SAN FRANCISCO — Most video games are about trying your hardest not to die. But in "Xing: The Land Beyond," you're already dead.
Among the many beautiful indie games on display at the Game Developers Conference here this year, "Xing: The Land Beyond" stands out for its beautiful graphics, puzzle-based environmental storytelling and compatibility with the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset.
Developed by the three people that comprise White Lotus Interactive, "Xing: The Land Beyond" just had a successful Kickstarter campaign and was greenlit on the Steam gaming platform. It will launch on PCs and Steam for $15 this summer.
The short demo we played on the GDC show floor gave us no back story or instructions, but it didn't need to: The tomb-like structures dotting our jungle surroundings communicated a somber and ethereal atmosphere.
We eventually arrived at a stone platform on top of which stood two obelisks, one with a sun inscribed on it, the other with a moon. Nearby was a platform that, when we stood on it, changed the environment from day to night. By toggling this control, we were able to position both obelisks to open a gate and progress with the demo.
The lack of words or express instructions made the puzzles more difficult and added to our confusion, but it also enhanced the experience. After all, if you're not sure whether you're alive or dead, wouldn't you be a little bit confused too?
Then we put on an Oculus Rift headset and checked out a demonstration of an underground level of "Xing." In this part, we weren't really playing so much we were as along for the ride, as we found ourselves in a mining cart zooming through a series of underground caverns.
Turning your head while wearing the Oculus Rift lets you examine the lava pools, stalactites and carved statues reminiscent of the Mines of Moria from "The Lord of the Rings."
"Xing" was developed on the Unreal engine, a professional-level 3D game-development tool used on blockbuster games such as "Thief" and the "Mass Effect" games.
We loved the emphasis on puzzle-based gaming and the beautiful environments that communicated a mood and story without ever saying a word. The "Xing" developers say that when the final game comes out, it will have optional Oculus Rift support, but the game is entirely playable without one.