We discovered Out There early in 2013, when Mi Clos Studio’s Michael Peiffert first exhibited this teaser trailer for the sci-fi iOS adventure. In the tradition of teaser trailers since time immemorial, it seemed to show a smattering of concept art over an atmospheric synth track. I was enchanted though, and I wanted to see more of this title that promised a narrative-driven experience coupled with free exploration of a large game world. I wanted to see it in action. I wanted to see gameplay. Little did I know, we had already seen more gameplay than we realized.
“Everything is hand-drawn then implemented into my game engine. The game engine then procedurally generates planets, stars and other celestial bodies from the modular elements. For example, in this screenshot, the engine decides what colors will be used for the planet and choose and place the continents from a pool of drawings.
“Then, it selects a background, lights and renders the scene as you see it. It’s very important for me to give a lot of visual diversity in the game, as exploration, discovery and contemplation are important features that will reinforce the atmosphere.”
Out There’s teaser looked like a Bronze Age comic book because Out There is a procedurally-generated comic book. That’s a game worth hearing more about.
Michael Peiffert’s Mi Clos Studio is building Out There with the support of French interactive fiction scribe FibreTigre, the only person I’ve found with a finer nom de plume than mine. Out There’s basic premise is one that would be familiar to Buck Rogers, Major Tom, or the crew from Galactic Keep: astronauts who suddenly find themselves far, far away from home.
I ask FibreTigre to explain a little more about Out There’s gameplay.”Out There is about management, exploration and adventure,” says Le Tigre. “As the captain of your ship, you have to constantly monitor your vital and fuel supplies, and keep your hull in good condition. You will also need specific mineral resources to build and fix your devices, since the game includes a crafting system. However you will have to discover technologies to build equipment and upgrades, and this knowledge is primarily obtained from aliens.
“That leads us to exploration, since most of the time you will set the course of your ship to gather these resources, eventually to find new technologies, and ultimately to resolve the main concern of your hero: why are you here, and what is at stake in this part of the galaxy, questions that are linked to Mankind’s fate.”
If that doesn’t sound like a game that needs aid of a narrative specialist like FibreTigre, hang on. We’re just getting to the good bit. “This is the adventure part : most of the star systems you will visit will lead you to a unique and one-of-a-kind-per-game gamebook-like adventure, which has an impact on your resources and your technology assets. Then some star-systems have specific adventures linked to the main quest of the hero. This is like a Star Trek season: there is a global adventure binding the whole season but each episode has its own storyline merged in the universe.”
When I suggest that Out There looks like the pulp sci-fi of the 70s and 80s, Peiffert’s response jumps off the screen. “Yes, absolutely! Sci-fi from this era, and not only comics, has always fed my imagination. So much that I can’t draw differently. Out There is really about expressing everything I love about sci-fi.
“I’m also a lover of the pure beauty of space. Capturing this beauty and turning it into illustration is challenging but I’m very happy with the result. It really reflects the feeling of the game : loneliness, mystery, void. Also, the graphics complement fully the narrative side of the game.”
It’s not just in the art direction that Out There is borrowing from the old school. The game is strictly ironman, with no way to reload a previous saved game if you’ve died. “There are 3 distincts endings, each giving a part of the truth,” says FibreTigre, “so the whole 3 are to be experienced to fully understand the story.”
If Out There is like a gamebook, it’s like one that forces you to burn each page once you’ve read it. This is a dark game, so very tonally different from Peiffert’s previous iOS offering, a platformer called Space Disorder. Space Disorder is the sort of game that exclamation-filled press releases describe with words like “cute” and “adorable”.
“Actually, I started working on Out There before even thinking about Space Disorder,” says Peiffert. “”I had the idea, the atmosphere and I even drawn the first concept art. The thing is, I didn’t know how to make games at this time. And I had no idea how to design a game like Out There. So, like almost every independent developer, I decided that my first game would be a platformer! It was a challenging way of learning how to code.
“Out There is much more the kind of games I want to make in the future. Slow paced, atmospheric, strong narrative, hand-drawn graphics and comfortably playable on your tablet.”
Out There is almost done — it’s going to be on display at RPS & Eurogamer’s Rezzed indie games expo in Birmingham (UK not Alabama, chaps) next month.