E3 2015 – The procedural beauty of Shape of the World

While playing Shape of the World, there were moments where I was so focused on the game that everything else around me faded. The beautiful colors and soothing sounds of its world had me completely enraptured. It was the perfect escape from all the noise and lights of E3.

Shape of the World drops you into its space with no sense goals or direction. The landscape is bare at first, creating a sort of austere charm. But then you start moving forward, picking up orbs – or seeds, rather – littered about, and the world starts coming to life. Trees sprout, grass grows, and lakes fill; all of it populates the space dynamically as you walk forward, transforming the area from a barren set into a fully realized forest.

Though the seeds sort of direct you toward gates that alter the color scheme of the world, you’re mostly left to your own devices. You’re encouraged to get lost, to take your time and explore, enjoy the sights. It’s definitely worth your while, as the world is always changing, the colors always shifting. I kept stopping to look around every time the colors switched, always dazzled by the striking scenery before me. It’s very much like Proteus in that regard. Only instead of watching the passing of seasons, you’re transforming the space at your own pace.

With each gate you pass through, the world changes. It’s mostly the color palette, but occasionally the kinds of trees and shrubbery that sprout change as well. The propagation is procedural, but the environment is static. So while you can come to learn the lay of the land, the exact details of it will never quite be the same every time. It ensures that you’ll always find yourself lost in its fantastical world, never quite knowing where everything is no matter how many times you run through the area.

And that’s intentional. Lead Designer Stu Maxwell says he wanted to make a game that would encourage exploration, make players feel lost. Having wandered aimlessly myself, it definitely succeeds on that front. He also wants to guide players into psudo-scripted moments – like gliding off a cliff or ascending a staircase being rolled out before you – which the orbs help lead you toward, to ensure it’s not just aimless exploration.

It has pacing, which keeps exploration interesting because you’re never spending too much time in the same color palette. Just as you begin to feel you’ve seen enough of the current color scheme, you run into some seeds and get to change it ever so slightly. Or you come across a gate and transform the space entirely. It keeps things constantly fresh and exciting.

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Shape of the World is currently on Kickstarter (and half-way toward its goal). It’s set to release on Xbox One, PC, and Mac sometime next year.

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