Beyond Blue preview: get in the sea

The ocean is a strange and unfathomably diverse place. We all know the feeling of splashing around in the shallows on a sandy beach, yet the murky ocean depths and the strange creatures that lurk within them can seem completely alien. A daunting task for E-Line Media’s upcoming Beyond Blue then, a marine exploration title attempting to create the most realistic and encompassing ocean experience ever seen in a video game.

Luckily, E-Line Media began the project with the BBC and Blue Planet II (the award-winning documentary series narrated by Sir David Attenborough) firmly on side. As creative director Michael Angst explains: “The BBC’s proposal was to grant us access to breathtaking footage from the Blue Planet II production. They also introduced us to leading ocean experts.” A promising start from a research point of view, but now the game’s approaching the end of its development, how is it shaping up?

The demos seen so far show scientist and playable character Mirai heading up a new marine research team. Their task: to use brand new technologies to explore the ocean in ways which were previously impossible. The tech depicted in the game isn’t science fiction, however: “All of the advanced technology depicted in Beyond Blue is inspired by real-world tech that either exists or our scientists anticipate existing in the next 10–20 years,” Angst says. “Our goal was to put the natural world front and centre and provide the player with the technology that would allow them to stay immersed in their exploration.”

Future technology allows Mirai to freely explore the ocean without a clunky oxygen tank slowing her down.

These technologies include data-collecting buoys tethered to the ocean floor, and, most excitingly, the ability to scan marine wildlife in its natural environment. Playing the demo myself, I swam up to manta rays, dolphins, even a sperm whale, and then I scanned the animal to reveal fascinating information on its behaviour and biology. It’s a smart dynamic; learning about the lives of the creatures you’re interacting with allows players to forge deeper connections with the underwater world that Mirai’s researching.

Beyond Blue will also include ‘Ocean Insight Videos’ – real footage shot by the Blue Planet II team to complement Mirai’s computer-generated world. E-Line Media’s previous game, Never Alone (a puzzle platformer revolving around native Alaskan folklore), also featured short video clips to complement the core experience. In both Never Alone and Beyond Blue, these videos allow the player to further immerse themselves in the game’s message and world, bridging the gap between in-game experience and real-world discovery.

With real marine footage worked into Beyond Blue, it might be assumed that going back to a game world after seeing real ocean life would be jarring. Beyond Blue gets around this the best it can through its impressively detailed visuals. Angst explains: “Our goal is to expose the exceptional diversity, complexity, and beauty of the ocean through the eyes of richly drawn characters inhabiting an evocative narrative.”

Even the most extreme places in the ocean harbour a surprising amount of marine life, if you can reach them.

But what exactly is the shape of this narrative? Specific details are obviously scarce pre-release, but Angst does offer up a hint: “Mirai is a robustly represented character with a backstory and motivations that we hope will resonate as players get to know her. Mirai also spends time staying in touch with her sister, with whom she has a deep and complex relationship.”

Of course, it’s likely the thrill of exploring realistic ocean expanses is what will attract most players to Beyond Blue. Playing the game, you’ll encounter many different environments including reefs, the open ocean, hydrothermal vents, and even underwater caves. Each setting is a kind of marine playground you can paddle through in your own time. Angst explains that the Beyond Blue team wants to “give players an opportunity to explore each environment at their own pace and have their curiosity rewarded.” While this isn’t a game with an entirely open-world format, we do know that the habitats E-Line Media has focused on will feature a strong attention to detail and many different species of marine life.

In order to discover these new species, you’ll have to spend time searching through every cave and coral reef. Once under the waves, you’ll come face to face with a plethora of fish, mammals, and reptiles, each with unique behaviour that changes based on your presence. Animal models and animations are strikingly realistic, and differing sizes and masses means every creature feels as though it’s unique from the others in its school or pod.

Ultimately, Beyond Blue is shaping up to be more than just another exploration game. Based on the demos, it’s an experience which seems as though it could be as beautiful to play through as it is remarkably authentic, and the game couldn’t be coming at a more important time. Our oceans are currently facing huge challenges from climate change and pollution, but Angst and the Beyond Blue team are refreshingly optimistic on the future of our seas. “We worked with our scientists to depict a future for our ocean that we might reasonably aspire to experience, that is as hopeful as they are.”

A small underwater drone can be used to discover hard to reach areas, such as the deep sea or underwater caves.

Ask The Experts

Research undertaken by scientists Dr. Samantha Joye and Dr. David Gruber has been a huge influence on the development of Beyond Blue. Speaking about Dr. Joye’s input, E-Line Media explained: “Dr. Joye is our lead science advisor. She introduced us to some of the most fascinating places in the deep ocean, like hydrothermal vents and brine pools.” On Dr. Gruber’s input: “Dr. Gruber is an explorer and scientist with a deep respect for scientific approaches that minimise intrusiveness.” Indeed, playing Beyond Blue, it’s clear that Mirai aims to disturb the environments she explores as little as possible, and the game’s hydrothermal vents are one of the most spectacular and otherworldly settings in the game.

Genre: Exploration adventure
Format: PS4 / XBO / PC / Mac
Developer: E-Line Media
Publisher: E-Line Media
Release: October 2019

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