When Never Alone was released in late 2014, it stood out to us not just because it was a visually stunning game with a genuinely enjoyable local co-op mode, but also because it showed how with care and attention games could be a medium for exploring other cultures and telling their stories without stereotypes or misguided assumptions.
Developed as a collaborative effort by Upper One Games (the first indigenous-owned game developer and publisher in the U.S.) and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (a nonprofit group which aims to provide both social and educational services to Native Alaskans), Never Alone told the story of Nuna, a young Alaskan Iñupiat girl who goes out alone in search of the source of an eternal blizzard, with the help of an arctic fox who becomes her playable companion. Throughout the game players are given insight into the Iñupiat culture through short videos that feature real members of the community and link into the story of the game.
Never Alone is a wonderful educational and cultural gaming experience and now its Art and Creative Directors, Sean Vesce and Dima Veryovka, are returning with another game called The Forest Song. In terms of gameplay, The Forest Song is different from Never Alone’s side-scrolling platforming, being a first-person adventure. Fortunately, though, The Forest Song is continuing Never Alone’s efforts to teach players about other cultures, this time giving an insight into the folklore of Ukraine.
The game is an adaption of the classic Ukrainian drama Lisova Pisnya (Лісова Пісня), and players will take up the role of a peasant who has an incredible encounter with a powerful forest spirit that opens up the spirit world and leads to a clash between the supernatural forest inhabitants and the humans. In order to do the story justice and accurately represent Ukrainian culture, Vesce and Veryovka have gathered together a team of Ukrainian culture and folklore experts led by faculty of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, with whom they’ll consult throughout the development process.
In a behind-the-scenes video posted by Colabee Studios, you can see moments from the development team’s two-week expedition to Western Ukraine. The video lets you have a quick look at the places the developers visited and some of the people they interviewed, as well as hear how important the game is to them on a personal level as a means to repair the break between the country’s generations.
Colabee say that their aim in this expedition was “to advance [their] understanding of the past, present and future” of the people of Ukraine through interviewing cultural experts as well as the people who live there and experiencing their traditions and culture first hand.
Creative Director, Dima Veryovka, says The Forest Song is a project that’s very close to his own heart:
“Ukrainian mythology has so much to teach us, but for people outside of Eastern Europe it has remained largely inaccessible. Having grown up surrounded by these magical tales it is so exciting now to be able to share this part of my culture with gamers everywhere.”
Colabee say The Forest Song is being developed for the newest generation of consoles and that it will feature “specialized VR content where players will experience an unprecedented sense of immersion and presence.” You can keep track of the game’s development on Colabee’s website.
We didn’t expect Never Alone to be the last game of its kind and we’re really excited to see how The Forest Song develops. From what we can see, it’s going to be beautiful and as full of heart as Never Alone.
Image: Colabee Studios