Game about gibbons sheds light on endangered species

A cute toy inspired by the behavior of gibbons at the local zoo is what Felix Bohach wanted to make. However, life in the 1920s has a way of complicating matters.

After doing a little research into the modern life of apes, suddenly a wonderful game about gibbons bouncing fast between trees seemed deceptive. Gibbons are declared “one of the most threatened primate species” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with more than 14 species listed as either critically endangered or critically endangered. This knowledge will teach the final game, “Gibbon: Beyond the Trees,” which led to a work initially developed for Apple mobile devices, begin a quiet short journey through a jungle in Southeast Asia, and soon teleport into a jungle full of realistic threats.

But Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is not a hard edutainment game. Inspired by fast-paced action-focused titles such as Alto’s Adventure snowboarding, Gibbon: Beyond the Trees focuses on skating, swinging, jumping, and flying between landscapes, progressively introducing conservation themes across the various threats Gibbons face on their habitat and livelihood. There is a serious message to the game, and it is delivered as a call to action. The game asks players to think more broadly about our world and who we share it with, rather than hitting us with a heavy thesis.

So yes, it’s a game with a lesson, but one that never loses sight of the greatness of an animal in nature. “I was really inspired by their elegance,” says Bohach of Gibbons, who leads game studio Broken Rules in Vienna. “Especially when they jump from tree to tree. They do these really high jumps in the canopies. That’s where I started. I have three kids so I’ve been to the zoo a few times, and gibbons are one of my favorite animals out there.”

Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is a game about the threats facing primate families.

(Broken rules)

“Gibbon: Beyond the Trees” is available for Apple Arcade, the mobile giant’s $4.99 monthly subscription service, as well as home PC and Nintendo Switch. It’s one of a relatively rare group of mainstream games to directly address environmental concerns — the 2020 docu water game “Beyond Blue” comes to mind as well — but there’s a part of me who hesitates to play up game preservation themes for fear that it will turn off potential players. When describing the game to friends, I ran into questions about whether the game was frustrating. I’ve never felt this way while playing.

That’s because “Gibbon: Beyond the Trees” is a forward momentum game, albeit striving to balance the feeling of free movement over and through trees with a deeper sense. “Most of the games — or the games we care about — are not about simulation,” Pohach says. They are trying to focus on a certain feeling. But during our research we discovered that gibbons are very endangered, and that humans are actively destroying their habit. So it soon became clear to us that we couldn’t build something purely for escape.”

However, this is not necessarily in the studio’s DNA. Gibbon: Beyond the Tree is the company’s follow-up to 2017’s The Old Man’s Journey, a meditative, puzzle-based adventure that explores life’s memories, lost love, and painful regret. Heavyweights are also the reason Gibbon was initially conceived as a more gentle palate cleanser. Once the studio better understood the current reality facing endangered species, the Bohatsch team and the Broken Rules team faced a challenge: how to keep the game’s mechanics simple, fast, friendly, and fun while still doing justice to the realities of the real world?

“We were afraid that people would back off if they heard it was about environmental issues,” says Pohac. “We wanted people to get into the game because of what it looks like, and then show them the issues. We changed that a little bit because we realized that this angle is an important part of the game. We realized that these issues and deforestation make the game unique, but it is also an integral part of the game.” of the game. So we now call it an environmental adventure.”

One of the joys "Gibbon: Beyond the trees" Flying through the woods.

One of the joys of Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is flying through the woods.

(Broken rules)

We begin in lush forest landscapes and glide between indigenous cultures striving to live in harmony with nature. However, we soon run and jump between the metal frame houses as deforestation threatens the habitat. Things get bleaker, but our pink, blue, and yellow gibbons—there are some creative liberties taken, of course—never slow down. While gaming on the iPhone, my hands rarely left the screen throughout the 60-minute or so experience, and I always had the pleasure of instructing Gibbon to flip or slide through the attractive, colorful images.

