Unknown Pleasures 2009: The Void

By Quintin Smith on January 26th, 2009 at 3:00 pm.


Let’s play a little choose-your-own-adventure game. Okay, ready? You’re a small Russian games development studio located deep in the grassy guts of your enormous nation. It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue. In your inventory is: Some designers. Some computers. Two jars of instant coffee. Some asshole has drunk all the milk.


You’ve just had tremendous critical success with your first videogame, Pathologic, and the time has come for you to choose what to do next. Do you:

A) Pay for a stripper to come round to the studio and, in the absence of cocaine, write “POTHOLGIC” on her back in coffee before starting work on Pathologic 2.

Б) Realise it would be quite nice to earn lots of money without quite as much thought involved. Design a truck driving sim called Hawk Angry’s Bitchin’ Rig Blowdown that features 12 different bitchin’ rigs and an all new Mowdown Showdown mode.

Г) Stay entirely focused on the future. No sequels, no cash-cows, no rest time. Come up with an all new concept for another experimental game and get to work.

Д) Decide that videogames aren’t the correct medium for your team’s grim visions, go on to sell all your computers and buy two tons of surplus hospital equipment and DIY supplies. For the next nine months nobody is seen leaving or entering your building, though the noise of welding, hammering and bestial howling continues late into every starless night.

If you chose Г you can feel smug and pour yourself a healthy shot of vodka, because that’s exactly what Ice-Pick Lodge are doing. This year should see the English version of their next game, Typrop (Which translates to “Tension“and while due to some fist-eatingly annoying copy protection I haven’t been able to play as much of my friend’s Russian copy as I’d like, I have played the first couple of hours. And oh, mercy.

Once again The Void is a first-person game about the struggle against death, though it pulls the rug out from under you in the first couple of minutes of play. See, you’re already dead. What The Void tasks you with is exploring and understanding the dark, sprawling underworld you find yourself in, communicating with the mad inhabitants, learning (and then manipulating) the strange new laws of nature down there, all of it with the aim of clawing your way back towards the light.

While there’s nothing cutting edge about the engine, the design of the world is spectacular. Barren black bluffs that tail off into nothingness, twisted islands of gravel surrounded by inky water, unnatural vast tediums of sandstone and narrow paths that curl through the air, supported by nothing. There’s human architecture in the game too, though it’s slightly more sparse and even more fucked up. Corridors are too narrow, open spaces are too open, and the only furnishing seems related to rest. Chaise longues, cots, a bath surrounded by tinctures, a mansion cut into a stone wall decorated like an Egyptian pyramid.

As far as I can tell the two mechanics at the core of The Void are colour and the Brothers. The colour’s a really interesting one. The world you’re in is overwhelming sterile, most of it either built of stone or scorched black earth, but every so often you’ll come across little spurts of colour contained in hungry creatures, weeds, mosses and so on. You can absorb this colour into various parts of your body and it acts as both your health and mana, but you’re always pushed for space.

To begin with you can only fill up your left breast and left forearm with the tiniest spurts of beige or silver, and the only use I could find was siphoning it back into dead trees and plants. In time, however, you learn to trace sigils and spells such as using your colour to influence people and fling boulders, and more body parts become unlocked for storage. I was surprised to find out that while I was gifting the trapped, exhausted women around the world with colour to make them talk to me (shut up Kieron), certain colours are deathly poisonous to certain Sisters. Soon after that I noticed that you can farm colour by sluicing it into dead trees then returning several days later. The body of the tree is still be dead but the colour you choose thrives in that time, growing up along invisible branches to create glittering canopies in the sky.

Presumably by about the half way point of The Void you’ve transformed into a terrifying, shimmering multicoloured sorcerer, twisting and bending the bleak landscape back in on itself in your quest to return on the land of the living. But I mentioned the Brothers, didn’t I?

