Damaged Satellite
Rescue, Part 1
Rescue, Part 2
Oxygen Garden
EVA Prep

Station Interior: Oxygen (O2) Garden

Introducing new concepts

One of the malfunctions aboard the station (in the first half of the game)—caused by the pulses from the anomaly—occurred in the Oxygen (O2) Garden.

This wing holds the plant life which provides breathable air for Liv, so although the failure isn't urgent, it's critical that it be addressed.  When Jack selects to work on this mission, Liv leads him over to the access hatch.  However, the hatch controls are offline, and Liv isn't able to pry off the manual release cover.  She moves out of the way and suggests that Jack could use his Cutter tool on it.

After returning from a "training module" on how the Cutter works, Jack slices through the panel and pulls the release handle.

Since the O2 Garden's repairs involve investigating and fixing a complete power loss, Liv wisely also asked Jack to complete a training module on how to use his headlamp, a flashlight mounted on the right side of his head.

She leads him in but waits at the entrance, unable to see in the dark like he can with his headlamp, and instructs him to look for a maintenance panel along the wall where she'll be able to assess the power grid failure.

Upon finding the panel and holding his light on it so she can reach and remove it, Liv slides into the small space and starts working on bypassing the damaged wiring.  She activates an emergency power feed and asks Jack to find the room's power Junction.

He finds the Junction easily enough, but reports that it has a cover over it that will need to be removed.  Liv didn't bring any tools and suggests using his Cutter to remove the bolts holding the cover in place.


The tutorials were developed as a set, with the idea that we'd figure out how to position them in the early sequences of the game after they were developed.

When it came time to finalize those plans, I had been brought over to support the Station Team for a brief period, and I was assigned to handle any necessary revisions to the Oxygen Garden.  It was clear where some of the tutorials would go (early ones introduce basic navigation and dialogue systems, some of the ones that settled toward the end were clearly not needed until the player is ready to leave the station), but, as I recall, neither the Headlamp tutorial nor the Cutter tutorial had yet found a home.

It was clear, then, that I'd probably need to find ways to make them work with the sequence, but that's a sort of problem-solving I enjoy.  Furthermore, I'd already done the Vents Challenge which requires the headlamp (we had added it to the character because it was a cool element to play with rather than because it was intended to serve a necessary gameplay role, but I always prefer to create some gameplay which can justify the tools we provide players with) and found it to be really engaging, so I jumped at the chance to have another sequence happen completely in the dark.

Working in the Cutter tutorial was more a factor of finding the best moment for it than anything else.  At least one of the interacts which are inside the O2 Garden (which were in intermediate stages of being planned out) already used cut-bolts to hold its cover panel on, but it wouldn't have made sense to put the tutorial that late in the sequence—I needed to put it somewhere up front.  I decided to add a cut-bolt panel to the Junction since the ones aboard the Mysterious Vessel were also planned to have this feature, but to really play out properly, I knew the tutorials had to come before the player began to address the problems in the O2 Garden.

So, at a time when we were already starting to pare down the number of new assets we were creating, I asked for a new door type (the round hatch).  And a new, "free-cut" panel which the player would cut away to reveal the release handle.  People weren't thrilled about it, but it was clear that how I had planned things made a lot of sense, so that's what we did.  (And, as a bonus, I was able to reuse the new door type a little later when it was discovered that we needed a similar asset aboard the Mysterious Vessel!)

O2 Garden Tutorials Video

Power Junction

With the cover cut free, Liv explains how the emergency systems work.  There's just enough power to activate one of the room's main systems at a time... but since most of them are mechanical in nature, Jack should be able to switch power over to one, do what he needs to do, and leave it in that position while he switches the output to feed a new system.

The Junction has 3 outputs.  The path to each system is highlighted by a series of power indicators along the wires, which turn from orange to blue when powered.  These help the player to locate the system they've provided power in the darkened room (presented here with a picture of the room after the lights have been brought back online, for easier reference).

The system to the left provides water to the plants in the glass cases lining the walls.  The player pumps the handle to build pressure in the reservoir to sufficient levels, but should avoid over-pressurizing the tank, which will trigger a blow-off valve to open and relieve the excess pressure, forcing Jack to start again.  Once Jack has succeeded, the system begins to spray a light mist of water over the plants.

Straight ahead, Jack locates the atmosphere exchange system.  This device captures the CO2 which Liv exhales and provides it to the plants, which in turn release O2 for Liv to breathe.  The system captures this breathable air and distributes it throughout the station.  The player needs to adjust a set of levers and dials to achieve the right balance air intake and outflow to ensure both Liv and the plants are able to breathe properly, at which point the fans kick in and cause the plants to rustle gently.

Finally (though the steps can be completed in any order the player likes), the right side interact is a power transformer.  Jack is initially unable to assess what's wrong, but after pulling the release handle, it becomes clear that quite a few of the transformer's capacitance coils have shorted out.  Jack pushes and pulls them to align a row of working coils inside the device, which restores the circuit and gets the room's main power ready to go after Liv replaces the connections.


My other big contribution to this sequence was to figure out the best place to put the Junction device.  The first Designer to work on the sequence had mounted it to the wall of the space, to encourage players to switch the output, then turn their head and trace the power line with their eyes to locate the device they had provided power to.  It was effective—if VR is about anything, it's about being able to turn your head to take in your surroundings—but players had some trouble finding the box in the first place, and it wasn't especially comfortable the way you had to crane your neck to follow the power lines.

One of the most difficult tasks a Designer faces is to figure out why something isn't working well and take creative steps to address the problems.  I had the advantage of coming into this problem from a different perspective... my work on the later levels helped me recognize what was going on here and "take a step back" to try a different approach.

In the end, the step back that I took was a literal one as well:  the Junction had been on the wall below the interact in the center of the images seen here... I simply moved it away from the wall and to the other side of the space, where, tilted correctly, it gave the player decent visibility on 2 of the 3 interacts without having to crane his neck.

That added perspective lead to better comfortability and less trouble for players to understand the central (and repeated) element of the puzzle, and put it somewhere a little more conspicuous and easy-to-find.

Puzzling in the Dark Video

Bringing the Lights Back On

One last step needs to be performed once the three tasks above are complete:  once Liv completes her work and gets clear, she's ready for Jack to throw the breaker handle to bring the systems (and lights) back online.  (However, this provides an opportunity for a little embarrassment / humor.  If the player throws the switch too soon, Liv still has her fingers on the wire and gets a nasty—though harmless—shock... which she'll remember later.)

If the repairs in the Core Containment and Cargo Bay areas have been compeleted, then Jack and Liv head to the holotable in EVA Prep next.


Once we knew for sure that we were going to have a "lights on" moment end this sequence (and had to add the breaker handle for reasons I won't get into), I pitched adding this gag.  It's a small enough thing that the response was basically "well, if you want to, sure...", but I like it.

On the one hand, it gives the player a bit of choice without requiring significant future payoff (something we wanted to do wherever possible but with an eye on the potential cost) in that he can be a bit of a sneaky jerk and intentionally give Liv a shock.  Players who unintentionally do it, however, can have a significantly different reaction: apology for the accident.  Either way, it's a moment where Liv reacts directly to the player and, in expressing a little pain and annoyance, makes her feel more like a human than a pre-programmed digital character.

On the other hand, eventually we did pay it off just slightly.  Our dialogue system allows characters to "remember" things that have happened or been said earlier in the game and have callback lines.  If the player shocks Liv here, when Apollo does the same to her as Jack is returning to the Mysterious Vessel's life support area, she comments "you're worse than Jack," referring to his actions here.  Those elements, too, humanize the characters a little.

Lights-On Video