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PAX Preview: A Valley Without Wind is Procedurally Fun

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AbandonedSmallTown

As is sometimes the case with games coming from indie studios, A Valley Without Wind, by Arcen Games, is a title I’m struggling to describe. At its most basic core, AVWW is a 2D platformer, but to label it as such is to do its developers a disservice. Everything in AVWW (minus the intro mission) is procedurally generated, meaning no two players will ever have the same experience. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Playable characters, level layouts, enemy placement, you name it – it’s all generated by the game on the fly based on a number of parameters, rather than being pre-built by its designers.

I had a chance to sit down and chat with Christopher Park, founder of Arcen Games, and I came away feeling like AVWW really takes the concept of procedural generation to the next level. Head past the break to find out why.

Junkyard

You’ll begin your adventure in AVWW by picking one of a handful of random characters. From there, the game’s intro mission teaches you about collecting powers, equipping status changing items, fighting enemies, gathering resources, etc. – all the basics you’ll need to survive the harsh, post-apocalyptic landscape contained within.

When I say post-apocalyptic, you may be inclined to think about nuclear bombs, alien invasions, and other world devastating events of that nature. AVWW’s world, however, has suffered a lengthy ice age, and now a mysterious overlord has dominated the land. Your ultimate goal is to gather forces, resources, and other war assets to combat and overthrow the overlord. Though the world has been through an ice age, the environments themselves seem well varied. I only got to see desert, snow, and forest landscapes, though I was told there are currently a dozen different types of environments, with more planned post-release.

Not that AVWW isn’t already bursting at the seams with content. Attempting to rush through and complete the game’s first continent will take roughly 20 hours. For completionists, expect to spend about 10 times this long trying to explore every nook and cranny. And if all you want to do is explore, the game does not deter you from doing so. Entering the world map, however, will display a number of areas in which specific missions are present. Oh, and the missions are also procedurally generated, based on the way the game recommends you should proceed.

BombardedByIcePirates

When you’re exploring your home town, a large crystal will give you an indication of the sorts of things you ought to be doing – collecting a particular kind of resource, completing a specific mission, and the like. You don’t have to do any of that, but it’s nice to have an optional bit of direction for those who desire it. You can also expand your town with new buildings, which allow you do things like craft spells and train your troops.

Aside from everything already mentioned, AVWW has a surprising amount of tactical depth in its combat. Most enemies have elemental weakness and resistances, so it helps to pick the right power for the job. Some will only take damage from a particular direction, others will team up and must be separated and destroyed one by one. It’s much more involving than simply firing a spell at an enemy, and creates yet another wrinkle to AVWW’s already heavily nuanced gameplay.

Yet another of those wrinkles becomes evident when you die. Death is permanent in AVWW, though the resources you’ve gathered, the spells you’ve created/unlocked, etc, will be carried over to your next character. But when you die, watch out – the ghost of your deceased character will linger, haunting the place where it died. Should you be unlucky enough to return to that place, you’ll be in for one hell of a ghost battle.

ClockworkProbe

AVWW was originally going to be comprised of many different genres, though apparently, the lack of cohesion really hurt the game early on. You can still see traces of those other genres, but the decision to shift it to 2D platformer (a change from the game’s original isometric viewpoint) was a wise one. Nothing is worse than playing a game comprised of disparate genres that don’t work well together.

In development for over a year at this point, AVWW’s success is going to depend largely on its community, as they’ll be the main driving force behind upgrades, changes, and other expansions to the game. Arcen Games have proven themselves willing and able to listen to its fans, and aside from bug fixes, they’ll even try out new features that players request. I myself even suggested that your character’s super sprint ability allow him or her to skim across the surface of otherwise damage acid water. It was met with an enthusiastic response, so who knows – maybe we’ll see that in the game!

A Valley Without Wind launches at the end of April for PC and Mac. It’s an extremely ambitious venture, and well worth keeping your eyes on. It could just be the next big thing in procedural generation.

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