The Brothers are strange and fearful men and act as peacekeepers of the afterlife, and it turns out if there’s one thing you are absolutely, positively not meant to do as your soul rots away it’s mess with the colour. In time your activities draw the attention of one of the brothers, who appears on the world map as a little spherical icon who starts drifting towards you. I’d just learned how to stuff rocks full of colour before flinging them around as crude projectiles, so I was naturally pretty confident. In time the Brother arrived in the same zone I was in and… the game ended. Insta-death of my fledgling soul.

More than anything I think the reason this game excites me is it’ll be a chance for all the people who tried Pathologic but couldn’t stomach it to experience Ice-Pick’s handiwork. The Void might be a little obtuse and the atmosphere kinda stifling, but compared to Pathologic it’s a full-body massage. Discovering how the world works and winning over the Sisters is immediately rewarding, and there’s no sense of pressure for quite a while as you wander round, get lost and experiment with colour.

There’s a collection of fun stuff on the site if you want to whet your appetite a little more- music, screenshots, a couple of trailers and some writing from the developers. I’m not sure I’d recommend any of it though. It’s a little early to call it, but I’d say this is a game that’s built around the concept of exploration. I reckon you want to go in having seen as little as possible.

The Void will be coming to the West in 2009. We’ll have an interview with Ice-Pick next week

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99 Comments »

  1. The Archetype says:

    This looks like a game that benefited from amazing art direction (The 2nd and 3rd shots in particular). I am very excited to see where it goes.

  2. Bobsy says:

    Oh, not another “power of colour-boobs” game.

  3. Ian says:

    Speaking of when, when is Hawk Angry’s Bitchin’ Rig Blowdown actually out?

  4. monchberter says:

    Your ‘Russian’ ‘C’ is in fact a cyrillic ‘G’.

    Language Pedant.

    Aside, a great write up.

  5. dhex says:

    the idea that they might be able to marry the craziness of pathologic with the coherency that was completely missing from pathologic is very exciting!

  6. Dain says:

    Need more games with weird and wonderful art design!

  7. Markoff Chaney says:

    After the stunning gameplay offered to us by Pathologic (the effects of which can be measured on one’s brain by observing the effects of a Pan Glalactic Gargle Blaster on a carbon based life form) I can only wait with baited breath for their next masterpiece. Yes, I am predicting its phenomenal nature and otherworldlyness before I can even sample it based solely on their prior works. I am ever grateful the button below says “Opinion away!” and not “Fact away!” or I would post much less around here…

    I am curious as to how this playing of a role with, what appears to be, a statless system (with possibly more of a metroidvania explore/upgrade system in place) fits in with our latest RPS hivemind What is an RPG? exploration concept. However, maybe I’m totally wrong and one has to get their beige or silver to +50 before moving on to acquiring the Fuchsia thigh of much Godliness +2.

    Innovate away, Ice-Pick Lodge. Keep redefining the FPS (or FPE or FPA or FPP or whatever) genre and make me grin with unabashed love and gratitude for making me feel/act a certain way. Thrust me into that role. One thing I beg of you, though: Know it’s a little easier to get immersed when I don’t have to re-translate every single sentence from English to English.

    I can’t wait. Even if it’s fundamentally flawed and broken. Sometimes the best gems are those diamonds in the rough. What I catch in that one organic edge of the crystal may be significantly more fulfilling than that finely polished 17th iteration perfectly cut diamond. I can’t wait. But I will… Thank You.

  8. The LxR says:

    2Markoff Chaney: Will do. :) Tension was already translated inhouse with quality in mind, so don’t worry. Also, we’re still thinking about re-translating Pathologic, thoug doing it non-funded kind of… sucks, so can’t say anything for sure right now.

  9. Ginger Yellow says:

    Sounds like Ubik viewed through a Russian prism. Which sounds awesome.

    Can I download the Russian version anywhere? I can’t find a download link on their Russian language site, only talk about buying it at Soyuz stores.

  10. Alaric says:

    It’s not АБГД, it’s АБВГ. =]

    Anyway, this sounds somewhat interesting. Back in the day I was sent an alpha of Pathologic and frankly it was way too ugly for me to enjoy. I understand that I may have missed out on a good game, and normally I am not overly too fussy about the visuals, but that one I really didn’t like. So maybe this time around…

  11. Morph says:

    So it’s Pathalogic mixed with Limbo of the Lost?

