‘I mean, I was basically already sold on this anyway, and that [playthrough] really just affirmed it was everything I wanted it to be’, I excitedly splutter at John Evelyn, creator of The Collage Atlas, on his stand at EGX. He nods and smiles and I can’t quite tell whether he’s surprised, or disappointed, or bemused, so I rein it in a bit. I’ve been following The Collage Atlas since it went public a couple of months’ back, and John started posting dev diaries on YouTube. I fell in love with it the moment I set eyes on it, and at EGX, it was one of those games I was most excited to try.
The Collage Atlas is, for want of a less defamatory phrase, a ‘walking simulator’. It’s one of those games that puts the experience of playing it before any sort of perceived challenge or mechanic. We’ve seen it executed wonderfully before, in the likes of Dear Esther, or Firewatch, or Gone Home, and while TCA is certainly sailing a similar sea to these landmark efforts, it is without a doubt, plotting its own course across it.
So how do you set yourself apart in the narrative-walking game genre? Well first of all you make it look like you’ve literally just stepped into a notebook world of beautiful, intricate linework drawings. In John’s case, you basically actually have. The ingenuity behind the game’s enticing visual is ten-fold, in that it sounds like an absolute slog to get anything done.
John creates a 3D model, unfolds its UVs (imagine peeling the label off a tube of Pringles), so far so standard. He then prints that out, draws on it, scans it back in and creates a texture for that 3D model. I’ve no doubt oversimplified the process there somewhat, but ultimately this lengthy, involved process gives the game’s assets a truer and more unique hand-drawn aesthetic. This, then coupled with the way the game uses space, mixing 2D and 3D, makes for a satisfying and engrossing platform, on which The Collage Atlas can do what it intends to do.
Words appear in the space in front of you, before falling to the floor, letter by letter, as you traverse the world. They hint, and whisper, twist and turn with poetic nuance and subtle inference, guiding you through the game’s enigmatic narrative. I asked John about this, and whether there’d be a fully structured and sequenced ‘story’. He said there would but that it would follow the allusive and suggestive demeanour that was predominant in the demo I played. He told me he was interested in players thinking about their experience and interpreting the game in their own way.
Toward the end of the demo, the gameplay changes from walking and simple navigative puzzle-solving, to a flying sequence that felt like a footnote referencing thatgamecompany’s wonderful Flower, and suggesting there’s more variety to come in The Collage Atlas.
TCA gets to me on a number of levels. Firstly, of course, its unique visual is always going to be a draw, at least for a certain type of person. But beyond that, the game’s creator, who is often found pottering around the indoor jungle that he calls home, tending to his many plants, writing and playing music, and trying new things in the world of indie game development, comes across as honest. Genuine. He stands with his game at EGX, a diorama adorning the table top that I find out he has made himself earlier that morning, earnestly showing off his stunning art through a number of mediums, and it all simply connects with me.
The Collage Atlas is going to be a great game, and I think as well as this, it will also be a bastion of culture, of introspection, and of art in games, in the midst of the often tumultuous, fraught environment that is our beloved industry.
More EGX content (when I actually get round to it) on Respawn soon!