Berlin-based studio Spaces of Play began thinking about what its next game would be around the same time that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword made its debut on the original Wii. Though generally well-received, the game frustrated many with its constant barrage of tutorials and tips. “Skyward Sword would always show you what to do before you were able to do it yourself,” says Andreas Zecher, one-third of the studio. “So we were thinking, can we make an action-adventure game that’s sort of the opposite of that?”
The result is Future Unfolding, an upcoming game about exploring a vast, mysterious landscape. It has many of the hallmarks of adventures like Zelda, from the large spaces you’ll wander to the plentiful wildlife you’ll encounter. There are even secrets that lend the game a fantastical vibe — but there’s one key difference. “We don’t explain anything at all,” says Zecher.
The game opens with you waking in a bright, colorful forest, filled with flowers, trees, and piles of rocks. You’re given absolutely no directions. Instead, the idea is that you’ll observe the world around you, and discover things on your own. I recently played a demo of the game — a relatively brief snippet that lasted around four hours — and it didn’t take long before I got the gist.
It helps that options for interacting with the world are pretty limited. You can sprint using the shift key, but all other actions are relegated to the spacebar, which behaves differently depending on the situation. If you’re standing still in an empty field, hitting the spacebar will cause a tiny ripple of energy to surround you. If you use it around a pile of small rocks, you can tussle them. If you tap it when a deer-like creature runs past, you hop on for a ride.
“Figuring out what to do is part of the gameplay.”
Future Unfolding is full of these small moments of discovery; figuring them out for yourself makes them all the more satisfying. The first time you try to ride an animal, you have no idea if it’ll work, which makes the result a surprise. Later you’ll need to find special interactions in order to solve puzzles and open up new areas of the game. “Figuring out what to do is part of the gameplay,” notes Zecher.
One of the reasons the exploration is such an enticing prospect is that Future Unfolding’s world is a lush and rich with color, begging to be delved into. Viewed from an overhead perspective, it looks almost like you’re walking through a bright, colorful impressionist painting. Trees and bushes subtly shift and move as you walk by them. Even in the early demo I played, there was a lot to see, from windy mountains and snake-infested valleys to dark, creepy caves.
The world is slightly different each time you play. Future Unfolding uses a combination of procedural generation and more typical, hand-crafted level design. Zecher describes it as sort of a midway point between a game like The Witness, where every object is meticulously placed by hand, and No Man’s Sky, where an entire universe is generated by algorithms. Everyone’s game will have the same major places, and many of the same puzzles, but they’ll be plotted in different locations on the larger map and in a different order. (The game also offers multiple paths for every puzzle, so you won’t be stuck if you can’t figure out a particular solution.)
“There needs to be some kind of mystery.”
“Our main goal is to make a game that’s all about exploration. For that [to work] there needs to be some kind of mystery aspect,” says Zecher. “And it works better if the play experience is different for every player. We hope that people talk about it with their friends, and that they’re not going to have exactly the same game experience.”
Future Unfolding isn’t scheduled to launch until some time early next year, when it’ll be coming to both the PC and PS4. The developers will spend the next few months adding new things into the game — places to explore, creatures to interact with. (Currently there are around 100 different areas in the game.) The idea is to have lots of tucked away objects and interactions, things that you might not even see depending on how you play.
“The main enjoyment [that comes] from this game is discovering new things,” says Zecher.