In recent months, Eric Blumrich has developed an avid following in the Patreon community thanks to Peace Island, an innovative approach to old school puzzle gaming. As the hotly anticipated indie title prepares to enter its beta in the coming months, we had the opportunity to speak to Blumrich about the game’s origins, its development, and the benefits of lounging in the sun.
A Nudge From Gary
Years ago, staring down the barrel of a long-gestating project that looked like it was going nowhere, game designer Eric Blumrich considered throwing in the towel. Like so many promising developers before him, failure was starting to get to him. “I was feeling very down in the dumps,” he explained. “I was wondering if I should just give up on game development, and expect to be a line cook forever.”
That night, Blumrich gave it one last shot. Instead of focusing on entertaining distant strangers, Blumrich aimed a little closer to home. “In 15 minutes, I put together the basic game, ported it to our broken iPad 1, and put it in front of [my cat], Gary. If Gary had just blinked and walked away that night, we would not be having this conversation, now. There would be no Peace Island. As it was, Gary perked up and played with the app for almost an hour.”
That little burst of approval (and from one of nature’s most unabashed critics) was enough to spur Blumrich onward. Two years later, he’s closing in on the beta release of a one-of-a-kind puzzle-adventure: Peace Island.
And we all have Gary to thank.
In Search of the Arm that Feeds Them
One morning, an otherwise docile house cat awakens to find that every human has disappeared from their sleepy island community. Peace Island is the story of that cat’s journey. Along the way, players will make friends with (and take control of) a total of nine different cats as they solve the mystery of the missing people.
“I will unabashedly say that we are inspired by the Myst series,” says Blumrich. “Although we’re not going to be as difficult. My co-developer Laura and I are also huge fans of Monument Valley and The Room.”
Any cat owner knows how easily distracted even the most loyal house cat can be. As a result, Blumrich has planned a variety of side activities like staring at walls, lounging, and knocking mugs and bottles off of flat surfaces are planned for the beta, with more to be added in the future.
What players won’t find as they wander Peace Island are opportunities for violence. With the possible exception of the occasional bug hunt, pacifism is at the core of the game’s experience.
“Non-violence is an incredibly essential part of the emotional palette that games offer,” says Blumrich, “But at the same time, it is woefully underutilized as a core mechanic.
“I am certain we will get some self-appointed internet authorities on the subject ‘Umm-Actually-ing’ us, writing 10,000-word posts about us being hypocritical because the player can hunt the occasional bug. I really, really hope they feel better about themselves after they finish those posts because we think they are absolute wankers.”
Explore as You Will
The opening moments of Peace Island will introduce the game’s story and some base mechanics. After that, however, players are mostly on their own. As Blumrich puts it, “It truly wouldn’t be an open world, if you were relegated to [the initial story]. Quite frankly, we hope that players just decide to stretch their legs, hunt some bugs, lie in the sun, and let the story proceed at a pace that is up to them and them alone.”
That self-propelled pace is underscored by the fact that there are no skill trees to fill out or extra abilities to put to use when advancing the game. “We rejected these within the first week of development,” explains Blumrich. “Using one of these traditional mechanics undercuts one of the core themes of the game: That ordinary individuals, working together, can accomplish the extraordinary.
“When you start the game, you will be one single individual in a world devoid of purpose, beyond your immediate needs. As the game progresses … you will discover how to have more agency. You will know how to enter buildings, activate systems, and the purposes of the strange artifacts left behind by the humans, and maybe use them to accomplish a goal that earlier [in the game], you would have been flummoxed by.”
A Trip to Peace Island
In an industry loaded with games that hinge on brutal violence and straightforward gameplay, Eric Blumrich is trying to do something specific. From the glimpses we’ve seen of Peace Island to date, it looks like he and his modest four-person team may have succeeded. We’ll find out when the beta releases in the next three months.
In the meantime, you can follow Peace Island’s progress and donate to the final product on the project’s Patreon page.