It's extremely impressive when indie developers create incredible works of art that rival the biggest and best games around in terms of scope, polish and pure imagination. And it's absolutely humbling when they're university students. A team of second year students from the presigious game design course at Gotland University, Sweden, are designing what could quite frankly be the most impressive mobile/tablet game since Angry Birds - and what's more, it's shaping up to be a bona fide work of art.
The project's name is Walkabout, from fledgeling student studio Lucid Dreams. Look upon their works, ye mighty yet artistically bankrupt AAA publishers, and despair! Or better yet: pay attention.
In this imaginative Indie title, players are responsible for a small group of bizarre and trusting characters called Walkabouts. They can't be controlled directly (rather, they'll merrily trundle forward regardless hazards, pits or spikes), but the aim of the game isn't to order them about. Rather, it's to rotate the world around them.
Originally, Lucid Dreams rigged up Walkabout as an arcade cabinet with an enormous wheel instead of a joystick, giving players 1:1 control of the world as the Walkabouts embarked on their mysterious mission. Gravity, however, is always directed downwards, meaning that ceilings can become floors, hinged doors can become bridges and anything can become a surface for your constantly-travelling companions. Complex puzzle elements such as pendulums and platforms provide exciting challenges that, whilst overused in today's platormers, prove to be entirely fresh from this new perspective.
It's unique, intuitive and incredible compelling - a powerful combination that has catapulted many games and small studios to stardom.
An epic wheeled arcade machine is all well and good, but it's not exactly a portable or profitable option on the long run. However, Walkabout is a perfect fit for mobile devices...and thus Lucid Dreams has optimised their imaginative title for tablets and smartphones. Accelerometer and gyroscope controls allow players to literally spin the environment around its axis (or use touchscreen controls if necessary), creating an experience that's a little like Lemmings, LocoRoco and absolutely nothing like either.
Sure, Walkabout is mechanically perfect and astoundingly competent in terms of input and interface, but it's not the first thing you'll notice. Rather, it's impossible to ignore just how utterly, life-affirmingly beautiful everything is. Lucid Dreams studios has taken their inspiration from Tim Burton and created an watercolour masterpiece that's full of surreal imagery, crisp silhouettes, detailed characters and sumptuous colour palettes. It's absolutely lovely to behold, and looks just as impressive in motion thanks to fluid and smooth animations. Arty pretension and accessible fun may be strange bedfellows, but they work perfectly together here.
Four themed worlds, four years and four seasons should provide some serious quantity when when it hits iOS or Android, but Walkabout's main draw is just how astonishingly polished the experience is - even though its unfinished development cycle has been punctuated with the usual shenanigans of student life! Walkabout is pixel perfect, profoundly professional and quite unlike anything else on the market. You'd never guess that it was a student project... and quite frankly, it would be a crime if this stunning masterwork fails to make it to market. And, just as importantly, fails to secure Lucid Dreams the respect and funding they deserve.