Much to his surprise, Kevin Sullivan has been reading all the comments recently. As the creative director and writer on Season – the gorgeous, Ghibli-esque ‘adventure bicycle road trip game’ teased at The Game Awards last month – he has every reason to. Underneath IGN’s upload of the trailer alone, you’ll repeatedly see words like “stunning”, “amazing”, “captivating”, and “getting a cozy apocalypse vibe”. If you were showing your cozy, apocalyptic game for the very first time, it’s more or less exactly what you’d hope for.
“The response has been super generous, and really friendly, and quite touching,” Sullivan tells me on a video call. “Because there’s not a lot of context and the teaser is basically a minute long.” He laughs and gives an unexpectedly neat explanation of quite how good those comments have been: “My mom reads the comments on Season stuff. I don’t think people on the internet are thinking that these people’s moms are reading this.”
He stops himself for a moment and adds some sage advice: “Before you post the comment, imagine that the person’s mom reads it.”
Delighted mothers aside, perhaps the most interesting thing about that warm reception, though, is how little was shown of the game itself to provoke that response. From the teaser, the official website from developer Scavengers Studio, and a PS Blog post, we can surmise that Season revolves around cycling through a world on the brink of a cataclysm, and recording its culture and nature using a video camera, a tape recorder, and a sketchbook. That’s about it.
And that haziness of concept is what makes up what you might call the second layer of Season comments – people love the vibe, and the suggestions as to what it might be, but they also really want to know what kind of game Season will be beneath that sun-dappled veneer (myself included, thus the call).
Sullivan’s noticed a very particular split in the guesses around that gameplay: “When I’m reading the YouTube comments, people seem to either think that it’s like Breath of the Wild, or that it’s like Journey,” he explains. “And it’s in between.”
When I’m reading the YouTube comments, people seem to either think that it’s like Breath of the Wild, or that it’s like Journey. And it’s in between.
“We’re an indie studio, the emphasis is really more on the quality. Everything you’re doing has a heightened attention in the way of, like, a Journey, but it’s not that linear, or that strict. It’s not a AAA open world game and it’s also not a corridor art game. It’s in between.” The idea (and this is more intuition from me than information from Sullivan) seems to be that you’ll be travelling through a world with a start, and end, and a road to travel down, but with the ability to take your own detours along the way.
Another common response to the teaser has been to guess that this will be something like Gone Home, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, or other games about soaking up the story of a world, more than interacting with it. Sullivan’s far more straightforward about that perception:
“I guess I’d say, given that we made [Battle Royale game] Darwin Project, we have a lot of gameplay-oriented developers on the project. It’s not going to be a walking simulator – as much as I love those games where there’s no gameplay.”
As if to prove that this is a mechanically sound game as much as it is a story to tell, Sullivan tells me he’s been working on this idea since 2016 and that the team, “just did whatever we could to try to articulate what the game would be like even before stepping into the engine at all.” Sullivan created video essays to convince his colleagues of its base idea, built mood videos out of movie influences to set tone, and even went as far as working with the production director to build a fully functional board game version, to demonstrate how it could work in practice. “It got to the point where it was almost D&D style,” he explains. “I needed to be there administering the board game.”
That doesn’t mean it’s merely a case of bringing that physical game to virtual life, however. Sullivan makes extremely clear, repeatedly, that Season is mid-development, and that many ideas are still being finessed and worked out behind the scenes at Scavengers. However, he offers enough details to build a much clearer picture of what this could end up looking like.
While story specifics remain unknown, you’ll set off through Season’s world, exploring its various locations, meeting its inhabitants and using the aforementioned recording tools to document what you find – each of which will require different gameplay mechanics to use. You’ll also have choices to make along the way that will determine what you can record. The quest at the heart of all of this is to learn the history of this world, uncover its hidden stories, and preserve them after the end of the titular season, when a still-unspecified catastrophe arrives and, according to the game’s website, “washes everything away”.
It’s not going to be a walking simulator – as much as I love those games where there’s no gameplay.
Sullivan says the game was partly inspired by his own travels through Asia, trying to make sense of places he visited and things he saw, while being unable to speak the language. “There’s basically these levels of mystery and story that are going on that you’re trying to unfold and understand,” he explains. “Your mission of recording stuff and talking to people is how you uncover that history. There’s things that are happening in the present that are important, and there are things that have happened there in the past that are important, and you’re uncovering that. As much as it is like a road trip, it’s more like the idea of being a stranger in a strange land and trying to understand and do something there. It’s not just blowing past stuff on a bike and being like, ‘That looks cool. That looks cool.’”
It’s also been inspired by a real-world fear of climate change, and how the very places he’s travelled to, and the things he saw there, could one day be washed away themselves, leaving only memories and chosen recordings behind. Sullivan refers to Season as a pre-apocalyptic game, and you might think the incoming cataclysm, and the in-built time limit implied by the game’s name, could make this something like a narrative roguelike, asking you to make choices, find new things, and piece together the world’s story over multiple runs.
“That’s definitely not the core idea,” says Sullivan when I put that interpretation to him. “We’re attentive to people’s time and trying to just get to what we want people to feel as directly and strongly as possible. If you play through it once, you’ll get what you’re supposed to get, but there are definitely choices you’ll make where you want to know what would happen otherwise.” He stops for a second and jokes, “Given the theme of the project, ideally the game would delete itself off of your computer when you play it once.”
Everything Sullivan tells me builds a picture of a one-off idea built out of true passion for the subject – something he’s thought about making for half a decade, drawing up ideas in the gaps allowed between other work. “We spent a long time building the world of Season,” he tells me, “and then everything came together to make it a reality in the last few years.” So, after all that planning, what made now the right time?
That choice comes down in part to Scavengers’ current choice of platforms, with next-gen tech allowing for Season to emerge without the compromise it might have required a year or two ago (although, it must be said, Sullivan doesn’t rule out thinking about other platforms down the line).
“We’re focused on the PS5 and the PC because it really will let us give the best experience possible,” he explains. “There’s always a tradeoff in everything, especially in a game that’s visually oriented in a lot of ways and also has exploration in it. Having the processing power of a PS5 is a huge relief because it changes everything with optimization and the way we’re able to lay out the maps. We want to make the best looking, smoothest and most immersive experience we can.”
People seem to really get the tone, the mood, and the feeling that we’re trying to evoke.
It will likely be some time before we get to play through that experience ourselves – Sullivan and Scavengers are very much not talking about a release date right now – but it’s been an encouraging start for the team making Season.
“It’s scary to put something out into the world that doesn’t have a lot of context,” says Sullivan, thinking back to the feeling of seeing that first teaser go out, “because the mystery of it could be construed in all kinds of different ways – but people seem to really get what we were hoping it would establish, which is the tone, the mood, and the feeling that we’re trying to evoke.”
Given what we’ve now learned about Season, it feels almost appropriate – almost like practice – that so much of its introduction to the world has involved decoding messages about the kind of game it aims to be. I can’t help but think that, when Scavengers can show more, we’ll be revelling in more clues, more mysteries, and getting closer to the heart of where this adventure will take us, and what we’ll discover along the way.