Hands-On: Stranded

alone :(
Sometimes, I want to go off-world. I look up at constellations and think that there might be, out there somewhere, the remnants of our imagination. A planet full of the wondrous things that we dream of: a race of noble cyborgs, canyons and canyons of undisturbed blue rock, stalactites of green fragile crystallations, or perhaps somewhere it rains neon yellow. Perhaps our kin might one day crash-land on that undisturbed planet and make all our grimy chores and overcast skies, even our trips to the moon, seem insignificant. This planet of wonders drifts somewhere in space, turning itself over with care.

I’ve been wanting to talk to you about Peter Moorhead’s new project, the exploration-based adventure game Stranded, for a long time. Its little preview build puttered into my inbox a few weeks ago, and crash-landed in my head. It sits there lodged now, like an adventure game lens into Stanley Kubrick’s mind.

alone :(

Yes, there’s this game that exists in my mind, and it’s a version of The Dig. Do you remember The Dig? Perhaps you played it at the formative age I did, or a little older. It was a Lucasarts adventure game about three astronauts going into space to investigate an asteroid called ‘Attila’. It was based on an idea by serial imaginationist Steven Spielberg, and written by disgraced man of Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card. Robert Patrick voiced the main character. It was polished for an adventure game – and it wasn’t the wacky humoured thing I was used to. It was more about exploration and puzzles than Full Throttle, the game it was bundled with. The Dig was visually beautiful: it was a series of exotic off-world landscapes accompanied by the sustain of a string orchestra, something that indicated wonderment, awe. But as I look at the game now, this is not the game that ten year old me played. My mind has warped it. No, in my head, The Dig much more closely resembles Stranded.

Listen to this music.

You begin by opening the pod doors. A little spacewoman exits the cryo-freeze and stands in a white spacesuit. She is breathing her first breaths in a long time; you can tell because the breaths are heavy, slow, loud. She is animated to have her whole body take those breaths. I take the right hand door.

alone :(

Outside, I am by a cliff edge. I go to the edge and observe a far-off regal bipedal stonebeast walk towards the lake behind me. It is walking slowly into the lake, and as I stand there, it submerges, and then floats to the surface. Have I just witnessed a suicide? Part of me thinks it is too beautiful here for suicide. I cross back through my spaceship and exit to the left. There is the smouldering wreck of my spaceship. And just to the edge of the screen, I notice a giant leave. I follow.

alone :(

You click on the ground to navigate. The navigation and pathfinding in the build I’m playing is a little janky, but the walking pace seems deliberately slow. You may click on the astronaut to reveal a little LCD map of where you have visited. Peter describes it as the ‘Proteus’ of adventure games, and I think I understand as I traverse screen to screen, landscape to landscape. Each new place I find is a place which cannot be interacted with; it’s just a vignette in my mind, a series of wonderfully animated places breathing in rhythm with my spacegirl. This is The Dig of my memories: I cannot remember words or puzzles, I only remember what it is like to witness beautiful, exotic planetscapes and hear the music of wonder.

alone :(

At some point, you will come across the Shrine. Here two of the stone cyborgs stand, breathing in time with you, a shaft of light shining gently on the shrine floor. In the middle, the statue of a cyborg holding up the planet. You cannot interact with anything here. You may only look on and listen to the music.

These silent giants only look on. You sometimes know they are trying to lead you places; to what is unclear now. Part of you suspects that you might not make it off this planet. But another part of me suspects I was fated to crash here, fated to help.

alone :(

Peter tells me that the exploration of this place does eventually lead to a direct goal, but the build I was given only showed select screens on the map that I could see. “It’s intended to capture the atmosphere of games like The Dig, the quieter moments of Metroid Prime, and other such titles,” he says.

alone :(

The feeling of nostalgia for the adventure games I played as a child is strong here, but importantly, does not reflect any adventure game I have yet played. Stranded’s ability to depict movement, exploration, and travel to stunning alien places is something I loved. Walking slowly from screen to screen is more of a contemplation, a wide-eyed feeling of seeing something for the first time. That feeling of the first time you thought you knew what videogames could do for you: the feeling that you were now allowed to go to the stars without ever leaving your chair. I’m looking forward to going back.

Stranded will be released on Windows, Mac and Linux in early 2014, but keep an eye on Peter’s website.

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38 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    What’s this – a game with subtlety and introspection? That entices the player’s curiosity with unexplained phenomena? And it has an art style that harkens back to the adventure games of yore?

    Give me this over The Last of Us any day.

  2. DiamondDog says:

    Sounds like it’s got all the elements I know I’ll love.

    Until it’s released I’ll just have to look at pictures of Mars and listen to some Steve Moore.

  3. plaYer2k says:

    Awwww when i read “Stranded” as game title i thought of the good old tropical 3D survival game Stranded (2003) and Stranded 2 (2007)
    link to strandedonline.de
    link to en.wikipedia.org

    I have to admit that this unlucky naming disappoints me to some degree. I hope the name changes to make the games distinguishable.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      I personally quite like STRANDEDER, implying the more recent game’s superiority

  4. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    This sounds amazing!

  5. Gap Gen says:

    After Cara’s last article I’m not trusting the “Hands On” moniker.

