Hands On: A Valley Without Wind

By Jim Rossignol on September 20th, 2011 at 12:29 pm.

2000 points if you can spot the protagonist.
I’ve just had my first taste of Arcen’s ambitious side-scrolling exploration game (with crafting, base-building, and perma-death), A Valley Without Wind. The game is still at a very early, unreleased stage, but I’ve spent enough time with it to talk a little about what it is and where Arcen are going with it. You can see my attempts at trying to describe it accurately below.

There’s an odd sense of melancholy to A Valley Without Wind. That feeling comes not simply from the setting – which is a kind of magical post-apocalypse in which tiny bands of folk are carving out a new life in a ruined and monster-plagued world – but also in the kind of game which this is trying to be. A Valley Without Wind is a game from a lost future of videogames. It’s the kind of project that we might have predicted during the 16-bit era, when 2D side-scrolling games with a touch of exploration seemed to hold much promise – a promise made in a time before the industry lurched down the texture-mapped corridors of the action-combat mainstream of modern game development. This is an intricate game that tries to do as much as it can, rather than simply trying to make things “accessible”.


As such, the very first taste you’ll have of this game is one that seems both wistful and – if you are my age or older – oddly nostalgic. The side-scrolling adventuring brings with it memories of running, jumping parallax kingdoms of old, as well as the sense that those side-scrolling adventures of the past games never really reached the potential they had in them. Perhaps that potential is what Arcen will be able to tap here, as they use procedural techniques to create a vast world which can be explored at your leisure. Exploration, though, has multiple levels. As soon as you exit off the stage of the 2D areas you find yourself faced with a grid-based map, smothered in a fog of war. This can be explored to reveal various types of landscape, and allow you to go in explore any area “in detail” in the 2D mode.

But yes, I am getting ahead of myself a little. Let’s paint a broader picture of the game: it sets you up as a character who, along with a bunch of friendly NPCs, is striving to defeat various tribes of baddies and to bring freedom to their settlement. This over-arching threat from evil overlords gives you a wider quest to be getting on with, but aside from that what the game delivers is basically a sandbox. Your character has various magical abilities which can be set up in the initial settlement, and these are supplemented by other items which must be crafted as you progress through the level structure. Exploring the world yields materials, which the characters can then use in crafting to fuel more exploration, and so on.


I’ve not really got far enough into this (and I am not sure it’s properly fleshed out in this build) to really see how the battle against the various groups of enemies is going to play out, but I get the sense that it’s got a touch of 4X to it. While you might be running about and exploring most of the time (and battling creatures with your magic along the way), you are also able to pour resources into building up your settlement, erecting houses and infrastructure for the NPCs that live there, and generally trying to make life better for them.

It’s the procedurally-created world that is most fascinating in all this, however. You leave your base and head across the grid map, perhaps traversing a large area of wilderness before you find something you want to investigate. When you get there you interact with the region and enter the 2D space. This sees you – to take an example from my own explorations – wandering along the edge of a town. There are numerous abandoned buildings in the town, and you can explore each one. I step inside a building, and then inside various rooms inside the building, everything being generated ahead of me to create a world with real depth. Descending down into it gave me a bit a thrill. It’s going to be a huge world. So huge, say Arcen, that you could just keep on exploring almost limitlessly. That said, I was pretty much just making a dash for it through the world I have explored. I’ve really not got the hang of A Valley’s combat just yet, although I am sure that is just a case of having the patience to experiment with the various spells and effects. I killed a few bats, but tougher enemies really were a worry. Eventually I’ll be taking on entire fortresses of baddies and defeating evil overlords, but that feels like a long way off for now.


The complexity and general esoteric approach of A Valley Without Wind makes it daunting, but also enormously alluring. I can imagine this game opening up under continued exploration to be one of those all-encompassing experiences that you can’t help sinking an unhealthy tract of time into. I can’t wait to see how it develops. Although, yes, it is rather ugly, and am still not entirely convinced by the shift from a top-down world to a 2D world, it is beginning to charm me.

I’m going to continue to explore and I’ll post more on this soon.

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70 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge ropable says:

    Very very curious about this one. The art style is a bit off-putting for me, though.

