Yasuhiro Wada is best known as the creator of the Bokujō Monogatari games, which has been known as the Harvest Moon series in North America until recently. Now it goes by the name Story of Seasons, due to Natsume owning the Harvest Moon name, and Xseed taking over as publisher in English-speaking countries. Wada has since branched off from the series, and his latest project is called Birthdays The Beginnings (working title). In it, you manipulate the environment to evolve different organisms, from plants to mammals. While at TGS, Wada graciously demoed Birthdays for us, and so far it’s shaping up to be an intriguing world-building simulation game.
Wada was inspired by games like SimCity and SimEarth, but he formed the idea for his latest game from a popular Japanese anime character named Doraemon. At one point, Doraemon gets an earth spray that allows him the power to create lifeforms. Wada thought it would be an interesting concept for game if you acted as a god altering the world and seeing the chain reactions before you in its evolution.
Birthdays The Beginnings has a story mode, which follows a boy reading a book leftover from his grandpa. He soon gets thrown into this strange, virtual world where he’s tasked with creating things. For instance, in the first area, we were tasked with forming plant life. The game also has a challenge mode, if you want to skip the story altogether and be challenged to meet various conditions for success. Wada says the story is minimal since it’s a simulation game, but he wanted to give players something to connect with, and so he explains the story more as “going back into your childhood and explaining something that happened when you’re a little kid.”
The main gameplay mechanic is simple: You raise and lower land, affecting its temperature and climate. This, in turn, affects the types of organisms that evolve in it. Map sizes grower to bigger proportions throughout the game, testing how far you can take god-like powers. Every time you alter something, you can pass time to see the effect it’s having on the environment. You level up by capturing your creations, and the whole concept is very much in a Pokémon “gotta catch em’ all” vein. You can evolve everything from flowers to jellyfish to dinosaurs to even cavemen and beyond. During my demo, I saw monkeys, elephants, T-Rexes, and humans all in adorable forms. At one point, walking around the map I saw a bipedal monkey. Yeah, you can probably guess where this is going.
Wada said he tried for some realistic accuracy by representing different eras in the evolution timeline based on scientific theories. However, if you alter the conditions right, you can have species who normally wouldn’t coexist together do just that, such as humans and dinosaurs. Every being has certain conditions it needs to sustain life, and if your land doesn’t provide it, it will die off. Clicking on any organism, you can see a letter grade for its skills for everything from reproducibility to how much food much must be around for it to survive. Every creature also has a rarity rating. While making the game, Wada thought about real-life issues such as global warming and how it affects life forms, so plants can affect the actual environment from its temperature to sustainability, but the creatures you breed simply exist in the world, not altering the envrionment.
You don’t need to use items, but the game give you an option to use ones to change things, such as your biomes. These items allow you to alter the environment to rainy and moist or sunny, and different creatures can evolve just by changing these conditions. Some may even be able to adapt to climates if you tweak things just right. Right now, there are 300 organisms in the game, but it’s nearly impossible to create them all at the same time on one map.
The hook comes from watching your vacant lands grow just by experimenting with raising and lowering of the terrain. It’s such a simple tactic yet requires you to pay attention the effects. At one point, Wada showed us a map with tons of creatures on it and cavemen. As he advanced time, the cavemen soon we’re building more and more huts and taking over the land. Just seeing the world you can build and sustain is exciting, especially watching it populate before you.
Birthdays doesn’t have a release date, but will launch in North America at some point in 2017 for PlayStation 4 and PC.