Class transitions usually punctuate one of the gibbons that stops and draws attention to the environment. Perhaps a fire in the distance or a looming construction equipment. Things get tense as the game progresses, as gibbons are hunted down, like a sad nod to news reports of small primates being stolen from families for use as a tourist attraction. Moving quickly and staying above ground often gets the gibbons to safety, but expect the final chapters of the game to be a challenge, as hunters will chase our heroic animals amid largely treeless terrain. Avoiding paved or dirt roads under our Jeep is no easy feat.

To keep the focus on the story, the team wanted to avoid game-like trappings such as points or scores. It’s never about improving your previous walk through the woods. The game is always about driving gibbons to safety. Here, Pohac recalled lessons learned from previous games. While citing “Alto’s Adventure,” a work that gave snowboarding a neat makeover, as one of his favorite games, he felt his focus on points and collecting coins or llamas was a simple distraction from his primary interests.

“I wanted to know more about the characters,” Pohac says. “I wanted to know what this world is actually about. In the end, you chase the highest score. I think in the end this ends up being blank, and I say that while I absolutely adore Alto. But for us, the challenge was how do we combine A flow-based motion system, getting people into the flow, and a nice motion system, but using a story as we learned in The Old Man’s Journey. Throw out the high scores. That was a design challenge.”

"Gibbon: Beyond the trees" Explores the effects of deforestation.

Gibbon: Beyond the Trees explores the effects of deforestation.

(Broken rules)

It succeeded, not only because of the intuitive gameplay mechanics, which works especially well on the touch screen of a smartphone. Chronologically, the game goes through multiple transformations in its relatively enjoyable runtime, using its musical note as a way not to heighten tension but to telegraph the space. The notes disappear as the trees dwindle, creating a sense that the natural world has become more hollow. Construction cranes loom like bright red monsters piercing what could be a calm moonlit sky. And the hunters arrive like wandering fools, oblivious to the natural grace of Gibbon.

To ensure the game remains as true as possible to the actual pain threatening the residents of Gibbon, and since the COVID-19 pandemic meant a trip to Southeast Asia wasn’t in the cards, the team consulted with a number of nonprofits. Working, for example, with Gibbon rehabilitation groups in Thailand changed the story of the game. Specifically, “Gibbon: Beyond the Trees” becomes a rescue mission to rescue a young Gibbon, the latter only coming from the team’s research.

“We’ve changed things,” Pohac says. At first, Gibbons were two Gibbons friends. We didn’t want to focus on the family after The Old Man’s Journey. But we learned that Gibbons lived in intimate family groups. Most importantly, we learned that if they were wrongfully robbed, They will be robbed for the baby. Sometimes they are shot by illegal loggers for their meat, but more often they are shot for a cute little gibbon. This is a modern phenomenon. It is because tourists love to take pictures with a little gibbon. Cute, which is horrible. It’s ridiculous. It connected with us because it showed us that this is an international and a global thing.”

These heartbreaking facts also convinced the team that they were on the right track, and that their initial game idea of ​​tree-flying gibbons could become a game of weight that the studio could rally behind. Bohac says that the games’ interaction makes them a tool for communicating with their audience, and to that end, it’s best to have something worth saying.

“I think every game is political,” Pohac says. “They all take a stand. With design choices, every game developer refers to the world and human conditions. Even if some developers try to be apolitical, it’s not possible. Knowing this, we want to try to design games around important things. Also, games are complex in Work and hard work and it takes a lot of time, effort and money. So let’s use it for something of value. Escape is good sometimes, but even in games about escaping from reality, you make choices that affect the way players look at the world.”

Bohach says the studio is also aware of the fact that games require a learning curve, not only for the development team but also for players, who will have to learn how the new game thinks and behaves in order to complete it. It takes more commitment than passive entertainment.

“I have three children, and I am very aware of the time and effort of our audience. I know how difficult it is to find the time and energy to play games. I rarely have the time and energy, so I want to make games for people like me. We want to give you food for thought. We try to make games stay in the minds of our players” .

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