Selfloss is a Slavic-inspired dark fantasy adventure about one man’s journey to cure his soul

By Rachel Watts, Contributor

The exploration adventure game Selfloss begins with the discovery of a devastating act. After a quick dip into an eerie limbo space and a strange encounter with a dying whale, protagonist Kazimir is transported back to the land of the living to set off on a journey. The elderly healer is in search of an ancient ritual to cure a wounded soul, but to find it, he’ll have to traverse a world filled with monsters and magic.

It’s not difficult to read between the lines of its premise. Selfloss may be a fantasy world filled with giant sea creatures, masked gods, and flying whales, but it’s built on a foundation grounded in reality. “The main point of the game is like a big adventure about helping others, but [you’re] also in search of finding the cure for your inner soul,” Goodwin Games founder Alex Goodwin says. “This is a story about accepting the loss of a close one. The title itself—Selfloss—it’s a hint to that feeling of when you’ve lost someone whom you loved very much, you start to lose yourself.”

It’s an epic adventure, one that will take Kazimir to many strange lands, but the scope of the game was originally much smaller. Selfloss started as a side project for Goodwin back in 2015 as he was studying for his bachelor’s degree in computer science. As he progressed into a Ph.D. program, he was still working away at the prototype. During a university Christmas party, a group of drunk colleagues took an interest in the prototype and, after several hours of tinkering (and sobering up), began to make suggestions as to how Goodwin would implement certain systems. 

“I think that was the moment when I felt like, ‘Damn, it’s not a pet project. It can be a real game,’” Goodwin says. 

Goodwin continued to work on the game alone for a handful of years before deciding to expand the team. He scouted Rita Gorokhova (from Tinder of all places), who spent two years revamping the game’s visuals, and was then joined by Dmitriy Nakhabin to help with programming. The team has stayed the same since then, making progress on Selfloss at their studio space in Kazakhstan. 
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Working away into 2020, the team was chosen to be one of the recipients of Epic Games’ MegaGrants program, an initiative to support indie game projects made using Unreal Engine. With a solid team and funding from different investors and initiatives, Selfloss blossomed into a rich, emotional game with a wider scope. 

It’s been years, but the heart of Goodwin’s original idea is still present. Now with funding and a solid team, the world around Kazimir has only grown bigger. When you first venture out from Kazimir’s home, you find big clumps of purple goo choking the landscape. You’ll need to navigate around the affliction with the help of your trusty staff. Its powerful light ray can melt the pulsing miasma, be used to attack enemies, and solve cryptic puzzles. And the way you control the staff makes for some interesting puzzle-solving and combat encounters.

“He’s not a real mage, but he can control this magical staff,” Goodwin says. “The main feature of the staff is that you can control it with the left stick of the GamePad and Kazimir with the right simultaneously [or on PC, the mouse and WASD respectively]. You can leave the staff in a place, and walk somewhere else.”

There’s a lot of puzzle-platforming with the staff's placement mechanic at its core. In one area, I had to cross a pool of poisonous goop, so I planted the staff at one end, shone its beam across the pool to create a pathway, and then recalled the staff with a whistle after I had safely crossed. You’ll regularly be shining rays of light onto strange runes and opening ancient stone doorways by strategically placing and retrieving your staff.

Combat is a little more fiddly than the game’s puzzles, as you need to control the beam of light while making sure Kazimir is out of the line of fire, splitting your attention. Thankfully, you also have a close combat swipe attack and a dodge roll if enemies get too close. During my time playing, I only saw one enemy type—the gloopy, purple humanoids—but the game’s screenshots and trailers showcase bombastic Zelda-style boss fights that require both puzzle-solving and combat.

Selfloss may have these moments of thrill and action, but the game’s fantasy world is a relatively contemplative one. It’s partly inspired by Slavic and Icelandic folklore, and you’ll meet your fair share of giants, elves, and merfolk (even something akin to a Baba Yaga, Goodwin says), but a lot of inspiration has been taken from marine life and seascape iconography. Clumps of coral climb up the side of cliff walls, schools of fish swim through the air like flocks of birds, and there’s an assortment of marine life, like giant turtles and whales, for players to meet. Marine life is so present in the game that it caught the attention of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, an organization dedicated to the conservation of marine animals, which is now collaborating on the game’s development. 
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Selfloss also has its fair share of gods, ghosts, and spirits who all play an important role. From the very start of Kazimir’s journey, you’re introduced to a strange, masked being dressed in a long, white shroud who can seemingly pass through the land of the living and the dead. There’s also Mariana, the Goddess of Death: an imposing figure with a ceremonial headdress and shocking white eyes. 

“She was there since the very first days of development,” Goodwin says. “Before, she played an important part in one of the game mechanics about resurrection, but during development, we cut this mechanic and she became more part of the narrative. She’ll be present throughout the game, but she’s silent, only making gestures.”

The team has dedicated a lot of time to the game’s lore too. Players can find hidden scrolls with short passages of text that delve into the history of this strange world, like explaining the roles of the various gods, the giant’s invasion of the lands, and what role humans play in this realm. One special snippet of lore details how the world began, and it’s one of many moments where things start to shift into place.

“In the world of Selfloss, there’s the great ocean, above all; it’s like heaven, but it’s an ocean with one single giant whale floating there,” Goodwin says. “One day, he fell to the ground, and from him, different parts of his body came to life, like fishes, animals, and different species and races like humans, giants, and elves (but we call them Elfurys, as it sounds more Icelandic). They all were reborn from this decaying body of the giant whale.” 

Ecology is an important part of Selfloss’s world-building, and what better way to create the beginning of your fantasy world than with a whale crashing down—an event that’s tantamount to a biological and ecological Big Bang. This cycle of life and death is an important theme throughout the game, making for a carefully considered story with emotional highs and lows. 

“It has a specific set of chapters to make it a more emotional game,” Goodwin says. “But during those chapters, you can freely explore the area. Your main goals are helping those in need and performing the Selfloss Ritual, which requires an object that is important to the one who lost [someone] and the person who passed. I took it from my personal experience, but whenever I talked with people who lost someone, they usually have some items that remind them of those who passed. Sometimes it can be positive items, and also maybe not-so-positive items. You need to find this item for this person.”
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This ritual also requires a second item—the essence of a “Loss Fish.” To find it, you’ll need to set out into open waters. With a world heavily inspired by marine life, Selfloss is also home to a large ocean just waiting to be explored. Kazimir is no stranger to sailing, and you’ll use his humble wooden boat to visit different areas. Sailing is a highlight of the game, a breezy affair that lets you freely explore the pocket area in each chapter of Kazimir’s journey.

When you find the Loss Fish, you’ll first need to catch it. Selfloss’s fishing system is a welcome departure from what we’re used to seeing in games. You use your staff as a fishing pole, and when the fish tugs at your line, it will try and get away, forcing you to follow along. Successfully keep pace with it, and you can reel in your catch. As with combat, the fishing system can be a little fiddly, but it’s a much more exciting step in an otherwise somber ritual. “I wanted it to be very active and dynamic,” Goodwin says. “It’s not like you’re staying in one spot.”

It’s nice to see Kazimir’s contemplative journey broken up with moments of excitement and wonder like this. Selfloss is a game that wants to inspire reflection in the player, even if it’s just for a short while. Just as Kazimir is searching for a way to heal his soul, Goodwin hopes that players can also find something cathartic in Selfloss’s story. 

“Players find out early in the game that he has lost someone,” Goodwin says. “I hope that players who share the same feelings, and who maybe have encountered something like this in their lives, I hope that this will give them some thoughts to reflect on.”

Selfloss is coming soon to the Epic Games Store.