    • Tori says:

      Same for me. I’m very curious, but just looking at the screenshots makes me cringe. Can’t really tell why.

    • godgoo says:

      Yes, I’ve been put off by the art style since they changed from isometric to side-scrolling but this article has at least intrigued me again.

    • Tori says:

      So I’m trying to figure out what’s bothering me with the art. After looking at these screenshots, I have a sense, that different elements on the screen just don’t match, like they were assets from different games, stitched together. Especially the character model; it looks like photoshopped in. Or the grass and the ground in the top picture – they just don’t blend well in my head.

      Any thoughts?

    • Gnoupi says:

      @Tori – I have same kind of feelings. I think for me it’s the fact that it looks like on the way to “cartoony” without really being it. Elements look a bit like a patchwork, but at same time without the strong “border”, which would be. I would be ok with pasted elements, if there was an outline. Think And Yet It Moves, Rock of Ages.

      So it looks “pasted”, but made to blend anyway. It blends so much that I don’t really “see” the main character as popping out from it.

      Hard to define, but certainly more disturbing than attracting, for me. At least so far.

    • psyk says:

      People like the look of different things.

    • Was Neurotic says:

      I think a lot will depend on the animation. For the record, I quite like it – looks like a painting. And playing in a game world like that, I would love it. Still can’t get over that Oblivion quest where you go into the painting to rescue the artist!

    • psyk says:

      That was a good one.

    • Tokjos says:

      You could say that the graphics are “copy-pasted”. Arcen Games haven’t got any artists, so they buy art assets from various sources on the internet. It was the same with AI War, which used assets from Tyrian, among others.

      So yeah, this is not a game you play for the beautiful art. I look forward to trying it nonetheless.

    • Tori says:

      Also – after checking out more screenshots on the website – the character model isn’t shadowed! It’s like he’s always under a lamp or something. Meanwhile, the models in the background are shadowed – look at the last picture for a good example – the hut is darker on the left side, while the guy in front of it isn’t.

      Man, this is the first time I analyze the art in a game so much. And that’s because I want to like it :(

    • psyk says:

      Isn’t it in private beta?

    • jeffcapeshop says:

      it looks horrendous, it would take some game for me to enjoy navigating that environment with that animation.. especially when you compare it to something like gunpoint from earlier today, ok a totally different game but smaller (i.e. 2) team.. and looks incredible.

    • Eclipse says:

      Yeah the art “style” is really horrid, and it was even worse when it was isometric.
      That said, maybe the game is a rough pearl?

    • flexm says:

      Hate to be games-shallow, but yeah, I would be all over this if it didn’t look so bad.

      The main problem with the style is that everything in the image “carries the same weight”. There is no distribution of detail or contrast to let you know WHAT is important in the image.

      Your eyes are not drawn and/or directed to any specific part. There’s messy detail everywhere.

      If they’re really set on having the art-style it might still be fixable by giving much more thought to how the ground/sky tiles, color-grading the middle layers etc.
      But I think it would benefit much more from just scrapping their high-res messy sprites and going with something simpler either nicely stylized or 16bit-retroish.

    • Tengil says:

      And Yet It Moves is a poor example I think since that game looks appallingly bad. These last few screenshots are at least more bland than directly offensive.

    • Xercies says:

      Am I the only one that really likes the art style? Yes the contrast between enemies and player character needs to be a bit clearer from the background but I quite like the painterly kind of melancholic look its going for.

    • Boozebeard says:

      I like the first screenshot but the others do look pretty ugly.

    • Zenicetus says:

      It looks awful to me, very disjointed and ugly. If they’re buying assets from random online sources without having an actual in-house artist, then that explains why it looks so bad. Games where the programmers “do the art” usually have that problem, but this seems like an extreme example of what can go wrong.

      Aside from elements that don’t fit together, there’s a huge amount of wasted screen area below and above the action. A game with an actual artist onboard would find ways to fill that with interesting foreground and background graphics to embellish the environment. Think Machinarium, which had limited action areas, but the overall environment was gorgeous. At least the previous isometric (?) version filled the screen with more interesting detail.

      Maybe it’s because I was a graphic designer in a former life, but I’ve never bought into the idea that we should completely ignore the art direction if the gameplay is wonderful. I can ignore uninspired graphics, but it’s hard to ignore really ugly graphics. Based on some of the other responses here, I don’t think that’s an outlier opinion.

