Vane

PS4

EDGE - - CONTENTS - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease Friend & Foe Games PS4 Ja­pan 2019

There’s an un­re­al­ity to Vane that makes it mes­meris­ing. It’s been a year since we last played Friend & Foe’s winged ad­ven­ture, and it’s lost none of its bleakly beau­ti­ful sense of mys­tery since. Be­fore, we ex­plored a vast, bleached desert, and got rather lost in the process. This time, we’re in a dark crevasse lit­tered with me­chan­i­cal bones, and our goal is clearer: to re­align the bro­ken rail in the cen­tre of the room. Our ob­jec­tive may be more mun­dane, the signs point­ing to it clearer, but com­plet­ing it is still won­der­fully strange: we leap into a chasm, trans­form­ing ef­fort­lessly into a bird in the freefall, and set about our task.

Much of the past year of de­vel­op­ment has been about rec­on­cil­ing Vane’s ab­stract, enig­matic spirit with the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of a videogame. “I think at the be­gin­ning we weren’t quite sure what kind of game we were go­ing to make,” pro­ducer Matt Smith says. “We knew what kind of ex­pe­ri­ence we wanted, but we weren’t re­ally sure what

form that game was go­ing to take. And the process of pulling a game out of that feel­ing has been chal­leng­ing – more chal­leng­ing than we would have ex­pected.” Vane is not their first feath­ered rodeo: this is a dev out­fit com­pris­ing sev­eral ex-mem­bers of The Last

Guardian team. But the process has proved re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent. “None of us had re­ally owned a project like this be­fore, and didn’t re­ally re­alise how much of your own soul you put into it,” di­rec­tor Ivar Dahlberg says. “When you’re work­ing for some­one else, mak­ing some­one else’s game, you don’t care as much. But sud­denly you have this thing, and ev­ery­thing is very, very im­por­tant to you.”

Fore­most is that chimeric at­mos­phere – the shiv­er­ing, shapeshift­ing na­ture of Vane’s world and char­ac­ters. “If any­thing, the stuff we’ve done in the last year is even weirder,” Smith says. Parts of the craggy chasm seem

to pulse in re­sponse to the game’s syn­thy sound­track. When we need to push a coun­ter­weight from a cliff, we dive into holo­graphic pools of gold to turn from bird to girl: see­ing a fel­low bird trapped in a cage, we plunge into the crevasse to re­verse the change, be­fore land­ing on a perch above and call­ing over the flock to help us dis­lodge the prison. But there’s some­thing else new, and not en­tirely wel­come: but­ton prompts that tell us how to call out as the bird, or grab an ob­ject as the girl.

These prompts, along­side a more ex­plicit visual nar­ra­tive to the puz­zle we’re try­ing to solve, are part of what makes this demo of

Vane so much clearer than the last. But it’s a compromise, and con­tin­ues to be a source of much de­lib­er­a­tion for a team con­cerned with sub­tlety. “Prompts are some­thing we’re still test­ing out,” en­vi­ron­ment artist and art di­rec­tor Ras­mus Deguchi says. “Our in­ten­tion is for it to be less in­tru­sive than it cur­rently is, and to hope­fully also of­fer you a choice to turn them off, or make them less in your face.” With re­lease fi­nally near­ing af­ter many years of it­er­a­tion, prag­ma­tism and pri­ori­ti­sa­tion has played a larger role in de­vel­op­ment this year. “Ul­ti­mately, we’re kind of down in the cru­cible now,” Smith says. “This is a bat­tle, and you can die on this hill. And I would pre­fer we didn’t die on this par­tic­u­lar hill – I think there are more im­por­tant ones to die on.

“The thing we’re most scared of is the player not own­ing their dis­cov­er­ies,” he con­tin­ues. “Get­ting to some place and feel­ing like they were led there by a leash, as op­posed to feel­ing like they dis­cov­ered it.” But when we com­plete the puz­zle and progress into the next room, we feel as though we’ve stum­bled across some­thing un­speak­able, the hairs on the back of our neck prick­ling. Around a cen­tral struc­ture hang sev­eral cages, each con­tain­ing a dis­tressed bird. We pull at han­dles to re­lease them, and they drop into golden puz­zles be­low, trans­form­ing into our sis­ters. It’s straight out of a Grimm fairy­tale: a mag­i­cal, faintly dis­turb­ing scene. “What we no­ticed is we needed to be more ex­plicit in driv­ing the nar­ra­tive for­ward,” Dahlberg says. “Not nec­es­sar­ily ex­plicit with what ev­ery­thing means or how it works, but just mak­ing sure that we’re keep­ing that mo­men­tum and not let­ting play­ers get lost.” With a more game-like struc­ture sup­port­ing it, we fi­nally see a re­al­is­tic fu­ture in which a larger sub­set of play­ers will be able to ex­pe­ri­ence and ap­pre­ci­ate Vane’s stranger stylis­tic work­ings. “We have al­lowed our­selves specif­i­cally this last year to make wider turns in what we bring into this world,” Dahlberg says, “and make it a lit­tle bit more spe­cial, more fan­tas­ti­cal.”

“Sud­denly you have this thing, and ev­ery­thing is very, very im­por­tant to you”

The more open-ended desert scene is still a stand­out, as are tightly choroeographed storm se­quences scored with dev­as­tat­ing synth mu­sic

Scenes with more lin­ear puz­zles can still play out dif­fer­ently. We head to­wards op­tional ob­jec­tives first, free­ing birds from cages, on a sec­ond playthrough

LEFT Vane will be about “how your re­la­tion­ship with this cat­a­lyst, the golden ma­te­rial, kind of changes and car­ries the game­play,” Deguchi says. A quick peek at an­other level has us push­ing a gi­gan­tic ball of the stuff with other bird-girls

Smith on Vane’s un­usual struc­ture: “The struc­ture of the game we were talk­ing about last year is still ba­si­cally there,” he says. “Your re­la­tion­ship with time is un­re­li­able, it’s just we may not com­mu­ni­cate it as spec­tac­u­larly as we’d hoped”

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