Speaking with developer Calvin French about Paradise Never for only 15 minutes felt like diving into the thoughts of a creator in love with a project that he’s been keeping secret for far too long. French is passionate about this game, and every turn in the conversation started with something like “Oh! This mechanic, it’s super cool, we need talk about it.”
Paradise Never was officially announced with a brand new trailer last Friday. French, however, has been working on the game for just shy of two years. All of that development work has been done behind closed doors without an announcement of any kind.
This action RPG is absolutely dense with concepts, mechanics and content. It runs on a three day time loop, and French has been creating it from a story out frame of mind. That is, he had a story he wanted to tell with themes he wanted to express, and then the actual game that is Paradise Never blew out from that.
You and your friends live on an island colony belonging to France. You decide to revolt, France forces you down and in three days everything you know and love gets flipped upside down. That’s when a loving goddess steps in, commands that there shall be no death and throws you back to the start of the revolution, three days before.
In the underworld, the place you exist in right before you flash back to the front of the three day cycle, you meet a bird. This bird is sort of the silver-tongued antagonist of the game. He’s the opposite of the goddess, and he’s fine with chaos and death. In fact, he feeds on it.
The bird asks favors of you, and you complete them during your three day life cycle. That’s how you earn seals, which are essentially hit points. When someone dies… anyone, really – it can be an NPC that falls of a boat, a character killed at the hands of another or someone you kill personally – when someone dies, you lose a seal. Lose them all, and time resets. You can earn 10 of these.
Throughout our chat, French kept returning to the concept of unforeseen consequences being one of the central threads of Paradise Never. You have weapons, and you need to attack people in order to complete quests or push the story. Attacking them with a given weapon brings a given percentage of death into the equation. Hit them with an ill roll of the metaphorical dice, and they could die. You don’t plan for the death, you don’t want it and you certainly can’t foresee it, and this happens at a constant clip.
Now, there is a set story in this experience with an actual objective, but there’s much more to be gleaned from Paradise Never by exploring the island in full and talking to all the characters. Characters spawn fresh at the top of every three days, so their backstories can actually change. One couple, for instance, loses one of their loved ones in a fishing accident six years before the story of the game. The survivor changes every time you restart the cycle, and talking to them enough reveals a wishlist of things they’d love to tell their deceased partner.
It’s there that a side quest starts, and it’s also there that French introduced the phone mechanic. When time resets, your phone and its contents are one of the only things that sticks with you. You get the surviving member of this couple to write a letter to their lost loved one, and when time resets, you show that loved one the letter, thus resolving the quest.
Like I said, this game feels dense with mechanics and ideas. Paradise Never seems like a lengthy affair with a whole lot of choices and discovery to be had throughout. I felt nervous while playing it, afraid of the impending death I would or would not create, and that gave an extra bit of weight to simple actions I performed like talking to others, steering a boat and moving into conflict.
Which is what I think French wants. He wants us to think about our actions and those around us as we play, and that’s exactly what I did during my brief time with the game. French is clearly in love with this project, and I’m excited to play the final version of what he’s making.
The PAX East demo was pre-alpha, though French was not sure where he’d place it in development. “Definitely not beta,” is what he offered. French is building it in Linux, though he will release the full version of the game on PC, Mac and Linux platforms. He’s aiming for this year, but that deadline feels fluid.