PEGBRJE: Wakamarina Valley, New Zealand and Vilmonic
Wakamarina Valley, New Zealand is a visual walking experience by caves rd, an indie environmental artist by the name of Matt Newell. Players take control of themselves in a photorealistic recreation of the titular Wakamarina Valley in New Zealand, and take the role as a tourist: take photos, leave footprints (sort of). The only true objective in the game is to find the camera so that you can take pictures of the stunning scenery, and afterwards find the 4 fast travel locations to visit and uncover.
Wakamarina Valley is gorgeous, to put it simply. The environmental set pieces are beautifully recreated, with all of the graphical wizardry such as the raytracing to make the lights shine through the canopy. Once the camera is acquired, it becomes a photo session and personal mission to find the best set pieces. The camera itself is no slouch either, with its ability to zoom and focus based on where it is looking and what type of shot you are attempting to create. While the audio cannot be implanted into the photos created, the ambience is fantastic — I listened to the crunch of my footsteps, the rustling of the plant leaves as I walked through them, the river lazily flowing downstream and the random animals that would give their opinion of my running technique.
I’ve never been to New Zealand, but I felt I could’ve been there with this game. There’s even a VR mode for maximum immersion if you are fortunate to have one lying around. For me, the desktop version sufficed in creating a world unlike my own, yet similar in so many ways — complete with fencing to outline the property of the locals and the trails that got varying amounts of use. My only disclaimer is for anyone playing on a desktop that lacks the specs: this game may become a little blurry. I know my gpu is getting up there in years, so it came as no surprise when I had to lower the fidelity to get a smooth experience, which came at the cost of everything being somewhat blurry. Thankfully, the camera always shot in clear still images, so I at least had some fantastic souvenirs of my vacation. If you’re looking to escape to another part of the world, or just to a small forest that seems familiar, try out Wakamarina Valley, and be prepared to take a real life nap by an in game river as it peacefully lulls you to sleep.
PS: Forgot to mention, the backing soundtracks are customizable. They are streamed into the game via soundcloud. Why nobody has done this before, I have no idea. But it can lead to some fantastically serene moments, or hilarious times where I just listened to an AC/DC album while wandering around the forest. Definitely an unintentional highlight to the experience.
Vilmonic is a survival genetic sandbox simulation by bludgeonsoft, a solo indie dev. You are a robot of sorts, tasked with breeding these little creatures called animatroids and keeping them alive from the numerous threats, including themselves. To this end, our little hero must build gardens, distract zombie robots, create proper conditions for breeding, and uncover the vast and extensive genetic code structure that is each species of animatroids and fungal life. All the while, players are trying to build and explore the randomly generated word that contains dozens of items and creatures alike to eventually build a proper living space for themselves and their animatroids.
Vilmonic wastes no time getting players directly into the game, almost to the point of trial by fire. There is a lot to take in on your first playthrough, which is quite standard for many survival titles. The only difference is that it isn’t your survival that is important, but the survival of the creatures in your care that multiply and create new strains of themselves. Keeping yourself afloat with all of the crafting and interactions is a challenge, and the apparent herding of cats is quite overwhelming at first. Thankfully, Vilmonic has a few tricks up its sleeve to keep this common issue of survival games manageable, and it’s all thanks to the pause button. This button alone was what saved my animatroids dozens of times as I went to the notes and help pages in game to learn more, or use the binoculars button to scout out what the problem was with my creatures or fungus. This isn’t a real-time survival game, but a management simulation to create the best possible strains of fungus and animatroids that you can, and bludgeonsoft makes sure that you’ve got what you need.
The genetic code structuring of Vilmonic is extensive, staggeringly so. The shape of the animatroids gives indication of their biological sustainability and metabolism, with genes dictating these shapes. Their behaviours are similar to an AI structure, with internal and external sensors and a ‘desire/repulsion’ number associated with each. This dictates their behaviours as they run around attempting to self sustain while you tirelessly work to keep their food and water available, and their land safe. This doesn’t even touch on what happens when you attempt to go against natural selection and do some fancy genetic breeding. I didn’t even attempt that during my playtime, as I was too busy just trying to get them to stay alive.
Don’t let the size and appearance of this game fool you — it is massive. The genetic simulation alone could be a game on its own without the survival aspects and I would’ve been satisfied with just that. Vilmonic, on the other hand, decided that it wasn’t so it gave us survival and basebuilding to synergize with the genetics. The biggest takeaway from this game is its ability to boil down the complexity it offers to simple steps, assisted by the ability to pause. The genetic modifiers and behaviours of your critter friends is daunting in scope, but manageable in size due to the visual cues and straight forward presentation. The addition of the binoculars tool (yes I know it isn’t called that, the logo is a binoculars so I’m gunna call it that) gives all of the information you could ever want about each animatroid, and the fact that the game can pause to allow for some breathing room does wonders.
If you found survival games just dull enough and wanted to play with a bit more AI manipulation in the form of genetics, Vilmonic has you covered. It’ll take a bit of getting used to at first, but soon enough you’ll have an empire of creatures. That or get overrun by robot zombies. Either or really.
Links, as always, are here:
Wakamarina Valley, New Zealand
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