I know how I will die. I am reminded of it constantly, and without sympathy. One shrinking white oblong, to the upper left of my vision, taunts me with the rapid decline of my oxygen; another, upper right, expressionlessly cackles at me with its ever-diminishing power supply, showing me the encroaching demise of the Capsule that keeps me alive.
Of the two, the latter is the most distressing. At least when the oxygen runs out, everything stops and my struggle is over. When the power runs out and my craft grinds to a harrowingly muted halt, my punishment is two fold, for I grind to a halt and am unable to do anything except watch the oxygen ebb away. The loss of power inverts the horror of air loss, transforming it from too fast to too slow. Instead of desperately fleeing death, I must sit and wait patiently for it.
The funny thing is that I don’t even need these two meters, those monochrome rectangles which pitilessly promise me that my life will soon end, to know that death’s icy hand is on my shoulder. All I have to do is listen to myself, hear my breath quicken and wheeze as the tiny craft I’m in approaches the limits of its ability to sustain life. Unless I can steer it into – what? I don’t know. Debris? An asteroid? A gas pocket? A seeker mine? I don’t know. I don’t know. I can try to find out with my scanner, but it will cost me fuel and slow me down to do so. I may need to go far off course to find the thing that keeps me alive for just a few seconds more. Unless I do that, or by a miracle find what I need lying directly in my path, the laboured sound of my breathing will intensify, then it will stop, and then I will be dead.
My capsule’s engine does its own breathing. A steady whir at slow speeds, a troubled whine when accelerated, a hollow, lifeless clunking as whatever goes into its tank exhausts itself. When it is all gone, the only noise the engine can make is that of a car trying to start after being left in a desert for a decade. Something tries to find a way to live again, but it is only a forlorn hope for the impossible.
And so I die. Perhaps my engine died first, and I had a chance to prepare myself for the end, or perhaps I asphyxiated suddenly, in terror, 100, 200, 1000, 2000 yards/miles/light years/fathoms from my next lonely destination.
Am I in space? Am I underwater? Am I a nano-scale explorer travelling through the body of some vast entity? It does not matter. I don’t need description and I don’t need colour. I just need to keep moving, trying to outrun those twin deaths. A white cross – much like a headstone, aptly – locates me in this place. An endless expansion of nothing, filled with featureless blobs that might be air, might be fuel or might be danger, is my home. A sheen of cracked blue, a distorted, fractured barrier between myself and my inevitable fate, tells me that this home is hostile to me.
A distance readout shows me how long I have to find a way to stay alive. If I move in the right direction, this distance will decrease. If I move there too quickly, my tiny craft’s power will deplete. If I move there too slowly, my lungs will empty and there will be nothing left to refill them with. As well as determining the correct direction to travel, I must determine the correct speed in which to travel, a difficult weighing of loss against loss, a balance which may not even exist.
Help is out there, but I must gamble to find it. I can take my time, plan my route and hope I find enough to keep me going at this snail’s pace, or I can ram my capsule into that – debris? Asteroid? Gas pocket? Seeker mine? – and pray it contains fuel or air, not deadly gas or explosive or worse. Collision with the wrong thing costs me some of my twin lifelines, hastens my journey into the abyss beyond this one. But I must collide. It’s the only way.
My destinations are lonely places. They slowly tell me the tale of what happened in this place. I see the signs of life that was once here, but has now moved on, either to death or another distant outpost. My only company remains the sound of my own tortured breath, a drawn-out death rattle in an uncaring vacuum. Drowning. Dying.
I don’t know why I continue. I don’t know what I can do. I have so little hope. My situation worsens, as threats increase in variety and number, seek to provide new obstacles between myself and the next island of nothingness I’m supposed to voyage to.
But I must continue. I must keep breathing. I know I can.
I must turn off all the lights, I must wear my headphones, I must lock the door and I must deactivate all other distractions. I must play CAPSULE, a minimalist, brutal journey with, to and from death, a perversion of Lunar Lander into bleakness and struggle, from Canabalt, Gravity Hook and Hundreds creator Adam ‘Atomic’ Saltsman. I must be moved into existential terror and a sense of complete, inescapable loneliness by the mesmerisingly hideous sounds of slow death and collapse given to it by Robin Arnott. I must tell you that you should too, if you are not too deterred by the concept of a near-colourless journey of sound and survival through a pitiless void that tells you nothing and refuses to lend you any helping hand.
CAPSULE is out now.