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BroForce dev's world regrower Terra Nil re-emerges with a release date

"It's a game about healing, I guess."

A hand-drawn image of a barren landscape being turned into a lush oasis, with a river running through it, wind turbines, green-green grass and clean air. It looks like hope.
Image credit: Free Lives / Terra Nil

I got very excited about Terra Nil when I played a demo in summer 2021. Here was a game from BroForce developer Free Lives about repairing the world. A calm and gentle game about regrowing wastelands and then packing up and getting out of there, and leaving no trace. A kind of reverse city-builder, if you like, or an anti-city-builder, maybe. And it felt so refreshing to play that, as well as being current and topical.

Excitedly, I waited to find out more. And I waited and I waited, but nothing happened, Terra Nil fell out of sight. And it's only now that it's re-emerging with some very good news: it's coming out soon. Terra Nil will be released on PC and mobiles (via the Netflix app) on 28th March.

Question is, what took it so long? Simply, as Terra Nil creator Sam Alfred tells me in an interview, "The game's response was so much bigger than we thought it was going to be. When we released that demo in 2021," he says, "the whole idea was it was just going to be a remake of the pixel-art version and that would be it..."

Cover image for YouTube videoTerra Nil | Coming March 28 | PC & Netflix
I wish it worked like this in real-life.

Sam Alfred was the one who created that pixel-art demo of Terra Nil, by the way. He made it back in 2019 for the Ludum Dare game jam, and you can still play it over on Itch.io. It did well, too, so even though he was new to Free Lives at the time, he kept working on it in his spare time, and eventually, with some after-hours help from colleagues, he had enough of a concept to convince Free Lives creative director Evan Greenwood to make it a studio project. That's what led to the 2021 demo I played.

"And then it just exploded online," Alfred says. "And we sat down and we decided we had to re-evaluate whether we wanted to make the planned, small game, which wouldn't have been appreciably larger than the demo [...] or whether we wanted to try something more ambitious. And we decided to try something more ambitious."

"More ambitious" meant adding three brand new region types to the game - tropical, polar and urban. That's in addition to the northern hemisphere kind of wilderness already there - a place of meadows and forests and marshlands, once you've regrown it, that is. It's just a cracked brown slab of mud before then.

Each of the regions have their own biomes and animals, and represent their own kind of puzzle challenges that you'll need different buildings and strategies to solve. There are something like 50 building types in the game now. In other words, there's a lot more content.

Some brand new screenshots, showing the tropical and polar regions, and the world map and UI.

But, Alfred stresses, "This is not a hundred-hour game. This is an experience about rebuilding an environment and then leaving. It's not a thing where you can keep building forever because that's completely contrary to the philosophy of the game. The game is about balance and it's about nature, and it's not about infinite building."

The timing of Terra Nil, somewhat depressingly, couldn't be better. As the climate emergency worsens each year, the depleted landscapes the game presents are a worrying glimpse of what our own world might look like if we let it. Alfred saw the dangers of the climate emergency first-hand when Cape Town, the city he lives in, nearly ran out of water in 2018, following years of droughts.

But he never wanted Terra Nil to be a game about worrying. He and co-creator Jonathan Hau-Yoon, who quickly joined him on the project and is responsible for the dinky art, wanted quite the reverse: they wanted Terra Nil to be about climate positivity instead.

"So we've taken the stance of: the game is about giving hope to players about the state of the world," Alfred says. "And we've actually seen that from some of our players; we've had reports from players about it actually reducing their climate anxiety. The point of Terra Nil, even though it's a fantasy, is to give players agency so that they don't feel so paralysed and so hopeless about the state of the climate."

How barren the game can look. But also: flamingos! Whales!

It's one of the reasons there's no overt story or context to the game. Is it our own world? We don't know. Why are we regrowing it? We don't know that either - we just are. What we take away from it is up to us. "We want to just put it out there and let people talk about it, and let them draw the conclusions they want from it," Alfred says, "and feel the way they want to."

He pauses and then adds: "It's a game about healing, I guess."

Terra Nil will be released on 28th March, to reiterate. Free Lives currently has two other games in development too: Anger Foot, and Stick it to the Stickman. And they're quite different in tone. There's also a big new update coming to BroForce this year, called BroForce Forever, which will bring new playable characters, new missions, and more. I cannot wait.