Wot I Think: Everything

I am a spruce beetle. I call to two other spruce beetles nearby and now I am all of them. I tell them to dance and they begin to skitter of their own volition, making concentric circles and infinity signs and all manner of patterns. Each time a circle fills at the top of the screen – the only visible UI element – I press A in order to spawn another spruce beetle which joins in the dance. I do this for seventeen minutes, until there is a thrumming mass of spruce beetles. Eventually I’ve had enough and so I become a snowball.

This is what Everything [official site] is about.

Everything is a game about being anything. You begin as an object and then transition into smaller or larger objects, shifting from polar bear to penguin to plant to tree to rock and so on. While controlling each creature or object, you’re able to sing, to attract other similar or identical objects under your control in order to form a flock, and to dance. This invites playful experimentation: what noise does a snowball make when it sings? How does a tree move?

Then you discover you can also ascend and descend from your present scene, zooming in to a snowball to control the snowflakes and bacterium that reside upon it, or zooming out from your island home such that you can control the island itself, pushing this way and that to cause the landmass to morph across the planet’s surface. Up and up you can go to control the planet, then the solar system and beyond, or down down down past germs, to where objects are unrecognisable but the screen is awash with shapes and colour. Go far enough in either direction and you loop back around.

Everything is created by David OReilly, who previously made Mountain, about being a mountain. In that game, random objects would crash upon the mountain’s surface, the weather would gently shift, and the mountain would think.

It’s the same here. What does a VHS tape think? While close to one, a thought bubble may appear above its head, letting you find out. Some thoughts are philosophical, some reflective, some maudlin. Occasionally an object will instead offer the opportunity to play an audio file which each time offers a new chunk of deceased philosopher Alan Watts talking about interconnectedness. It’s here that the game is most at risk of self-serious didacticism, but for me the specifics of the written thoughts or Watts’ monologues aren’t important. Instead, their seriousness rubs against the silliness of the rest of the game in a way that enhances its absurdity. Very occasionally – and if you’re in the right frame of mind – both Mountain and Everything juxtapose words and image together in a way that feels profound. At the very least, they have the potential to give you the warm fuzzies.

Still, the game is at its best when you’re simply messing around. Bit by bit, your experimentation unlocks new functionality. Soon you can spawn new copies of yourself not just periodically by dancing, but at will, creating huge flocks of biplanes or factories. Then you can access a menu to spawn any creature you desire at any level of scale, creating lamppost-sized planets and island-sized penguins. By the time you unlock the New Game+ mode a few hours in, it feels as if every rule the game established in its first hour has been knocked down. (Yes, there is no real challenge to Everything, but it has an NG+).

Ascending and descending from the planet level lets you find ice worlds, water worlds, planets where the islands are covered in cities… Even though the game is called Everything, I found myself surprised by just how much Everything contains. I’d think I’d seen an example of each type of thing it had to offer, wander away from my computer for a while, and return to find the game playing itself in a setting I’ve never seen before with its own wholly new ecosystem of objects.

It accomplishes this variety with shortcuts that only enhance the playfulness of exploring. For example, there’s very little animation; most objects move by rolling, with even animals flipping jerkily head-over-feet. Those that don’t roll, slide. Trees and other plants, to answer my self-posed question above, move by growing copies of themselves while the original fades away.

There’s lots and lots more to discover that I’m not saying, but even if I were to exhaustively describe all the game has inside it, you’d get more from experiencing it yourself. Everything looks great, using depth of field, particle effects and a sparingly lush palette to create scenes of beauty. But the real pleasure of it also exists not in any specific thing you can be or do, but the meandering path you choose between them for yourself.

You should know by now whether you’re the sort who could enjoy Everything; some will certainly dismiss it as a trifle. For me, at times, Everything feels like the game Spore should have been. When I watched the early presentations of that game’s silly creature creator and its invocation of Powers of Ten, I wasn’t imagining a fiddly, shallow strategy game, but an experience that hoped to approximate the awe I sometimes feel when stargazing or can tap into by listening to Carl Sagan talk. By throwing out most of Spore’s traditional mechanics in favour of a cross between Katamari Damacy and Nested, Everything gets closer to sublimity. And though I don’t think it gets all the way there – not for me, not right now – the silliness is constant and delightful.

Everything is out now on Windows and Mac via Steam, GOG and Humble for £11/$15/€15.

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42 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    This sounds… like an amusing student project toy. Cute for an hour, then “oh, yeah, okay, I guess that’s it” and then nothing forever.

    It sounds like there’s no real mechanics or challenge or anything other than “Wowzers, these animals sure do move in a wacky manner”.

    Plus, Double Fine is not a mark of quality anymore.

    Maybe I’m just old and bitter these days.

