Skin Deep

The perks of step­ping into some­one else’s shoes


“I’m most ex­cited about work­ing on the stuff I have wanted to see in an FPS”

In de­vel­op­ment for just three months at the time of writ­ing, Bren­don Chung’s new project, Skin Deep, is ex­plor­ing some in­ter­est­ing FPS ter­ri­tory. The game sees you take on the role of an elite se­cu­rity guard, hired to travel in cryo­genic sus­pen­sion along­side valu­able space­ship cargo. Your job is to pro­tect that cargo, thaw­ing out when­ever there’s a threat.

Chung’s plan for your newly thawed state is that you will have a weapon but no shoes – ba­si­cally the op­po­site of a night­club dress code. The shoe­less­ness ties into Chung’s in­ter­est in mak­ing your avatar’s body more of a mean­ing­ful pres­ence than the de­fault FPS setup where you’re es­sen­tially a float­ing cam­era wield­ing a gun.

From watch­ing a stream of Chung work­ing on Sk­inDeep you can al­ready get a sense of how im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion of your body is as a re­sult. Walk­ing on glass gets shards stuck in your feet. You can stand with your back against a wall and lean against it while you pluck them out, or leave them in, which blocks off a bit of your health bar and in­flicts dam­age when you take a step.

You can guard against shards if you find a pair of shoes, but an in­ter­est­ing touch here is that the shoes need to be your size. I don’t think I’ve ever en­coun­tered con­sid­er­a­tion of cloth­ing fit out­side tiny indie projects.

“Body phys­i­cal­ity is def­i­nitely a goal of Sk­inDeep,” says Chung. “I’m al­ways de­lighted to see what an FPS de­cides to sim­u­late and not sim­u­late, and I hope I can give that same mo­ment of de­light to folks play­ing Sk­inDeep.”

That in­ter­est in bod­ily com­pli­ca­tions doesn’t stop at feet. Sneez­ing and spit­ting are also given a men­tion in the game’s FAQ. In my gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, sneez­ing has gen­er­ally been a neg­a­tive – a way of dis­rupt­ing stealth, for ex­am­ple. But Chung tells me he’s in­ter­ested in con­textsen­si­tive sneeze out­comes:

“I al­ways find it most com­pelling when a me­chanic’s ef­fect varies de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances. Sneez­ing can at­tract bad­dies, but I can imag­ine some in­ter­est­ing out­comes when sneez­ing straight into a bad­die’s face or onto sen­si­tive elec­tron­ics.”

First-per­son shoe-ter

Sk­inDeep sounds like a game Chung has been grad­u­ally head­ing to­wards mak­ing for around two decades. “I got in­ter­ested in game de­vel­op­ment via the Doom (1993) map ed­i­tor,” he ex­plains. “I made maps for Doom, Quake, DukeNukem3D, and Half-Life for over a decade and have been hooked on FPS games since then.

“I got some of my FPS im­pulses out of me through Thir­tyF­light­sof Lov­ing, Quadri­lat­er­alCow­boy and Grav­i­tyBone, but have al­ways wanted to make some­thing akin to the work I grew up mak­ing and play­ing. It felt like the right time to go for it, so I started Sk­inDeep.”

The game has only been in de­vel­op­ment since July 2018, so Chung is still feel­ing the project out. He’s still work­ing out its scope, for ex­am­ple, and the fic­tion of the uni­verse is still be­ing ham­mered out – in­clud­ing why you would freeze a guard with a weapon but no shoes. But Chung says he’s “in­cred­i­bly happy with how things are go­ing”.

From our ex­change, it feels clear that ex­plo­ration of the ‘first-per­son’ bit of first-per­son games is key to Chung’s in­ter­est in the project. “I’m most ex­cited about work­ing on the stuff I have wanted to see in an FPS – sneez­ing, pluck­ing glass out of your feet, try­ing to find shoes that fit,” he says. “There are so many pos­si­bil­i­ties in what a first-per­son game can be, and I’m so thrilled to be ex­plor­ing that space.”

An in­op­por­tune time for sneez­ing.

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