Like many game designers, Chandana Ekanayake maintains a large document full of potential concepts, one that he constantly updates as ideas come to him. One of the most difficult things is the concept of being a falconer: have a bird that you can train and care for, while working together to solve problems. "I thought the idea of having a hawk as a mechanic might be interesting," he says.
Then, when Ekanayake created Outerloop Games and began exploring ideas for the first game of the study, the concept of bird came before. He put together a scrappy prototype using prefabricated assets, and was struck by the sensation of seeing the bird fly, only to return and rest on his arm when he calls. The effect was particularly pronounced in virtual reality. "Seeing the bird at a distance, even from the beginning, with really bad assets, that change of scale was a moment" Wow "for the people," he says. "So now we had to find out what the game was."
The result is Falcon Age which was released this week on the PlayStation 4 and PSVR. (You can play the game both in VR and in a normal TV). What started as a basic prototype has become a surprisingly emotional adventure. The link with the bird is still the core of the experience; in fact, Falcon Age has won a cult of followers on Twitter thanks to a constant flow of adorable gifs, with falcons giving blows of fists or making drawings in a notebook. However, below that, the game tells a powerful story about a group that fights oppressive colonizers.
"We put you with the bird," says Ekanayake, "and we continue with the story."
Falcon Age begins with your character, a young woman named Ara, in a prison labor camp. A scared robot guides you through the same routine every day, which starts with a series of questions about compliance and ends with the extraction of minerals in hard work. Then, one day, just outside the window of his cell, he sees a hawk fighting with an unmanned airplane and in the battle that follows, a little bird ends up in his cell. Ara takes care of the bird so that it recovers its health and trains it to follow and hunt it. Eventually, the two escape from prison and meet Ara's aunt, who turns out to be a great falconer. His aunt not only helps guide Ara on the road to falconry, but also shows how his budding skills can help in the war against the colonizing robotic force.
It works pretty well as a standard game, but Falcon Age really comes alive in virtual reality. It is surprising that your bird companion looks at you directly, and the various interactions feel much more attractive when you are using your body. You can grab treats and feed them, and hold a PlayStation Move controller on your face to mimic a whistle and call it. Things also get a little silly: you can dress the bird with hats and scarves, and there is a special article that transforms the adult bird into a cute baby. These happy moments are important in a game with such a serious story. "I wanted to make sure that this balance existed," says Ekanayake.
Throughout the development, the team focused mainly on promoting the appearance of the birds of Falcon Age ; You do not have to go far to find adorable hawk gifs in a hat or in shaking hands. Along the way, they have discovered a large community of bird fanatics who did not even know it existed. In fact, the falconer with whom they worked approached them after seeing the game announced in PAX. It was not a great pre-planned marketing plan, but the game seems to have touched a nerve.
"Now many bird lovers follow me," says Ekanayake.