The Flame in the Flood
For this indie game, salvation lies at end of the river
Once as thin on the ground as crops in the wake of a nuclear blast, survival simulations are now all the rage. The Flame in the Flood hinges on many of the same ideas as popular competitors, like Don’t Starve or State of Decay: fast- depleting character resource bars, a fearsome depth of item creation systems and wounds that may kill even if you manage to emerge from a scrap victorious. Fun times to be a gamer, eh?
It’s got something all those other games don’t, however – a river. Or rather, the river – a treacherous juggernaut of a watercourse that symbolises all rivers, pieced together from literary mythologies that range from T.S. Eliot’s The Dry Salvages to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The game’s protagonist, Scout, must ride the waves aboard a makeshift raft to escape an impending environmental disaster. As she begins each playthrough, she’s equipped with little more than a steering pole and accompanied only by her dog, Aesop, who serves as a sort of mechanical metaphor for the afterlife: die, and any items you’ve stored in the bags strapped to him will be there when you start afresh. Aesop will also guide Scout towards objects of interest as you comb islands for food and potable water. Shame he’s not much use in a fight.
“An initial seed for the game was to make something about survival, but to change up the standard approach a bit by making it about a journey, rather than establishing a base,” explains Molasses Flood CEO Forrest Dowling, a veteran of BioShock Infinite. “As we started thinking about the forms a journey could take, we fell in love with the idea of the river.” It isn’t an entirely random creation, but born of “an approach we’re calling hand-authored procedural, in that we’re hand-building tons of components, and as you play the engine figures out how to fit them together in a logical manner”. Certain kinds of island and certain rough layouts of hazards may recur – you won’t encounter wolves until you’re a reasonable distance downstream, for example. Usually.
As ever with survival sims, openendedness is the spice that livens up the game’s unrelenting bleakness. One player might get lucky, stumbling on a cache of beef jerky and a place to sleep. Another might contract hypothermia after falling off her raft, and expire half-an-hour later at a trading post because she doesn’t have anything to barter for medicine. Whatever the outcome, you’ll walk away with a story to pass around at the campfire – and, Dowling hopes, a renewed if slightly suicidal eagerness to find out just where the river might take you next. “Our biggest challenge isn’t really establishing the variety,” he observes. “It’s making sure that the game never sets you down a path that can’t be completed.” Edwin Evans-Thirlwell
// The river is a treacherous juggernaut of a watercourse//
You don’t need to visit all islands. It’s a potential waste of time and energy.
Scout’s raft can be upgraded to better endure rough stretches of river, such as rapids. She’s no fighter though, so best run from those wolves.