The 5* Shangri-La Hotel, The Shard, London. 34 floors up one of the tallest buildings in Europe. A beautifully clear day on which to enjoy perfect views of the city around me. No, this isn’t me talking about my holidays. In fact this is where I was invited to meet the CEO of No Brakes Games and lone developer of Human Fall Flat, Tomos Sakalauskas. As locations to play any upcoming game go, this was a spectacular one. For a game which is all about falling through dream worlds however, it simply couldn’t have been more spectacular and appropriate.
Human Fall Flat is a physics puzzle platformer which takes place across the many dreamscapes of Bob. Bob is a normal guy with no special powers or equipment, relying purely on your wits and creativity to escape these unusual landscapes. The game is totally open for you to find your own ways to complete each level, and the more time you spend searching the more secrets you might find around them. Achievement hunters will be pleased to hear that there are plenty to collect for those willing to dedicate their creative willpower to the cause. Local multiplayer fans will be even more thrilled, as not only is the feature in the game, it is also necessary to access some of its harder to reach areas. However you choose to play, clearly there is plenty to do in Human Fall Flat.
The game isn’t just for the completionists out there. Even if you don’t want to play every level a hundred times to find all of its secrets there is a lot of fun to be had. In fact, the game has been actively tailored to be the experience that gamers wanted it to be. Back when Human Fall Flat was just a small project for Tomos, he made it freely available to play online in order to get people’s feedback. His concept was a Portal-like game in terms of visuals and storyline, using gameplay which allowed you to freely control your character. As its popularity rapidly rose, Tomos realised that his original idea for a linear game wasn’t the best format for his project to adapt, and began to morph it into its more open final form. There are still similarities there, and noticeable resemblances to other Unity titles such as Gang Beasts are also clear. As similar as it is in some of its features however, Human Fall Flat is unique.
It is easy to say a game is very original, but Human Fall Flat is just that in its purest form. As we played though the game, Tomos described to me his design process, and for a one-person project he has done mind-blowingly well. Every object in the game has been designed by Tomos, by hand. Without prior knowledge of how to do this, he taught himself the ropes as he went along, and yet everything you come across on the various different levels looks remarkably professional. In his own words; “when I wanted to make a tree, I had to go online and look for ‘how to make a tree’ and then try to do it”. It is hard to believe when you look at the results. The individual physics of objects has been remarkably well put together as well. The setting of dreamscapes has allowed him to test his newly-developed abilities in a wide variety of different locations and situations too. Every level has unique interactive objects and physics to apply to them. The game allows you to explore scenes such as castles, dry docks and building sites, fully controlling catapults, massive container ships and giant cranes respectively as you go. Human Fall Flat achieves more than some AAA titles even manage to, purely thanks to Tomos seeing no feature as too big or too difficult to implement.
Controlling the game is a bizarre learning curve. The reason it is so unusual is that the difficult bit comes in trying to use your arms. Each of Bob’s arms is controlled individually, and that takes some getting your head around. The direction that the camera is pointing in is the direction that your arms reach out in when you hit the respective triggers (when using a controller). It is an unusual setup and certainly isn’t the best one I have experienced in a game, but it does work well enough for Human Fall Flat. For example, if you want to push a button, you just look at the object and hit it. If you want to do something more complicated like climb, you look up first, grab the ledge, and then look down to push your arms down and lift your body. It is simple but clever and effective, and once you figure it out it is easy to make your way around each level. The same goes for manipulating world objects. You can easily push and pull objects like crates and carts to help you navigate to new areas. The only other things you need to do are walk and jump; it’s as simple as that.
Human Fall Flat takes a simple concept and design and makes it interactive and fun. The build I played was not the finished product, but it showed how ambition and dedication can create something engaging and entertaining, even from just a single developer. After playing the game for a while, I spoke to Tomos about his game’s future post-release. At present the game is eight levels long, some of which are much longer than others as you progress through them. I asked if we could look forward to more to come, but the fair and honest answer was “first I want to have a break” from Tomos. He did however elude to either DLC or sequel games offering us more insights into Bob’s dreams down the line. The console release of the game, which is expected to be towards the end of the year, is being ported at present by the publishers at Curve Digital, who have had plenty of insight into the original code that Tomos has created and are confident that everything is on track and ok. One other question I put to Tomos however was whether or not we could expect any VR support for Human Fall Flat in the future. His response; “I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose it might be possible”, looking over to Curve‘s representative who confirmed the concept had potential. No official affirmation of the idea was given, but the idea certainly isn’t off the table just yet.
The biggest disappointment of my Human Fall Flat preview was that I had to leave and it would be several hours before I could get home and play the game again. I was completely captured by the tranquil yet hilarious freedom that the game offered, and playing alongside Tomos was a great pleasure too. His passion for Human Fall Flat is huge, and the effort that he has put into it reflects that greatly. Personally, I cannot wait to play the final version of his game. Until then, I will enjoy the quirks of the demo build and set out on hunting those achievements down in any way I can!