Naiad: a game about wild swimming that’s to dive for

Spanish developer Elwin Gorman’s upcoming video game Naiad brings us all the serenity and joy of wild swimming without a Dryrobe in sight

As a child, Elwin Gorman would go on long, winding river walks in the picturesque region of Murcia in southern Spain. Gorman senior, an agent for the Spanish environmental ministry, was attuned to the wellbeing of the watery ecosystem, and keen to teach his son how to love the natural world. Naiad, a video game where florid new age aesthetics meet wild swimming, is the product of that love. It feels designed to soothe and restore us in these horribly choppy times.

Gorman’s fondness for nature is visible from the very first frame of the game, whose name refers to the water nymphs of Greek mythology. Across a three-hour journey, you navigate the gentle currents of a single river, solving environmental puzzles, meeting a cast of human and non-human characters, even singing to regenerate ailing flora. The water shimmers evocatively, drawing the eye just as it would in real life, and the colours have a gorgeous cartoonish pop. The visual style recalls Studio Ghibli’s most naturalistic animated films, particularly its 2008 oceanic classic, Ponyo.

Gorman is a solo developer in the true sense of the term. He has devised the art, concept, and story, written the shaders and custom render pipeline that gives Naiad its striking look, and is self-publishing the game. He has also composed all of the serene new age music and sourced the field recordings that form the bedrock of the trickling soundscape. “Going out along the river to record the sound of water helped me enjoy nature even more,” he says.

Fans of more bucolic video games will likely recognise a few of their favourites in Naiad’s DNA, such as underwater fable Abzû and walking simulator Proteus. Gorman himself mentions A Short Hike, another relaxing indie effort set in the great outdoors, as well as thatgamecompany’s classic non-violent exploration game, Journey. He says he plays these games from a developer’s perspective, trying to understand how they were created while admiring their art, secrets and emotional tenor.

And since the beginning of Naiad’s development in 2019, Gorman has been remarkably open about the process. On social media, he often shares failed experiments, work-in-progress material, and behind-the-scenes breakdowns of how the game is actually pieced together. “So many developers, like Playdead [maker of indie hits Limbo and Inside], don’t talk about a game until it’s released,” he says. “But the path of creating a game alone is very hard. I find motivation in sharing little steps every day.”

The game is as open-hearted as its developer. Gorman is translating his life-altering experiences of nature into virtual form so that others may enjoy just a taste of it. Naiad is an act of sharing, an invitation into Gorman’s world. “My goal is to make something original,” he says. “Something that players have never seen before.”

Lewis Gordon

The GuardianTramp

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