Nothing lasts forever. That is the central thesis at the heart of Quiet as a Stone, a new countryside exploration and creation sim in development over on itch.io. It is a game about capturing the small moments, encouraging you to take your time and savour your tranquil surroundings.
The creator, Richard Whitelock, describes the game on its official website as “What if Diablo 3 was an art application?” and “What would atmospheric pinball be like?” A more fitting (albeit much duller) description, however, would be to call it a photography game with creative elements. Depending on how you play, it’s the equivalent of admiring a gorgeous view, or landscaping a small plot of land. It’s about taking notice of your surroundings, appreciating aesthetics, and acknowledging that your influence over the world is only temporary.
In Quiet as a Stone, you can select between a few different sites to build on. These are small floating islands with their own distinguishable features. For example, they have their own starting time of day and unique climates to set them apart, as well as props.
Moving the mouse around, you click on rocks on the ground to break them open and cut down grass to discover new trees, ruins, and gems to build with. As long as you have the required number of gems you can resize any of the objects you find in the world, as well as duplicate and reposition them to create your scene.
Then, once you’re done, you have two options for what you can do next. You can either sit back and admire your creation, or take a picture and share it online.
I spent hours toying around with the different building materials and discovering new objects, creating picturesque scenes while enjoying the ambient sounds flowing from my headphones. As you place items, your actions produce a selection of comforting sounds, giving you a lovely bit of feedback and adding a tangible heft to the world. Rocks crack, gems tinkle, and trees will root themselves with a thud. There’s also a day-to-night cycle, as well as an evolving weather system too producing ambient noise: rain pattering on hard earth, or the whoosh of wind passing through trees.
As well as new objects to build with, you can also sometimes discover magical items hidden among the verdant foliage and inside of rocks. These produce different effects. You can use them to light up the environment, add mist and stars, and make grass sprout from the earth. These interactions are fun, and give you even more customisability over your surroundings. You can use them to spotlight certain areas of land or to add temporary effects for photos.
The game has no save feature, meaning you can’t return to your creations after exiting. This might sound like a nuisance, and I suppose in some ways it is. But it also gives these worlds a certain atmosphere, and their transience provokes the player to reflect on these environments before leaving, and make sure to capture images with the in-game camera.
Before I exited a given session, I spent a lot of time setting up the perfect shot and framing the parts of the map I was most proud of, knowing full well that I could never return there again. It made me appreciate the work that I’d put in while shaping the plot of land, and goaded me on to make sure I captured the best possible shots before waving goodbye.
Whitelock is a professional photographer, and this shows in both the photography aspect of the game and its central ethos. The photography options are incredibly robust, giving you the ability to change the focal ratio, alter the lens length, and put multiple filters over your photos. This means you can spend a long time messing around with the settings to produce unique images of your environmental vignettes.
If you’ve ever taken a photograph, either professionally or as hobby, you’ll easily settle into the game’s slow pace and the joy intrinsic to to composing and finally capturing an image. There’s a lot of waiting involved, some trial-and-error, but when you finally succeed, there's enormous satisfaction in crafting what feels like a memento of your time.
My experience of playing changed over time. A lot of the earlier photos I took were absolutely terrible. They were ugly: too dark, out of focus, bad angles, the works. Hey, I was just getting the hang of the options. But when I became more comfortable with the capabilities and it all finally clicked (sorry) I was suddenly capturing some beautiful shots, and switching between filters, ratios, and lighting to evoke whatever moods I felt a place had.
Quiet as a Stone isn’t a game you blast through, or finish in any sense. There aren’t really any goals and your appreciation will depend on how interested you are in both photography and nature. It is a great game for a lazy day, built to be fiddled with and enjoyed over hours with cups of tea and several breaks. I enjoy leaving it run in the background while I do other things, popping in to mess around then out then in again. You could even argue the game encourages this playstyle, with the weather conditions and day-and-night cycle requiring you prepare and wait for the perfect conditions.
Video game photo modes are more common in recent times, a great trend that will hopefully continue. These modes allow players to slow down and appreciate the work a developer has put in, as well as notice smaller details in the game’s world. Quiet as a Stone hands you the tools to change your environment, as well as a camera, and then has that odd touch of impermanence cast over the whole thing. The work you’re celebrating and documenting here feels as much yours as the creators, and these shots of vanished worlds acquire a poignance no save file would match.