#2 In Other Waters
Soaking in the aquatic ambience
Game ideas can come at the unlikeliest of times. For Gareth Damian Martin, inspiration struck during a long holiday, while he was swimming in the Aegean Sea. It was the summer before his 30th birthday, and as the clear Grecian waters washed over him, Martin vowed to make a game as a present to himself. But In Other Waters is not that game. “I worked on a game called Salt that I built in Twine, which was about swimming and thinking,” Martin tells us. “You have to keep pressing the spacebar to keep swimming to keep the narrative going – if you stop pressing it and let the stamina bar decrease, then you surface.”
While making Salt, Martin started to think about combining a text-based game with the kind of mechanical interactions you’d find in a more conventional videogame. “I became really interested in this relationship between those two things and started to think about how it could expand into a bigger game.” He hit upon the notion of an artificial intelligence driving the mechanisms of a diving suit.
This way he could feature more involving interactions, such as monitoring the suit’s oxygen and running its internal processes, while maintaining the text element as a narration of sorts from an active character. So while In Other Waters is about xenobiologist Ellery Vas, who’s looking for her partner, Minae Nomura, within an alien ocean, the player takes the role of the suit’s AI, which must scan the local area for signs of life, grab biological samples, and more.
Metroid Prime is a big influence. “I think a lot of games set in alien worlds want to be about exploration but in the end they’re really about combat or resource management,” Martin says. “I just didn’t want to make that compromise. I wanted to make a game that was actually about studying alien life in a real sense, rather than being about studying it a little bit and then shooting it and using its body parts to fuel some kind of engine.” Though that’s not to say that the ocean won’t be hostile. You’ll need to upgrade the suit to pass through toxic regions, and not all the aquatic life will welcome you.
The minimalism and tactile shapes in the elegant interface – which in itself feels slightly alien – have led some to suggest it would be perfect for smartphones. While Martin says he’s keen to bring In Other Waters to mobile, it feels particularly at home on PC with the extra screen space that affords. “The idea of solitude and the unknowability of the ocean is something that’s really important to the game,” he says. As things stand, you’re just a tiny dot in a huge ocean. We can’t wait to feel the impact of the full game.
Martin is producing an illustrated book too, containing pictures and biological details of the fictional creatures.
Selecting a target before rotating the central dial lets you determine Ellery’s heading. Some destinations are off-limits without suit upgrades.