My favorite thing about seeing the PAX Prime 2015 indie games is coming across a title that is literally something I have never seen before. A lot of games are “types” of games and any games journalist attending a convention like PAX Prime knows what it is to get bombarded with emails full of terms like “MOBA” and “rogue-like” and “random procedurally-generated dungeon crawler.” So it was a pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon EverGreen , a game where you are a tree. Yes, a tree. But there’s a bit more to it than that.
“EverGreen is a creative, zen, tree-growing game where you’re tasked with helping to guide the process of evolution throughout our world’s history starting about 500 million years ago to present day,” said Jack Erskine of Siege Sloth Games. The small, Canberra, Australia based studio is made of young devs with a practical vision.
“We figured we’re a tiny studio, we’re all students we just graduated. We can’t compete on the big titles so why bother? Let’s make something completely different,” he said.
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Different is the perfect description of EverGreen, but you could also call it chill. The gameplay allows players to guide the growth of a mystical tree across the history of life on Earth. You start by growing a tree out over a pond and dropping fruits and leaves into it to encourage the growth of early life forms to eventually managing a skyscraper-sized behemoth that is home to dozens and dozens of creatures. Naturally, this isn’t a game that appeals to everyone.
“My favorite comment [on Steam] was ‘what is this hippie shit?’. So some people either get it or they don’t,” Erskine said. “At PAX so far the response has been so positive, it’s been awesome to see. We went to the EB Games expo in Sydney and that was more AAAs and competitive games and the reception was really weird.”
Part of the appeal of EverGreen, though, is that it doesn’t appeal to the average gamer. In a crowded market full of games that feature action, adventure, puzzles and “winning” the concept of a game that is simple, beautiful and addictive is finding an audience where other titles could never venture. Erskine said one of the best experiences the team has had so far is watching botany enthusiasts try the game at a festival in Australia.
“We presented at Floriade , which is a big flower and tulip festival in Canberra, and we had grandparents playing this with grandkids, had players who would never pick up a game controller,” he said.
For more traditional gamers there is still a lot to enjoy about EverGreen. Erskine explained that as the game progresses players have more and more options for how the tree develops and how it impacts the environment. There are “literally millions” of gameplay elements players can use to develop their tree and a complex behavioral system for the creatures that inhabit it during the later stages of the game.
“It’s almost a God game in a lot of ways, you do have a lot of power. There’s no lose state. Your tree can burn down or fall over and you can always just grow back from a seed again. And anything that just drops off your tree helps the environment around you grow and be more beautiful,” Erskine said. “So, even if you absolutely fuck up you really haven’t done any damage at all.”
EverGreen has been in development for “about a year” and Siege Sloth Games hopes to have a full release out on Steam in early 2016. The long term goal is for the team to continue to develop titles that manage to serve audiences that larger studios and larger projects overlook.
“As a game studio we’re focused on delivering different and innovating experiences and fill weird niches that haven’t been looked at yet,” Erskine said.