  12. James G says:

    Sounds interesting, I recall seeing a trailer some time back on RPS. Never played Pathalogic though, so I know nowt about the general quality of the developers.

  13. Fox1 says:

    Morph says: So it’s Pathalogic mixed with Limbo of the Lost?

    Wouldn’t that just be Pathologic mixed with Oblivion, Silent Hill 4, Painkiller, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, Diablo 2, Rune, Thief 3, Pirates of the Caribbean, Crysis, Spawn, BioShock, UT2004, and Baldur’s Gate?

  14. Jonas says:

    I’ve heard the US version of the game will be censored (and easier), do you know if it will be possible to pick up an uncensored version of the game in English?

  15. IvanHoeHo says:

    Actually, I’m so looking forward to this game that I’ve already (illegally :() obtained a Russian version of this game. But without a real understanding of the game mechanics, it is currently no more than a very pretty screensaver.

    Man, they’d better not screw up the translation!

  16. Markoff Chaney says:

    Fantastic! I cannot wait… I do hope Tension does well enough to allow you all to revisit Pathologic and do a better translation without hurting financially. All of this, of course, while having another team make yet another innovative,mind-bending game. Thank You!

  17. Pags says:

    Listening to Fugazi really gets you in the mood for this. Just thought I’d point that out.

  18. Anothermike says:

    Anyone think this has a chance of ending up on steam?

  19. Citizen Parker says:

    @Anothermike Is there a Russian game that has come out on Steam yet? I can’t think of one, but then again there’s a thousand games on Steam I’ve never heard of. (Mayhem Intergalactic?)

    I have to stick with Impulse or Gamersgate for things of that nature.
    -Scott

  20. Markoff Chaney says:

    I was just reading through Ice-Pick Lodge’s forums and I came across something that startles and saddens me. It was posted by LxR, so I assume it is true, but disconcerting. It was in a discussion regarding “A few questions about Tension”

    “I, on the other hand, must note, that we won’t be getting any money from the English release, so if you want to support us – this is a good option.”

    So, in order to support you developers, I should buy the Russian version? You get nothing from the Atari distribution deal? I dislike it when my money goes primarily to a publisher, I want it to go to the developer. Can I just donate directly via PayPal or the like?

    There’s a little more explanation further down the post regarding one time payments and such, but I still want to give YOU money for YOUR game. Put it on Steam or Stardock or self publish for Direct Digital Download from another site. Let me pay YOU! Please!

    Also, as a final note, please do include the original Russian audio as an option for the English release. Playing back through the Witcher in Polish is quite enjoyable. I like reading! I prefer to enjoy works in as close to their native presentation as possible, language included. Thank You!

    -EDIT- I can’t format stuffs.

  21. yhancik says:

    Also it should be released here as “The Void”, not Tension.

    @Jonas:
    according to the forum, it shoud be “re-balanced“, but not censored.

    Btw there are a lot of gameplay vids here : http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=Throdax&view=videos

  22. Chris Evans says:

    Yeah it is being released as The Void as I revealed here.

  23. crumbsucker says:

    @Citizen Parker
    Is there a Russian game that has come out on Steam yet?

    Full Pipe is russian AFAIK, it’s a wonderfully quirky (and funny) little adventure game. It’s only 5 EUR, and there is a demo. Actually I’m puzzled by the fact that I haven’t seen a post about it on RPS yet. You guys seemed to like these kinds of games.

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/4600/

  24. The LxR says:

    2Markoff Chaney: I think we’ll open a PayPal account for this reasons, but, I must note that buying the game from a western publisher also pays off, but not in money – it proves to the western publisher our ability to make a well-selling game. Also, I suspect the game will have a very nice gift edition, based on the stuff me prepared for the Russian one. Expect a bonus DVD with a lossless soundtrack (112 track including unreleased tracks and poetry from the game), all the videos, art in print quality and much more. In fact, check out the torrents – they should have the Russian bonus disk. And… We’re already working on a new project. ;)

    2Citizen Parker: Full Pipe has. There is a chance, but can’t say anything for sure yet.

