While visiting the IndieCade booth at E3 this year, my attention was caught by indie studio Blindflug’s upcoming iOS (and potentially PC) title. Cloud Chasers: Journey of Hope is a roving roguelike that tells the story of Fransisco and his daughter Amelia as they make a desperate attempt to reach The Spire, a distant gateway to the affluent cities that fly above the clouds.
To make the journey across the blasted landscapes, players will have to send Amelia up into the clouds on her glider to collect precious water. However, cities have their own water harvesters that are always a threat and the danger only escalates with drones and turrets as the duo approaches The Spire. As players make their way through the five deserts that compose the majority of Cloud Chasers, randomly generated events appear that ask players to balance the need to survive against their moral limits.
Immigration is the core theme of Cloud Chasers. Jeremy Spillman, one of the co-founders, artists, and game designers at Blindflug, talked with me about why they wanted to tell a very specific story about the struggles of immigrants. “Well, it is kind of our thing, you know?” he began. “We’ve been known for one game so far which is First Strike, a global thermal nuclear war simulation. In the end, it tells you that global thermal nuclear war is kind of crap. [laughs] We wanted to make something similar here. When it comes to immigration what we feel is really interesting isn’t what you always hear about. These are people who have undertaken immense, giant journeys. They always meet up with these other immigrants again in hub towns after walking through countries and countries. We felt like a rougelike, randomly generated thing could be something that tells you how harsh and how long these journeys actually are. But we still wanted to make a fantasy world so that you could project it into every country you can think of, you know?”
I asked Spillman why Cloud Chasers so heavily emphasizes desert landscapes in its world and gameplay. “I mean, the desert is kind of iconic,” he said. “The desert is a very deadly environment, but on the other hand it is also very calm and very… I don’t know,” Spillman paused for a moment before resuming. “It‘s a very intimate experience between those two. […] The space is beautiful and deadly. And, if you look at immigration patterns worldwide, most of the time you have deserts in-between immigrants and their destinations, so that fit our narrative very well in that regard.”
Preview: Oregon Trail Meets Immigration and Steampunk Flight in Cloud Chasers
That real world connection is something that Blindflug has attempted to infuse throughout their game. The random events that generate during every attempt to cross the desert are all based on actual immigrant experiences. Spillman shared one of the stories that really stuck in his brain while working on Cloud Chasers:
A writer at Blindflug named Patrick Coursey chimed in when I asked if Spillman’s anecdote paralleled what players could expect to experience over the course of Cloud Chasers. “Just because you get to your destination, doesn’t mean you’re done,” he said cryptically, a small smile on his face.
It is clear that Blindflug feels it has something it wants to say as loudly and as eloquently as possible. That is why the studio has decided to initially release on mobile devices (though Spillman did hint that a PC version might not be out of the question). When I asked what advantages the studio saw in mobile, Spillman responded, “We are always trying to get a topic across and it’s basically the game platform that most people have. We’re basically making a game that many people in the Western world could potentially play. It’s not like we wouldn’t want to make a console game out of it, we’re looking forward to maybe making a Steam release simultaneously with this game. But, I think mobile is pretty powerful in that regard, that we can actually talk to people who would normally not be into gaming, but they are really interested in the topic.”
Cloud Chasers is a very compelling project that I look forward to seeing in a finished state. The bright and colorful presentation of the title and the earnestness of its message are refreshing. Cloud Chasers isn’t content with being “just a game,” but strives to use its mechanics to reinforce the points it wants to make. From the few minutes I spent playing, the gameplay works well, playing like a slightly more in-depth Oregon Trail with more weighty decisions to be made and hunting replaced with an entertaining flight sim. And if that isn't enough to grab your interest, well, I just don't know.
There is this one article I once read that really resonated with me. They were following groups of immigrants through Iran, Iraq, you know, going all the way through Turkey and Greece. And there was this one guy who was always like, ‘well I want to go to Paris. Isn’t that the city where they fly over it with airplanes and spray down perfume every day?’ So, yeah, we might laugh at that, but basically they met him later in Paris again and he was in the barrio and he had it worse than ever before, but he didn’t want to tell the people at home that he did.
Keep your eye out for Cloud Chasers: Journey of Hope coming to iOS (and possibly PC) this fall.
Feature originally appeared on www.extra-life.org 07/07/15