    • Premium User Badge

      Dorga says:

      I think Double Fine had very little influence over this game. And while I personally am a big fan of theirs, I don’t remember them ever being consistent in the quality of their games: Brutal Legend, their second commercial release, was very interesting but it showed its troubled development on its sleeve. Their history is one of cool ideas executed to varying degrees of succes.

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        Drib says:

        Spacebase DF-9 and Massive Chalice spoiled me on the studio forever, I think.

        • MrWolf says:

          /Raises finger.

          /Glances at “time played” on Steam for Spacebase DF9 and Massive Chalice.

          /Lowers finger.

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            SuddenSight says:

            I liked Massive Chalice. It could have used more variety, but I bought it on sale and enjoyed it for 2-ish play throughs.

          • Premium User Badge

            Drib says:

            What, my time played? Yeah I guess it’s up there. But I’m still sour that they weren’t as good as I’d like.

            … Yeah I guess I have no leg to stand on here.

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      yhancik says:

      You are old and bitter, alright ;)

      I understand the feeling, but I guess a nicer way to look at it is “I don’t find in Everything what I look for in a game”. Which is fine, really.

      Everything is not for Everybody, but if you take it with the right state of mind, there’s definitely more to it than wacky animations ;) Challenge is not everything!

  2. MauvePeopleEater says:

    This seems interesting, but Alan Watts always struck me as a particularly aggravating artifact of the exoticism of the 60s. I think his legacy in the academic world is emblematic of his failure at vulgarising Eastern religious thought: people who study Buddhism say that he created a weird, half-digested hodgepodge of Buddhist ideas, and philosophers say that there’s nothing much to glean from his writings besides some pleasant banalities that he doesn’t make much of a effort to argue for. I get that some Eastern religions voluntarily eschew logical discourse in favour of a revelatory approach but his fusion cuisine of Taoism, Zen and pantheism doesn’t particularly do justice of any of them.

    • cannedpeaches says:

      You’re probably right, but I still like listening to him when I’m high.

      Is he full of platitudes and less-than-rigorous about his professed religion in a way that only the Sixties would really tolerate? Yeah. I’ve never listened to one of his lectures and felt like I really understood anything about Buddhism. But I do like his habits of thought – the ways you train yourself to not feel so damn important or wounded – and so Watts’ lectures are kind of therapeutic even if they’re not intellectually all meaty.

      • Beefenstein says:

        “But I do like his habits of thought – the ways you train yourself to not feel so damn important or wounded…”

        Try Buddhism. It does this very well.

    • Seafoam says:

      Well that’s what philosophy is all about isn’t it?
      Philosophy is not about subscribing and never deviating from some school of thought crammed inside a word like “Existentialism”
      “Buddhism” “Nihilism” and the like.

      Philosophy is about your own path, and Watts and Buddhist thinkers before knew that a student must not accept a teacher blindly, but consider them a “Spiritual friend”, a guide to help you along your own path, but not a vessel of concrete truth.
      If one accepts Watts or any other philosopher, guru or teacher blindly, they betray themselves and the teacher.

      You see Buddhism is a strange mix of a religion and a philosophy.
      If you see Buddhism as a strict religion, then you would say Watts had corrupted it by straying from the dogma (which isn’t really what Buddhism is about).
      If you see Buddhism as a philosophy, then Watt’s just followed his own interpretation. As should everyone else.

      Watts himself encouraged people to do so, to not take his word or view as end all be all, but as ideas you should judge yourself.

      And whatever you might think about him deviating from Zen or Taoism, you can’t deny that he did a great job in introducing eastern thought to the west, even if he had to translate it to the western mindset

      • Beefenstein says:

        “Philosophy is about your own path…”

        You’re confusing philosophy with self-serving spirituality. Philosophy is about a shared path involving shared language. This is true for every school of thought within philosophy that I am aware of.

        The philosophy which is your path for yourself is most likely to be some form of solipsism. That is not a philosophy, it is a negation of anything but the ego.

        • Neutrino says:

          “You’re confusing philosophy with self-serving spirituality.”

          I disagree. Instead I think _you_ are confusing the practice of philosophy (a personal quest for truth and meaning), with philosophology (the study of philosophy) which is what is usually practised in Western academia and misguidedly called ‘philosophy’.

      • Chorltonwheelie says:

        “he did a great job in introducing eastern thought to the west”
        I think you’ve amply demonstrated he didn’t.

        “Philosophy is about your own path…” deary me.

      • Beefenstein says:

        “You see Buddhism is a strange mix of a religion and a philosophy.”

        All religions are a mix of theological thought and philosophy. Buddhism does indeed require less God and more personal thought, but there is still dogma. Buddha Gotama’s act in this life was to set in motion the wheel of the dhamma. The dogma is all there. The difference is that he said you can wait for as long as you want to accept that this is the path which leads to the cessation of dukkha. It is not easily made into an evangelical religion, but religion was not always evangelical before the Abrahamic faiths cornered the market.

