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The beauty of indie game Mable & The Wood

Mable & The Wood header

Written by Gage Allen. April 7, 2016, at 12:00 p.m. Tweet to: @lotims

Every now and then a special game comes along, one that can capture the heart and the endless imagination of the mind. Mable & The Wood is one of those games.

Mable & The Wood, Forest, Indie GamesMable & The Wood is a new pixelated exploration platformer where you play as a shape-shifting girl whose powers are destroying the world she is trying to save. Formulated with a stunning art style, great looking mechanics, and a beautiful pixel atmosphere,Mable & The Wood shines in ways other games do not. Its world filled with mystery, accompanied by a sense of terrible balance between using your powers to save the land, and those same powers draining it of all color.

You play as Mable, a mimic who can shape shift into a plethora of creatures and animals she has killed. Your goal? To scour the forest to find the darkness slowly eating it away before it takes you and all you know with it. The interesting thing about Mable & The Wood is that movement is combat; you have to use the wide range of attacks  you have learned to maneuver across obstacles to keep moving forward into the infected edges of the forest.

“You don’t really attack enemies directly. Instead, you have to think about your movement and your attack together because of how they’re interrelated. For example, in fairy form you have to drop the sword and then fly past the enemy to line up the shot, then turn back into a human to recall the sword and have it slice through the enemy – I’ve not seen any games where you attack enemies like that!”

Mable & The Wood jumpingJust like Andrew Stewart, the sole developer of the game, has pointed out, it’s a very unique grouping of mechanics. That’s not all, your shape-shifting power is also playing a part in this slow, painful death of the world – but it might be the only way to save it. It is a world that you will explore via an overworld map. You have multiple routes which allow you to choose your path through the world, exploring more levels to gather the resources required to upgrade your abilities or avoiding some areas entirely. You can even avoid the boss monsters, however you won’t be able to shape-shift into their form unless you kill them. Your choice.

The world will change and react to your actions. The longer you explore, and the more creatures you destroy, the more perilous the world becomes. Certain areas of the map will suddenly become accessible, but other areas may disappear entirely.

Stewart is aiming for an average completion time of three to six hours filled with perilous journeys through mysterious areas and dark crevices to explore. However, if you replay the game, or any level for that matter, they will all be replaced with alternative versions. (There is also the option to simply reset the world to the way it was before.)

One thing that is of curiosity is how the narrative form of the game stands out, about which Stewart said:

“From a narrative angle, you find a lot of fantasy stories and fairy tales where there’s this idea of good magic and bad magic, but I don’t really like the black and whiteness of that. I like my stories with a lot of grey in them. In Mable, the magic is just there and it is neither good nor evil. The threat to world is coming from the use of that magic, whether it is being used for good or evil.”

This sheds some light on the source of the “darkness” in the game. If Stewart’s preference is of any indication, we can imagine that the source of the darkness is from the creatures and people living in the forest using it for any reason whatsoever. This includes you. It’s very possible that there might be a point we have to stop using our shape-shifting powers entirely, otherwise we might kill the forest ourselves.

Mable & The Wood visuals

So where did Stewart’s inspirations for making games come from which eventually led to Mable & The Wood?

“I was born in the early 80s, and we had this thing called a Dragon 32. We actually only had 1 game for it, but we also had this book where you could code your own games into it. Being a little kid, I’d often get bored just typing in line after line of nonsense and mess bits up. Most of the time it broke the game, but every now and then it’d do something cool, like make you move really fast or make the asteroids explode when you hit them instead of your ship (yeah, it was basically a book of clones).

My first real attempt at making games properly was a couple of years later, when I started making stupid text adventures for the Spectrum. All of those games were awful. Then I kind of gave up on making games when we got our next gaming machine – the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It seemed impossible to make games as good as that. At the time I thought they were made by magic or something (I still think maybe they were). It wasn’t until long later that I really started getting back into making games.

I remember World of Goo coming out and being totally obsessed with it. Not just with playing it, but also in how it was made and everything about it. I remember reading about how it was just these two guys who made a game in a week and decided to work on one of them a bit longer. It made it seem like it really was possible to make something awesome, as long as you had the determination and the right idea. It was around that time that I’d also seen XNA was having a new update, so I downloaded that and dived right in.

I was hooked immediately.

I’ve since moved on from XNA to Actionscript and FlashPunk, through Unity and am now using GameMaker. I don’t think it matters what tools you use, as long as you know how to get what you want out of them. I still love seeing my ideas come alive on screen, it’s so addictive.”

Mable & The Wood scenery

Stewart finds himself working at an interesting point in the indie game industry; one where Kickstarter is one of the few platforms that is able to get his game through the clogged abominations of chaos, and into the right public eye to gauge whether the game is liked enough to be funded.

“I think we’ve hit a point now where there’s no middle ground. Unless you can afford for your next game to sell less than 1,000 copies, then it’s always going to be a big risk. Platforms like Kickstarter certainly help with that, as they help you not only raise funds, but also get a picture of whether your idea is something that people are going to be interested in.”

This is where Stewart hopes to find some interest, but feels it isn’t the end for him if it doesn’t pick up.

“For me, I’m a tiny indie. I’m working on Mable in my spare time, so if it doesn’t make any money on release then I just learn from that. I can still make another game. I’ve still got money coming in. But if I had everything riding on this? I just think the pressure would end up ruining the game. I’d be making decisions in the hope that they suit a target audience, or what I think that audience might want. As it is, I can make decisions based on how they will affect the feel of the game as a whole. Of course I’d love for it to be the next Undertale, but I’m under no illusions!”

Mable & The Wood gameplay

From what we can tell, Mable & The Wood has enormous potential at being a game popular in the indie world. As it should be, since it appears to deliver all the right kind of beauty a unique indie game should have.

We asked Stewart what he wants players to take away from the game when they play it for the first time. His answer? Nothing short of awesome.

“I hope they’ll feel the heart that’s going into the game. Nothing in there is haphazardly placed, it’s all had a lot of thought put into it to make sure it’s as atmospheric and engaging as it can possibly be – a world that feels like it really is a place. I’m looking for moments that people will remember when they play, because for me those are some of the best moments in games.”
Mable & The Wood is currently on Kickstarter with some time left to go. Check it out and help get the game made! You can watch the trailer below!

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