AAs a child, Elwin Gorman would take long, winding river hikes in the scenic Murcia region of southern Spain. Attuned to the well-being of the aquatic ecosystem, Gorman Sr., an agent for the Spanish Environment Ministry, was keen to teach his son how to love nature. Naiad is the product of that love, a video game that combines flourishing new age aesthetics with wild swimming. It feels like it’s calming and restoring us in these terribly troubled times.
Gorman’s connection to nature is evident from the first frame of the game, whose name refers to the water nymphs of Greek mythology. Over 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 regenerate an ailing flora. The water shimmers moodily and draws attention just like in real life, and the colors have a gorgeous cartoon pop. The visual style is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s most naturalistic animated films, most notably 2008’s marine classic Ponyo.
Gorman is a solo developer in every sense of the word. He developed the graphics, concept and story, wrote the shaders and custom render pipeline that give Naiad its distinctive look, and self-publishes the game. He also composed all of the quiet new-age music and field recordings procured, which form the foundation of the trickling soundscape. “Walking along the river to absorb the sound of the water helped me enjoy nature even more,” he says.
Fans of more idyllic video games are likely to recognize some of their favorites in Naiad’s DNA, such as the underwater fable Abzû and the walking simulator Proteus. Gorman himself mentions A Short Hike, another relaxing outdoor indie game, and Journey, the classic nonviolent exploration game from thatgamecompany. He says he plays these games from a developer’s perspective, trying to understand how they came to be while admiring their artistry, mysteries and emotional tenor.
And since Naiad’s development began in 2019, Gorman has been remarkably open about the process. On social media, he often shares failed experiments, work-in-progress footage, and more Behind-the-scenes glitches how the game is actually put 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 just the path of developing a game is very hard. I find motivation in sharing small steps every day.”
The game is as frank as its developer. Gorman translates his life-changing nature experiences into virtual form for others to have just a taste of. Naiad is an act of sharing, an invitation into Gorman’s world. “My goal is to do something original,” he says. “Something players have never seen before.”