PC Video Games

Exclusive Interview: Narcosis Writer David Chen

In the first-person underwater survival game Narcosis, you’re a deep sea diver who’s stranded at the bottom of the ocean. But while the development team have figured many of the game’s mechanics, they still have some important decisions to make. As writer David Chen explained when he came to my house to let me play the latest demo of the game, “We don’t even have a name for our team yet.”

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So what is Narcosis?

It’s a game being made by six guys in France. It’s a first-person survival game set at the bottom of the ocean. The ultra short pitch is that it’s Gravity under water. Though they started working on this long before the movie came out.

You’re a diver in an diving suit, working at an energy extraction facility, when a catastrophe occurs that strands you with a suit that’s sprung a leak. So you have to find your way home.

As for the controls, there’s a thrust that makes you jump forward, you have a knife, and you can toss flares or use your suit’s flashlight when its dark. Which it usually is.

But the suit isn’t like the one a Big Daddy wears in BioShock, right?

No, it’s a modern one.

Did you look at real ones, or did you make it up?

Well, we designed this one, but it’s based on real ones.

The funny thing is, because the real ones have heads-up projections, they almost look too sci-fi to be real.

You mentioned that you have flares. I assume you only have a limited number of them at any given time, though.

Yes. And your flashlight will have batteries that run out.

Light is a very significant part of the experience. For example, there are parts where you’ll come across creatures that are attracted to light, and you can use that to distract them. And there will be parts when you’ll have to hit the lights in a certain sequence, as well as times when you’ll have to use flares to attract something to you. Though there will also be instances when you’ll want to turn off all the lights.

Now, along with light, oxygen is also a substantial part of the game. And it doesn’t always come in tanks. You might have find it in other places.

Though what’s more important than how much you have is how fast you consume it. High stress situations cause your consumption to accelerate, which can cause you to suffer mild visual or aural hallucinations, and even spatial and temporal stuff ones if you keep going.

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And that, I assume, is what would really happen in that situation.

Yes, that’s what narcosis is. Nitrogen narcosis is a condition that divers get when they get too much nitrogen. And the deeper you go, the more severe the effects will be.

Is that something you have to be mindful in the game, or does it only come up at specific instances?

If you run out of oxygen, you will suffer from it. But there are also times when, as dictated by the story, you will run out of oxygen and have to deal with that. Though it is less likely that you will run out of oxygen when you’re just walking around.

There are also times when you won’t have any flares or batteries for your flashlight and will have to deal with being in complete darkness.

As you said, the game is kind of Gravity underwater. But are you just walking from one place to another, like in The Lord Of The Rings, or do you have things to do along the way?

To be honest, it is a rather linear experience. But the whole game does not take place on the ocean floor. There are times when you’ll have to re-enter the facility you were working, which is now flooded, and you’ll have to do things like flip on a communication system or get to a sub.

I don’t know much about diving suits, but I do know that you can’t move very fast in them. But in a game, people don’t want to move slow. Are you guys fudging how quickly you can move in these things?

Yes. We’re still adjusting how fast you can movie because we want the game to be fun, but we also want it to be somewhat realistic.

Speaking of which, are the sea creatures also based on real ones?

They are real sea creatures, but with some liberties taken. Some of them are probably a hundred times bigger in the game than they are in real life.

So to keep yourself from getting completely lost, will you have a map? Maybe like one in an RPG that fills in as you explore different places?

Yeah. But again, the game is about losing your mind, so we may have fun with the map as well. Kind of like what they did in Eternal Darkness.

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As the writer, what are some of the things that you looked to for influence when it came to the story?

It was not planned, but as far as the narrative goes, there are a lot of similarities to Gone Home. Though Narcosis is not a supernatural/sci-fi kind of game. It’s more of a realistic experience.

Was there ever any thought to having this be a more supernatural/sci-fi kind of game?

Oh yeah. When I joined the team, it was a bit sci-fi-esque. Though since I got involved, we stripped out some of those elements.

I assume that since I just played the game on a PC with an Xbox 360 controller that the game will support controllers, right?

Yeah. And you’ll also be able to be able to use the Oculus.

Now what came first: the Oculus or the idea for this game?

To be honest, we didn’t even think of making the game work with the Oculus until a few months ago. It happened because every time we told someone about the game, they’d be like, “And it’s on Oculus, right?” So we figured we should check it out. We don’t even own one, we had to borrow one from someone to get it to work.

In playing with the Oculus, it seemed like it changed the controls so that the right thumbstick didn’t move my view — I did that by actually moving my head — and instead the right thumbstick moved the flashlight.

We’re still trying to decide what to do with that. Some people like how the flashlight moves with your head, some people like how they move independently. So that’s still to be decided.

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Finally, it’s obviously a PC game right now, but what other systems will it be available for and when will it be out?

It will be out in 2015, one way or another, but the format and from whom and where is all up for debate.


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