Occasionally encounters with human intelligence can be entirely bewildering. Suddenly you're faced with the fact that other minds move in the same world and speak the same language, and yet have thoughts and intellectual processes going on that are entirely alien – and superior - to your own. That's certainly how it feels to be shown the work of Eskil Steenberg, while sat at a spare table in a GDC conference hall. Steenberg's temperamental laptop might not have wanted to help out, but what we saw flickering on that screen was astonishing and somewhat unsettling.
Steenberg is working on quite a different plane. Not just from wishful luddites like me, but also other developers and artists. He casually chats away about the procedural multiplayer adventure that he's creating by himself, and in doing so reveals glimpses of a kind of creative genius that you'd be lucky to find anywhere, but that you could only find in the games industry. Steenberg is an artist and a prodigiously talented programmer. He has both the vision and the technical skill to create something spectacular, all on his own. Hell, if Eskil gives up tomorrow and never gets this game out to its audience it will still be important to me. Just the idea that one man can set out to make an mini MMO that looks like lavish impressionistic artwork brought to life... well, just look at it. In motion it was suggestive of a smokey, dynamically lit version of Okami.
He pulled up his tools, applications for object rendering and design that are more like game interfaces than things designed for hard work. In fact, as he's showing us some graphical tech he suddenly clicks on a ghostly spaceship that's passing over his rendered street scene and the tool window instantly becomes a game of Asteroids. As I said; bewildering.
The game itself, dubbed Love (as in For The Love Of Game Development), is an exploration-based moderately-multiplayer FPS with astounding impressionistic visuals and a procedurally generated universe. Since Steenberg is a one man show, he's relying on clever maths to build the world for him and then clever gamers to come in and help him figure out where to take it, and what to do with it.
So far he's already populated it with weird animals and wondrous, gaseous visuals, and he intends to build the world into a kind of communal adventure, where gamers work together to furnish a central village, defend it from enemy attack, and explore the surround world and its many dungeons. Players will be able to do things like deform elements of terrain, allowing them to build tunnel networks or walls to defend their property. Items will also be intended for the good of all as Steenberg creates them and drops them into the world. You won't be picking up rifles in your adventures, but more likely the plans for the rifle-building machine, that can then be utilised by everyone in your village. Part Zelda, part Tale In The Desert, part adventure shooter, and wholly abstract and beautiful, Love looks the kind of amalgam of art, programming and internet savvy that we've desired without even being able to imagine. It has the potential, and Steenberg has the huge intellect, for this to be one of the most precious events in PC gaming.
Nonetheless it's unclear what's going to happen to Steenberg and his project. He says he's not doing it for the money and that he only needs 200-or-so subscribers to justify running the live game. From what I've seen he'll be lucky to avoid being swamped by thousands, those hungry legions of gamers who want something quite different from their MMO experience, and just aren't getting it.
Love, oh Love, it has me quite giddy indeed.
[You'll find more screens of Love here. More details when we have them.]