Developer 100 Stones Interactive
Meeting with hundreds of local designers over the past few years means that 2016’s PAX Indie Showcase games were all known to me. (Except Mini Metro and you’re all in trouble for not telling me about that.) As such, my son and I briefly played The Eyes of Ara at GX Australia, earlier last year. It struck me as quiet, gentle and Myst-like. We were a bit too excitable to sit with it for long at the expo, so I’m glad I’ve now found the time and the page space to be able to play it without pressure. It was worth the wait.
Lead developer, Ben Droste, did mention that it’s the kind of game that isn’t ideally suited to a convention, yet it is one of six games chosen to showcase the best of Australian and New Zealand development this year. It is fully released, so you could certainly consider a purchase. Droste explains the introduction to the story as such, “A castle has been abandoned for 10-15 years but recently a radio signal has begun broadcasting from within. No-one wants to go in there, but you’re the one who has been tasked to do so.”
I love how everything is initially just circuits and generators, before becoming very magical in a way that is often indistinguishable from ornamental science. Most interestingly, lush music plays in the background from the outset, with ancient-sounding harmonic overtones and complex string parts playfully suggesting something special lies beyond the levers, gears and rusty gates. There are flute motifs for the occurrence of special things and, possibly, a Petrushka chord when the main track resumes. It’s a musician’s delight.
“A castle has been abandoned for 10-15 years but recently a radio signal has begun broadcasting from within. No-one wants to go in there, but you’re the one who has been tasked to do so.”
On environmental design, Droste says, “People have been saying the castle has been haunted for a long time. The story I wanted to tell was about rumours and the nature of unreliable information. A lot of it is incomplete or contradictory. It’s up to you to piece it together. I wanted to make a game that leveraged my experience as an artist. I put a lot of work into the visuals and the game is predominantly about the environment itself, rather than having story explicitly told to you through cutscenes.” This is very successful.
The intricate world is full of things to find and manipulate. I have to admit that I got a bunch of hints. Some of the puzzles are highly imaginative and unique, in a way that I couldn’t link to similar experiences in the zillion adventures I’ve played over the years. You need to push, pull and turn everything, even to the extent of pulling and dragging ordinary levers down. Amazingly, Droste didn’t cite Myst as an influence, instead listing Metroid, Zelda and Donkey Kong. “The way they designed levels hid an interconnected, grander scope beyond the main game, to encourage a sense of exploration and wonder.”
The Eyes of Ara is a great example of why I need PC Powerplay to keep employing me to write the indie pages. I rushed past it at GX and could have easily missed it again at PAX 2016 if I hadn’t been asked to write about the showcase games. I needed the impetus to sit down quietly and just listen, touch, read and explore this fascinating place. It’s a chance to slow down and enjoy someone’s amazing creation.
Don’t mistakenly pass this by.