The concept for this game emerged out of a week of research and brainstorming for the graduate project. I wanted to create something where I could focus my skills on developing an immersive narrative and an environment for the player to wander. I knew I was limited, being alone on the project so I wanted to keep this singleplayer with no NPCs. The story unveils through the player character’s speech or logs. I had a few scenarios in my mind, all exploring isolated or abandoned places.
The narrative for this game mostly came from the interest I have in science-fiction pieces and space exploration. For a long time, I wanted to tell a story that would convey the emotion of being stranded alone in space. The tagline of the iconic Ridley Scott’s Alien: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” was one of the main inspirations. No need for a monster to chase you though, there was a dormant terror as the environment of space was dark and hostile.
Writing and narrative design
Apart from Ridley Scott’s Alien, there were historic sources that inspired me to write this narrative. The most important one were the rumours of “Lost Cosmonauts” during the Cold War’s space race. Some say that the USSR unsuccessful moon program did send cosmonauts but couldn’t retrieve them and were ultimately lost in space.
Folkloric stories like the Flying Dutchman were also an inspiration. I wanted the player to be confronted to this same atmosphere of mystery and paranormal.
The story flow had to be direct and efficient in order to meet with the project’s technical limitations, while providing the character's past so that the player felt involved in the narrative. That’s why I decided to split the game into two distinct parts. The first part required less development time and recounts the routine and worries of Vilmaya Lova, the main character, through her logbook and cutscenes.
The second part switches to the first-person narrative point of view and Vilmaya’s reaction to immediate events. This is where I had to collaborate with a professional voiceover actress to convey emotions and create suspenseful and tense moments. This was a really fulfilling work experience as I had to produce a very detailed script for the actress to work with.
Overall, the narrative was designed to propose a balance between exposition and interaction, making the experience a mix between an interactive novel and an adventure game. First, it sets a context, a character and then introduces action and suspense. Unfortunately, I wanted the final demo to be a bit longer but it had to be cut short due to a limited amount of time and still a lot of game assets to produce. I will explain more of that in the game design/production part.
Game design and programming
My first priority was to set up a good project management framework, using scrum methods like reverse planning and goals. This helped me a lot before and during development to figure out which parts were too ambitious.
The character controls are simple, Vilmaya Lova can only walk and use her flashlight attached to her semi-flexible pressurised suit. The controls have been set up for keyboard and controller.
The initial scope of the game and the gameplay mechanics were modified several times to respect the planning and time limit. At first, it integrated space travel between multiple destinations in a planetary system. This had to be toned down to one destination for the final demo but the travel system was still developed to accommodate as many as possible. It is accessible through an holographic map in the player’s spaceship. The maps are split into different sectors containing different locations.
Another part removed from the demo was the exploration of an abandoned ship where the player would encounter two swarms of boid-like NPCs. Those would serve as puzzle elements to the game and also fit with the sci-fi/supernatural narrative. The first one acts neutral to the player, emits small electrical bursts and is attracted by his flashlight. It was designed as a small puzzle interaction where the player would need to lead them into a busted door panel in order to create a short-circuit and open it.
The second one is hostile to the player and will chase it whenever it is looked at. If it gets too close, the player will faint and wake up after a small cutscene. It doesn’t specifically reward the player to avoid it but it adds more tension and danger to the scene with a stealth mechanic. The inspiration for this idea was taken from the episode Flesh and Stone of the Doctor Who television series.
I designed and modelled two levels for the game, using Blender. The first one is Vilmaya’s carrier ship which is a narrow and industrial spaceship. It was mostly inspired by the Nostromo from Alien: the 8th Passenger.
The second one is the abandoned spaceship which the player explores after receiving a distress signal. It was supposed to be a mining/scientific spaceship but wasn’t completed before the term because of its larger size and the elements left to model.