LudoNarraCon 2019: In Other Waters

As mentioned in a post earlier this week, artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic in the IT industry. I find the subject of its impact on society interesting and this helps explain why games featuring robots and their relationships with humans hold a certain appeal for me.

I’ve played many releases where the protagonist is assisted or hindered by an AI of some kind. Take the awesome J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars for example, where crew member Rachel Manners is assisted by a central computer and reconnaissance robot. There’s also my favourite game of 2018, The Red Strings Club, where a bartender and freelance hacker are aided by a rogue empathy android. Or how about the upcoming Neo Cab, where Lina is trying to earn a living as the last human cab-driver in the city of Los Ojos.

But there don’t seem to be as many where you’re the intelligence itself, so that’s what makes In Other Waters by Jump Over The Age so interesting. I first saw the project in the Leftfield Collection at last year’s EGX Rezzed event shortly after the successful Kickstarter campaign in February 2018. Having now had the chance to play a short demo during last weekend’s LudoNarraCon, what I’ve seen in that hour-long test is enough to have me very intrigued and I can’t wait to play the full title once released.

The story is set in a future where the Earth is undergoing massive environmental change. The acidification of the oceans, toxic pollutants, deep-sea mining and destruction of vital food chains have decimated our sea-life. The planet is now occupied only by the poor souls unable to join the exodus, while those rich enough head ‘starward’ to join the vast industrial colonies of nearby systems. Strangely though, humanity has been unable to find life on these new worlds.

When a routine exoplanet study goes wrong and her partner Minae Nomura disappears into an alien ocean, Xenobiologist Ellery Vas is left with little more than an antiquated diving suit. What she finds is a sea of extraterrestrial life; and it’s up to you, her AI, to help her trace Minae and dredge up secrets that were meant to be lost forever. As you dive deeper into the waters of Gliese 677Cc, the bond between you and Ellery will be tested by what you discover and the choices you make will change the course of the expedition.

The demo begins with very little explanation. At first I felt overwhelmed: a voice told me to ‘start with a local scan’ but I had no idea how to action the command and the control overlay, activated by holding ‘C’ on the keyboard, wasn’t much help. All I could see was a panel of various knobs and dials with a larger circle in the middle, which depicted a curious set of flowing lines – a top-down representation of the ocean showing the ridges and trenches of the underwater surface.

In Other Waters, video game, control panel, underwater, sea, diving, map

After several minutes though, I noticed that almost anything highlighted in yellow could be interacted with and I started to find my feet (flippers?). Afterwards I realised this sensation was actually quite fitting and as I wrote back in October, I like it when the opening scenes of a title cause the player to feel emotions that mimic their character. In Other Waters’ Steam page advises that you’re ‘an AI, waking from a dreamless sleep’ so it’s understandable you’d be a little confused while booting back up.

My first task was to scan the ocean floor to mark some points of interest. A simple button-click highlights these on the ‘map’ which can then be marked, and selecting them by positioning the compass before clicking on the Set Head button will cause Ellery to head over. Once she reaches the destination, the Xenobiologist will make notes of what she finds so rather than see the world of Gliese 677Cc with your own eyes, you see it through her words.

It might be an observation about the underwater landscape, a new alien life-form or perhaps something from which a sample can be taken. Simply locate the item to be sampled on the left-hand panel, lock it in place and click on the relevant button. It seems as though you’ll usually find a useful substance. In the demo I discovered something Ellery decided to call ‘Shrillsacks’ due to the high-pitched noise emitted; we could then use this to scare off stalk-like creatures which were blocking certain routes and progress further.

Although I didn’t see an example of this in the short section played, the Kickstarter page advises that how you respond to Ellery will change your relationship with her. I’m guessing this may become rather difficult in the later stages as the game as you only have ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ options available to you so nuanced answers are out of the question. Put your pilot at risk, chart paths into danger or make bad decisions in high-pressure situations, and you may find that the trust you’ve built up with her is shattered.

LudoNarraCon, stream, Heaven's Vault

Creator Gareth Damian Martin wrote: “Beyond this, In Other Waters also explores the idea of symbiosis in a deeper sense. Does this human / AI relationship point to a new kind of cross-species collaboration? When forced to choose between the natural life of the planet and the guiding hands of its human creators, where does the allegiance of an AI lie? How might artificial life be simply the next step of a universe-wide evolutionary chain?”

As the demo came to a close, I finally found the remote Waystation set up by Nomura – but something had clearly gone wrong as it was a shadow of its former self and Ellery’s partner was nowhere to be seen. However, some hidden data revealed mysterious ‘Xenocaches’ that blinked mysteriously on the screen after a scan. What has happened on Gliese 677Cc and what will we discover underneath the waves? Where has Nomura disappeared to? And how on earth are we going to get home?

In Other Waters is due to be released in early 2020 so hopefully we won’t have to wait long to find it out. Visit the Steam page for further details and follow Jump Over The Edge on Twitter for all the news.

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