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Dynamic, Open World Pointy-Clicking: else { Heart.break() }

Well, we were mean about WatchunderscoreDogs, so I guess we should be mean about elseOpenCurlyBracketHeartFullStopbreakOpenParenthesisCloseParenthesisSpaceCloseCurlyBracket too. At least this is a game about programming though, so the silly name is a mite more justified. Or maybe lots of hackers really do use a lot of underscores and we’ve been unfair all this time?

Anyway: we wrote about this back in 2012, but the next game from Erik ‘Blueberry Garden’ Svedäng (with art from sometime collaborator Niklas Akerblad) is currently causing internet-wide cooing thanks to a thoughtful write-up and interview by Leigh over at Gamasutra. Apparently, the game has drifted from its puzzle-based roots during development, and into a new and extremely appealing focus on world-building.
It does (to Svedang’s distress) have a little in common with Blendo’s Quadrilater Cowboy, in terms of having in-game coding as a major conceit, but he’s clear that it’s going off in other, broader directions.

“There is a richness of simulation that encompasses everything from the characters you meet and interact with to various things like computers, the public transportation system, and the in-game internet. Our goal has been that the world has a strong sense of self-sufficiency to it, and that the player character is not the centre of the universe.”

The art approach has shifted too, and Else Heartbreak (because c’mon, I’m not writing all those brackets every time) now boasts a scratchy PlayStation 1 aesthetic. It’s fascinating that we’re far enough along from that time now, at least on a graphical level, that it can (in the right hands) become a deliberate and evocative look rather than one of technological necessity. Looking at those images, I do feel carried back to a time when games seemed a little stranger, a little harder to immediately digest and interpret, where simpler shapes and textures perhaps fired my imagination more than today’s most impeccably-rendered grimdarkscapes do. Else Heartbreak’s setting of Dorisburg is based on Svedäng’s own take on his native Gothenberg, but with industrial attributes and the grungy darkness turned up, and somehow that reminds me of half-forgotten JRPGs and muddled adventures I played in the late 1990s.

I’m dancing around the killer line in that Gama interview, which is this:

“Else Heartbreak is designed to encourage free-form roleplaying where it should be fun to just go for a walk in the park, smoke a cigarette or visit the casino. So perhaps it could be described as a strange kind of homemade Grand Theft Auto, without any guns or cars.”

And that’s what a lot of us want, right? Both from open world games and from walking simulators – just the pleasure of existence in someplace Other. It’s a tall order of course, but at four years and counting, at least it’s been in a reassuringly long period of development already. And, as Alice was saying the other day, there is great power in imagining what a game might be, and of the reality that might be if it did, whether or not the truth of the thing turns out to live up to it. I choose to imagine that Else Heartbreak is what it promises, because I find the idea of it so very pleasing.

Things like release dates or generous amounts of footage have yet to emerge, but I wholeheartedly recommend browsing the well-stocked Tumblr-based devlog here, which is rich in screenshots, clips and behind-the-scenes glimpses.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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