The Flame In The Flood

PC, Xbox One


We’re hun­gry, sod­den and deathly cold. The rea­son for most of that mis­ery is that we fell from our raft while ne­go­ti­at­ing a par­tic­u­larly tricky sec­tion of rapids just min­utes ago. Af­ter clam­ber­ing back on board our rick­ety ves­sel, we man­aged to force it through the ar­gu­men­ta­tive cur­rents to an is­land. Now we ap­proach the en­trance of an aban­doned church, hop­ing to sta­bilise our body tem­per­a­ture un­til we can search for fire­wood in the morn­ing. But, sud­denly, we have big­ger prob­lems: just feet from rel­a­tive safety, a wolf leaps into our path, head down, and be­gins mov­ing pur­pose­fully to­wards us.

It’s early days for hard­ship-strewn ram­ble The Flame In The Flood, but it’s al­ready a pow­er­ful, melan­cholic en­try in the sur­vival genre. Con­tem­po­raries such as Don’t Starve might serve up plenty of ad­ver­sity, but there’s lit­tle sense of a grand adventure. Here, as you work your way through the back­wa­ters of a “post-so­ci­etal” Amer­ica with only a lamp and your dog, Ae­sop, for com­pany, sur­vival be­comes less an ab­stract goal and more a re­quire­ment to see what comes next.

“There’s a lot of games out there about sur­vival, but we re­ally wanted to fo­cus on the idea of trav­el­ling,” says Forrest Dowl­ing, CEO and founder of Mas­sachusetts-based stu­dio The Mo­lasses Flood, “go­ing on a jour­ney and pre­sent­ing it in a way that has very much grown out of the per­sonal art style of the art direc­tor I’m work­ing with.”

That man is Scott Sin­clair, for­mer BioShock art direc­tor, and his dis­tinc­tive vis­ual style has the look of a dark, an­gu­lar fairy­tale. Dowl­ing was also at Ir­ra­tional, lead­ing level de­sign on BioShock In­fi­nite, and the rest of the stu­dio is made up of alums from out­fits such as Har­monix and Bungie. The Mo­lasses Flood might be a small team, but it col­lects to­gether heavy­weight tal­ent.

As you make your way down the river, it­self pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated, you’ll en­counter var­i­ous is­lands that might of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for shel­ter, food or items. You can choose to land and ex­plore, or sim­ply bar­rel as far down the wa­ter­way as your aching belly will al­low. “The way we’re all ap­proach­ing ran­dom gen­er­a­tion is that there’s lots of dif­fer­ent sorts of things that could ap­pear at any given time, but it’s not like we’re plant­ing a lit­tle math seed and the tree grows from it or any­thing like that,” Dowl­ing ex­plains. “We’re try­ing to strad­dle the line be­tween pro­ce­dural gen­er­a­tion [and] still cre­at­ing a world that feels au­thored. That’s one of our big goals.” Those ran­dom shores also prom­ise en­coun­ters with other sur­vivors. They’ll de­liver the nar­ra­tive through con­ver­sa­tion, but might also of­fer you use­ful items such as clean wa­ter or rare com­po­nents. One of the char­ac­ters you could meet is called Mag­no­lia, who re­sides in a garage and can pro­vide use­ful in­for­ma­tion or a trin­ket, as­sum­ing your con­ver­sa­tion with her goes down the right path. You might get noth­ing at all, though.

One tool you’ll keep with you through­out is your lan­tern, which swings pre­car­i­ously on your raft as you’re bat­tered by squalls and waves. It’ll light the way if you find your­self ex­plor­ing an is­land by night, but also serves as a means to scare off wolves. They’re per­sis­tent crit­ters, but it’s easy enough to man­age one while still go­ing about your busi­ness. Find your­self out­num­bered, how­ever, and things will quickly turn ugly.

Faced with threats of this na­ture, Ae­sop’s heroic bark­ing will achieve lit­tle, but he’ll still help you stay alive in other ways. As well as keep­ing you com­pany, he’ll also bound over to points of in­ter­est that you might have missed and sniff out use­ful items. “We’re still think­ing about dif­fer­ent ways to use him and the dif­fer­ent things that he can do,” Dowl­ing says, “but we want to con­tinue mov­ing in the di­rec­tion that he’s a source of in­for­ma­tion in the world. Maybe he can help ac­tu­ally find in­ven­tory stuff in the world that you can’t see on your own and bring it to you. I think that would be re­ally cool.”

Lead designer Forrest Dowl­ing pre­vi­ously worked on BioShock In­fi­nite, Home­front’s mul­ti­player, and Front­lines:Fuel OfWar

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