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How good does it look? It's up in the AER.

If I had to highlight the most exciting game I saw at GDC on the first day of the con, it would be Swedish game developer forgottenkey's AER, an exploratory game with stealth and puzzle elements built around the idea of flight. The gameplay I saw of AER was very early (it's targeting a 2016 release), and visually sits somewhere between El Shaddai and Okami, with broad gestural shapes and impressionistic visuals. 

Robin Hjelte, forgottenkey's CEO, gave me a quick demo of the game, launching the female protagonist into the air where she transformed into a bird, and began to fly her around the seven or eight floating islands in the area while filling me in on the story. He told me you begin in The Land of the Gods, but when it's discovered that your character can change into a bird, you are sent on a traditional pilgrimage. This is due to the last person with this ability having gone on a quest to save the world, but only being partially successful; instead of the world being destroyed it was flung up into floating islands. Hjelte remarked wryly that this was, "better than oblivion." I got the distinct impression that saving the world might be the unfinished job you'd need to fill out. 

Hjelte mentioned that the game world would be 10-13 times the size of its current scope, which would make for an impressive playground. Shortly after, he landed and showed me some of the models for early-game interactions, like the environment reacting to the player and an encounter with a two-tailed fox with whom the character can speak. Another special ability the player has allows them speak to animals as a "whisperer." While the charming exploration and gameplay were fun, it was when Hjelte had the avatar enter one of the cave-like temples that the game really seemed to take off.

The temple interior made up for its sparsity with architectural grandeur, which was not only larger than some of the islands but intricately designed. Though not implemented in the build I saw, Hjelte emphasized the stealth-based gameplay of this section and how the player would have to navigate around Temple Guardians. The use of the player's magic lantern would not only light dark areas but also fill in the back story of the world. The lantern also acts a kind of key to open up new platforming areas (in the temples you can't fly) or bridges.

Afterward Hjelte gave me a chance to fly around the islands and experiment with transforming into a bird. Controls were breezy and intuitive. While the version of AER I saw was very early, I remarked that it had a feel similar to Zelda-style exploration, with Journey-inspired visuals and gameplay. This delighted both Hjelte and the guys from Daedalic, who told me this was design direction Hjelte had when he first pitched the game. Not a bad rep for forgottenkey to have moving forward, especially since Hjelte let slip their studio is currently just six people. 

AER is aiming for release in 2016 on PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, and if the development matches the promise of this early demo, it'll be one to watch. 

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