One of the best things about going to a convention like GDC is what we in the business call "doing research," which you might know as "playing games." We often get to check out the latest and greatest that developers are working on, and so when Tactile Entertainment offered us a chance to check out their upcoming Pocket Creatures title, we gladly took it. The company is founded by four friends from Denmark, one of whom used to be the Development Manager at Crytek (makers of the PC graphics engine and its flagship shooter Crysis), and Pocket Creatures, due out later this year, is their first title.
The game's backstory tells of an island somewhere with an egg in an ancient temple, and in an intro movie, the egg hatches to reveal the game's main creature character. But the game isn't merely a virtual pet simulator. While you can pet the little guy to make him happy or slap him to make him sad, the rest of the game actually embodies a pretty complex ecosystem, of which the creature and his emotions and abilities are only a part.
Early on in the game, the creature was hungry, so we shook a tree growing elsewhere on the touchscreen, and out dropped a banana. The creature wouldn't eat it at first, so instead we pulled a carrot out of the ground and fed that to him. As he interacted with the carrot, a meter showed up on the bottom of the screen, with the marker all the way to the green, positive side on the left -- the creature liked carrots. He didn't like bananas, however, but with a little petting and reward added to the banana offer, he eventually learned to like it and ate it up.
The peel was carried away by a few ants who appeared on the scene, and this was where things got interesting. Almost anything on the island can be interacted with in some way, and often even more than one way. We dragged an ant to a small nearby pond, where a set of eyes was peeking out, and dropping it in there brought out a platypus. Grabbing the platypus and scratching him across the ground created a small hole in the dirt, and placing the half-eaten carrot there created a sproutling. Sproutlings need water to grow, of course, and while we were told that there were a few ways to get water to the hole, one seemed pretty sadistic -- we smacked the little creature around until he began to cry, and a small raincloud appeared above his head to show that he was sad. Dragging the raincloud over to the sproutling watered it, and we were off to the races.
The game is full of relationships like that -- feeding the creature certain things can activate certain powers as well, and those can be used on critters and items in the rest of the world for all different kinds of interactions. He can eat a lightning fruit, and gain the power to zap all sorts of things, changing them in some way. Or he can eat a love fruit, and gain the power to convert enemies into friends. Tactile made it clear that if you wanted to turn the island into your own personal garden of peace, that was possible, but they want to make sure and "play in either direction" -- you can turn your creature and his surroundings into a mess, if that's what you'd rather do.
For each of your actions, you'll get rewarded with various achievements. Those achievements not only track everything you do in the game, but they also give you items that you can use to customize the creature's appearance -- earn the "Devil" achievement and you can get some horns to wear, or earn the "Angel" (whatever that is -- they haven't created all of the different criteria yet) achievement, and you can wear some wings. You can even earn both, and keep both items -- however you want to play it is fine.
Tactile says they're planning to keep the content coming as well -- "we like the way Pocket God is doing it," they told us during the demo. They haven't settled on a price yet, but they do realize that the game has a lot of potential on the iPad. Even before the game was announced, they said, "the concept was already there for a touch tablet," even if it wasn't done by Apple. But like all developers, they're unsure of making any plans before they actually see the product. "Our destiny is sealed by somebody behind a secret door somewhere."
If there's an issue with Pocket Creatures, it's that the game might be too open in this early stage -- there were so many things to do and so many relationships that not too many of them were clearly apparent in our short time with the game. But we did get to see a feature that allowed them to place some tips in the landscape, and they're continuing to tune and work on development, so hopefully by release, even the most complicated of relationships will be accessible. We'll keep an eye out for it when it shows up on the App Store in a few months.