Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment / Publisher: Hidden Path Entertainment / Platforms: PC / Release Date: TBA 2013 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated
There are a number of procedurally generated, voxel-based, open-world sandbox games taking over the PC market these days. Starforge, Overgrowth, Cube World, Minecraft and Terraria are just a few worth naming, and even more are in development. What separates them, though, are the games that are in a playable state – not just a semi-presentable forever-in-closed-beta one.
Windborne, the latest surprise from Hidden Path Entertainment, is one of those playable games. So much is it playable that I was given an in-depth look into the game’s atmosphere, focus on user creativity, and clever take on online multiplayer. It’s still quite early in developmental alpha, but has a unique core that is above an easy Minecraft comparison that uninformed folks so easily make.
Plus, this game has a splash of Pikmin – in both cuteness and vibe. Yeah, I got giddy when I found out too.
Windborne is defined by its creators as a procedurally generated, social sandbox game with a “vibrant world filled with secrets to unlock and treasures to find.” The first-person demo I was given dropped our character into a grassy plain that sat atop a floating island – one surrounded by other floating islands high, high in the sky. I watched as Jeff Pobst, CEO of Hidden Path, played and approached a grassy mound near a small cottage.
He told me that everything in the world can be altered by the player, and proceeded to remove blocky chunks of soil from the ground. If it sounds like Minecraft, well then you’re right — but it’s so far proven to be more intricate. After he burrowed us a nice hole, he showed me an impressive trimming mechanic, which allows you to chop away slices of the block to round edges of walls and make rudimentary shelves and slants – all with clicks of the mouse wheel.
Pobst told me that they want players to be able to do much more than simply remove and place single blocks, but also have the option to refine the spaces they create and edit too. He showed me multiple times throughout the demo how he could reshape and remove chunks of nearly anything in the world – such as dirt, rock or wood, and place them anywhere he wanted afterwards.
After exiting our freshly-burrowed hole and showcasing the nearby A.I.-built cottage, we were approached by a floating elf-like creature called a Jin. Part Pikmin and more parts adorable, the Jin exist in the world to assist you in some ways, but mostly need your help to begin crafting a civilization. What this means is that, as you show them new areas and resources, and teach them skills along the way, they’ll begin to setup villages and towns, and even build cottages.
In the build of the game I was shown, this was not entirely evident, but we did help one of the little guys cross a bridge to get back to his pack of floating sheep-things called Woolys – which are adorable. He, the Lantern Jin, named for the lights dangling from their antenna, eventually joined up with a combat-ready Bucket Jin, who wore a bucket on his head like a helmet.
Pobst mentioned that the Jin’s A.I. is built with some creative pathfinding tools that help it get where it needs to be when you craft new paths for it. This became clear when we placed stone blocks down to replace a small part of a destroyed bridge, and the Jin happily made use of it.
We moved on from this area and explored some mountains to the north – all of which could be burrowed into and reshaped to our satisfaction. Pobst showed me with the removal of a few dirt blocks the island’s expansive cave system running just beneath the surface. My eyes lit up at the possibilities of hunting for the game’s many artifacts, minerals and rare plants potentially hidden below.
All around as we walked were inaccessible floating islands, each crawling or cruising by at varying speeds. I asked about how we could reach them, and Pobst was quick to mention that they can only be reached on dragonback.
After another minute or two, we came across a dragon egg, which Pobst said could be hatched with help from the Jin – but didn’t go much more into detail regarding how. He mentioned that they can teach you how to hatch them, and that all dragons are different. There are four, one from each cardinal direction: North, South, East and West, and each with their own background. He looked away from the egg and to the left, pointing to a small floating island in the distance.
“That can be your friend’s island,” Pobst said.
After a confusing look from myself, he explained that islands are not only the basis of exploration in the single-player game, but also in the integrated multiplayer experience. What’s incredible though, if it works, is that multiplayer is planned to be an organic one, and that you only need to be in “online mode” to experience it.
In a nutshell, you can be playing in your own world, going about your own day, and there’s a chance that one of the islands that floats by is your friend’s island – their own single-player world. Like the other islands that pass by you daily, it too must be reached by flying a dragon to its surface. You can join your friend’s world and explore with them, and vice versa. It’s an immensely ambitious and promising concept that has a lot of potential for epic, satisfying moments and experiences, but we’ll have to wait and see it in action first before we believe it outright.
But boy does it sound cool.
If it’s not evident already, the world of Windborne is brimming with high-fantasy and lore galore. The entire experience, even in alpha, was very charming, colorful and vibrant.
Windborne is still a ways out and will certainly need the quality time improving while on sale through Steam Early Access, but it carries a lot of promise. It will be launching in beta form in October or November, the team says, with a full release to come in “early 2014.” But what I’ve seen of the game instills confidence that the studio behind Defense Grid and CS: GO might just have a charming hit on their hands.
They just have to show it the nurturing and time it needs.