Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, sharks, shoals, and silence with World of Diving.
When you start playing World of Diving you're invited to vote on the next feature you'd like the developers to add. Most players have voted for a metal detector for treasure hunting. The second most-popular choice is an advanced camera. Least popular: an in-game chat feature. Frankly, I'd be happy if chat never gets added. While it can be great to talk to other players, I think there's something to be said for a game that allows just a few friendly gestures and plenty of blessed silence.
World of Diving begins the way all the best games begin: by playing dress-up. You can customize your divers even though you won't be seeing them (much) in this first-person dive-em-down. Choose which incredibly fit and toned body you want, fiddle with color of your hair, skin (you can be green!), and eyes, pick out some swimwear and scuba gear, and gaze longingly at the cool stuff you'll need to unlock by finding pearls and doubloons on the ocean floor (or by purchasing them with real money).
After a brief training session in a pool, I begin a dive down to the wreck of an old submarine. There's a rope to follow from the boat deep down to the ocean floor. Fish dart here and there, the larger shapes of dolphins and turtles are visible on the fringes of my vision, and soft, pleasantly unobtrusive orbs of light signal distant objectives and points of interest. I have a scuba-scooter, which is a small motorized torpedo you hang onto as it drags you quickly through the water. I speed off toward the wrecked sub and soon spot the game's best feature: other players.
I see a man and woman swimming around, and they they paddle over to me. Since there's no voice or chat, I can only choose from a few gestures. I wave hello. She waves hello. Then he waves hello. I point. He waves again. She points. I wave, not hello, but come here. He points. She points, again, then waves. I try to wave come here again but accidentally wave hello. She gives the OK sign, then waves hello. Then we float there staring at each other. Finally, someone waves again.
So, communication is about as limited as it would be if you were actually underwater with strangers, combined with sometimes choosing the wrong gesture altogether. Actually trying to get a point across in World of Diving is tough, and at the moment I am actually trying to get a point across: what I'd like to do is get everyone together so I can take a group picture, and I want to include myself in the picture as well.
See, the game's underwater camera has a neat "float" feature: you can let the camera out of your hands and leave it hovering in place in the water. Then you can swim around to the front to take pictures of yourself with a remote trigger (I think the trendy term the kids use for this practice is self-featuring daguerreotype). This is fun, and makes it more challenging than if there were simply a third-person mode in the game.
The only thing I don't like about the camera is that after any picture you take, you have to hit a key to look at it, then click the mouse to save it. It doesn't automatically get saved into your gallery. Be careful! I took dozens of photos before I realized that.
Apart from taking pictures of yourself and other divers, you can use your camera to photograph fish and dolphins and turtles and sharks, or engage in various photo challenges, which can be triggered by icons on the ocean floor. Challenges are along the lines of taking pictures of eight different trout, or getting five starfish all in the same picture, or photographing specific sunken objects, all within a set time limit. They're kinda fun, and amidst the mostly aimless diving it's nice to have a bit of structure every now and then. You can also design your own challenges, save them, and share them with the community. There are a few different dives to choose from: along with the wrecked submarine there's a submerged airplane, an old-timey pirate ship, and a massive sunken ocean liner.
There's no danger in World of Diving. You won't run out of air, be bitten by a shark, or be attacked or even insulted by another player. There's just diving. Swimming. Looking. You can complete objectives or just free-swim. It's a sandbox with actual sand at the bottom. The animations are nicely done, the underwater sounds are great (especially dolphin noises), and it looks lovely. It's also supportive of the OCULON-FACECOMPUTER (I believe that's what it's called) that is all the rage these days, though I don't have one myself so I can't say how well it works. You can play alone, of course, but I spent most of my time swimming around and exploring with strangers.
Price-wise (£15/$20), it may feel a bit steep for a casual diving game, especially considering there are also micropayments if you want to unlock aesthetic gear more quickly. On the other hand, it's a game without threats or danger, where no one (currently) can yell at you, where all you can do to other players is wave at them.
There are times when that's just what you need from a game. Say, during a week when you're stressed from trying to quit smoking (again), or a week when you're distraught because you've been informed your beloved pet has an aggressive terminal illness (again), or a week where social media is filled with seemingly nothing but bile and anger and perhaps you yourself have sadly contributed little besides more bile and more anger.
You know, weeks like that. That's when it's important to have a game that lets you slip into a beautiful, enchanting world where nothing bites, nothing yells, nothing kills, and nothing dies. A game where when you meet other players, you just wave hello, swim side-by-side for a time, and then part ways.