Pub­lisher Wild Sheep Stu­dio De­vel­oper In-house For­mat PS4 Ori­gin France Release 2016

Michel An­cel stands be­fore the firstever live playthrough of Wild and be­gins by say­ing, “I have to talk quickly, be­cause the sun is go­ing down.” He’s put a lot of pres­sure on him­self: the orig­i­nal plan for this be­hind-closed-doors demo was to re­run the Paris Games Week trailer with the cre­ative di­rec­tor nar­rat­ing, but at the last minute he in­sists on go­ing hands-on.

With An­cel ad­mit­ting, “We don’t have a pre­cise idea of the lim­i­ta­tions of the game,” this de­ci­sion might be one he now re­grets. The sound cuts out, an­i­ma­tions stut­ter, and at one point he hops in­side the body of a rab­bit, goes swim­ming and the game locks up. While un­der­stand­able this early in de­vel­op­ment, it does sig­nal that at this point much of Wild’s prom­ise still re­sides in the heads of its de­vel­op­ers, rather than is recorded in code.

But what An­cel’s im­promptu demo pros­e­ly­tises is the core mes­sage. Here you ex­plore the re­la­tion­ship be­tween man and na­ture from the per­spec­tive of a shaman who can sum­mon an­i­mals, possess them, ride on them, and ul­ti­mately come to understand them. You might learn some­thing new about hu­man­ity, too. “A very im­por­tant thing is that dur­ing this pe­riod, which is five or six thou­sand years be­fore Christ, the gods were an­i­mals,” An­cel says. “If you look at Egyp­tian gods, they were a mix of an­i­mals and hu­mans, and now most gods look like hu­mans. Be­cause [back then] na­ture was the most pow­er­ful thing on Earth; now we think that we’re the most pow­er­ful.”

Wild is an at­tempt to knock us back down a few links on the food chain and re­store our place in na­ture’s web. Take the taming of a bear. At the be­gin­ning of the game, bears act as an enemy of sorts, fierce and un­pre­dictable. While they’re not nec­es­sar­ily out for blood, get be­tween an ur­sine and its food – or, worse, its cubs – and you should ex­pect a fight. This dy­namic shifts dra­mat­i­cally if you can lead one to one of many shrines dot­ted about the land­scape and per­form a rit­ual, turn­ing it from foe to friend.

Sum­mon­ing dif­fer­ent crea­tures’

deities, here called Di­vini­ties, will be fun­da­men­tal to your pro­gres­sion, too. In our demo, An­cel’s shaman plonks a snake on a sa­cred stone and then en­acts a rit­ual to call forth a gi­ant god­dess cov­ered only by patches of green scales. An­cel stresses that the sys­tem isn’t yet fully in place (the de­ity doesn’t dis­ap­pear so much as van­ish like a popped bub­ble), but Di­vini­ties will take the form of mis­sion-givers. And they’ll ask you to make dif­fi­cult choices.

You might be forced, for in­stance, to play as a ser­pent for three days so you can truly

“We want peo­ple to feel like there is a project to the game, there’s some­thing to achieve”

ap­pre­ci­ate the rep­tile’s plight. It im­me­di­ately con­fers a whole new set of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and preda­tors to con­tend with, such as ea­gles bolt­ing down from above. Or you might have to de­cide whether to kill one of your flock of fol­low­ers as trib­ute, and if you’ve in­vested time into rais­ing one to ma­tu­rity, then this has the po­ten­tial to be a heart­break­ing de­ci­sion. Be­cause na­ture is an im­per­sonal force, there are no he­roes and vil­lains – just sur­vivors. Through­out the course of the game you ex­pand your team and evolve as a player, start­ing as a boy and grow­ing into a man.

It’s not only things with teeth that can kill you out here, how­ever. Freez­ing rain falls from the sky and bit­ing snow blan­kets the ground, threat­en­ing to end you. While the un­for­giv­ing el­e­ments are ran­dom, more reg­u­lar is the threat of night. Time it­self is a threat in the wilds of Wild.

An­cel cites Don’t Starve as an in­spi­ra­tion. Find or build a shel­ter, he sug­gests, and travel only dur­ing the day. You’ll also need to hide while sum­mon­ing, whether that in­volves climb­ing a tree or duck­ing be­hind a rock, since your shaman can be killed while you roam the world as a beast. It’s a fea­ture that will give Wild rhythm, and a promis­ing sign that Wild Sheep is an­chor­ing its philo­soph­i­cal lean­ings to a solid struc­ture. But again, it’s a struc­ture that ex­ists only in the­ory. All that really hap­pens when the sun sets in our demo is the vis­i­bil­ity re­duces to near zero.

Your over­ar­ch­ing goal in­volves map­ping the en­vi­ron­ment. You’re like a prim­i­tive car­tog­ra­pher, push­ing far­ther and far­ther into the un­known to ac­quire knowl­edge about the land and com­mit­ting it to mem­ory. “We want peo­ple to feel like there is a project to the game, there’s some­thing they achieve,” An­cel says. “So you ac­quire ter­ri­tory and try to or­gan­ise your next jour­ney with all the an­i­mals. And it’s up to you to de­cide, ‘OK, let’s start three camps [here], be­cause I want to ex­plore this part of the world.’”

Don’t Starve isn’t the only in­spi­ra­tion. Wild sup­ports Blood­borne- style mul­ti­player in which play­ers can open up their game to in­vaders, lead­ing to the tan­ta­lis­ing prospect of a frog-ver­sus-sheep show­down. If you’re look­ing for help rather than hin­drance, co-op is sup­ported, and you can play as any­thing: one hu­man can con­trol a crow and pro­vide aerial re­con, for in­stance. There are no icons to mark hu­man agency, how­ever, so any an­i­mal might be an­other player in dis­guise, cre­at­ing po­ten­tial for a para­noid In­va­sion-Of-The-Bodys­natch­ers-style metagame, as well as a lit­eral game of cat and mouse.

In fact, Wild is with­out a UI of any kind, dis­pens­ing with hand­hold­ing as you chart its colos­sal, pseudo-pro­ce­dural world, which is due to end up the size of Europe. “Right now, it’s in­fi­nite,” An­cel says, “but infinity can be a prob­lem. [Our pri­or­ity] is all about the com­bi­na­tion of things and all the game­play that can come from th­ese com­bi­na­tions. We want ev­ery player, for ex­am­ple, to spawn in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions so they don’t see the same be­gin­ning of the game.”

It’s a fit­ting stance for a game all about play­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Ev­ery an­i­mal has a part to play, no mat­ter how big or small. You could in­habit the body of a frog and pad­dle about near the shore to at­tract a cat­fish, then switch to the shaman and fish it from the wa­ter. Or you might bor­row a rab­bit as a live dis­trac­tion de­vice, bait­ing larger foes away so your shaman can slip past. Roar­ing is also pos­si­ble, and this can be both ben­e­fi­cial and harm­ful. Rear­ing up as a bear makes some crea­tures flee, even driv­ing them to kill them­selves in panic, but this gives away your po­si­tion to apex preda­tors such as wolf packs.

At this point it’s dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate the dreamy land­scape of Wild from the one in­side An­cel’s head. What’s real and what does he want to be real? There’s prom­ise in a bodyswap­ping sur­vival game un­der­pinned by an inter-species dy­namic in which you use an­i­mals as your own per­sonal A-Team, and a world that doesn’t pre­scribe a spe­cific way to play. Thank­fully, while An­cel was wor­ried about the sun set­ting dur­ing his talk, he and Wild Sheep have a lot longer un­til a dawn brings with it Wild’s release day.

Michel An­cel, Wild Sheep co-founder

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