Games are communication: a set of calls and responses, built around specific rules. In most cases, this is somewhat lopsided. The game tells you what it wants to hear, and you respond accordingly. Spaces of Play’s Future Unfolding, with its minimal UI, its lack of tutorials, and its focus on exploration above all else, doesn’t play along. So what happens if a game refuses to communicate?
“The basic idea,” developer Andreas Zecher claims, “was to make a game that is truly about exploration and respects the freedom of the player. When we started 4 years ago, many games took a very handholding approach to teaching the player the mechanics. Often, something would be shown to you, before you were actually allowed to do it yourself.”
When I first played the game two years ago at Gamescom, the circumstances were less than ideal. Amidst a sea of noisy people, putting on a pair of headphones and diving into the game’s colorful, weird world somehow felt off. Zecher was intentionably unhelpful, letting me figure out stuff as I went along. All of this felt irritating – in a good way.
Without tutorials, without button prompts and other features we’ve come to expect, the framing as a videogame takes a backseat. Future Unfolding lets you know which buttons you can push, but it never tells you what they actually do. The only concession to “regular” game UI is a map, which is needed to navigate the game’s sprawling and intricate levels.
“Wandering around and exploring the world [is] in itself a pleasurable activity in the game. If the core activity of your game is rewarding in itself, you don’t need any extrinsic rewards to keep the player going. Everything in the games reacts to the movement of the player’s avatar. Trees move as you push past them, you leave a trail in flower fields and you can permanently move every stone in the game. These little interactions give your actions meaning and presence,” Zecher explains.
You don’t even know what you are supposed to do, how you are supposed to behave when you load up Future Unfolding. It gives you a world to interact with but there is no pointer in the right direction, no quest marker on your map. And you don’t need these things. The game is very subtly structured in a way that teaches you the hidden rules of this wondrous place, what Zecher calls “a surreal logic in the game that is never explained, but it is there and it is consistent so players can learn to understand it by observation and experimentation.”
All of this creates an immediacy to the whole experience, and it leads to moments of genuine surprise and wonder when you manage to figure out the next step on the way to – well, wherever it is you’re going. Where other games feel like guided tours, Future Unfolding is an adventure.
You can purchase Future Unfolding from GOG, itch.io, The Humble Store, and Steam for $19.99. For more information, visit the game’s website or follow Spaces of Play on Twitter. Oh, and make sure to read this interview from 2014, where Andreas Zecher talks about other aspects of the game.