During a hectic afternoon at WASD, I find myself marooned on a mythical island. Polygon Treehouse’s Mythwrecked is a small pocket of calm in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the convention floor, and I’m enveloped in the sound of seafoam and a gentle harp as I befriend amnesiac gods, pick through abandoned ruins, and feed dried dates to seagulls. Afterwards, I catch up with creative director Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou to talk myth and modernity.
From blockbuster action-adventure game God of War to roguelike indie darling Hades, there’s no question that the Greek pantheon is a veritable playground for character design in videogames. However, Polygon Treehouse promises a very different interpretation. “Even though they are gods, we wanted them to feel human,” Kanaris-Sotiriou explains. While Mythwrecked aligns closer to games like Animal Crossing, its gods are conduits to explore serious modern issues – from work addiction to anger management. Instead of putting them on a plinth, Polygon Treehouse allows them to be flawed and relatable.
This sentiment continues through their visual design, which showcases a diversity of body types, silhouettes, and color schemes. On Ambrosia Island, Hephaestus’ mythological chariot becomes a modern-day wheelchair, and Hermes rocks a dad bod over the stereotypically slender look. “We see people of all different shapes and sizes – why is that not being represented?” Kanaris-Sotiriou asks. “To truly have characters that you connect with on an emotional level, you have to be able to connect to them and see an element of your own life reflected back at you.”
Myths are a powerful human tool to make sense of the world, and Kanaris-Sotiriou divulges that Mythwrecked itself emerged from the studio’s emotional response to Covid. The struggles of self-isolation during that period fuelled an escapist dream of “being able to go somewhere on a holiday, make new friends, and reunite a family” – no doubt the very same sentiment that had us all reaching for the Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons back in 2020.
Polygon Treehouse is a champion of holistic storytelling, and this design philosophy – first established during the studio’s debut title, the quiet and poignant adventure game Röki – is in no small part responsible for Mythwrecked’s post-Covid community spirit. “With Röki, we realized that an object isn’t just an object – it can be emotionally charged.”
In Mythwrecked, objects are pivotal to progress. Familiar exploration mechanics such as an item radar are paired with a topic-driven dialogue system that invites me to forge connections with the divine. I take the time to cultivate my friendship with Hermes by tracking down his mementos – a satchel and a pair of well-worn sandals, naturally – and go out of my way to fulfill small favors for him on my travels. In return, he conjures up some firewood to give my makeshift camp a homely glow.
As Hermes warms up to me, he becomes willing to delve into topics of conversation that unnerve him. “The exploration and storytelling are very much linked together,” Kanaris-Sotiriou explains. “You’re not just going from A to B – it’s the whole journey. Everything is alive, everything is reactive.”
This extends to Ambrosia Island itself. It’s a dynamic story sandbox, which Kanaris-Sotiriou appropriately likens to “a block of marble that you’re gradually chiseling away at and revealing the story.” As I investigate esoteric points of interest, I shore up new lines of inquiry to bring to my new pals. The island’s day-night cycle also presents new opportunities; crates of decor items are washed ashore overnight, which I use to spruce up the abandoned lighthouse I’ve already started to call home.
As I finally earn Hermes’ trust enough to gain passage further inland, I’m struck by Mythwrecked’s core conceit of cooperation as the key to progress. While the talent at Polygon Treehouse has ample experience working on FPS games like the Killzone series, it’s clear that a non-violent approach is critical to the studio’s ethos.
“I think it’s important to have a sense of adventure, exploration, and discovery without having to beat people up. We wanted the tone of [Mythwrecked] to be like a Saturday morning cartoon,” Kanaris-Sotiriou remarks, invoking the likes of Steven Universe, Asterix, and Tintin. “It’s not without peril, but it feels welcoming.”
Mythwrecked is slated for release in Q3 2024, but a demo is currently available on Steam if you can’t wait to meet the gods and uncover the mysteries of Ambrosia Island, On that note, we’ve also got a whole host of relaxing game recommendations, as well as a broader list of upcoming games to look forward to in the coming months.