Steam Next Fest February 2023: Seedlings and IDEA offer a new angle on FMV games
Updated: Feb 12
Worldbuilding is a vital part of game development. Whether a game successfully welcomes you in and establishes a convincing fictional world for you to explore can make all the difference. But as evidenced by two 2023 games with demos out on Steam now, the real world is just as ripe for fantastical settings as anything you could imagine up.
Just zoom in real close, or pull away for a bird's eye view, and you have a whole new environment like you've never seen before.
Using recorded video files and photography, IDEA and Seedlings invite players to explore the real world from brand-new perspectives, and in the process, manifest a unique subtype of the full-motion video (FMV) game genre.
As technology advances, games are getting more photorealistic than ever. But these two upcoming games go a step further, drawing from actual film and photos for their game assets and design.
Unlike the games we'd typically associate with FMV — more in the wheelhouse of Sam Barlow and Half Mermaid’s Immortality, Telling Lies, and Her Story, or the horror-puzzler Simulacra series — IDEA and Seedlings leave acting to the actors and simply use environmental film as an accessible, relatable, and beautiful setting for their stripped-down stories.
In both cases, it results in a whimsical and somewhat sentimental feel as you explore the world through new eyes, whether inhabiting a tiny seed encased in twig-shaped armor in the New Zealand forest or rolling your lightbulb "idea" through a roundabout intersection, bumping into car after car on the way.
Read our thoughts on these casual, ambient games — then get your hands on both! Although technically not a part of the Steam Next Fest, they each have demos out on Steam that you can play right now.
Created and published by Bardsley Creative, Seedlings is a unique botanical adventure set against the lush backdrop of New Zealand's native forest using real photos and videos. It's developed in association with the New Zealand Film Commission's Interactive Development Fund.
You take control of a small green seed and set off on an adventure, trying to make your way through a beautiful but perilous world with whatever tools are available to you. You'll take shelter in what is essentially nature's mecha — teensy little wooden suits of armor that give you legs to jump, slide, launch, and give yourself a boost to higher grounds.
You'll launch yourself onto ledges, hitch a ride up the rough bark of a tree, Tarzan-slide your way down mossy logs, and avoid the hungry beaks of birds in epic chase scenes — and maybe encounter some others who'd seek to collect you from your natural environment.
Each twig suit provides a different ability, like jumping higher or launching further, so there's a bit of a puzzle element in deciding what you need to move onto the next area. Luckily, there are other seedlings out there navigating the world (and tutorializing as you move along). These others will often go on ahead of you and you'll wait for a vacancy, taking turns possessing the suit that will get you where you need to go next.
This show-and-tell element makes it a fairly straightforward and casual playing experience. But there will still be moments where you'll need to think things through — can I make this jump? do I need a launching suit instead, and is there one just out of my line of sight? Or, in my case, jump first and realize your mistake after you're hurtling into a pit of darkness.
The whole experience is set to a relaxing, ambient soundtrack and the noises of the world around you: a pleasing hum of chirping birds, buzzing insects, and bubbling brooks, punctuated by the "pop" of your seed being launched from suit to suit.
For me, as a pretty casual and inexperienced gamer when it comes to platformers, Seedlings is just the right blend of simple and cozy yet full of possible pitfalls and predators (in the demo, we see one of our seedling brethren get snatched up by a bird just ahead of us — rest in peace and thank you for your sacrifice). The demo ends on an interesting cliffhanger involving a more anthropomorphic type of predator, and I'm eager to see what's next for my little sentient seedling and their captured kin.
The Steam page lists its expected release date as February 2023, so we don't have to wait long! Try out the game's short demo (which lasts 15-20 minutes or so) during Steam Next Fest and consider wishlisting it on Steam to follow its development and play it at release.
IDEA: The Game
Two friends and developers, Edu Verz and Arturo Monedero, were conceptualizing their next project during the early COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to create something uplifting with themes of persevering against adverse circumstances. That's when they saw the short film IDEA by Olli Huttunen. The outcome? A game that blends Huttunen's drone-captured award-winning video with the devs' idea of making an app to share anonymous reflections.
That's IDEA: The Game.
Developed and published by TLR Games and published together with Shinyuden, IDEA is one for the Google Maps explorers and the GeoGuessr fiends.
From a top-down perspective on real-world intersections, empty country roads, train tracks, and trash heaps, you'll roll your way through the world as a little white lightbulb "idea," doing your best to keep it moving toward its destination without getting stuck.
You have three opportunities per screen to "bump" your idea with a satisfying bounce, ensuring that it doesn't become stuck on driveways, guardrails, houses, and the like — or use the action to move your idea somewhere gravity can't.
But spend too long on a screen and a timer will run out, shattering your delicate idea before your eyes. You also have a secondary timer; if you haven't reached the destination by the time the song accompanying your journey concludes, you'll have to try again.
On these (in my experience, frequent) occasions, you have the opportunity to leave an idea for yourself and other players, such as a thought, quote, or lyric that you want to share. These will show when you begin a new journey, although they aren't implemented yet in the demo version — meaning, unfortunately for me, no hit of inspiration for those frustrating moments of losing my idea and having to start from square one.
The game, although challenging for me personally, is fun and does live up to its "relaxing" tag in its own way. The journey is beautiful, the music is tranquil, and the premise itself is sentimental. It speaks to the creative experience and almost certainly reflects something the developers have faced before — doing your best to push an idea forward, bumping against obstacles every which way, running out of your limited "energy" to keep from getting stuck, and seeing an idea fizzle out.
Still, the challenging journey makes it that much more satisfying when you somehow manage to succeed. (Once you reach the first destination, the demo will end.)
Like my college preoccupation with Letters to Strangers, or my current day love for the game Different Strokes (worked on by our wonderful artist friend, Rincs!), I've always been a fan of websites, apps, and games where we all can cooperate to create something beautiful. Art, words, and small kindnesses that connect us and remind us of our shared experiences.
From the sound of it, IDEA: The Game aims to emulate that feeling, and if it all comes together, it's bound to be a great experience on top of its unique setting and gameplay.
If it piques your interest, check out the IDEA demo on Steam now and wishlist it!
Keep up with our week of Steam Next Fest coverage right here on Video Games are Good and then once you're done reading... try the demos yourself and consider wishlisting the games we've written about. Wishlisting goes a long way toward supporting indie developers!