Beefjack and creator Dean Edwards have teamed up to create Iron Fish, a new “deep-sea psychological thriller” due out towards the end of the year on PC and Mac.
Playing as a female deep-sea investigator called Cerys in the near future, Iron Fish is set entirely underwater, and you’ll venture to extreme depths as you explore the unknown – as deep as 7 miles below the water’s surface. Beefjack says that players can expect to confront creatures that never been discovered before, unravel the mysteries in Cerys’ past, and “question what is science or myth”.
Sadly there’s no mention of whether the game simulates getting the Bends.
While you begin the game near the surface of the ocean, it won’t be long before you’re exploring the darkened depths. Obviously being so far down means that light is scarce, so you’ll need to use flares and sonar to maek your way through the large envionments. You’ll also need to avoid the hostile sea life, almost all of which is out to eat you. Cerys’ isn’t armed, so you won’t last long unless you keep your wits about you.
According to Producer Lottie Bevan, Iron Fish is “marrying horror with scientific and environmental respect,” which is an interesting way of describing things.
“Let’s be clear: Iron Fish isn’t a ‘green’ game – it’s mostly, well, black – but it has a good soul,” Bevan explains in the press release announcing the project. “It wants you to be happy even as an angler fish is chewing off your nose. It wants you to stare into the face of death and think, well, at least I’ve seen the wonders of mesopelagic eyes up close.”
She continues: “This presents an interesting design and production conundrum. Horror games are easier to make when it’s all: you’re against something so nasty that, ooh, we don’t even need to explain why it’s okay to shoot it in the face. Think Resident Evil’s mutants, Wolfenstein’s Nazis or all the weird psychosexual stuff in Alien. But but I’ve never played a horror game that actually asked you to respect the things trying to kill you. Cerys doesn’t even have a gun. It’s a design challenge, but that’s awesome.
“It’s not like we give you a bazooka at the end and ask you to set everything on fire. For one, good luck doing that under 11,000 metres of water, but for another, it’s much more interesting asking you to marvel at things beyond human conception which could – and probably are trying to – squash you like a bug. That’s fun, right?”
When it comes to the game’s environments, while the game is set entirely underwater, plenty of variety is promised. Coral reefs, abyssal plains and lost civilizations are all set to feature. Don’t expect to set foot on dry land, although Cerys can retreat to the safety of her exploratory submarine, you won’t be able to explore the interior (though to be honest it looks pretty small, so there probably wouldn’t be much to look at anyway).
Iron Fish certainly looks atmospheric judging by the trailer, and there’s no denying that the isolation and claustrophobia of being deep under the ocean is something that’s a perfect fit for the horror genre. Other underwater games recently have merely flirted with horror or avoided it entirely as a theme, so it’s nice to see Iron Fish fully embracing the terror-inspiring prospect of the unknown.
And fish. Disgusting fish. With lots of sharp teeth.
I asked if there are any plans for Oculus Rift support – which would be perfectly suited to a game like this – or a possible appearance on consoles, but my question was met with a response of “no comment.”
Make of that what you will.
Here’s the trailer. Warning: may contain dubstep.
This is creator Dean Edwards’ first time making a game, though he’d been working on the idea for sometime before approaching Beefjack, who snapped it up as soon as they’d heard his story.
“Iron Fish is one of the most exciting games Beefjack has ever worked on,” Bevan explains. “It’s exciting for lots of reasons: the artistic possibilities of Unreal Engine 4, the primal fear of descending into a world evolved entirely to kill you, the magic round the edges of science, and the game’s weird and wonderful inhabitants.”
Iron Fish is currently awaiting your vote on Steam Greenlight, if you’re interested. Personally, I think it sounds great. If it can capture the terrifying mystery of exploring the unknown depths of the ocean, and provides plenty of tension and a well-written script, it could be just what the marine biologist ordered. We’ll have to wait until closer to the end of the year before we’ll be able to find out for ourselves, but for the time being my interest has certainly been piqued.
I had the chance to ask Dean Edwards and Lottie Bevan a few questions about Iron Fish and what we can expect when it comes up for air towards the end of the year.
Anyway, here’s the transcript, some exclusive screenshots, and a smattering of concept art for you to gaze over.
CP: What horror games in the last few years have influenced you?
