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Descent Gone Melancholy In Null Operator

Sad, dusty mine

Null Operator [official site] caught my eye last year with talk of being a "6-degrees-of-freedom procedural action stealth roguelike" inspired by Descent. "Sure," I thought, "I'll follow their dev blog and see where it goes." Very interesting places indeed, it turns out.

Developers Rust Ltd had a minor crisis over the game's direction after seeing the Kickstarter for Descent: Underground bore no resemblance to the Descent they loved and remembered. Which set them thinking about what exactly it was they wanted to make. Which lead to a whole new Null Operator that looks fascinating: a melancholy 6DoF game in gorgeous eerie locations. Come see.

This here started out as a tech demo for the Alloy Shader Framework that Rust also make but dev Anton Hand realised it's what he was looking for in his six-degrees-of-freedom 'em up. It's an "aesthetic test", not gameplay and not even the game, but look at how wonderful this is:

Heck yes I want to be in that place. You can download the demo to explore at your own pace too, though be aware it's unoptimised as it wasn't originally meant for public consumption.

Hand explained the development crisis in a recent blog post and how he realised he'd found the new direction after adding the searchlight robot.

"It felt sad, wistful, almost gentle to me. This, this was it. This was the feeling I wanted in this space. I didn’t want to fly around shooting it. I wanted to help it. I wanted to know why it was here, what it was looking for. I wanted to ask it where everything else had gone. Without explicitly looking for it, I had found a new sort of tonal center for my explorations."

He's still feeling out the shape of the game, but a few central ideas are 6DOF movement, complex physics interaction, procedural animation, robots, and weakness. On that last point he says:

"Totally done with making digital power fantasies. At 31, I’ve just hit tilt on this. I've role-played as super-capable fictive characters enough for several life times. We're all weak. We’re all fairly powerless relative to so many facets of life. We almost never explore this through this medium. We need to grow the fuck up. In the last demo of Null Op, I tried simply making the player frail in combat. Making that engagement as weighty as possible, as consequential as I could. I think my desire to please people, and inflexibility in thinking about a 6dof experience bereft of combat kept me from seeing the obvious for too long. Being weak sometimes means not being able to fight back."

I have no idea what this game will be but I really dig what I'm reading. Do check out the full blog post for more on its crisis and rebirth, as it's a good read.

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About the Author
Alice O'Connor avatar

Alice O'Connor

Associate Editor

Alice has been playing video games since SkiFree and writing about them since 2009, with nine years at RPS. She enjoys immersive sims, roguelikelikes, chunky revolvers, weird little spooky indies, mods, walking simulators, and finding joy in details. Alice lives, swims, and cycles in Scotland.

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