Chasing the Unseen is a calmer, weirder Shadow of the Colossus

Chasing the Unseen is a calmer, weirder Shadow of the Colossus

Often, all you really need in a video game is the world itself and some basic encouragement to explore it. So it is with Chasing the Unseen, which features you as a little boy frolicking on slender, airy islets of rock, soil, and vegetation, wrapped around each other in a loamy underwater mist. It’s an unhurried exercise in curiosity with just a touch of weirdness and menace. Playing through a Steam demo, I was alternately reminded of the sand dunes of Journey, the loopy Forerunner skyboxes of Halo, and the edgy architecture of the recent Scorn.

Chasing the Unseen Preview Developer: Strange Shift Studio Publisher: Strange Shift Studio Platform: Played on PC Availability: Out TBC on To smoke

Chasing the Unseen’s landscapes are based on fractals – in short, mathematical shapes whose parts look like the whole no matter how far you zoom. Solo developer from Montreal, Quebec, Matthieu Fiorilli is fascinated by them. “You have these amazingly short mathematical formulas that give these complex, infinite shapes,” he enthuses. “You rarely see this level of complexity coming out of something so simple.” The infinitely self-similar geometry may not lend itself to easy navigation, of course, so these generated archipelagos have been carefully sculpted, their eccentricities mastered, and segmented to form digestible platform routes. Patches of grass denote safe passable surfaces, while patches of dense sunlight serve as end-of-level teleporters.

Here’s the Chasing the Unseen trailer to show it in action.

You have no goal here but to climb, using sticky, stamina-based climbing mechanics familiar from Shadow of the Colossus to pull yourself up over textured surfaces such as scaly, shiny trees. You can also pull out a Breath of the Wildy parachute to glide, which consumes stamina again, and save your progress in stone cairns, which can be supplemented with collectible stones for added continuity.

There’s nothing to fight and no danger beyond the vast cloudy void below, always ready to engulf you if you’re a little too cocky to run along a sloping surface. It’s always tempting to be cocky in Chasing the Unseen. The vast geography begs to be traversed in one fell swoop, much like Exo One’s alien planets, and boy does it have something of Sonic the Hedgehog’s reckless dash, falling uncontrollably if you land too fast, without taking any damage.

But all this before you encounter your first giant flying octopus. The worlds of Chasing the Unseen are home to enormous creatures that, as Fiorilli hints, “evoke certain story-related qualities and moods.” You’ll often need to interact with these strange, oversized entities to move forward – for example, jump on a drifting tentacle as the octopus orbits under a spar, then hoist yourself up to its bulging, crimson head and balance yourself just right. long enough to replenish your stamina before sliding to another platform.

Later in the game, there’s a meandering golden snake and a silver-barked “mangrove creature” made up of glittering electric dots that you can (apparently) touch to guide its movements. The latter reminds me of Paper Beast, a supernatural virtual reality simulation by Éric Chahi. Aside from the behemoths, each level also contains a handful of normal-sized, naturally stressed capybara. Find them all to unlock – well, I’ll let you figure that out yourself.

Unlike Fumito Ueda’s colossi, Chasing the Unseen’s megafauna don’t seem ill-disposed towards the cocky biped that scales its flanks, but they’re no resting companions either. The octopus emits a pulse-hopping orchestral track, allowing you to track its position as it disappears behind aerial islands or looms behind you. The mangrove creature is quietly awful: I’m not sure it has a head. They’re beautiful creations, but unlike many games that explicitly emphasize not killing or conquering, they’re not presented as “cuddly” or “wholesome”. I highly doubt there’s a “pet the octopus” achievement in Chasing the Unseen.

The explicit avoidance of the bloodshed game reflects his debts to Buddhist philosophy. Fiorilli won’t say much about it, except that Buddhism offers “a deep literature and a lot of inspiration from which to draw”. I’ll resist doing any heavy linking myself, but a bit of sloppy, deeply misinformed googling suggests a few possible directions the game’s wordless thematic journey might take. Famously, Buddhists defend non-human animals as sentient beings, rather than creatures we have divine permission to destroy and consume, but they also view animals somewhat tragically, as souls reborn in a realm of suffering. . More mysteriously, there is a fractal rendering method named after the Buddha.

A screenshot from Chasing the Unseen, showing the player climbing on a

In terms of sheer execution, Chasing the Unseen’s menagerie draws on Fiorilli’s vast background as a creature artist and animator in film, designing and rigging overclocked critters for blockbusters like Avatar: The Way of Water and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. But he had to find new paths with Chasing the Unseen. “Creatures are unique to the game, especially in the way I approached creating them, which is outside of the usual techniques,” Fiorilli explains. “Usually you will have two people [working on creature animations]an animator and a creature rigger or technical director, and that would be that exchange between the two.

“The rigger understands what the animator needs and then creates a setup for the creature to animate. Kind of like a puppet. The animator takes that and animates it. For this game, I’m using procedural techniques to create animation. Mangrove is a good example of this, I don’t manually move limbs one by one. I created a system that moves limbs on the ground and takes care of that.”

A screenshot from Chasing the Unseen, showing the player sliding across a landscape generated from fractals.

Chasing the Unseen runs on Unreal Engine, but the creatures were modeled using Houdini, a 3D animation tool popular with VFX powerhouses like Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks. “I think the most unique point here is really how the animation is done and brought into Unreal Engine,” Fiorilli adds. “The system I created allows me to run any type of simulation or procedural animation in Houdini and have full control, and then I bring everything back into the engine, and my escalation system works on the way out.” (If you’re comfortable with terms like “LOD generation”, you might want to check out Fiorilli’s tech blog for the official Unreal site.)

For a game dominated by ornate mathematical perspectives and the spectacle of animal bodies, the title of Chasing the Unseen might seem inappropriate, if not a little perverted. But there’s a trick, if you pay attention, that leaves me all the more eager for anything beyond my demo. The game’s camera hangs a generous distance from your character, the better to drink in the fractal extravaganza of the world, or help you plot routes through a nest of Cyclopean tentacles. Therefore, it wasn’t until the end of my playthrough that I noticed that the boy you control is blindfolded, navigating by touch in a universe that only the player can see.

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