    • Wulf says:

      I think it’s the copy-pasted nature of the environments that does it. You can see it, almost like giant GIMP paintbrushes were used. They could really use an artist to redo their art assets for this, then it would shine.

      They also need to redo their UI to actually be perceptible to anyone who doesn’t have eagle eyes.

  2. johnpeat says:

    Previous Arcen games have taken a great idea, implemented it well BUT have generally also over-complicated it.

    Tidalis is a simple puzzle game turned into a convoluted nightmare – AI War is fiddly-as-hell to play – this appears to be a Metroid game with a tonne of extra weight.

    Whether that weight is worthwhile will be the key thing…

  3. Rii says:

    I don’t understand why half the screen is taken up by featureless ground. Ok, so the alternative is more featureless sky but … yes, that would be better.

    • godgoo says:

      I think there is quite a bit of vertical travel, maybe the view will allow you to see into tunnels etc. Otherwise it’s a bit odd, yes.

    • Plivesey says:

      There is indeed vertical travel involved, where you can drop down beneath the ground and explore areas, so perhaps that is why. Sort of like Terraria, I guess.

  4. Hakkesshu says:

    Glad to see Platform Masters is coming along nicely.

  5. aerozol says:

    I’m not saying this game is going to be bad, or doesn’t deserve it, but am I the only one who feels like it gets a heck of a lot of RPS coverage?
    Generally just pics/ a video of a guy running, and shooting some magic ball at the same enemies. For quite a while now…

    • Rii says:

      redox is that you?

    • Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

      @ Rii

      Nah, Redox would just wait until the game is released and post a topic in the forum two minutes later demanding to know why RPS haven’t yet reviewed a game they have been “advertising.”

      @ Aerozol

      I think the reason this has got a lot of coverage (aside from the fact that what has been said about the game is usually very intruiging) is that the development of the game has been very open. Whether this is a good thing or not is up for debate but it has been pretty interesting seeing how the game has changed over the course of development. Now all we have to do is wait and see if it’s any good, I’m looking forward to hearing Jim’s impressions once he’s had a bit more time with it.

    • Premium User Badge JB says:

      I’m glad it wasn’t just me, Rii.

      Hey Lamby, mo-bro, check your forum PMs pls ;)

    • Plivesey says:

      Yes, it does have a lot of coverage, and I’m loving it. I imagine it is because how open they are being, and that they’ve given RPS a build to play is certainly a big factor, in this article at least. Perhaps Arcen Games and RPS have a good relationship?

    • aerozol says:

      Haha am I waving redox’s flag?
      In any case, I understand why they appeal to RPS writers, this is right up their alley, but anyone who calls themselves an RPS subscriber must have seen/ read about what this article describes multiple times already. The newsworthy part is “we’ve got a hands-on”, but I was expecting that ‘new stuff’ feeling to last beyond the title.

  6. Kdansky says:

    It sounds similar to Terraria, which is pretty much an updated Clonk. All of these are very much worth playing.

  7. Enzo says:

    The art style is horrible, I hope they’ll change it. It looks like “your first Game Maker game”.

    • Rii says:

      Those must be some pro Game Maker skillz.

      I think the art looks fine. I’m less sure about the character/environment interaction.

  8. Dominic White says:

    I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – this game sounds amazing on paper, but they desperately need to hire a sprite-artist with a good sense of perspective, because the screenshots at the moment look like a bizarre mash-up collage of awkward pre-rendered elements.

    • psyk says:

      What if they want it to look like that? I have a strange feeling you guys would of told picasso to sort it out.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Picasso was rubbish.

    • Plivesey says:

      It doesn’t look that great, I’ll admit, but I’ve always said “Gameplay over Graphics”, so it definitely won’t be putting me off trying it and, hopefully, enjoying it.

    • psyk says:

      well whoosh. Edvard Munch, will also work.

    • Starky says:

      Well everyone hated Picasso when he was alive, so maybe when the makers of this game are dead people will grow to love the art style.

      At least Pablo was lucky enough to get a trip to his future, to an art gallery to learn how he’d one day be appreciated by the world.

