Video games were born of creative vision. In a time where innovation was rewarded with praise instead of being heralded as a risky monetary endeavor, there was a natural lack of reliance on established intellectual properties. Wild Sheep‘s recent announcement of WiLD had an immediate impact on me, rejuvenating my otherwise decaying appreciation for creativity. This equally excited and troubled me: have we, both consumers and developers, lost sight?
Let’s get this straight: this is nothing we haven’t seen before. Any imaginable world most likely has a video game counterpart regardless of its interpretation or quality, and WiLD’s prehistoric, aboriginal universe is no different. What really got me thinking was how shocked I was to hear about WiLD‘s development. In this day and age the gaming industry has been conditioned to expect a certain element of gameplay, a specific level of “quality” – an assumption that we know what we’ll be getting out of the game before we get our hands on it. This is a problem, and the comfort granted by sequels is the root.
From a business standpoint, this a wet dream for executives looking to make money. Yearly and bi-yearly releases of iterations within the same successful series prove profitable. As important as it is to make money to even gain the opportunity to develop a game, the creative vision that fuels its origin has been clouded and nearly ignored by comparison. Even with the minute amount of information available on WiLD, its ambitious intent is clear: WiLD aims to be more than just a product, it wants to be an experience.
Michel Ancel, the French game designer best known for Rayman and Beyond Good and Evil, founded Wild Sheep in 2014 for the development of WiLD. Ancel’s history in the industry can be considered evidence for his sincere approach to game design. Beyond Good and Evil was a critically acclaimed cult classic, but a commercial failure. Reasons for these happenings can only be theories at most; flukes in the system of success can be attributed to an enormous array of factors. But it seems like the common denominator in high quality, yet commercially failed games is a lack of compromise.
And that should deserve a round of applause.
Ancel’s vision for each of his previous endeavors contain a resolute direction associated with them. Whether referring to his directorial debut with Rayman at the age of 20 or his profound, practically obsessive enthusiasm when providing information on WiLD, Ancel has repeatedly refused to cater his games for more profitable ideas. Ancel’s authentic approach to innovation has time and time again proved its dominion over compromise. Self-proclaimed success, to Ancel, is paramount. Concerning a sequel to Beyond Good and Evil, Ancel said this in an interview:
“I really hope that Jade will continue to keep her values and her personality.”
There’s no expectation of gameplay. There’s no anticipated content. It’s the characters, the story, and the lingering effect these can have on players with which he’s grown such attachment. Any media can be written or recorded perfectly well, but if the content does not challenge someone in the realm of understanding, it’s forgettable. Enjoyable, sure – but what purpose did it serve? Entertainment and purpose should, ideally, be mutually exclusive. This philosophy is exactly what WiLD seems to be portraying.
2013 was a good year for this mentality within the industry. Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us proved how well the two concepts can blend together to create an unforgettable experience. This is largely subjective; however, regardless of any personal opinion about either of the aforementioned titles, people were talking about their stories and the messages within them for a long, long time. Whether it was the philosophical, quantum physics-based story of the former or the realistic, moral grey area presented in the latter, to this day these games remain memorable.
When compared to any other medium, what helps make video games so unforgettable is interactivity. This forces the nature of a video game into an aggressive storytelling device, often forgoing the passivity associated with reading a book or watching a movie. The line here continues to blend game release after game release. Lengthier cutscenes and written in-game backstories include elements from both cinema and novels. Utilizing these mechanics with the exclusive interactivity granted by video games, the experience becomes a collective simulation with the intent (though no longer often seen) of expanding a player’s mind.
WiLD presents itself, yet again, with the purpose of provoking understanding. Both the available information and trailers instill a long lost primal connection with nature that is nigh impossible to attain in reality these days. The impression WiLD has left me with is not a matter of right or wrong, but living or dying by means of communing with nature. PlayStation’s official description for the game says it well:
“Experiment with your surroundings in your quest for survival – a simple plant could just as easily save your life…or bring about a swift death.”
Ancel’s goal is to follow the main character, a shaman, from youth to adulthood. All the life experiences accrued in between is intended to stay with the player, providing a semblance of emotional attachment to a still unnamed character. WiLD takes place in an open world, allowing players to explore in a non-linear fashion. With each established relationship with an animal, the shaman receives an etched tattoo across his/her skin. This visual representation of your story and the memories of your trials and tribulations combine to create a genuine weightiness behind the character’s progression. In the age of the first-person shooter, this is rarely considered to be implemented or even attempted.
The marvelous mystique of nature’s power in reality is characterized in-game by animal divinities. With the rising popularity of shows such as Cosmos and Planet Earth, the magic of real-life nature is growing into a conveniently communicated catalyst for understanding. WiLD seems to be taking a very real, incredible existence and symbolizing its majesty as god-like entities.
In a battle between the immense power of nature and human potential, who will win? A solid answer would be the humans who commune with nature instead of battling against it. The theme of harmony between man and nature is apparent in the announcement of the game alone – a thought-provoking concept in real life application. This real world utilization of ideas bestowed by our beloved video games is exactly what’s been missing from the industry.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem like too many are concerned. Responses to the announcement have ranged from being excited for an unusual AAA title to dogging the game for being different or doubting its quality upon release. Mostly the latter. Vision, it seems, is not as highly regarded to gamers these days.
Ancel’s drive for success isn’t motivated by money or a popular art style – he is motivated by the realization of his own vision via quality conceptual and gameplay design to effectively communicate his message. Personal success trumps commercial fame for Ancel, and I can only hope this philosophy will be a positive influence on other developers. When creative vision is devoid of attention or reward, video games will further decline into a state of money making madness. Personal success will no longer matter, and thus, our willingness to experiment will decline.
Our innovation has been clouded by the immediate satisfaction granted by popularized video game series. WiLD seems to be giving the industry and its consumers an opportunity to reconnect with our imaginations without concern for what sells.
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