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Shout to the Top in The Game Bakers’ gorgeous survival-climber Cairn

In the upcoming survival-climber game Cairn by French developer The Game Bakers, players step into the role of professional climber Aava, who embarks on a daring ascent of Mount Kami, a summit never before conquered. Along her journey, Aava encounters unexpected companions and will gradually uncover the mountain’s mysterious history. Players are challenged to decide what Aava is willing to sacrifice to achieve her dream.

Creative Director Emeric Thoa, who co-founded The Game Bakers in 2010 with CEO Audrey Leprince, explains the inspiration behind Cairn. “The idea came when thinking about ‘the reasons we (humans) find to do crazy things’. It was fascinating for Audrey and me that some people feel the absolute need to risk their lives climbing mountains for no reason. We thought it was a cool concept for a game about the search for freedom.”

The Game Bakers, based in Montpellier, France, are known for their self-funded and self-published approach, working remotely with collaborators worldwide. Their previous titles, such as the intense boss-fight game Furi and the romantic space RPG Haven, have established them as innovative storytellers. Cairn is envisioned as the conclusion of a trilogy about freedom: after exploring themes of living free in Furi and loving who you want in Haven, Cairn delves into the freedom to overcome personal limitations through the ascent of an unconquered summit.

Shout to the Top

One of the most significant challenges in developing Cairn has been creating the climbing system. “Creating the climbing system was really a challenge, and the biggest challenge is that it’s so complex that when we add something in the game we often break something else that was working before, and we don’t know why,” Thoa says. “This makes the development process quite exhausting as we have to test a lot and do a lot of investigation. But it’s worth it!” This intricate system transforms each wall into a boss fight, requiring players to manage resources such as pitons, chalk, finger tape, food, water, and medicine to survive the arduous climb.

The game’s trailer features Aava’s shouts of exertion as she struggles to reach the top. “It is indeed a feature in the game. The shouting and effort sounds are really a part of the climbing experience. It also serves as feedback for the player to better understand the state of fatigue of the character. It’s really unique and makes you feel the pain and efforts alpinism requires.”

Climb anywhere

Beyond the innovative climbing mechanics, Thoa is particularly proud of a feature that visually tracks the player’s progress. “Aside from the climbing system, the fact that you can see your path, your route, where you fell, where you saved, where you planted a piton, is really interesting. It tells ‘your’ unique story in the mountain.” This element of the game and the fact that you can climb anywhere you want, makes Cairn highly replayable. The additional Expedition Mode allows players to freely climb Mount Kami and other rock faces as well.

The term ‘cairn’ refers to a man-made pile of stones used to mark a place, which is cleverly integrated into the game’s mechanics. “In all our games we had a feature that ‘leaves a mark behind you’. Cairns are a bit like that, a symbol that you have been there. In the game, they are used as save points.”

Proud of the innovation

Visually, Cairn is breathtaking, featuring stunning vistas that highlight the untouched beauty of the natural surroundings and the intimate struggles of Aava as she carefullly charts her path up the mountain. “We are working with Mathieu Bablet, a French comic artist, who has a very distinctive style in 2D,” Thoa explains. “With our tech art director Anthony Beyer, we tried to be close to his 2D style as well as use some unique 3D features to create an outstanding mood.” 

Reflecting on the development process, Thoa shares a key lesson learned. “Creating a game system and a control scheme that doesn’t exist, makes it hard for people to understand what the game is, and if they will like it. When hearing about Cairn, most people don’t know how the game works and can’t understand that you can actually climb anywhere and control your two arms and two legs. In a way, it’s easier to make a game that resembles another. But we’re proud of the innovation and looking forward to having players actually play Cairn.”

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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