    • Salt says:

      There is more to art and design – and the criticism of it – than throwing your arms in the air and saying that it’s all just opinions.

      So far as I can tell they’re going for a generally realistic painted feel for the individual assets. I see problems arising mainly from how they’re creating those assets. Most look like renders of 3D objects that have been put through a handful of Photoshop filters. There’s nothing wrong per se with using pre-rendered sprites although it does tend to make a game feel dated, but maybe we’re reaching the point where nostalgia kicks in to make it charming and retro? However I think that their assets are often poorly matched, causing the finished image to appear to be a harsh collage rather than a cohesive whole. Compare AVWW’s screenshots to the Fallout or Baldur’s Gate games, and see how the same asset creation technique has produced far more readable and cohesive worlds.

      Instances of what I call “poor matching”:
      Inconsistent perspective in background objects with some having one-point perspective, but most being drawn with an oblique projection.
      Inconsistent colour profiles between objects that are meant to appear to be connected. This is the reason why many doors in screenshots appear to be floating a few feet to the front of the wall they’re meant to be attached to.

      General issues:
      Huge areas of land filled with texture that shows very obvious tiling.
      Single-pixel borders on many objects. I wonder if that’s actually just a rendering error with the engine failing to draw partial-alpha pixels correctly.
      Grass growing straight down, in the dark.
      Lack of differentiation between foreground and background, which is intensely important in game art. Differentiation can be achieved through changes in contrast, saturation and detail levels. For instance the texture used for soil should not have anywhere near the level of detail and complexity that it does.

      Anyway. Maybe all of this is deliberate by the developers to produce a sense of wrongness about the game world. Maybe it’s simulating a lesion in the visual cortex of the protagonist.

      Maybe I shouldn’t be analysing the art style of an unfinished game so intently.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Munch was a one-hit wonder.

      They want it to look like that because they are in denial. Nobody can help them now. It is too late.

    • CMaster says:

      “Everyone hated Picasso when he was alive”
      No they didn’t. He was an extraordinarily rich man from his work.

      Yeah, Arcen are a great developer with some really talented people involved – but what they desperately need is a good artist on the team. The art for this game has a long and time consuming pipeline, has undergone some really extensive changes and rework, and the result is something tolerable, compared to the initial horror. It feels like Chris Park is spending hours of his time on this art, claiming to be going for “16 bit charm”, that someone with more experience at 2D art could achieve better much quicker.

      AI War also has abysmal art work. Thankfully, most of the time you are zoomed out far enough so that you just get icons (which also mostly make no sense, but you learn the meanings quickly enough). But zoom in and you get weird, baroque monstrosities that make no sense and have no imaginable purpose.

  9. Premium User Badge Bluerps says:

    I’d like to know how the permadeath works in this game. If my guy dies, does his world die with him? Or can I continue playing in the same world, only with a new, unexperienced character?

  10. Nemon says:

    Without wind? What’s causing the rain to fall like that, then? DRM?

    • Gnoupi says:

      Wind will be added in an expansion, 3 months later.

    • Plivesey says:

      Unfortunately, due to unforseen financial constraints, the game will also not take place in a valley. Think of it more as: “A 2D-Grid World With Some Wind.”

    • Professor Paul1290 says:

      It’s called A Valley Without Wind because you’re looking for one, not because you’re in one.

      Supposedly windstorms make life very difficult so the people are trying to seek shelter from them.

    • Rii says:

      @ProfessorPaul: Oh that’s interesting, and here I thought it was just a catchy title!

    • Nemon says:

      Omg, featured comment! Website punchline.

    • sinister agent says:

      Mozilla Firefox.

      Oh wow, me too!

  11. Feet says:

    Anyone else seeing the similarities with Tilted Mills’s Hinterland with this? Except Hinterland went for the isometric view and this ‘n is 2D with a seperate world map type shenanigans.

    That comparison is totally “a good thing” for me.

    Hinterland was almost a really good game. It just had too much average “Diablo game” in that tacticalaction sense, and not nearly enough of that good “trad-XCOM game” in that strategymanagement sense.

