The So­lus Pro­ject

A sci-fi sur­vival game that wants you to live

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PC, Xbox One

De­vel­oper Teotl Stu­dios Pub­lisher Grip Dig­i­tal For­mat PC, Xbox One Ori­gin Swe­den Re­lease May

We have to ad­mit, we’d never pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered whether wind­mills were cool. Then again, we hardly ex­pected we’d stum­ble across one while ex­plor­ing an alien planet in Teotl’s sci-fi sur­vival game. And yet there it is, proudly pro­trud­ing from a large out­crop. “It makes no sense from a prac­ti­cal point of view,” cre­ative di­rec­tor Sjo­erd De Jong con­cedes. “But it’s re­ally cool!”

Strange as it may seem, we’re in­clined to agree. The wind­mill is a de­light­fully in­con­gru­ous sight, only adding to the am­bi­ence of in­scrutabil­ity that makes the early hours of The So­lus Pro­ject so ab­sorb­ing. Dis­cov­er­ies like this, af­ter all, com­pel play­ers to ex­plore more, if only to see what other odd­i­ties might await around the next cor­ner. “I think if you have an ex­plo­ration game like this, you need th­ese mys­ter­ies,” De Jong adds. “You need some­thing that drives you.”

This is, per­haps, the key dif­fer­ence be­tween De Jong’s game and the wel­ter of sur­vival sims that have washed up on Steam’s shores in the past few years. As pub­lisher Grip Dig­i­tal is keen to un­der­line, The So­lus

Pro­ject isn’t your typ­i­cal sand­box ad­ven­ture, but a more lin­ear game with a stronger nar­ra­tive. There’s a nat­u­ral fas­ci­na­tion in how sur­vival games ex­plore the hu­man will to live against the stark­est odds, but af­ter a time the ap­peal of self-preser­va­tion starts to wane: for ex­is­tence to have mean­ing, we need a sense of pur­pose, a rea­son to plod on, and that’s some­thing The So­lus Pro­ject han­dles bet­ter than most. Once you’ve crafted a makeshift torch and found some shel­ter, it’s not long be­fore you lo­cate a tele­por­ta­tion de­vice that al­lows you to by­pass an ob­struc­tion block­ing the en­trance to a cave, with sub­se­quent find­ings con­vinc­ing you that you may not be, as you’d first thought, alone.

On the de­fault dif­fi­culty and above, there’s a lot still to think about just to keep go­ing: hap­pily, a por­ta­ble de­vice car­ried in your left hand will let you know when your body tem­per­a­ture drops or spikes, and when it’s time for a snack or to start look­ing for a source of wa­ter. If you’d rather the chal­lenge of look­ing af­ter your­self took a back seat to more leisurely ex­plo­ration, how­ever, you’re in luck: Teotl has in­cluded a dif­fi­culty slider that en­trusts play­ers to set a chal­lenge that suits their needs. “We’ve scaled it down a lot over two-and-a-half years of de­vel­op­ment,” De Jong tells us. “In the be­gin­ning, it was far, far more dif­fi­cult and ev­ery­one seemed to die within a minute. But peo­ple who maybe aren’t sea­soned sur­vival play­ers can get through on Medium [dif­fi­culty] – they’ll prob­a­bly die a few times, but it’s more fairly bal­anced.”

Even on the very low­est set­ting, there are en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards that rep­re­sent a threat to the player, but for the time be­ing, at least, there are no en­e­mies to worry about. This was, in part, in­spired by the re­sponse to Teotl’s 2010 puz­zler The Ball: peo­ple en­joyed the first­per­son co­nun­drums enough to find the game’s en­e­mies a need­less dis­trac­tion. Like­wise the abil­ity to tog­gle way­points and other vis­ual aids. “There re­ally does seem to be a group of peo­ple who just want to ex­plore in a re­lax­ing way,” De Jong says. “I mean, you still tend to die ev­ery now and again, but we want to make sure you have a nice time, that you’re not walk­ing around aim­lessly through some sand­box en­vi­ron­ment, not know­ing what to do. We want an ex­pe­ri­ence where you can dream away in this mag­i­cal, fan­tas­tic en­vi­ron­ment and [still] make progress.”

If this com­bi­na­tion of oth­er­world­li­ness and earthy re­al­ism is par­tic­u­larly on trend at a time when so many de­sign­ers are pre­oc­cu­pied with space and sur­vival, De Jong’s no band­wagon-jumper: this has ev­i­dently been on his mind for quite some time, even be­fore de­vel­op­ment be­gan in earnest in the sum­mer of 2013. The So­lus Pro­ject is at once a prod­uct of his ex­per­tise as a level de­signer and en­vi­ron­ment artist, and his love of the nat­u­ral world. “I think as an in­die, you can do two things,” he muses. “You can ei­ther build the games you think peo­ple want to play, or you can build the games that you want to play, and hope your pas­sion shines through – and that a lot of peo­ple share that same pas­sion.”

“You still die ev­ery now and again, but we want to make sure you have a nice time”

The orig­i­nal Un­real, Tomb Raider and Lost are key in­flu­ences here. “It’s about that feel­ing of ad­ven­ture you get from [dis­cov­er­ing] an­cient tem­ples, weird con­struc­tions, traps and se­crets,” cre­ative di­rec­tor Sjo­erd De Jong says

It’s cru­cial not to make the land­scape too alien, De Jong tells us: “No one is go­ing to be able to im­merse them­selves into some­thing that’s com­pletely strange, so that’s why the planet still looks a lit­tle bit like Earth”

FROM TOP Cre­ative di­rec­tor Sjo­erd De Jong and co-founder Jakub Mikyska

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