Ashwalkers is a survival simulator opened 200 years after a massive volcanic disaster ravaged the planet, leaving it barren and covered in blizzards of gray dust. On a journey to the Dome of the Domes, a post-apocalyptic utopia at the end of the world, players lead a party of four explorers: Petra, the fearless leader; Sinh, a skilled fighter; Kali, a young scholar; and Nadir, the always attentive scout.
Ashwalkers includes crafting, resource management, life support systems, and a plethora of interpersonal and moral judgment calls, all of which lead to one of 34 possible endings. Player choice is the basic mechanic of the game.
“It’s more of a laboratory for us than a dystopian story, in fact,” Ashwalkers said Creative Director Matteo Gaulmier.
If it is true, Ashwalkers is the most sinister laboratory on this side of the apocalypse. The game is covered in clouds of ash, constantly swirling and layered over the screen like an old film reel. Sharp black outlines and red splashes of blood highlight an otherwise desaturated environment, a nod to graphic novels and , a French series depicting the horrors of xenophobia from the perspective of a remote German village at the end of WWII. Meanwhile, the Ashwalkers the soundtrack slowly builds up on itself in electronic waves, ultimately trapping players in a heavy work-inspired audio atmosphere .
“When we first started the game, we had a more classic apocalypse like nuclear winter, and slowly we changed the theme to something more original, less seen,” Gaulmier said. “We found the ashy apocalypse. It wasn’t exploited much, so we went and slowly the game started to shift almost naturally from black and white to shades of gray. It directly referred to ashes, of course, gray ashes and the theme of death.
The independent studio building Ashwalkers, Nameless XIII, is based in Toulouse, France, and Gaulmier himself is a recent graduate of the photography and game design. The CEO of Nameless XIII is Hervé Bonin, co-founder of Dontnod and co-creator of the iconic series Choose Your Own Life is Strange adventure. Bonin chose to help Gaulmier and his team of students develop Ashwalkers after realizing that they had shared philosophies regarding interactive storytelling.
“His way of telling a story, of asking questions of how to make a compelling story, what the choices are, and of being the player in a huge universe,” Bonin said. “It’s not the same game as Life is strange, sure, but the same kind of detail, the same kind of thinking behind it, and the same methodology that the students have already learned. I recognize talent, and when I see talent, only one thing to do is support that. Matteo and his young team are doing incredible things.
With 34 disparate endings, a few playthroughs from Ashwalkers will be short and confined to a single area, while others will be longer and cover more ground. Ashwalkers does not judge players or offer karma trees for “good” and “bad” decisions. It allows players to play with the limits of morality and survival, and what it means to be human under extreme – and everyday circumstances.
“We don’t want to judge our players,” Gaulmier said. “We wanted to give them the tools to judge themselves.”