AAs a child, Elwin Gorman took long, winding river walks in the picturesque region of Murcia in southern Spain. Gorman senior, an agent for the Spanish Ministry of the Environment, was attuned to the well-being of the aquatic ecosystem and was eager to teach his son to love the natural world. Naiad, a video game that brings together floral New Age aesthetics and wild swimming, is the product of that love. It feels designed to calm and recover us in these terribly choppy times.
Gorman’s love of nature is apparent from the very first frame of the game, whose name refers to the water nymphs of Greek mythology. During a three-hour journey, you’ll navigate the gentle currents of a single river, solve environmental puzzles, meet a cast of human and non-human characters, and even sing to restore diseased flora. The water shimmers suggestively and draws attention just like in real life, and the colors have a beautiful cartoon-like pop. The visual style is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s most naturalistic animated films, especially the 2008 oceanic classic Ponyo.
Gorman is a solo developer in the truest sense of the word. He came up with the art, concept and story, wrote the shaders and custom render pipeline that give Naiad his standout appearance, and self-publishes the game. He also composed all the serene new age music and shot the field recordings that form the basis of the trickling soundscape. “Going up the river to absorb the sound of water allowed me to enjoy nature even more,” he says.
Fans of more rural video games will likely recognize some of their favorites in Naiad’s DNA, such as underwater fable Abzû and walking simulator Proteus. Gorman himself calls A Short Hike, another relaxing indie endeavor set in the great outdoors, as well as Thatgamecompany’s classic nonviolent exploration game, Journey. He says he plays these games from a developer’s perspective, trying to understand how they’re made while admiring their art, secrets, and emotional tenor.
And since the beginning of Naiad’s development in 2019, Gorman has been remarkably open about the process. On social media, he often shares failed experiments, work-in-progress material and glitches behind the scenes how the game works. “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 to just making a game is very difficult. I find motivation in sharing small steps every day.”
The game is as candid as the developer. Gorman translates his life-changing experiences of nature into virtual form for others to enjoy. Naiad is an act of sharing, an invitation into Gorman’s world. “My goal is to make something original,” he says. “Something players have never seen before.”