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In Flock, grazing sheep and revealing secrets is just as important as collecting creatures

We chat to the Wilmot's Warehouse devs about exactly what we'll be doing in their adorable new co-op (but also single-player) game

Flock is a multiplayer co-op game from Hollow Ponds and Richard Hogg.
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive

Flock is the next game from the makers of Wilmot's Warehouse, Hohokum and I Am Dead, but ever since it was announced last year, I've been wondering about exactly what kind of game it is. The first trailer revealed lots of strange, whimsical environments, equally whimsical-looking beasties and a little person flying around on the back of a giant bird herding them around in delightful swoops and swirls. We also saw some sheep grazing in a meadow before they, too, started to fly alongside your wilder, more abstract animal pals. But the question of what you do in Flock remained unanswered - until last week, when developers Hollow Ponds showed us a little bit more of their creature collecting game during the Annapurna Interactive Showcase stream.

There, they revealed that we'll need to collect and charm these creatures to get them to join our respective flocks, and that we'll be able to do so in co-op with a pal. It looks intensely charming, but it still left me with lots of unanswered questions. So I spoke to devs Ricky Haggett and Richard Hogg to find out more. Naturally, there are some things they're not ready to reveal about Flock just yet, but they did tell me that you'll start on top of a mountain and will be wending your way down it with your flock of sheep.

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"The clouds are really high at the top of the mountain at the start," says Haggett. "Gradually, the cloud level throughout the game drops down the mountain, and there's a process by which if you're playing in multiplayer with friends, you can do stuff which then allows you to trigger one of those things for everybody."

Playing in co-op isn't a necessary part of the Flock experience, they're keen to stress. As I reported last week, Flock is "totally playable as a single player game" as well, allowing players to approach it at their own pace, and on their own terms. Plus, if you do decide to hop in with a mate, you can still opt to effectively play it alone if you wish, says Haggett.

"Each player has their own [guidebook of creatures]," he says. "It's not a collaborative guidebook. If we're playing together, I have one and you have one, and we could fly around together and spot the same creatures, both identify them, and both try and catch one. Or we could be on other sides of the world just chatting and doing our own thing."

You'll still be able to look at each other's guidebooks in co-op, and place markers down on each other's maps to suggest good places to explore. As for what Flock's multiplayer will look like with strangers, however, both Haggett and Hogg say they're still "figuring out exactly how that's going to work," as they're aware that the experience might become "derailing" if people start coming in and making things happen of their own accord.

Bird riders swoop across a white field landscape in Flock
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive

They're not ready to say what these "things" are just yet, but I get the sense they might be tied to your sheep. "They graze," Hogg explains, "so it's almost like a background task while you're playing this game, you're allowing your sheep to graze in meadows in various parts of the world. While you're looking for creatures, you're also looking for places to graze your sheep, and that process of grazing your sheep effectively reveals things that drive progress in the game."

Whatever these things are, they'll only make themselves known once all the grass in a meadow has been chomped away by your woolly companions, Hogg tells me. So the idea is that you'll drop your sheep off in a meadow, go out exploring for a bit, and then check back in periodically to see how they're getting on. You could in theory stray as far as you like from them, of course. There's no danger in this world to threaten your sheep's wellbeing, but Hogg assures me you'll "never spend any time just hanging out watching your sheep waiting for them" to finish eating. Hopefully, its other wild creatures will be enough to draw your eye and tempt you off the beaten path.

There are "about 60 different creatures" in total, Hogg says, but in order to properly identify them you'll need to first decide which of the 12 available creature families it belongs to. Once you get close enough to your quarry, Haggett says there'll be a little mini-game where players will match the creature to a description in their guidebook. "You have a table of all the creatures, and after that you can, if you have a song to catch that creature, you can try and catch it as well."

"I don't think we can reveal the exact way in which you get those [songs]," Hogg says, jumping in, "and I wouldn't necessarily want someone to go into the game knowing that." He does tease that there will be clues and hints as to where you might some of Flock's rarer, more elusive beasts, however, and that some will only appear at night, while others will be around in abundance during the day. However, unlike your sheep (which are permanent and unique to you and can even be given names, I'm told), Haggett describes Flock's wild creatures as more "ephemeral."

Large creatures fly through the sky above a meadow scene in Flock
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive

"They come into your flock, and then when you keep catching a new one, the oldest one might drift away." Your flock will get larger over time, he adds, but you'll begin with quite a tight limit on the number of beasts that can follow you around. Fortunately, you needn't be without your favourites once you've charmed them. If a particularly rare one wanders off, for example, you'll be able to call them back at any time and swap them back in. You can forget about using it to duplicate creatures, though. "If you want to have a flock of 30 pipers, you do need to go and catch 30 pipers," Haggett stresses.

"I really like the idea that you're just really into having fun, collecting creatures for what they look like and what their personalities are, and they're in your little gang. That's a nice thing."

I wonder if this means you'll need to catch certain critters in order to solve, say, some puzzles, but Haggett and Hogg assure me this won't be the case in Flock. "When we were in the early stages of the game, I think we imaged that it would be very much more of the latter where you need certain creatures to do certain things," Hogg says of how important it is to have variety in your flock. As development went on, however, self-expression became much more important.

"The creatures you have in your flock is very much just like, 'Oh I like these guys. I'm gonna have a load of these guys,'" he continues. "We found that's something which feels a much better fit for the game rather than it being some kind of loadout."

Hogg says the same applies to the kind of clothes you're able to wear in-game as well, which you can knit by shearing off the increasingly fluffy wool from your flock of sheep. "I know in a lot of games what you're wearing affects your abilities and whatnot," he says. "But I really like the idea that you're just really into having fun, collecting creatures for what they look like and what their personalities are, and they're in your little gang. That's a nice thing."

In fact, it was a play tester at their publisher Annapurna Interactive who loved pipers so much that it became a "real epiphany" moment for the team. "Neil was just a piper guy, always - that's his thing, and we found that really compelling," Hogg recalls. "As we've gone on, the composition of what creatures you have in your flock has had less and less bearing on gameplay stuff, and I'm quite happy with that."

A person riding a bird has a flock of fish-like creatures in tow in Flock
A rider on a large bird guides lots of strange creatures through a landscape of large mushrooms in Flock
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive

Haggett adds that there will be moments where having other creatures in your flock could be considered "helpful" to charming some of its special creatures, but agrees that "for the most part, they're these creatures that are very much about which ones you just want to have", and nothing more.

Alas, that was all I managed to glean from our chat before our time was up, but I (and hopefully you) now have a much better sense of what Flock is and what we'll be doing in it when it eventually comes out. Consider me very intrigued by whatever mystery things our sheep will be chewing their way towards in the final game, and I'll also be interested to see just how compelling its exploration and creature collecting will be on the side.

As Haggett and Hogg both mention at various points, I think this will be a fun game to simply noodle about in while hanging out with your mates, but I do have a few worries about how gripping it will be alone without that extra hook of seeking out specific beasts for a particular purpose, a la Cassette Beasts and Pokémon and the like. I often need at least a little something driving me forwards in these sorts of games, but maybe the thrill of lowering that cloud sea and growing my flock of sheep will be just the right balance I need. Flock doesn't have a release date just yet, but you can find out more on Steam in the meantime.

Disclosure: Pip Warr (RPS in peace and formerly of this parish) is both one of the very soothing voices in the new Flock trailer above, and one of its game and narrative designers.

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