Not many games have featured the subtle, passive cooperative multiplayer that players first experience in Thatgamecompany’s Journey on the PlayStation 3. But at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow in Los Angeles, developer Aurora44 is demonstrating how it is building on that idea with its new game.
Ashen is an open-world adventure with a focus on exploration, combat, and discovery, and in a demo at Microsoft’s E3 booth, the studio explained that it also wants to give players a personal relationship with both strangers and the NPCs in the world. To accomplish that, it’s is borrowing the passive multiplayer from Journey, which couples up strangers at random without enabling you to speak. That’s opposed to a co-op mode where you actively team up with a friend or the game match-makes you in a lobby.
This means that if you are walking through the woods by yourself, you may suddenly see another player run in front of you. You can then press a button to wave and join up with that person to take on quests together. To encourage cooperation, Ashen has puzzles that require multiple players to work together. After some time of adventuring with your new friend, it’s likely you will build up a relationship, and that is where Ashen diverges from Journey.
In Ashen, the strangers you meet will all look different. For example, you could find that you have teamed up with an elderly treasure hunter. As long as you are playing with that person, they will always look like that. But when that cooperative session ends, the elderly gentlemen does not disappear into the ether. Instead, that character will retire to a town and begin acting as a computer-controlled NPC.
“We want the people you are playing with to be strangers,” Aurora44 creative director Leighton Milne explained in a session with reporters. “It’s about first impressions. If you are questing with someone and they leave to be an NPC for you, that first impression is going to be the lasting impression.”
In Journey, co-op partners sync in and out of your game throughout your experience, but you always got the sense you were playing with one partner even if you actually had a dozen partners. Ashen will flip that and create permanent memorials to your impermanent relationships that you can visit whenever you are feeling nostalgic for the stranger that helped you that one time.