Leaving home for the first time can be a fraught experience. The freedom of independent life wars with the weight of responsibility and this conflict gives birth to a vast array of emotions, ranging from hopefulness to sadness, excitement to anxiety. Similarly, family, friends, and acquaintances may respond to departure in various ways: offering support, expressing bitterness at being left behind, or celebrating the promise of the future. For both the individual and the people that surround them, the process of saying farewell to a childhood home brings forth a tumult of feelings.
With its portrayal of a young woman setting out from home for the first time in search of greener pastures, Leaving Lyndow, the debut game from Eastshade Studios, aims to capture this confused melange of optimism and uncertainty.
“It’s a coming of age story, and I think it will remind people of what a big life change feels like,” says the game’s director and Eastshade Studios’s founder, Danny Weinbaum. “[Clara] is leaving the only place she’s ever known, and will live on a ship. She’s sad to leave behind relationships, nervous to venture into the unfamiliar, but still optimistically dreaming about what the future may hold.”
Leaving Lyndow is a first-person narrative adventure, built in the same vein as Firewatch or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but, unlike many other games of its ilk, it is less about unravelling a mystery and more about presenting a character and moment in time: Clara and her farewell to the past. In order to give the experience more emotional weight, Clara will have the chance to interact with a diverse array of characters, including “a doting mother, a supportive boyfriend, a discouraging uncle, a jealous classmate, a sentimental friend, an oblivious nephew, and a few other characters.”
Though its cast seems large, Leaving Lyndow is, in fact, a bite-sized adventure, and much shorter than all but the briefest games. With the game lasting only an hour, Weinbaum says that his intention was to make something that could be enjoyed “like a cup of coffee. You sip for a bit and then it’s gone, and you’re buzzing from it for the next few hours.”
Indeed, the desire to craft and release a small game, in order to gather launch experience ahead of the developer’s major project Eastshade, was the first factor that led to the creation of Leaving Lyndow. Weinbaum was “terrified of botching the release [of Eastshade, and] really didn’t want to do early access.”
While the business-based rationale behind this decision may beget cynicism and a belief that the artistic integrity of the endeavour is compromised, Weinbaum insists that this is not the case:
“I’ve been wanting to make a small game for a long time now, but ultimately never pulled the trigger on any ideas because I didn’t have that burning inspiration required to get the ball rolling. When the idea for Leaving Lyndow came to me, I was in tears with excitement (sometimes I cry when I get excited I know it’s weird), and I stayed up until 6 am trying to slap together a rough prototype to show my teammates what I had in mind. I hadn’t felt that excited about something in a long time. When a decision seems that right, and when your girlfriend, your mother, your brother, your former boss, all your teammates, all your friends and all your former colleagues agree it’s a good idea, you know it’s the right decision.”
Despite this sentiment, the build-up for Leaving Lyndow has been very low-key, announced less than a month out from release with only a single pre-release trailer and a handful of environmental screenshots to let people know of the game’s existence. The lack of press attention, however, is not meant to suggest that the team has lost its enthusiasm for the project; instead, it is for the fans who have already waited so long for Eastshade’s release.
A long, strong build-up, says Weinbaum, may well have led to fans thinking, “’Okay but where’s Eastshade?’” and such a sentiment could only result in a negative impact to both Eastshade and Leaving Lyndow. As such, the smaller game is meant as “a happy surprise, not something fans feel like they have to wait through before getting to what they were initially excited for.”
Leaving Lyndow is also a taster of things to come, though Weinbaum takes pains to express that it is not a demo for Eastshade. The two projects may share a setting, but the gameplay and guiding philosophy of the two are almost polar opposites. Eastshade is an RPG in a world of stories, but Leaving Lyndow is a single “very authored” story, so different in narrative design that it offers no real hint of what to expect from Eastshade, though the quality of the writing and overall experience will, no doubt, set fan expectations.
For now, though, the focus for Eastshade Studios is ensuring a smooth release for Leaving Lyndow and gauging fan reactions to this debut title. Weinbaum admits that it is not a perfect game—“There’s some things we wish we’d done, some small bugs we didn’t get to, and some aspects we wish we could have executed better”—but the achievement of having completed production overrides any regrets.
With Leaving Lyndow now available to the public, and attracting considerable praise, the future once again begins to beckon.
Finishing Eastshade is the next major project for the team, and Weinbaum says that the almost-six-month break dedicated to the production of Leaving Lyndow has “rekindled [his] passion”:
“I feel my perspective has recentered, and I’m once again burning to get back to the hugely exciting and massive island of Eastshade, with a better code base, more assets, more experience, and a more fleshed out world narratively. I’d say the whole team is feeling this rekindled energy. It almost feels like Eastshade 2 for us, I know that’s weird to say since it’s still the first one, but that’s what stepping away from something for a while can do.”
Taking a break from a long-term task can be invigorating, but having insight into a long-awaited project can be even more so. Leaving Lyndow offers just such an opportunity for fans of Eastshade.
“For three years we’ve been building a place. With Leaving Lyndow we want to invite people in for a short visit.”
This visit will certainly not be the last one. Although the future of Eastshade Studios is not yet decided, Weinbaum does suggest the possibility of further expansions to the beautiful, fascinating universe that Leaving Lyndow acts as an introduction to:
“I’m not tired of the Eastshade world yet though. Sometimes people can get burned out on something and desperately want to move on, and I’m not even close to there yet.”
The path ahead for Eastshade Studios is unclear, and that puts the team in much the same league as Clara, setting forth on a journey which could end in either success, disaster, or anything in between. Players will never experience Clara’s journey away from home, which makes the time they do spend with her, reminiscing and saying goodbye, all the more personal.
“In Lyndow you are Clara, and today you must leave on a boat.”
Leaving Lyndow is available on Steam.