Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PAX East 2014 - Out There


Survival horror is a genre of game that always seems to have a following, even if the pickings are relatively slim when compared to other genres. Resident Evil is probably the standard-bearer for the genre in terms of popularity, but there are tons of other games that don't necessarily rely on zombie pandemics to scare the gamer. Games like Silent Hill, Fatal Frame and even give the reader something to shy away from. Another game that could be considered survival horror with a bit of strategy mixed in is Out There from Mi Clos Studio. We went hands on with the game alongside Michaƫl Peiffert (one of the developers) to gain more insight into what to expect, even if you know that space is cold, desolate and hostile.

"Space is the most hostile place for mankind, so every tiny detail you forget can be fatal," said Peiffert. "We built the game around this idea. Knowing this, we wanted to make the game very brutal, where the pacing is very slow and you're always on your toes. It's very tense."


The game opens up fairly innocuously. You're an engineer trying to get home, but it's a long trip and your supplies are rapidly dwindling. It's a fairly simple story, yet there's a complexity to it that comes courtesy of the game's three different endings. While you don't necessarily have to play through and unlock all three, you get a fuller picture of the engineer's true plight if you do. The game is a strategy survival game, but the reason for survival is up for debate and gamers can expect to gain some insight into that rationale by playing through it multiple times.

"The story is pretty simple," said Peiffert. "You're an astronaut in the 22nd/23rd century and we don't know how to go farther than the solar system. You're an engineer who wakes up from cryogenics and find out you're not in our solar system. You're alone in your ship and must survive. You find a space station that gives you a new technology that allows you to travel to other galaxies, which ends up pointing you towards a start where you have no idea what to expect."

"There is an ending...actually, three different endings. The further you go the more you uncover the story. There are a few checkpoints through the game where you learn more about the story, giving you a better view of the big picture. Every ending offers a part in the understanding of the full story."

Your ship is being held together by what is essentially duct tape and grit, forcing you to make sometimes desperate choices when it comes to your resources. This is where the adventure comes in, as you make decisions that could save you just as easily as they could kill you. For instance, should you orbit the planet that has the fuel you need, knowing that you may risk crashing? Or you barely have the fuel to get to another star, but the resources on that star are pretty spotty. Deciding whether it's worth risking your survival to travel there is what makes that game somewhat tragic and it's that approach that encouraged Mi Clos Studio to make the game.

"It was obvious for us to make this game," said Peiffert. "I'm a graphic designer so I had a very good idea of what I wanted the game to look like. The game designer is also a writer, so we put our talents together for the game, which is why there's a huge universe for the player to discover. I do a lot work for agencies and have always dreamed about sci-fi and space. For me, I'd really like to go to space, so I was doing a lot of sketchbooks and have always been inspired by American comics; particularly, the very cheesy sci-fi ones. Comics from that time were more naive than they are today, yet more optimistic about the future."


Speaking of graphics, the game shares a lot in common with comic books. The text boxes are overlaid in a way that look like panels and the other illustrations are almost like papercraft. Space is left purposefully empty, representing the void that it really is when you stop and think about it. The scenes with the engineer in them are displayed to the reader as an aforementioned comic book panel, sliding across and around to keep the player engaged in the mission. That mission is very much about survival, even more so because it occurs in the desolation of space. The graphics when combined with the gameplay add a choose your own adventure aspect as well, giving gamers multiple paths to pursue where they're both rewarded and punished for their risky decisions.

Out There is a pretty intense game, even if it's look belies that complexity. Mi Clos Studios has created a pretty solid strategy game that requires the gamer be prepared to die for their decisions. In a way, it's similar to Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy in that it gives the gamer true responsibility; while the former rely more on sheer skill and reaction for survival, Out There is very honest about letting the gamer know that if they die, it's their fault through too many risky decisions. The relative serenity of space is misleading to the player, mainly because you'll never know which star visited will be your last. The fact that the game is clearly what the developers intended shines through, as it takes a certain perseverence to ask their players be just as committed to the end result.

"This game is the game we want, the game we always wanted to do," said Peiffert. "We wanted to make a real game on mobile because there's so much shovelware and we have a PC gaming background. We thought mobile was missing a nice strategy game that was interesting, but also accessible for mobile gamers."

Out There is currently available on iOS and Android, with a PC version in the works.

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