Scattered among all of the big titles at PAX East 2019 is a veritable treasure-trove of indie games. One of the titles that grabs our attention right away is an aquatic adventure title, Beyond Blue, from E-Line Media, the team behind the absolutely wonderful Never Alone. A game that blended a great platforming title with a fascinating emphasis on education, Never Alone was a title we loved. It was one of the great early indie titles back when the PS4 was in its infancy, and this connection got us both excited and intrigued about this new title. Would it incorporate educational elements again? Would it be a platformer or spread out into a new genre? Luckily, we got some hands-on time with the title and the chance to chat with E-Line’s CEO and Co-Founder, Michael Angst to find answers to our questions.
The first thing that's immediately apparent when playing Beyond Blue is just how strikingly beautiful it is. Rather than a frigid arctic environment, we are in the ocean, exploring a stunning reef area, populated with a vast array of sea life. We asked Michael about the overall scope of the game, and the reef that was being demoed at PAX is one of three large environments to be explored in the game. The reef joins a shelf area where the open sea meets more coastal environments, and then a deeper, darker area that deals with more of the creepy aspects of ocean life. “We wanted to capture the moods of these spaces," Angst tells us. "The millions and millions of years of evolution and adaptation that are evident and the way they interact are incredible.”
The demo on offer gave us a solid look at the environment, while teasing aspects of the story. The gameplay largely consists of finding and using acoustic microphones to triangulate and locate various sea creatures. This led to a big educational aspect for the title, as scanning the wildlife would also include some interesting tidbits about the various marine creatures. If the environments and general feeling of the game weren’t so compelling the gameplay might be a harder pill to swallow, but as it currently stands we had a ton of fun floating through the environments, and interacting with the sea life. A particular standout was swimming amongst a pod of whales while trying to locate a mother and its child. The scale of that encounter was especially stunning and was an area that Angst elaborated on for us. “One thing we wanted to do was exaggerate or amplify the elements of the environment that make you feel like you are there.”
This held true for the sea life as well as the environment itself, even if, according to Angst, the demo had a decent amount of the sea life disabled to ensure a smoother play session. While we loved the time we spent with the game, one of the most fascinating aspects of the title stems from the origins of its development. “BBC actually approached us before the release of Blue Planet II," Angst says. "They said they liked Never Alone and the way it mixed gameplay with educational elements. And this is where Beyond Blue started.”
This is just such an interesting way for a title to manifest. And if that wasn’t enough, Angst went on to confirm that not only is Beyond Blue a tie-in to Blue Planet II, it’s actually going to include unused footage that the BBC team shot for the documentary. Angst talked about how the team was able to look through and utilise the footage from the show as reference for the game, and how incredible an experience that was.
This was just the second time the team demoed the title - the first being the most recent PAX West - and given how few opportunities players have had to get their hands on the game thus far, we were curious what message the team would want to convey about the title: “One thing we would want to convey is that we want to tell a story that has an important message. The game takes place in the near future, so we were able to play around with some what-ifs and focus on problems that will come up down the road if something isn’t done to stop it.”
A gorgeous game with an important message? Sign us up. The game’s currently slated to hit PlayStation 4 later this year, and we could not be more excited.
Do you share our enthusiasm for Beyond Blue? Dive deep down into the comments below.