The Independent Gamer: Studio Behind 'Abzu' Launches Mythical Adventure

'The Pathless'
<p>'The Pathless'</p>   |   Giant Squid
Giant Squid creative director Matt Nava describes 'The Pathless,' a game with an invented language and no maps, as both "tranquil" and "intense when it needs to be."

The Independent Gamer is a curated roundup of news from indie gaming, landing here every other Friday.

While this week has been dominated by the launches of the next-gen Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles, independent games are likely to take center stage again next week when The Game Awards release the nominations for the best indie titles of 2020.

Among the year's biggest indie releases is The Pathless from developer Giant Squid, which was behind Game Awards and BAFTA nominated underwater adventure Abzu.

The Pathless, from publisher Annapurna Interactive, is an immersive, mythical open-world adventure following a hunter and her eagle companion as they navigate a curse of darkness on the island.

To learn more, The Hollywood Reporter called Giant Squid creative director Matt Nava, who shipped Journey with thatgamecompany in 2012 and started at Giant Squid the next year.

Nava describes the Hunter character, who arrives on the island from a faraway place to combat a curse that many hunters have attempted before her, as "a master of archery and an incredible acrobat," while the eagle lifts her through the air so she can go further. "It's that relationship that really defines the characters," he says.

"We wanted to create the experience of living a myth, so the events that you play are larger than life," Nava continues, adding that a goal was to make the game feel foreign no matter what culture the player is from. "That's the thing that I love about my favorite myths; you hear stories from different cultures — the Aztecs, the Romans, the Greeks — and they all are so different in their motifs, but so universal in their themes."

Visually and narratively, Nava says that the game takes motifs and architectural elements from different cultures from all over the world, such as the Inca, Mayan and Aztec ruins, to create its own culture. "We [also] invented a language that the characters speak, so no matter what language you are playing game in, you always get subtitles — it always feels like it's from another place," he says.

With no quest map or logs available in the game, one of the themes it really hones in on is finding your own way in the world. "It's very much letting you figure out where to go on your own," Nava explains, "and that theme of being lost and finding your way is something we tried to align both the narrative and the player experience on."

Prior to The Pathless, Nava worked on Giant Squid's underwater adventure Abzu and the highly-immersive Journey at thatgamecompany, which he points out were smaller in scope, more linear in their storytelling and more structured in how they presented the narrative through the environment. "All of a sudden, we wanted to apply those kinds of sensibilities to an open world game," Nava says, "yet make it so there's pacing and a narrative that shines through."

Those who did play Abzu will recognize the familiar feeling of the immersive world. "The atmosphere of the game is one of the biggest things that we think defines what a Giant Squid game is," says Nava, adding that the visual quality, fluid movement of the character and connection with animals and nature are also signature elements of the company's games.

Nava says that The Pathless pushes everything further while including more traditional game mechanics and bosses, "but still with this slant toward accessibility, making it so that it's not so stressful and with an eye toward pacing and flow, to make a game that's both tranquil and intense when it needs to be."

The Pathless took about four years to complete, and the creative team did question the "no map" approach about three years into the process. As the pressure mounted, the team ultimately "didn't cave," as Nava says.

The result is that the game demands players to navigate the space in a new way. "If you want to know more about where you are, you've got to get up on top of something and look down," Nava points out. "It makes you tie navigation into exploration."

The Pathless is available on PlayStation 4, Apple Arcade, PC and the next-gen PlayStation 5 console.

New Apple Arcade Game From ustwo games

Following the BAFTA-nominated, story-driven mobile game Assemble With Care, UK-based studio ustwo games is releasing the feel-good, ecological game Alba: A Wildlife Adventure on Apple Arcade on Dec 11.

Interactive Romantic Comedy Five Dates Imminently Releasing

From Welsh developer and publisher Wales Interactive, Five Dates describes itself as an "interactive rom-com about the unpredictable world of digital dating."

The conversation-based game offers a group of potential matches, with players exploring the compatibility, and chemistry of each and either strengthening or weakening their relationship with each date. Oh, and it's set during the coronavirus pandemic.

Five Dates drops Nov. 17 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam.