Volantia is a serene strategy game about islands in the sky. It’s the second commercial title from Marc Luck, who developed Desktop Dungeons at QFC Design before striking out and forming the studio Tangled Mess Games. It’s out now on PC, but the developer is also fundraising and aiming for a console launch at a future date, hopefully on the Nintendo Switch.
Volantia is set in a lush world where humans have used technology called Zardim to lift continents into the clouds. Several generations later, civilization is beginning to collapse, so the player is tasked with building cities, managing resources, and exploring to find seven Zardim and re-activate them. Unlike the usual neon-tinged sci-fi, the main resource is plants and nature — an aesthetic that Luck describes as “greenpunk.”
“Where steampunk was trying to be technology made with brass and steam power, we’re trying to do technology, but kind of green-powered, powered by plants, that sort of thing,” said Luck in a phone call with GamesBeat. “In the game, the first four resource buildings are all trees of some sort that you plant. They either extract resources from the ground, or from the tiles around them. That sort of thing. Even further on, all of the technology that we use is supposed to be mixed with nature.”
The South African developer and his team took inspiration by the game jam Ludum Dare’s theme generator, which popped out the phrase “islands in the sky.” After putting together a prototype, they eventually applied and were accepted into the Swedish game accelerator Stugan. Luck describes their time at Stugan as a “wonderful creative space” where they could focus on the game and meet other developers. It tied in nicely with Volantia’s nature theme, as well — Stugan provides an idyllic retreat for indies, bringing in a yearly group of creators to a cabin in the woods.
Though the world is at stake in Volantia, Tangled Mess has opted for an adorable, cheerful look. It’s studded with flowers and trees, and later on, players can unlock “cute little yellow marshmallow-looking horses” that help move resources between different settlements. Luck says that the studio wants it to be a “calm, relaxing, Zen-like experience.”
It’s quite different from Luck’s first commercial game, Desktop Dungeons, which is a bite-sized roguelike puzzler where players have to fight and survive. While that game was still in beta, it won the Independent Games Festival’s 2011 award for Excellence in Design, earning the studio acclaim and paving the way for other South African developers. Luck says that the hype wore off by the time Desktop Dungeons actually launched, but the award continued to yield benefits.
“The first time we went to GDC was when we got the IGF award, and that was wonderful, because it introduced other people to us without us having to walk up to them. People knew who we were there, at the event. What I’ve been doing is going back to GDC and other events since then and using that knowledge that people have of me, the fact that I’ve been in the industry for a while,” said Luck. “I think without that it would have been a lot harder to meet new people at GDC and make those friends. A lot of those friends and those relationships are what have allowed me to keep making games, keep doing this.”