Lottie Bevan (Producer): I think everyone here has been massively influenced by Silent Hill. It’s an obvious one and obviously a big horror franchise, but I think it was so groundbreaking and really brought psychological horror to the fore, which is what we’d like to explore in this game. So that’s a really big touchstone.
I think we all – and Dean in particular – cited Amnesia as a big influence. Again it’s an indie horror game, which played with idea of helplessness, and was a humble game that actually was really, really good at what it did.
Dean Edwards (Creator): Yeah, for me, Amnesia stood out as a big inspiration – the psychological horror, the atmosphere. Oddly enough it was another survival horror game that inspired some of the story – while Resident Evil is more action-focused, it did inspire the military backdrop of the game.
Lottie Bevan: Iron Fish isn’t really like any of those games, but I think they are certainly all influences.
CP: Have you been influenced by any other media, outside of games?
Dean Edwards: Nature and wildlife documentaries. Not surprisingly, I particularly enjoy documentaries focused on marine life. I definitely wanted to ensured Iron Fish captured the sheer scale and unique capabilities of the underwater world. I’m also a fan of mythology, so we’ve explored this angle as a way to add that extra layer of wonder to the story.
Lottie Bevan: I think I personally have been influenced a lot by HP Lovecraft stories. They’re about horrific things happening in the real world, around the edges of our normal, known society. Which, again, is what we’re playing around with. Something could be lurking, or sleeping, or sitting waiting for a friend, at the bottom of the sea. And it’s there. It may or may not affect you. But you know it’s there. That knowledge, and the acquisition of that knowledge, is a big part of Iron Fish.
CP: Would you describe it as a Lovecraftian game?
Lottie Bevan: I wouldn’t, because Lovecraftian usually refers to something more like space monsters who fall into the deep, and Iron Fish isn’t about these “others” that came down. Actually, what we’re saying is that there are lots of gaps in scientific knowledge at the minute. We’ve only explored five per cent of the ocean’s depths. So what’s in the 95 per cent?
CP: Not Cthulhu, then, I take it.
Lottie Bevan: It’s not Cthulhu. I promise it’s not Cthulhu.
CP: Are you concerned about comparisons to other underwater horror games – BioShock and SOMA, for example?
Dean Edwards: I love both of these games! I’m not too concerned about any comparisons. I think Iron Fish is very different. Though I think it will appeal to a similar type of player.
Lottie Bevan: Yeah, I’m not so concerned about BioShock comparisons. Partly because it’s relatively old now – the first one is from nearly eight years ago. Primarily, actually, it’s not so much the age of BioShock, it’s the fact that that was really concerned with man. It was technically underwater… but it wasn’t really. It was in a city, in a human landscape, that was built underwater. It made for a really cool setting, but it isn’t the same as asking ‘How do you deal with being a human in water?’ which is a large part of Iron Fish.
SOMA, I think, is more directly comparable. Frictional Games are very good at that psychological horror aspect. But again there are differences. In SOMA there’s some sort of underwater facility with things going into brains. That isn’t Iron Fish.
Iron Fish is more about, “Isn’t it terrifying just to be by yourself at the bottom of the ocean?”, and what might you find down there, and what would that mean to who you think you are…
CP: Is it a character story, then?
Lottie Bevan: It is. I think that’s quite a good way of describing it, actually. It’s very focused on Cerys. We’re very proud of her as a character. Hopefully you’ll be able to feel quite like she’s real – like you could know her, like she reacts realistically to events. But it isn’t necessarily a character study. A character study sounds quite drama-esque. It’s a character study in the same way that The Last Of Us was a character study – it has interesting characters that drive the plot along in a believable way.
CP: Tell me about Cerys.
Lottie Bevan: She’s a very complicated character. I think she is a kind of “modern woman” [makes dramatic air quotes]. She’s been talked about as being a bit of a careerist, a bit ambitious. She’s not your typical heroine. Lara Croft we’ve talked about a lot, because she’s an obvious touchstone for a female lead in a game, but Lara Croft is more like… um… a machine? [Laughs] Whereas Cerys is more like someone you’d meet down the pub. She has this set of realistic human emotions, a believable human back-story, and is thrust into this very alien world. How does this affects her, and how she deals with it, is a key part of the plot.
CP: What’s the team’s past experience?
Dean Edwards: I have a degree and background in game design and, after a few ventures, began concocting Iron Fish in early 2014. Later that year I met the folks at BeefJack, we talked about the idea, and it all clicked together. So we partnered up to make it happen.
