Ocean view

The Never Alone team on part­ner­ing with the BBC to chart the fu­ture of our seas


Be­yond Blue and the BBC part­ner up to chart the fu­ture of our seas

Cre­ated in part­ner­ship with Alaskan tribes, 2015’s Never Alone was a pow­er­ful at­tempt to pre­serve and cel­e­brate in­dige­nous cul­ture through the me­chan­ics of a plat­form game. Fol­low­ing its re­lease, pub­lisher E-Line Me­dia re­ceived a call from an un­ex­pected quar­ter. The BBC had en­joyed Never Alone’s han­dling of doc­u­men­tary ma­te­ri­als, and won­dered if the com­pany might do some­thing sim­i­lar for the forth­com­ing sec­ond se­ries of Blue Planet. “They in­vited us to sort of shadow the pro­duc­tion,” E-Line’s CEO Michael Angst says. “To look at the huge li­brary of footage they’d put to­gether, speak to the sci­en­tists and see if we could mine that for an orig­i­nal story, but sort of con­tinue from where the last episode talks about the fu­ture of the ocean.”

The re­sult is Be­yond Blue, a nar­ra­tive-driven ex­plo­ration sim­u­la­tion star­ring Mi­rai, the leader of a team of re­searchers in the South China Sea around ten years from now. Mix­ing third­per­son swim­ming as the game’s pro­tag­o­nist with first­per­son ex­plo­ration through re­mote drones, it sees you mon­i­tor­ing the habits of var­i­ous an­i­mals as you place WiFi buoys to map the en­vi­ron­ment. In­ter­spersed with un­screened Blue Planet footage and com­men­tary from sci­en­tists, the game is de­signed to cel­e­brate the re­gion’s com­plex­ity while also in­ves­ti­gat­ing how hu­mans have al­tered it, forc­ing species such as sperm whales to seek out new habi­tats and de­velop new be­hav­iours in re­sponse. It also play­fully blurs the lines be­tween its hu­man char­ac­ters and the species un­der ob­ser­va­tion. Tech­nolo­gies such as ul­tra­vi­o­let lamps al­low you to per­ceive bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent pat­terns and so “see as sharks do”, while get­ting coated in oc­to­pus ink might cause preda­tors to iden­tify you as prey. Tag­ging species, mean­while, un­locks the abil­ity to ex­pe­ri­ence the world from their van­tage point via real-time feeds. Be­yond Blue is not the prod­uct of day-to-day col­lab­o­ra­tion with the BBC, but it does rep­re­sent some­thing of a back-and­forth. “[The start of the project] hap­pened to be while they were still mak­ing Blue Planet II,” Angst re­calls. “So we in­vested sig­nif­i­cant time up­front watch­ing the early footage, which al­lowed us to work in par­al­lel ex­plor­ing the same themes. We also de­cided to use some of the same sci­en­tists as key ad­vi­sors. So we did some in­de­pen­dent cre­ative work, then met back and ex­plained what we wanted to fo­cus on, and they then helped us find the rich­est ar­eas where they had ex­plored that.”

The game is as much a por­trait of the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity as it is of the aquatic world. The fates of dif­fer­ent an­i­mal species aside, it ex­am­ines the sadly con­tro­ver­sial sta­tus of eco­log­i­cal re­search in the con­text of ide­o­log­i­cal con­flicts about the ef­fects of global warm­ing, and delves into the ageold clash be­tween ide­al­ism and self­in­ter­est. Much of this un­folds at your sub­ma­rine, in con­ver­sa­tion with other re­searchers and via on­line in­ter­ac­tions with other par­ties on the sur­face. Each char­ac­ter has a dif­fer­ent agenda, and key de­ci­sions will bring their val­ues into con­flict – the writ­ing builds, here, on ex­ist­ing ten­sions be­tween cor­po­ra­tions, gov­ern­ments, ac­tivists and sci­en­tists in the South China Sea.

“We have folks who have a com­mer­cial in­ter­est in the ocean’s re­source po­ten­tial for min­er­als for our cell­phones,” Angst says. “We have peo­ple look­ing at in­no­va­tion for sus­tain­able en­ergy. We have folks who are nat­u­ral­ists who just want to for­ward our knowl­edge of the ocean.” Be­yond Blue also takes heed of how dis­cov­er­ies metas­ta­sise on­line, swept along by the cur­rents of so­cial me­dia, and how sci­en­tists may be­come pub­lic fig­ures with or with­out their con­sent. “We have in­sight from our sci­en­tists not just on na­ture but on what it means to be a sci­en­tist in this glob­ally con­nected, rapidly chang­ing, me­dia-sat­u­rated world,” Angst says. As its cre­ators ac­knowl­edge, Be­yond

Blue is a pro­foundly con­flicted work. It val­orises the quest for knowl­edge, but also ac­knowl­edges that the legacy of much re­search on the Earth’s flora and fauna has been bru­tal ex­ploita­tion. “Not all sci­en­tific meth­ods are be­nign, and not all op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­ter­vene pos­i­tively might end well,” Angst says. This aware­ness res­onates un­easily with the choice of me­chan­ics, such as crea­ture scan­ning and the grad­ual ex­pos­ing of mis­sions on a map, that may be fa­mil­iar to play­ers of open world games – a genre that makes a virtue of con­quest. Whether it suc­ceeds or fails, Be­yond

Blue is no­table for be­ing one of the few videogame sto­ries to en­ter­tain a de­gree of op­ti­mism about life on Earth. “We’re a hope­ful com­pany, and one of the rea­sons we have a num­ber of games that are ex­plor­ing the near-fu­ture, is we want to paint an as­pi­ra­tional fu­ture,” Angst says. “We’re not go­ing to hide from the chal­lenges, the sor­row and the stakes, but we be­lieve that hu­mans care about our planet, we care about each other, and ul­ti­mately, though it’s bumpy along the way, good things will hap­pen.”

As its cre­ators ac­knowl­edge, Be­yond Blue is a pro­foundly con­flicted work

Michael Angst, E-Line CEO

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