AAs a child, Elwin Gorman took long, winding river rides in the scenic region of Murcia in southern Spain. Gorman senior, an agent for the Spanish Ministry of the Environment, was sensitive to the well-being of the aquatic ecosystem and eager to teach his son to love the natural world. Naiad, a video game where flowery new age aesthetics meet wild swimming, is the product of that love. It seems designed to soothe and restore us in these horribly turbulent times.
Gorman’s penchant for nature can be seen from the game’s very first image, the name of which refers to the water nymphs of Greek mythology. On a three-hour journey, you navigate the gentle currents of a single river, solve environmental puzzles, meet a cast of human and non-human characters, and even sing to regenerate diseased flora. The water shimmers evocatively, catching the eye just like in real life, and the colors have a great cartoonish pop. The visual style is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s more naturalistic animated films, especially its 2008 ocean classic, Ponyo.
Gorman is a solo developer in the truest sense of the word. He designed the art, concept, and story, wrote the shaders and custom rendering pipeline that gives Naiad its striking look, and self-edited the game. He also composed all the serene new age music and created the field recordings that form the foundation of the streaming 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 recognize a few of their favorites in Naiad’s DNA, like the undersea fable Abzû and the 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 made while admiring their artistry, secrets, and emotional content.
And since Naiad’s development began in 2019, Gorman has been remarkably open about the process. On social networks, he often shares failed experiments, work in progress 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 difficult. I find motivation in sharing small steps every day.
The game is as open as its developer. Gorman translates his life-changing nature experiences into virtual form so others can enjoy just a taste. Naiad is an act of sharing, an invitation into the world of Gorman. “My goal is to do something original,” he says. “Something players have never seen before.”