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Writing Close to Home: Inspiration for Valley

Garett Marks, Narrative Designer at Blue Isle Studios, discusses the inspiration behind the story of Valley and the creative process that helped evolve the game into something unique.

Write what you know. This is one of the many fantastic pieces of advice given by Ernest Hemingway.  Back when I attended university, I recall a writing class wherein each student was asked to disclose the topic for their first short fiction. There was one student who began explaining her idea for a romance taking place in France: the entire setting of the story.

The teacher stopped her part way though and asked if she had ever been to France, to which she replied she had not. Needless to say, he eloquently convinced her to change settings for her story.

It was something that had always resonated with me. It makes perfect sense. Why write about Paris when a Parisian will do a far better job of transporting the reader to the city? Especially if you had never been there before. Why not write something closer to home?

The person we are today is a culmination of all of our past experiences. And it is those experiences that make each one of us unique. I find it important to stop every now and then and ask myself: what can I bring into the world no one else can?

It is this line of questioning that helped inspire the creation of Valley. Now I know that might sound ridiculous regarding a story that concerns a godly powerful exosuit, whacky pseudoscience, and magical creatures- but it all had to start somewhere.

Growing up in a small city in Alberta, I was lucky enough to have lived nearly my entire life near a forest’s edge. I’ve spent countless hours sitting by creeks, lying in moss beds,and most enjoyably, running through the trees. It was here, within the woods, I would cultivate my thoughts and ideas. Even more lucky, if you happen to live in Alberta, you’re always a short drive away from the Rocky Mountains. The mountains are a perfect forge of inspiration and imagination. There’s a reason so many adventures revolve around a mountainous setting.

The mountains also hold a treasure trove of stories stolen straight from history. Would you believe that during World War II the British prototyped an aircraft carrier built from ice up in the cold lakes of the Alberta Rockies? Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

It was also during my time in university that I took a keen interest in World War history, enrolling in several classes focused solely on the topic. That history contained some of the wildest stories that anyone would be hard-pressed to conjure within their imagination alone.

After Blue Isle's completion of Slender: The Arrival, a game based within the forested foothills of Alberta, it was time to begin planning a new game that built off our skills developed from the last title. When tasked with brainstorming ideas for this next game, the answer quickly became quite clear: combine a love for the tranquil woods of the Rocky Mountains with the over-the-top history of the Second World War.

Naturally we had proven the ability to build large, open forested areas with Slender. And, naturally, we had proven the ability to create a compelling first-person ‘walking simulator’. But what if we did something more than just another run-of-the-mill first-person exploration? What if we could capture a particular feeling? What if we could capture that empowering feeling of running through a forest?

Thus giving rise to the L.E.A.F. suit: An exosuit that would allow a player to truly capture that awesome feeling of flying through the trees. But where would this suit have come from? What else could it do than just run and jump super fast? How can we build more gameplay from it and tie a story into it?

This brought in the military. A military known to historically have had a strong presence in the Rocky Mountains, and with a limited indie budget, a military that had long since abandoned their base and equipment as NPCs are terribly expensive. The World War narrative became a perfect fit. As I began to dig deeply into the Manhattan Project for inspiration, I learned of Robert Oppenheimer’s hindu education and his work in quantum mechanics. These two elements helped evolve the idea of ‘Quantum Immortality’ as a gameplay mechanic, giving rise to the player’s Godhand ability to give and take life energy known as ‘amrita’ from living things to help sustain their immortality. Valley had now grown into something truly special.

It was writing close to home that planted the seed for something that would grow into something very big. What began as a small sapling of an idea soon grew into something much larger, with many branches stretching out in a number of directions. While I began with writing what I knew, it led me down paths that allow me to now know even more. And much like Valley, I too got to grow because of it.

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