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

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