The Astronauts, the new independent studio founded by some of the lead designers behind Painkiller, Bulletstorm, and Gears of War, have just announced their first game since their departures from People Can Fly, and it could not have been more of a surprise.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is described as a “weird fiction horror,” a detective story rooted in the outlandish and supernatural tales of early 20th century macabre. Think H.P. Lovecraft, or even (a bit earlier) Edgar Allan Poe (the raven kind of gives it off).
The game is about a detective with “the supernatural ability to visualize scenes of lethal crimes.” I’m going to assume that means he’s able to see the crime as it happened, rather than just the results, which I believe is pretty standard police work. Regardless, the detective’s powers lead him to a rural valley, where he discovers the mutilated corpse of one of the boy’s kidnappers, the first in a trail of bodies that will lead him into an even darker investigation, the likes of which involve some kind of ancient force and, of course, the kidnapped boy’s fate.
A Curious Case
Although not a lot of information has been revealed about the game beyond that, the developers have expressed their aims to evolve the way immersive storytelling is handled in games. According to The Astronauts’ Adrian Chmielarz and the game’s lead designer, this means an emphasis on gameplay that facilitates narrative without overshadowing it.
“What we care about the most is that the players feel like they’re really there. Immersion is our number one priority,” said Chmielarz. “It’s a game about exploration and discovery. We’re not abandoning the gameplay – on the contrary: we’re trying to strip it down to the bone and make sure it’s always meaningful and truly makes the experience better.”
While Chmielarz has said some things I disagree with on this subject, notably in his blog post about how often the most memorable moments in games are those in which no gameplay is involved, I am still very excited to see what new techniques he and his team will be employing to make their game the immersive experience they are striving towards.
With horror games still on the rise, and steadily embracing the genre’s subtleties, it’s cool to see all the new directions game developers are taking it in, in terms of gameplay and narrative. So far, this game’s already on my radar just for its macabre influences and all the awesome potential its aesthetic grants it–the lovely in-engine trailer helped a bit too.
…Not to mention the comparison Chmielarz came up with for Polygon: “…imagine an R-rated Dear Esther with gameplay.”
I’ve also become a fan of the studio’s philosophy!
“There are lots of great things about the big world of AAA games, but there’s even more appeal to us in making games that feel and are personal, and where the only censors are the creators and the public. We want to make games which we are 100% responsible for.”
Okay, I’ll settle down.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is being developed on the latest version of Unreal Engine 3, along with an “exciting new technology” that has yet to be revealed. It is slated for a PC release sometime in 2013.