When you play as an animal, you might expect the game to be all about survival: the brutal long winters, the predators stalking through the tall grass. The First Tree is more of a contemplative take. It’s a third-person exploration game where you’re reuniting a fox with its family, and it’ll be out for PC and Mac on September 14.
“Stories that focus on the domestic are what interest me the most, probably because that’s the part of my life which is most important,” said David Wehle, The First Tree’s lone developer and designer, in an email. “The premise of The First Tree is juxtaposing an ancient, epic story of finding the first tree on Earth with a more humble story of an estranged father and son.”
As you guide the fox through gorgeous colorful forests and snow-covered fields, another story unfolds in parallel between a son and his estranged father in Alaska. Exploring the environment yields little mementos and memories that tell more about the son’s life, and the two stories eventually become intertwined.
Wehle says he is drawn to stories that explore personal bonds and familial relationships, particularly when juxtaposed against something much larger in scale. He cites Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life as sources of inspiration. His first game, Home Is Where One Starts, also used environmental storytelling so that players could learn more about the protagonist as they explored a rundown old family home in the countryside.
“Me and my wife had our first baby 18 months ago, right after I started work on [The First Tree], and this has been my creative outlet of dealing with a father who passed away too early, right when I was starting my own family,” said Wehle. “Those same themes of parenthood, life, and death are explored in The First Tree.”
The First Tree will take about an hour to three hours to complete. Wehle has no plans to bring it to consoles, but may consider it depending on its initial success.