Sandstorm: desert adventure

One of my favourite classic adventures featured a desert setting. I’m talking about Quest for Glory 2, with the dying of thirst and cowardly dinosaur mounts. Of course, if your saurus ran away, it could be found safely back in the stable, come morning. I purchased Sandstorm because a screenshot reminded me of QFG2. It’s a lot darker. There’s no wanting to be a hero here, just a dangerous pilgrimage. And, if your camel successfully eludes you, death will soon follow.

For at least the first forty minutes of playing, I had very little idea what I was doing. I didn’t know what the camel was for. I also didn’t know what the collectable items did, though they were clearly doing something. There were mad messages from someone very familiar and artifacts that made no sense. Meanwhile, the washed out yellow world revolved, sickeningly, as I just tried to walk in a straight line, only barely aware of what my objective actually was.

Amazingly, although I still haven’t finished the game, I now know how to do so, and exactly how close I have come to succeeding a couple of times. Each of my items plays its part and losing the camel sends me into a genuine panic. He’s so wayward, and so important. This is a difficult game, recommended for the very patient and the very careful. The progression from, “what is going on?” to, “I need this right now and I don’t have enough of those to get it safely,” is incredible.

We contacted Sydney based designer, Daniel Linssen, to ask after his intention for the game. He says, “I hoped the player would fear getting utterly lost. I wanted that to be an ever present danger.” Indeed, the game is structured so that, as soon as you understand its scale, the pressure builds incrementally towards the ending. The disorientation on each new morning becomes increasingly unbearable, yet you must deal with it quickly, or die.

As well as QFG2, Sandstorm reminded me of the time I embarked on a nine-hour, solo hike in Wilpena Pound. While climbing a peak, I lost the trail markings, then slipped and got a piece of swordgrass lodged up my nose. As a fog rolled in, I was actually a bit scared. It was a few hours before I found the trail and another hiker, who helped stop the bleeding. This game really captures the loneliness and desperation of a journey gone wrong, as well as the hope that things might still be alright.

As well as Sandstorm, Linssen has released a number of free games, many stemming from game jams and challenges. You can find them here. They are an interesting mix of platformers and puzzle games, for engaging the imagination. Linssen tells us, “I love to try to fi nd simple but unique mechanics, and then explore those as much as possible. I think each of my games is an exploration of a really simple idea.” This is something Sandstorm does to great effect.

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