What better way to follow up my interview with Just Stop Oil than by writing about a horror game set on a haunted oil rig? The game in question is, of course, Still Wakes The Deep from Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs developer The Chinese Room. Set off the coast of Scotland in the 1970s, it sees you navigating collapsing gantries and flooded rooms while avoiding an unearthly terror apparently extracted from the ocean floor. Mind you, the worst thing in the game could be the weather, which you can witness for yourself in the latest gameplay trailer below. Never mind the dreadful moaning on the other side of the pipes - how about that drizzle?
The correct term here isn't drizzle but "dreich", according to senior lighting artist Luke Norman, who has written down a few thoughts for The Chinese Room's latest development diary. "The word dreich is commonly used to describe the weather in Scotland when it's just plain miserable," he explained. "Grey clouds, rain, wind, and no sign of sunlight. It's also a word that describes a feeling and that is exactly what we wanted to portray to players in Still Wakes The Deep.
"Have you ever looked out of the window and thought to yourself 'Yeah, I really don't want to go out there in the cold...'?" Norman went on. "That's dreich. Unfortunately, Caz, our main character, doesn't have that luxury. He and the rest of the crew on board the Beira D oil rig are used to this kind of weather in the North Sea, so we wanted to portray that as much as possible so that the player can feel how miserable it might be out there."
According to Norman, the atmospheric conditions get worse as the game progresses, making the environment more hazardous, and not in the exhilarating Battlefield 2042 fashion. The developers are aiming for the feeling that "the weather has taken all the colour and joy out of the surroundings", and have marshalled a lot of technological knowhow to achieve this.
"We're a small team compared to major AAA studios, but we wanted to match or even beat the standards set by some of the best-looking games out there when it comes to realistic graphics," Norman added. "After doing extensive research into finding solid reference images of the time period and oil rigs, all that was left was figuring out our technical pipelines and workflows to achieve the best we could with a limited number of people.
"Personally, I'm a huge nerd when it comes to figuring out these pipelines and workflows, so I had a lot of fun figuring out our options together with the team. In the future, we might try to share more of our solutions for maximising texture resolution and mesh quality. Something that was coincidental with our project, and extremely helpful, was the release of Epic's new tech called 'Nanite'. Suddenly we could leverage the GPU to add more detail to our 3D objects in a way that was previously not possible."
There's more on the subject in the full dev diary, together with notes on the game's audio and animations. If you're curious about the Nanite stuff, Alice0 wrote a little about it and Unreal Engine swank at large in April last year.
Still Wakes The Deep will release in early 2024, and was one of our favourite games of not-E3 2023. If you are similarly enthralled, you might like Stasis: Bone Totem, which is a point-and-click adventure with Fallout-style perspectives, set inside and far beneath a floating ocean facility in the near-future. I wouldn't say it's "dreich", but it's certainly grim. Beware of the dog.