Lottie Bevan: We have a very wide variety of backgrounds, too, and a very experienced team. There’s our creative director, Shaun Leach, who previously worked at Sony and Sega. We also have Jack Oakman, who’s a very experienced artist, used to art direct APB: Reloaded – he’s been consulting on all the art and building the environments for us. There are too many talented people to name. Everyone actually brings a lot of different experience, and different genres, to the table. So hopefully Iron Fish should feel quite fresh, and it’s not just copying our past experience as a studio. Together with Dean, we’re making something new.
CP: What unusual or unique mechanics does the game have?
Lottie Bevan: In terms of mechanics, the most interesting thing about it is actually that it has quite few. Because we wanted it to be… I mean, Dean’s always talked about it being very diegetic and feeling very realistic. After all, you actually are quite limited in what you can do underwater. And we wanted to make it feel like you’re constrained by your lack of ability down there. That makes it sound quite boring, but I promise it’s not! Because what we’re left with is this kind of pure, rarefied mechanics.
Dean Edwards: The game takes horror in a rather different direction, I think. So although there are giant, dangerous creatures lurking in the depths of the ocean, you’re not actually there to kill them. That isn’t your goal. Instead, it’s about thinking strategically when engaging any creature.
Lottie Bevan: So, for example, how do you get yourself out of sticky situations in deep underwater territories, where enemies are super-evolved to be able to kill you really easily? Well, you have to utilize the technology of your sub to get you back to safety.
Dean Edwards: That’s one of my favorite mechanics, actually. It’s a little thing, but when you leave the sub, you remain attached to it by a long chord. If you get into too much trouble, you can quickly pull yourself back to the relative safety of the submarine.
Lottie Bevan: I don’t want to go into too much detail, to reveal too much, but essentially the game works around a kind of streamlined system which facilitates the exploration rather than splitting the focus between lots of different things and making it really complicated.
CP: So it’s an exploration game?
Lottie Bevan: It’s quite hard to categorize. Yes, there’s exploration in it. But, we’re not expecting you to just explore the ocean. That would probably get quite tedious. What it is is quite experiential. More about the sense of being down there. So I would say it’s exploration-slash-character study-slash-horror!
CP: Have you faced any particular development challenges so far?
Dean Edwards: I think that was actually one of the biggest challenges – making sure the mechanics of the game feel compelling and satisfying for players. Since we’re stripping away the usual killing of enemies, it was important to make sure the game didn’t feel like it was missing its core mechanic.
Lottie Bevan: Linking this with horror has been a challenge. The mechanics were difficult to decide upon because we knew we wanted to make it pared down, but obviously what’s important in a game from a player’s point of view is what you do in it. So that was quite interesting to balance. As the game comes together, though, we definitely feel it’s working.
I think another element is how do you make something as vast and scary as the deep sea welcoming? And how can you enclose that within the ‘capsule’ of a game? Obviously you can’t play around in the entire ocean. So we had to think very carefully about level design, what you do, and the missions involved in it to make it work as a game, instead of just a vast, empty world.
CP: What are your thoughts on the state of horror in games? It seems they’re on a downward slope, with the recent cancellation of Silent Hills and so forth…
Dean Edwards: I think the cancellation of Silent Hills is very unfortunate, and such a shame.
Lottie Bevan: It really was. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it is really sad. And I think they should be sad. Silent Hill was such a big landmark in terms of horror games, so to see the next one cancelled so early is a shame.
But then again, despite this, everyone thought P.T. was amazing. That’s not been ignored. And it took on a really cool approach to the genre, which I’m sure will be continued.
Dean Edwards: In general I think that, although the horror genre has become very competitive over the past few years, there’s still plenty of room for Iron Fish. It’s something a little different from the norm.
Lottie Bevan: Exactly. I don’t know. I think horror games are maybe finding the same thing that a lot of AAA games are finding, which is that, like, lots of people will buy a thing in which you shoot a lot of things. And that doesn’t necessarily lead to good horror. I know I used to love Resident Evil, in particular Resident Evil 4, because it was more about survival. Whereas the later installations have said “here’s loads of ammo, go and kill loads of horrible things”. Which is fine, and obviously does what it does very well. But to me that isn’t horror. It’s a war game with zombies.