Lost in deeper blue
Beam Team’s fight for survival takes place in the sun – and with absolutely zero zombies
Get marooned on the Pacific sands of Stranded Deep
There’s a plane, an explosion, and then you wind up on a desert island with neither your favourite albums nor a luxury to call your own. This is Stranded Deep, a rare survival game where you don’t have to worry about zombies, but sharks and starvation are another matter.
It’s the debut project from Brisbanebased Beam Team, AKA Ben Massey and Sam Edwards. For Massey, it’s the result of many smaller experiments, most notably SF shooter Livalink. “I had always dabbled in game development and committed most of my teenage years to learning the industry. I was interested in being a one-man band at the time, which allowed me to vaguely learn the process of each aspect of game development and figure out my areas of specialty.”
Edwards, meanwhile, comes from a programming family, and came to Beam Team after changing career from running a self-owned painting business to do something he really loved.
“It’s quite ridiculous for us to look back on what we initially envisioned for Stranded Deep,” says Massey. “The project started fairly simple but quickly adapted to our ‘want, want, want’ attitude. Because we were creating what felt so original to us, it quickly became hard to come up with new material, which resulted in many days of head scratching. Luckily, we both have similar interests, we’re both perfectionists, and we take what we do very seriously.” The best example of this is the water. It would have been easy to simply treat it as a barrier, but Stranded Deep’s complex technologies open up a whole new undersea world for exploration, complete with elements such as buoyancy simulation, sea foam, god rays to illuminate the exploration, and sharks.
“The great thing about being indie is that we can create the game we’ve always wanted to play,” says Massey. “It started off as trying to capture a real-life horror experience that didn’t involve the supernatural. The thought of sharks, deep open water, and isolation terrified us, so we went with that. Islands act as a safe haven, but at the same time they’re surrounded by extremely dangerous oceans. Snakes, urchins and poisonous fish are all very real threats, and we love that you’re forced into these areas for food, loot and travel.”
“I get annoyed by zombies after a while,” Edwards says. “I’m like, ‘Oh, would you go away! I just want to craft, build and explore.’ We’ve traded the fear of, ‘Oh no, they’re coming!’ for, ‘If I want to live, I’m going to have to go out there!’”
Specifically, survival in Stranded Deep involves finding materials to build shelter and tools, seeking food and warmth, and making the tools required to explore. Massey lists as inspirations the likes of Castaway, Open Water, Kon-Tiki, and “even TV series like Survivorman and Dude, You’re Screwed. They all cover that similar ‘lone survival’ setting that had never really been introduced to the gaming world. I think a lot of people wonder how they’d handle being in an extreme situation like this. For me, the lure is having such a great sandbox to survive and even thrive in, while being a little scared that a wrong move could wipe out all my hard work…”
The sea bed is surprisingly untapped in games, and, for Massey, that means lots of freedom. “Part of our approach to making it work here, though, is blending sea and surface together, and making it interesting to explore in and of itself. A lot of games tend to focus heavily on one and abandon the other. Most underwater titles lean toward a lush, oversaturated Finding Nemo reef look, whereas we set out to portray the real diversity of ocean biomes. It’s been a great way to break up environment development, since underwater scenes are so alien.”
Later, the plan is to add multiplayer – with the success of Rust et al, it would be crazy not to. The lone survival test, however, is taking the lead here, using procedurally generated content to keep things fresh. “I genuinely think our procedural system saved our sanity… but don’t get me wrong, it’s been a massive pain,” admits Massey, who would like to see procedural tech used more often in mainstream titles. “I still get surprised and excited by different formations, and often end up getting distracted while testing a simple mechanic. Next thing I know, I’ve sailed to another island.”
Its output, however, along with the exact implementation of the survival elements and range of activities on the island, will be guided by the response to the Early Access build. “We’re going to use Early Access to let the game grow to its full potential, rather than a ‘this is what we have so far’ bug-catching exercise,” says Massey, who is aware that several premature launches have somewhat soured the mood for survival games. “Our original goal was to create a unique survival title, and we think we’re on track. We also want to help reverse the bad reputation the genre seems to be getting with Early Access if we can.”
“I think a lot of people wonder how they’d handle being in an extreme situation like this”
Game concept art always involves a raft of images; Beam Team has taken it more literally than most. Sharks, meanwhile, will provide danger, alongside urchins and poisonous fish
Beam Team is Ben Massey (top) and Sam Edwards. Stranded Deep is its debut game