    If this can deliver on that kinda 2 tier game (see Total War and Xcom) that meaningfully feedback into each other, then they’ll be onto a winner.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yeah, I can totally see that.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      I wonder why they never properly followed up on Hinterland. It was a promising game that was missing a true, meaty expansion to be really good.

      Instead they just fell short again with Orc Lords.

  12. Plivesey says:

    Thanks for the article RPS, definitely interested in this game. The only thing I feel it’s missing is a co-op mode, looks like it would be fantastic two player!

    • cupogoodness says:

      Co-op is definitely on the development road map. Closer to 1.0 though. Hopeful it’ll be more than just 2 player as well.

    • Plivesey says:

      Wow Erik, that’s fantastic to hear. I thought you guys were just intending for it to be singleplayer, and that I’d have to say “I wish this was co-op” a lot before you even considered it. Your website doesn’t mention that, perhaps it needs to be updated?

    • cupogoodness says:

      Agreed sir! One of my many, many tasks this week. Chris does mention it on his devblog a couple times I’m sure of it. Just not recently, as it has taken a backseat to a fuller single-player experience first and foremost, at least for the initial beta release.

      Edit: Found maybe the earliest mumblings of multiplayer, turns out it was here all along… http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/02/08/arcen-talk-a-valley-without-wind-part-2/

    • Plivesey says:

      All I have to say is: PLEASE LET ME GIVE YOU MY MONEY!

  13. Unaco says:

    Looks great. Sounds great.

    On the art and look of it… I’ve always been a Gameplay > Graphics person, so if it used ASCII or similar, I probably wouldn’t mind, as long as the game was good. Hell… In AI War you spend most of the time zoomed out so you’re only really seeing icons, not the sprites, and that’s no problem. As it is though, I actually quite like the art and the look of the game. It’s like something from that 16-Bit, 2D side scrolling Era, that’s been through art school, flunked out, struggled before finding their feet and their niche… all growed up and matured.

    Really am looking forward to this… Which is something. I’m not really one to give Indies too much love and fawning, but Arcen deserve it in my book. AI War is a ridiculously good game… so different to what had come before it, but avoiding coming across as quirky or novel. I have faith that the same will come with AVWW… a game that might feel strange at first, but I’ll feel that I should have been playing games like it most of my life.

  14. Berzee says:

    Here is a song about a valley without wind:

  15. bluebogle says:

    So looking forward to this one! The graphics don’t bother me, and I’m sure they aren’t fully developed yet anyway. Gameplay sounds very promising, and Jim’s opening paragraph (not the italics) has only increased my interest!

  16. MrHanMan says:

    I don’t really see what’s wrong with the art. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the game in motion and the art work makes more sense in that context? Anyway, don’t write the game off now before you’ve tried it. There will be a free demo, even during the beta.

  17. Lazaruso says:

    PC gamers:

    “GODDAMMIT AAA TITLES, STOP GIVING US SUCH NICE GRAPHICS AND HORRIBLE GAMEPLAY. WE DON’T CARE ABOUT PRETTY GRAPHICS. WE CARE ABOUT GOOD GAMEPLAY.”

    “Man, this indie title looks like crap. No buy.”
    “Yeah, get an artist!! What are you, poor?”

    Or my favorite:
    “I’ve always said I’d rather play a fun game than a pretty game, but this game I have never played looks ugly so I will never play it.”

    But pardon me for interrupting the bitch-a-thon you had going there.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Balance, it’s all about balance.

      Big budget AAA titles that put all their resources into visual flash and short-change the programming and core concept… yeah, that’ll likely suck. And the reverse is also true.

      There are plenty of low-budget indie games that manage to combine great gameplay with great graphics. If that weren’t the case, then the “no artist need apply” argument would be stronger.

    • malkav11 says:

      I don’t need a huge art budget and tons of rendering and whatnot to make everything look absolutely photoreal at the expense of the core gameplay. Hell, I’m perfectly comfortable playing ASCII games. What will put me off a game is if it’s actively ugly. I’ve never played Quake because of how horrible it’s always looked to me, for example.

      Most of the time to date, when I see A Valley Without Wind screenshots or videos, they are actively ugly. In this particular article they didn’t seem that bad to me, admittedly. I will of course reserve judgment until the final game is available, but this would be the time to change art style, and it seems to me it would benefit from doing so.