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When I spotted Evoland, which Bordeaux, France-based studio Shiro Games is billing as “short story of adventure video games evolution,” two thoughts crossed my mind. First, it looked like an equally clever but more gorgeous version of Silicon Studio’s 3D Dot Game Heroes, a pixel-heavy throwback to the 8-bit era with modern sensibilities. Then I wondered how the developer was planning to encapsulate the entire history of a genre in one title.
It wasn’t until I talked to Sebastien Vidal, chief executive officer of Shiro and former chief operating officer for NCsoft Europe, that I begun to understand what “evolution” really entailed.
Evoland itself isn’t new. Nicolas Cannasse, founder of Flash game company Motion Twin, made Evoland Classic in about 30 hours for the Ludum Dare #24 Online Game Jam event, where people from around the world give up a weekend to make a game. Cannasse participated in the challenge window that took place from August 24-27, 2012. Out of 1,400 entries, his emerged with the highest overall score. The theme that weekend? Evolution.
Evoland Classic obtained over 300,000 players within a couple months. Now, with such a strong interest in the game, Shiro has decided to make a full commercial version of Evoland, which is coming first for PC and Mac in early March (and later iOS and possibly Android) for under $10.
“Most feedback we had [with Evoland Classic] is that people loved the concept rather than any specific part of the game, which is what makes a lot of people hooked to the idea when they first hear about it,” Vidal told GamesBeat. “This is not a game on which we expect comments about the graphics or the music or an event in the storyline — even if [we] had quite a few on the music.” (Audio was the category in which Evoland Classic scored lowest.)
In fact, the new Evoland doesn’t even have a story in the traditional sense. It’s not a narrative per se but rather a “story” of how action-adventure games have changed throughout the years.
“Like in the Classic version, everything in Evoland is based around unlocking chests that give access to some new feature, generally gameplay- or technology-related,” said Vidal. “Players will go back and forth between different styles of gameplay, but the technology used to created the environment [will] always move forward.”
These unlocks include features like a sword or the ability to save your progress — moments or mechanics that came into the genre as it advanced — as well as technological aspects like graphic upgrades and higher quality music.
“The whole point of the game is progressing through these unlocks to unfold the story of action-adventure gaming,” said Vidal.
He also showed us three screenshots (two included here), where the player unlocks (don’t think of “unlocks” as in extra content; rather, these are core parts of the game that drive its progression) 16-color display, music, and the ability to enter houses (and “freely invade people’s privacy,” the game jokes).
I’m now half-expecting to rummage through other people’s drawers and break their pots — two activities Link from The Legend of Zelda is good at — which wouldn’t be too far off base. Vidal mentioned that Zelda, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy were all big influences.
“Evoland Classic was clearly inspired by the Zelda series,” said Vidal, “but we wanted to go beyond that and pay a tribute to the action-adventure genre as a whole rather than to specific titles while also keeping the parodic humor of the original game.”
These “tongue-in-cheek comments” and references to gaming culture also include the names of people, places, and different secrets that you can find.
Shiro is moving further along the technical and gameplay evolution of the genre than Evoland Classic did by including different types of combat (like turn-based Active Time Battle and hack-n-slash), allowing players to switch back and forth between gameplay styles, and having the perspective change from 2D to 3D (both prerendered and real-time). Vidal said that items that block your path in 2D might appear flat in 3D.
“Unlike many games, the content in Evoland is there to serve the gameplay and not the other way around,” he said. “The game inverts the roles, and you end up living a story on a background of gameplay rather than playing a game along a storyline.”
It’s a “game about games,” as he calls it.
“In terms of depth, we actually discussed doing a game about the whole of gaming history, starting with Pong up to full 3D action games,” he said. “But the editorial work just to pick what best represents each style and era would have been huge –and the development time even bigger — so we went back to the roots and ‘only’ expanded on the action-adventure styles. That alone could, in theory, cover many genres of role-playing games, and we cut down to a few cult series that worked with each other and had an overlap in their audiences.”
Vidal says the four-person team is happy with the positive feedback they’ve been receiving on Steam Greenlight, YouTube, and other social networks like Facebook.
“We initially thought [Evoland Classic] would mainly appeal to veterans of the genre, but it turns out a lot of people who have tried the game and never played an RPG really enjoyed it,” he said. “For them, the experience of having a game evolve around them as they played completely overshadowed the fact that it was an action-adventure game. It could have been anything. The evolution was what made it fun for them.”
Evoland’s, well, evolution is what ultimately makes it different from the countless other nostalgic, retro throwbacks on the market.
“I guess Evoland only starts as a retro game and ends as a — fairly — modern one,” said Vidal. “We’re not trying to make a game like the ones in the past — in terms of graphics and/or gameplay — but rather to tell the story of these games.”