That last example is a real-world tale from two friends, Broken Rules co-founders Felix Bohatsch and Martin Pichlmair, and it's the difference that sparked their coming title, Secrets of Rætikon. It's a single-player exploration game set in a flattened, vectorized landscape, starring a bird as it searches for glowing slivers that revitalize ancient machinery scattered around the mountainside.
At Broken Rules, if there was a debate about which form of dream flight was more correct, it looks like Bohatsch won.
The aerial mechanics in Secrets of Rætikon embody a sense of controlled chaos inherent in the natural flight of most birds. It's a balance of pressing one button to flap the bird's wings and gain speed and power, or pressing another to immediately curve down and dive, and then simply guiding the bird along wind streams or behind cave walls to find all of the shiny objects littering the world.
The alpha version of Secrets of Rætikon already demonstrates a dreamlike quality with its art, gameplay and story, perhaps inspired by that initial spark. It's soothing and surprising, with the opportunity to be immensely challenging.
While playing Secrets of Rætikon at GDC Europe, I was on cloud nine.
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Secrets of Raetikon
The objective in Secrets of Rætikon is simple, but it doesn't describe the entirety of the game. The goal, on the surface, is to collect shards of glowing power to activate old machines, and this is very much a part of the game – but the true joy in Secrets of Rætikon stems from interacting with the natural world around you.
The environments are filled with animals, plants and hidden passageways, and it's possible to directly interact with most things. Some birds will divebomb you, draining health and impeding your journey, while others flit around trees and bushes, content to live their own lives. Unless you grab one and hurl it across the map, of course. It's possible to grab pretty much anything – hostile and adorable birds, bunny rabbits, foxes, trees, bushes and branches. Grabbing an animal allows you to fling it away or into strategic locations, whether it be a defensive throw to distract an angry animal from attacking you, or placing two bunnies next to each other to make them mate. They're nothing but mammals, after all.
Grab the tuft of a small bush and pull with repeated jabs of a face button (I played on PC with a DualShock 3) and the plant will pop out of the ground, revealing health orbs. A life for a life, it seems.
The game's simplistic art style and detailed game design allows Broken Rules to add cleverly hidden areas within the winding tunnels of caves or between the branches of trees. I accessed one secret stage at Pichlmair's direction, diving between two rock faces in a cavern, after just completing the second ancient machine. I flew through a narrow passageway that eventually became overrun with bright red, painful brambles, and I had to soar as smoothly as possible between the thorns as the channel twisted up and around. It was tense, but absolutely worth it – when the tunnel opened up, it was to a family of foxes, resting in a tranquil valley. They were friendly and ridiculously charming, and as I poked them all awake, I couldn't help but smile. They seemed to smile back.
Secrets of Rætikon was exactly the game I needed to kick off GDC Europe and Gamescom, a week of stress and too many people. Its gameplay is as natural as the setting, and its atmosphere is calm, refreshing. Pichlmair said he still had work to do with the sound design, and he wanted to add more life to the backgrounds, but already Secrets of Rætikon plays like a whole, revitalizing experience.
This might be the game the dreams are made of. The first chapter of Secrets of Rætikon is due out on PC, Mac and Linux this year, after September.