  25. The LxR says:

    Oh yeah, and visit the forums for more info: http://forum.ice-pick.com/

  26. Markoff Chaney says:

    Please let us know when you get that link. I don’t think I’m the only gamer who would like to make sure you fine people get properly rewarded for your work. I’ll buy it from the publisher and give you money as well. If I can figure out how to order it from a Russian site, I may buy it twice, just as I got to with the Witcher. I don’t mind buying something more than once, especially if it helps y’all put out more amazing work.

    I may check out that torrent, too (a Dev saying “check out the torrents”. Words can hardly … Nope. They fail me…) but I really want to be surprised. I do so hate spoilers and even a glance at some artwork can tell a whole story I would rather have revealed through the magic of interactive storytelling.

    Thank You for caring for us gamers. Thank You. I hope we can show You our gratitude properly.

    -Edit- Heh. Joe #1 from Repeater +3 just came on random. How odd, Pags…

  27. Arzar says:

    What would be really cool, would be to have the english script of the two conferences about game design given by the lead developper of Tension, which can be found in the russian bonus DVD. I was quite amazed to find them, along with some powerpoint about game design !

  28. Youatemycheeto says:

    Is there any word about the Pathologic translation patch? I read through the features that you wrote on it back in April and it looks pretty amazing.

    I was thinking about how you had Quintin mentioned how he had had an argument about whether a game can be good if it’s not fun. I’d really never put much thought into this before, but it’s a really good question. A lot of my favorite movies and books would be hard to describe as “fun to watch.”

    I wouldn’t call Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” of my favorite books but it comes to mind because I read it a could weeks ago. By no means is it a fun book. You might call it an exercise in despair and desolation. But I was oddly compelled to continue, even though I had a pretty good idea that it wouldn’t end with anything approaching “resolution.” It’s a beautiful book that’s tough to read.

    I guess that’s something that most game developers have stayed away from. Games are still a fairly undeveloped medium and I imagine that it would be tough to take a big risk like that from a financial point of view. Writing a book doesn’t cost a lot of money and if it’s good, it will have a much bigger audience than a dark, difficult game like Pathologic.

  29. crumbsucker says:

    I haven’t been this excited about a game since years. The screens look amazingly surreal and beautiful. Finally a proper game from the artists who created Pathologic. (By “proper” I mean: with up to date engine/technology, and hopefully not bug-ridden and badly translated).

  30. Ginger Yellow says:

    I second the call for including the Russian audio in the European release. I know you’re listening, Atari.

  31. Candid_Man says:

    As someone who totally got Pathologic, to the point where I’m a bit giddy with it and consider it should be one of the defining elements in any “games as art” debates, I’m saddened to hear that our version of Tension will be altered or re-balanced in any way from Icepick’s original vision. After the landmark statement of Pathologic’s ending (even though it was translated for the most part with a meat cleaver), I have the utmost respect for Icepick’s work and fear the “balancing” could possibly compromise the atmosphere they were going for.

    For example, I feel that Pathologic would not have been the same without its singular difficulty curve: if you didn’t constantly fight against your own internal clocks of hunger, fatigue, health, reputation, sickness, narrative unity (!) and others, as well as evaluating your various entries into many layers of economic exchange with the different factions of the village… The sudden break in all this internal-external “hardcore-gamer” management in the very last part of the game would not have had the same impact for me without the unrelenting curve that preceded it. The difficulty of Pathologic was very much part of its storytelling process.

    Also, it’s really sad that any money us gamers spend on Tension will go in the publisher’s pockets and not toward Icepick’s next project. Gloomy news, all that.

  32. blacktick says:

    Been waiting for an english version of this since the beginning of last year. Pathologic was one of my favourite game…
    And the music simply blows me away. :)

    Was annoyed to hear the english version not giving money to the devs,since if I remember correctly they were screwed with pathologic too in that department.
    I’m not a rich man,but I will also buy this game twice,russian and english versions…just to get more great games in the future from an awesome dev(just like with the witcher and the enhanced edition) who communicates with potential customers. :D

  33. The LxR says:

    2Markoff Chaney: OK, here it is – I’m new to this, so, if anything is wrong – don’t hesitate to tell.