    Actually, one of the most depressing things about being a professional astrophysicist is how routine space becomes – you make a galaxy, decide it’s not any good, delete it and make another one. Staring up at the stars is magical because you realise that this is all real, and much bigger than you. And yet – most of it is hydrogen and helium. It doesn’t matter for shit. The cosmological chocolate density? Zipidy doo. Earth is amazing.

    • AbyssUK says:

      The most depressing thing about being an astrophysicist is knowing eventually you are going to end up working for a bank…

      • meepmeep says:

        only those that, at some point, start to care about money.

      • Chaz says:

        I thought for a second you were going to say “The most depressing thing about being an astrophysicist is knowing eventually that the universe will die.

        But yes I could see how working in a bank would be more depressing than knowing that the universe is doomed and that all life is therefore ultimately pointless.

        • lowprices says:

          Imagine knowing all that and realising that you are spending the brief time of the only life you’ll have ever have in a doomed, meaningless universe working in a bank.

    • gazornonplat says:

      Hi Gap Gen, Peter Moorhead here. I’m not sure what previous article you’re referring to, but I can tell you for a fact that this was a genuine hands on. :)

    • Cara Ellison says:

      Here is the last Hands On I did for RPS: link to rockpapershotgun.com This is definitely something I played with my hands. Sorry!

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      The cosmological chocolate density is indeed very small, but it doesn’t account for all the chocolate I encounter in my life. I theorise the existence of dark chocolate.

  6. Perjoss says:

    From the screens it reminds me of The Dig, a game which I did not play when it was first released almost 20 years ago, in fact I played it about a year ago and I was amazed at how well the game still stands up today. I think it easily even puts many modern adventure games to shame. I’ll be keeping my eye on Stranded, it looks interesting!

    • Hammurabi says:

      Ah! Guano! Right in my eye.

    • Crowbar says:

      My thoughts exactly. Certainly with the mysterious space alien archaeological site ambience.

      Will it have a good script and voice acting though?

  7. Noviere says:

    There is something about this sort of sci-fi that I just… love. It’s quiet, and lovely, and thoughtful. When I was a kid, my family spent the summers at our cottage and there were these very remote, rocky beaches. I would spend hours wandering around them, pretending I was on some alien world by myself. Thinking back on those times, I always get this very calm, still feeling. This game sort of reminds me of that :)

    • Unclepauly says:

      I grew up in the inner city and got the same feeling you are talking about from wandering down by the railroad tracks. There was a swampy area, a rocky area, and a grassy area all behind it with an abandoned factory that we could sneak into. Sometimes it was dangerous cause of gangbangers and whatnot but when you found yourself all alone it was like another world.

  8. Geebs says:

    Uhh, it seems to be “Moorhead”.

  9. notcurry says:

    This sounds like a step in the right direction in making meaningful aesthetic experiences out of games.

    By the way, is delivering the article along with a piece of music a new thing? Because it was just the right thing to do…

  10. Darth Grabass says:

    The giants look like Glyos figures. link to onelldesign.com

  11. alms says:

    Sounds like something I could like a lot.

  12. brgillespie says:

    Last screenshot is essentially the idol in Prometheus.

    link to img.gawkerassets.com

    Not disparaging the game, just noting the strong/direct influence.

    • gazornonplat says:

      For sure. I wasn’t a big fan of Prometheus, but the visuals were amazing. We also pull a little inspiration from the design of their tech/equipment in that film, and Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky was a big influence on the design of the giants too.

  13. Noelemahc says:

    As someone who loves The DIG (and, relatedly, LOOM, since DIG borrows quite a lot of locations from it, just redrawn in a different art style), I approve of more games like this being made.
    The only other game that made me feel anything remotely approaching DIG-zen was Swords & Sworcery.

    • stahlwerk says:

      … since DIG borrows quite a lot of locations from it, just redrawn in a different art style…

      Wha wha whaat? *hat reaches escape velocity*

      Please, do elaborate, or provide uniform resource locators.

      • Noelemahc says:

        As soon as I find my DIG CD, I’ll try to make some screamshots, but the TLDR is: the caves in the dragon portion of LOOM are almost 1:1 matches to some of the caves in DIG (f.e. the maze-in-the-darkness segment finds several of its pieces reincarnated in multiple locations in DIG), including the rock bridges, stalactites and stuff (specifically around the area where the spider thing grabs Maggie).
        Also, IIRC, some of the Crystalgard backgrounds bear striking similarities with some of the techier locations in DIG (like the Library), due to comparable use of crystals, but I can’t certainly say they’re identical without looking it up.

        TLDR: In many ways, DIG felt like a spiritual successor to LOOM for me.

  14. altum videtur says:

    PETER MOTÖRHEAD YEAH

    Well that sounds fascinating.

  15. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Oooh! I might just have to grab myself a copy of this one. Thanks for the article. Er.. blog-post?

  16. Easy says:

    Dat musique. <3

  17. Lone Gunman says:

    That is good music to study to.

  18. makute says:

    “It’s intended to capture the atmosphere of games like The Dig, the quieter moments of Metroid Prime, and other such titles,”
    He sures know how to touch my strings… Do that again, you dirty!