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

Mysterious Vessel: Rescue, Part 1

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The First Vent Challenge

The vent passageways are overgrown with significant quantities of Bio Mass.  Early on, there are still plenty of accessible handholds, but having to duck and dodge floating Spores makes moving from spot to spot a more challenging prospect.

(For reference, Jack's shields can take around 8 Spore hits when fully charged.)



Around the area of the first turn, the ship experiences a partial power-loss event.  The passageway ahead of Jack is fully blocked by Bio Mass, but it goes dormant once no longer "fed" by the ship's systems.  (Continually reinforcing the relationship between the Bio Mass and power in the player's mind.)

With nowhere else to go, Jack turns to a sealed bulkhead door on one side.  Though initially imposing, he soon recognizes its weak point: a cuttable region around the cover for a release handle.  The cover removed, the handle pulled, and the doors slide open with a push.




What they reveal when open is a passageway clogged with active Bio Mass to an extent that Jack has never seen before.  Navigation in this space is treacherous and requires either careful pushing-off from one safe grab point to the next or advanced use of Jack's thrusters to curve around obstacles.  Many of the safe spots to grab are in darkness as well... the Bio Mass covers over many of the lights here, so the player would do well to activate his headlamp.

One feature dominates the space from the moment the bulkhead door is opened:  orange light is emitting from the tips of a triangular object whose jammed-in angle suggests that it isn't part of the ship's architecture.  Jack guesses that this object might be a torpedo of some kind, and its presence in an area so completely filled with Bio Threat strongly suggests that it might somehow be a delivery mechanism for the substance.





Fortunately, the wires which emit from the torpedo—apparently to hold it in place and make it hard to remove—can be grabbed safely and used to navigate past it.


 
COMMENTARY

The three "Vent" portions aboard the ship are the main navigation challenges of the second half of the game.  The Bio Mass was introduced several sequeneces ago and has, to this point, been present in each sequence thereafter, but it was never really a major factor in gameplay up until this point.

Now, at the same time I introduce the second form of Bio Threat—Spores—I know that the player is "warmed up" on how to tackle Bio Mass and is ready to have the training wheels taken off.



Something to look out for:  The Bio Mass always undulates when active (see GIF), but moves slightly faster and glows a bright orange as Jack gets near it.  Narratively, this relates to the substance's ability to sense power fields like the one keeping Jack alive—in actuality the purpose of this "Agitated" state is to help the player recognize the increased danger of being close to one of these surfaces.  The distance is tuned so that even if the player is flying through the center of a passageway like this, he's likely to see clusters grow agitated in the periphery of his vision.





When developing plans for the rescue mission's gameplay, I made a list of interesting Bio Threat challenges to present the player.  This is the first:  a space so dense with Bio Mass that, at each safe handhold, the player has to examine the environment looking for the next clean patch... or take the "hands free" approach of making a leap of faith and using his thrusters to steer around threats.


GAMEPLAY VIDEO




ANALYSIS

Sometimes the devil is in the details.  There are a bunch of little things about this section that don't work quite as well as they should.

The power loss moment works semi-well, but wasn't enough of a priority to put a lot more effort into.  With so many other moments demonstrating the relationship between Bio Threat and power, they don't all have to be perfect, but thinking about how well moments like these can come across in movies and other games, it's a shame some players might miss it or not connect the dots about what it's supposed to tell about the power state on the ship.

More important, though, I wonder what could have been done better whenever I see new players reach this space and decide to use Boost and Thrusters and Brake to avoid the Bio Mass rather than navigating with their hands.  The game is legitimately more fun and reportedly more comfortable when you navigate with your hands instead of relying on these tools.

I do think the spots free of Bio Mass in the back area could be made to pop a bit, visually, with lighting.  (Right now, they're mostly dark because the Bio Mass covers so many lights, meaning a player may not even notice they're available without their headlamp on.)

Realistically, though, I think the battle to convince new players to use their hands more frequently has already been lost by this point.  Don't get me wrong—the nature of the Bio Mass is definitely as significant factor considering it boils down to "touch with your hands, potentially die."  But it doesn't move... it doesn't leap out and grab players, so anywhere that's clear of clusters remain a safe place for as long as players need it.

The culprit, then, is most likely the "exterior / dig site" portion of the game—not that I would change any of it!!  The first part of the game ("station interior") keeps these tools from the player to force them to get used to navigating primarily with their hands.  (They have to have access to Thrusters for corrective purposes, otherwise we wouldn't have provided those up front either.)  Once they get to the big, open, scary vaccuum of space, however, their ability to navigate without needing to use their hands increases, and the average new player hasn't reached mastery with their hands by the time they reach that point.  Result: when they reach this point, they have more experience not running into walls by using navigation tools rather than their own limbs, so it's natural that they wouldn't want to return to a movement mode they're less sure of.

Play it with your hands.  Decide not to use Boost and Brake (and Thrusters only to correct your vector when a throw goes badly).  You'll take more time, and you'll feel more connected to your accomplishment.



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