Wander Interview with Developer Loki Davison

In a world where everyone touts their products as revolutionary, never-before-seen or unique to the genre, it is understandable why players are skeptical when they hear these descriptions. The team working to develop Wander might not use these clichés when talking about their game, but they immediately jump to mind.

Wander is a non-combat, non-competitive MMORPG coming to PlayStation 4 and Steam extremely soonish (that’s official developer talk). Players start the game as a giant, sentient tree known as Oren, and are left to their own devices to figure out why there are in this form, what they can do within their new bodies and how best to explore the vast expanse in front of them.

The mastermind behind this experience, Loki Davison, shed some light as to what players can expect while playing Wander. “You start off as a giant tree and are given hints from opera singers of the world around you. They help you realize that everyone is a shapeshifter, but you are left to work out the reason why.”

Trying to talk about Wander requires a different mindset. When I asked about the progression of shapeshifting, Davison politely offers that progression isn’t really the right word. “Each of the different forms allows you to do something slightly different. One isn’t better than the others, but they all allow you to explore new places.”

Wander Beach“The sea creature is super fast under water. In this form, you can explore the coral cities, but it’s ludicrously slow on land and doesn’t have any stamina because it’s like a crocodile. Un-agile on land…but cute looking.”

Davison goes on to describe some of the other forms: “The griffin can fly, but can’t swim. The Oren is massive so other players can see it from a distance and is the best form at night because it has symbiotic fireflies, making it the only form that comes with a light source at night.”

A recurring theme during the conversation is the idea that Wander is about the journey and experience that players choose to embark on while playing the game. There is no quest log, puzzles to solve, clans to join or any of the staples that immediately jump to mind when talking about an MMORPG.

The crux of that experience is the exploration, “You start off not knowing any of the language, transformations or law. As you explore, you delve into more of all three. Wander is very narrative-focused, so there is a lot of backstory about what is going and all the cultures in the world have different answers as to why everyone can shapeshift.”

“Imagine if you went back thousands of years and asked what is thunder? Japan, Scandinavia and Australia would each give a very different answer. In Wander, the different cultures explain why they are shapeshifters in their own unique way.”

Something that jumped out to me was the way Davison describes language within the world of Wander. Instead of traditional voice chat or text boxes, players will start off knowing only one phrase and discover more as they progress.

“All the forms speak the same language, although some of them have different accents. It’s a limited language, to keep in character but to see what players can do with a limited set of words. We wanted people to roleplay their characters. This way people who don’t speak the same native language can still communicate. In Australia, we often end up in a multiplayer game with people who speak Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai, and these people can’t easily communicate with each other. We wanted everyone in Wander to be able to speak to each other.”

Wander Griffin FlightWith all the emphasis on communication, cooperation and sharing information, it seems like Wander could require solo-gamers to find others to work with. Davison assures that it is possible to find every form, phrase, law and area of the game by playing solo. But that it will be easier if you work together, and many of the trophies require teamwork.

“There is a platinum trophy and about 35 total trophies to collect. Trophies require focus on different types of activities, involve every form, and some are exploration or communication focused, so mastering the language and finding the lore is important. and involving every form. Some are exploration or communication focused. For players who are more goal-oriented, the trophy list will serve as their guide.”

“However, some people are more interested in playing games like Flower. Some testers, especially military veterans, mentioned wanting a game where they can chill out and explore, without having to shoot things.” From the trailer, footage and discussion, Wander definitely accomplishes that goal.

MMORPG’s are defined by their endgame content, what players can do once they hit the level cap, but Wander doesn’t have a leveling system. “Once you’ve mastered the language, being able to talk to people who haven’t yet is pretty cool. It allows you to guide them through the world. Event-wise, we have lots of plans in the future to have particular things happening during specific times of the month, like the world changing during the cycles of the moon. Possibly a world event. Nothing at launch, but later on we are looking into it.”

Wander Storm“There is a lot of depth into mastering flight. The griffin flight is styled after glider flights — you’ll need to learn how to ride the air currents, and the weather changes from day to day. You can communicate those skills to others. It is focused on the idea of sharing.”

As a former paraglider pilot, Davison has experience soaring through the air, and you can hear his excitement about recreating that experience in Wander. “In some games, you just hit a button and are soaring through the air, which isn’t engaging. I also didn’t want it to be a flight sim and overly complicated. You are a griffin; you are meant to be good at feeling the world. A bird of prey doesn’t flap very often. You need to plan out your route, look for air currents and avoid turbulence.”

Davison is excited for players to jump into Wander and while he admits that everyone’s experiences are unique, when pressed for advice for new developers he offers, “Remember to sleep early on (laughs).”

“Know what you want to do early on, and then do it. If you have a core vision, do the things that you are good at and for what you can’t do, find excellent help. I have a great team; they’ve enabled me to do the things that I’m good at, and I hope I’ve enabled them.”

Wander is available on PlayStation 4 and Steam in Spring 2015.