After the darkness and dormancy of winter life restarts, almost as if the punishing frosts, snows and winds had never happened. The season of spring starts to take hold, colours reappear, foliage regrows and landscapes transform to offer different looks, feels and opportunities for interaction. This can be truly impactful when it manifests in video games. Where winter revealed the bones of landscapes and their design, spring brings a softer touch, its re-birth and revitalisation draping life and colour back over lands. Spring can empower a landscape to represent and symbolise in its own way. By adding these into games' story arcs and narratives, a whole new side of the landscape can be seen and experienced - one where the land tells stories of recovery, shows an ability to cleanse and has an ability to enhance peace and quiet, all while under the drape of a colourful, full of life landscape, giving the land an entirely new look and atmosphere.
Just under a year after the launch of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, a "walking simulator" about dealing with loss in Shropshire in 1984, it won three BAFTAs. For its developer The Chinese Room, it seemed things couldn't get any better. Fans anxiously awaited the studio's next big project. They're still waiting.
There's a shot in the war movie The Thin Red Line that I can't stop thinking about: soldiers scattered over a distant hill, crouched in the grass, waiting. What happens? Nothing. Or rather, nothing you can type into a shooting script and then stick on the screen. But at the same time, everything happens: the mood shifts, the calm breaks. And all because the light has changed: a cloud moving across the sky, a darkening, a transition.
From its opening shot, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture shows precisely how its three-year development was spent. It's an absolutely gorgeous PlayStation 4 title that puts its bucolic visuals front and centre - where CryEngine is tasked to render a picturesque Shropshire village. Developer The Chinese Room uses the engine's superb lighting and post effects to ramp up the atmosphere. But with such a determined drive towards photo-realism, has its frame-rate been overlooked?
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture's co-director Jessica Curry is not your typical video game developer. Having a background as a film composer is one detail that sets her apart from the pack, but what's probably more important is that she's co-directed three successful commercial games without being a gamer herself. How did this happen?
"When a day you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere."
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture might not make a lot of sense, at least at first. Its small cast of five characters are relegated to bobbing orbs of ectoplasm that occasionally manifest themselves as ghostly apparitions of things past. Pay phones ring, only to shout cryptic messages to you, and nothing stays the same for very long. Unraveling Rapture's core mystery, however, is only one diversion. The real reason for existing within Rapture is simply to experience this beautifully melancholy piece of surreal interactive prose.
2014 is upon us, and it promises riches and glory unlike any year before it. With their launches under their belts, the next generation of consoles will, hopefully, show us what they're made of. Virtual reality headsets may make their mark on the mainstream. And with a raft of crowdfunded games due out over the next 12 months, 2014 should tell us whether all that money we pumped into promising projects on Kickstarter was worth it.
Last week we did a postmortem on The Chinese Room's experimental horror sequel Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, and as fascinating as it was to hear all the decisions that went into developing that, I couldn't help wonder about the Brighton-based studio's upcoming PS4-exclusive first-person exploration game, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture.
The evocative title aims to explore rural Shropshire an hour before the end of the world. When studio head Dan Pinchbeck discussed Rapture last summer, it was said to feature a Majora's Mask-esque time mechanic that would constrain each playthrough to about an hour. When asked about this now, Pinchbeck laughs, "Yeah, that's gone."
"Originally, when we started the game off it was going to be an hour long for each playthrough. It would be almost like kind of a Groundhog Day or 12:01-type thing where you've got an hour. How far can you get? How much can you explore? Imagine reading a novel and you're really into it, and 30 pages before the end someone comes up and takes it out of your hand and goes, 'I'm afraid that's it. Your time's up.' It's an artificial conceit that doesn't necessarily produce a good player experience." Time limits, Pinchbeck notes, are "probably more suited to an arcade-style game, but not really good for a non-linear story-driven drama."