INDIGO 2014: Tribal & Error – A Robot in the Ice Age

This article is part of a series focusing on the most notable games seen at this year’s INDIGO gaming exhibition held September 25-26 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

There used to be some web games floating around, in which you control a planet and chose the order of it’s evolution. Water, civilization, crops, etc. Put them in the right order and the planet will flourish. Tribal & Error is that, but with cavemen, sticks, and a language to learn, and without the planetary evolution. Yeah, it’s way off, but that distant web-game is the only thing that felt remotely familiar to this experience.

Some time in a strange future, humanity will send a tape-recorder robot back to the ice age to observe cavemen and their survival. That robot is you, and you’re a one of a kind, sentimental machine. Instead of sticking to your job, the robot wants to help the foolish little cavemen. Here is where Tribal & Error’s exclusive feature comes in: there is no way to directly control the cavemen. Now I can hear you say: “That’s no feature, you silly man!” Okay, you’re right. The feature is in the way you control the cavemen. You will have to listen to the words that they’ve developed, and use these to create sentences and guide your cavemen by speech.

How does that work?

In my playthrough, there was a caveman repeatedly slamming a stick into a wall, because that’s just what cavemen do. He shouted out some partially distinguishable words. Let’s call the first one ‘dwuk’. When he has said ‘dwuk’ once, the cavemen’s written equivalent shows up. Clicking it will make your tape-recorder bot repeat it to the cavemen. They will then stop whatever they are doing to show you a stick. Now, yelling ‘dwuk’ through the cave doesn’t help the silly fellas much. You have to combine it with other words that you can learn from other cavemen. Next to ‘dwuk’, the first caveman had ‘bukhou’ (smash), to teach me. In a corner of the cave, there were cavemen shouting ‘kalout!’ while throwing rocks. Now it takes a bit of thinking to help these cavemen. Improvisations like “bukhou dwuk dwuk kalout!” (smash stick stick stone) were responded to with: ‘???’,  and ‘buhkou kalout’, made the tiny bright-minds punch a rock.

It wasn’t until after a hint from the developer that the logic kicked in. “Kalout bukhou kalout dwuk!” And, yes, they smashed rocks into each other and created a fire. I just taught cavemen to make fire, and the cavemen taught me ‘dwuk, bukhou, kalout’.

Tribal & Error is a creative piece of art that shows us there are a lot of genres in gaming still to be discovered. Playing with language, as in this game, hasn’t been explored yet, and the same goes for a ton of genres still out there. For now, Tribal & Error is still a very early prototype, but it definitely proves the quality of its concept. Everyone that enjoys a fresh and casual take on games should keep an eye on this one.

Download the free demo here.

Tom Franse

A long time ago, Tom was pulled in the world of digital warfare & pixelated adventures. Tom became a journalist and the pixels increased in numbers. Today he writes about them from his humble shack in the Netherlands.

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