      • Beefenstein says:

        “And whatever you might think about him deviating from Zen or Taoism, you can’t deny that he did a great job in introducing eastern thought to the west, even if he had to translate it to the western mindset.”

        I think he did a great job of obscuring Buddhist thought beneath a Western veneer that seems palatable to people that want to believe they are superior because they’re a bit quirky.

      • GardenOfSun says:

        I, for one, decidedly agree with Seafoam. Watts wasn’t certainly the most deep or far-reaching philosopher by a long margin, but he tried to do, within what was in his power, something that a great many more important philosophers in the ‘900 couldn’t even conceive, blinded as they were by the fruitless dogmas of foundationalism and naturalism.

        And I really don’t get why these self-proclaimed experts on philosophy and eastern thought react as they do to you. Are they presuming that taking a class in the history of buddhism equates with knowing the subject, so that a less-than-analitically-satisfying exposition needs to be castigated as “wrong” – ie “not corresponding to the truth”? I wonder how could they explain that from a buddhist point of view, since the truth, intuited from the highest stage of the madhyamika school (not to mention zen), cannot be categorised and thus only realised experientially through “able means” (able, that is, to transform the relationship of one’s subjective thought to itself). Which incidentally seems to me exactly what Watts, within the bounds of his relative understanding, was trieing to express.

        And as for “Philosophy is about a shared path involving shared language. This is true for every school of thought within philosophy that I am aware of.” – well, that’s exactly why philosophical schools aren’t synonimous with philosophy, isn’t it? Kant, for one – far from a sixties’ hippie, I think we can agree – would have agreed with the OP about the maxim of reason (not even just philosophy!) being “think with your own head, regardless of what others think”. But I’m sure you knew all of that, and just felt a bit grumpy today.

        • poliovaccine says:

          Thank you for your counterpoint. As a practicing Buddhist myself, I was getting a little tired of some of the preceding comments – too tired to generate a response, frankly.

          • Beefenstein says:

            If Philosophy and Buddhism are about your own path and reason is within your own head then of course you will feel tired when considering responding to others: everything is a relativism which cannot easily be broached by consensus.

        • MauvePeopleEater says:

          I think you think I’m griping about doctrinal correctness, which really isn’t my issue with Watts. Buddhism, as far as I understand it, offers a praxis through which truths that are not readily graspable through intellect can be intuited. Western philosophy generally offers a logically coherent series of propositions arranged in a way that can be followed, refuted, etc. Watts tries to marry both and, in my mind, does a particularly good job of neither.

        • Beefenstein says:

          “philosophical schools aren’t synonimous with philosophy”

          That’s an interesting piece of wordplay which appears to say much but ends up probably meaning nothing. It seems to be similar to something like “oranges aren’t the only fruit”.

          “the maxim of reason (not even just philosophy!) being “think with your own head, regardless of what others think”.”

          Sure! I’m quite happy for your reasoning to stay in your head and not to have to hear it, keep it up. ;)

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      The clips that I have heard so far have been mostly science based around the idea that we are the big bang, not a result of it but actively part of that massive energy release.

    • vivlo says:

      Didn’t expect to read such enlightening and entertaining comments here, thanks RPS commenters crowd !

  3. haldolium says:

    It is interesting to play out of a variety of perspectives, but I often found myself wishing that there would be a way to evolve. Evolution is everything, but Everything sadly isn’t.

  4. Sin Vega says:

    I hope there’s a sequel, just so they can call it Everything Else.

  5. April March says:

    The game looks very interesting. And it produces incredible news. On the official site I see stuff like “Everything is out today!” “Everything is an astonishing work!” “Everything will have a special premiere!”

    I wanted to know how daunted Graham felt when he realized he was writing an article called “Wot I Think: Everything.”

  6. TheSplund says:

    It’d be nice if you could remap the keys… (said the guy who got a refund on Steam for this rather over-rated really-not-that-philisophical-poorly-animated-and-overpriced-even-in -a-sale game)

  7. Railway Rifle says:

    Ingenious, it seems you’ve (wot I) thought of everything.

  8. Tortellini says:

    I don’t think so, I mean, I’ve got nothing against an artsey project of this kind, but I wouuldn’t actually call it a game. No buy here :D

  9. Premium User Badge

    Captain Narol says:

    No thanks, not my stuff.

    I’d rather have a Spore 2 with serious evolutionary mechanisms ala Sim Life that would try to be more a simulation than a collection of mini-games like the first one, but I’m not sure that will ever happen.

  10. caff says:

    I’ve been playing with this a bit, and find it quite beautiful and relaxing. It doesn’t “sing” quite as much as Proteus, but it does give me a similar feeling of serenity.

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