game better for the player."
The Flame in the Flood is due this summer on Early Access, and will be on the Xbox One later, with no fixed release date.