Over the last couple of weeks I went into some detailed breakdowns of the terrain in my upcoming game Lacuna Passage. But I realized that I only briefly touched on what Lacuna Passage as a game will actually be. So, this week I’m going to take some time to do a breakdown what the game is really all about.
Here's an excerpt from our first devlog that explains what we hope to accomplish with the game:
I’ve always been a huge fan of space exploration and the recent success of the Mars Curiosity Rover inspired me to make a game that embodies the nature of exploration and discovery. Lacuna Passage is that game. I wanted to create an experience that might fulfill my own desire to set foot on another world, and for the last 6 months I’ve been researching and prototyping exactly how I might do that.
When I started the project I tried to get a sense for the types of games that have attempted this in the past. From what I noticed it seemed that many space exploration games focus on some kind of tension mechanic. You have limited oxygen, you are being hunted by mutant aliens, you are trying to survive or fight… Games like Dead Space, Metroid Prime, or Mass Effect, and many of these take place far in the future where we lose some context for the difficulty and high risks associated with space exploration. Everyone has a spaceship, and things like gravity, physics, and engineering are trivial matters. On the other end of the spectrum are the space simulators (Kerbal Space Program, Universe Sandbox) that don’t have a story to tell, they simple try to replicate the nature of space or space travel. There are very few games that sit in between those styles. I wanted to create something contemplative and awe-inspiring, not fear-inducing or pedantically accurate. I wanted to create an impressionist representation of modern space exploration. Think Dear Esther in space.
You are Jessica Rainer, the only survivor of the crashed Heracles Mars expedition, sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the very first Mars expedition, Hermes.
Exploration. Lacuna Passage is an open-world adventure. 25 square miles of treacherous Martian terrain littered with clues about the disappearance of the Hermes Mars Expedition.
Investigation. Photograph and document your journey. Follow the clues and piece together your own explanation to the events that unfolded on the red planet. Perhaps you can even find a way home. Share your discoveries, photo journals, and theories with other players online.
Navigation. Pay close attention to your instruments and keep track of your surroundings. The game will not hold your hand with arbitrary objective markers and many key locations will need to be manually recorded for reference. Careless explorers are sure to get themselves lost.
Survival. Food, water, and oxygen are in short supply on the planet’s surface. Even sleep is important in maintaining your stamina (and your sanity). Depicting a realistic passing of time is also important to the general theme of survival. Essentially the player is faced with defining their own goals. You can try to see how many days you can survive alone on Mars or you can try to see how fast you can solve the mysteries of the planet. Death in itself is not necessarily a fail condition in the game. Depending on your experience it may be a perfectly suitable ending to the story you have crafted for Jessica Rainer.
From Concept to Prototype
Of course, all of this conceptual content would be nothing without some substantial prototyping. Over the last few months I have been working hard on some crucial systems that will stand as the foundation for the experience inherent to Lacuna Passage.
Time of Day and atmospheric effects
There is a full day/night cycle with some beautiful atmospheric effects that emphasize the scale and the emptiness of the planet. We started with the base Unistorm Unity package and heavily modified it to fit the atmosphere of Mars.
Realistic first-person camera
Those space suits are heavy, and the goal of the camera is to help the player feel some of that weight. Especially as your stamina begins to fade and movement becomes more labored. We already have some great camera movement in the prototype courtesy of a modified Ultimate FPS Camera Unity package.
Terrain generated from real-world (Mars) geologic features
Every inch of the environment is lifted directly from real Mars terrain data provided by NASA satellites. Some of the features are composited together and scaled down to provide the player with more varied landscapes to explore. Find about more about the methods used for the terrain in our first two devlog posts.
Taking “screenshots” is directly incorporated into the story via the main character’s desire to investigate the disappearance of the Hermes crew with photography. Sometimes you will need to examine your photographs to gain clues about where to explore next. The goal here is to also encourage sharing stories online and collaborating on theories to some of the game’s more obtuse clues by having all in-game photos also saved out to the player’s harddrive.
I'm excited with how far the game has come, but we also have a long ways to go. If Lacuna Passage is a game that interests you then I hope you continue to follow our progress on this blog or on Twitter. Cheers!