  34. blacktick says:

    Oh I’m so donating. :D

  35. Candid_Man says:

    “Currently PayPal accounts in Russia are only able to send payments. This recipient is not eligible to receive funds.”

    Donating is not possible, it would seem…

  36. Markoff Chaney says:

    Anger at corporations Rising… Rising!

    “Currently, PayPal accounts in Russia are only able to send payments. This recipient is not eligible to receive funds.”

    Curses! Foiled again.

    Mark my words, Ice-Pick Lodge. You will get my money. Oh yes, you will. One day… :)

    -EDIT- Jinx! I owe you a coke…

  37. The LxR says:

    OK, don’t bother then. ;) We will survive anyhow :)

  38. Muzman says:

    “Hawk Angry’s Bitchin’ Rig Blowdown”

    RPS, here is your new heading text.

  39. Markoff Chaney says:

    I just want you to survive while coding new games on top of a pile of money wearing solid gold robes of leisure while eating bon-bons.

  40. The LxR says:

    2Markoff Chaney: Don’t worry. :) Actually, think about it – we won’t get sufficent funding on donations anyway. It’s just nice to know that our work is appreciated. :)

  41. Steve says:

    Damn,
    I suspect this means I’m going to have to ask my ex for the graphics tablet I loaned her.

    I prefer ‘Turgor’ more than Tension for the name though…

    P.s.

    Buying the russian version was a pain in the arse, I tried when it was released and was foiled by crappy web shops and regional limitations.

  42. Wolfgang Walk says:

    To avoid a distorted picture as the producer of the tiitle for Atari I have to say that Atari pays money for the title – and not just a few bucks.
    But of course the contract partner for Atari is the Russian publisher of the game since they own the rights. Thus the money goes to the publisher – and only from there it goes (partly) to IPL.

    But as TheLxr stated: this might become the door-opener for IPL to big western publishers.

    As for the story: we re-wrote it completely for the English version, hiring US game author Mark Barrett for the editing job. Be assured this version is in the best possible hands.

  43. The LxR says:

    Just as Wolfgang (BTW, he’s the man behind the Settlers series, Incubation and many other great games – he’s doing a lot to help make the game better!) said, this shouldn’t stop you from buying the game – it’s a popular model to work with and we’re getting our profit from it. ;) Don’t let Atari down, they’re paying for your game!

  44. Wolfgang Walk says:

    The Lxr is overstating my role with mentioned games, but yes: Atari is doing its best to help making The Void the great game we all want.

  45. blacktick says:

    When a dev tells you to buy their game…i’ll buy their game. granted of course that it’s good. :)

    I have no doubt that the english version is in good hands,I just hope we won’t have to wait too long for it.

  46. Markoff Chaney says:

    I absolutely will be purchasing this game when it is released stateside. I endeavor to support the game in it’s released incarnation. Those numbers let you publishers see I want more games like the one I just bought. That is needed from a financial forecasting perspective. I totally understand that. I just like making sure my dollars help feed the minds that envision such twisted worlds.

    I love the communication we have going on here. Developers, Publishers, Critics and Consumers all sharing together. This makes me anticipate the interview, and any other news, all the more.

    Thank You.

    P.S. – I wonder if this is the same Mark Barrett – “Irreconcilable Differences: Games vs. Story”

  47. solipsistnation says:

    Oh boy. I can’t wait for this.

    I hope it’s actually, you know, playable.

  48. DonaldDuck says:

    Fantastic. I wish western game developers were this brave.

  49. Qabal says:

    Western developers are the equivalent to Hollywood now, all flash, little substance, with few exceptions. That’s why I’m looking forward to more games form other countries as well as independent developers far more than the AAA titles from western companies with massive budgets. It’s nice to play games that make you think again.

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