PAX EAST: E-Line Media and the BBC Brings Beyond Blue To The Surface
It’s a known fact that we, as humans, know more about the surface of the moon that we do about the ocean. Beneath the seas is an entirely different world filled with mystery, intrigue, and scientific discovery. Many pioneers, such as Jacque Custeau, took a revolutionary step beneath the surface to not only discover new life but to understand it. In the face of all of our research and discovery of the oceans of the Earth, there is an entire world beneath the waves, still untouched by humans. Beyond Blue is a special game that is in collaboration with the BBC and E-Line Media that seeks to get players beneath the surface of the ocean. A more educationally focused game, E-Line Media and the partners at the BBC are hoping to create an engaging interactive experience that immerses players but also gives clarity to the imperative mission of preserving the world’s oceans.
Beyond Blue is a collaborative effort from the minds behind Blue Planet II and the team that created a culturally-impactful puzzle game, Never Alone, which focused on the Inuit people of Alaska. E-Line Media has sought to create games that have more of a cultural impact and educational purpose that most other video games. However, that doesn’t mean that Beyond Blue is a simple game activity that you would find on a children’s education site like ABC Mouse. E-Line Media combines engaging gameplay and interaction form players while setting them within an environment that encourages players to think and take into consideration the real-life happenings around them. In the case of Beyond Blue, it was Earth’s oceans and their functions as the lifeblood of the entire planet. What we see if another world filled with amazing and majestic creatures, but unseen to the human eye has been a plight of planetary proportions. Pollution, climate change, global warming, have all had a terrible impact on the world’s oceans, and only now are we beginning to see the signs of a planet in peril.
The demo Beyond Blue has me play as a young female scientist Using an advanced diving suit that was slender and flexible but did not require the use of an oxygen tank. My goal was to scan various life forms and pursue a specific sperm whale that the scientists had been following for years. Along the way, the scientists were to make observations and collect data in the area. As Mirai, players will dive and swim across the entire coral reef and stay in close contact with missions control as they accomplish their mission.
The first thing that strikes players is the absolutely elegant and mesmerizingly polished presentation. The game looks and feels like an ocean, complete with animals that look and behave exactly as they would in the real world. Form bottle-nose dolphins to black-tip reef sharks, the entire reef was teeming with life and substance. Even the sound gave me the sensation of being underwater and observing the wildlife. Even the use of music was soothing and relaxing. It was something I have felt in a game before. It felt like I was truly there, on a coral reef far from home, in an ocean I have never seen before.
Throughout the mission, Mirai would trade communication with mission control, creating a believable interaction that felt right and authentic. Mirai would observe and accomplish tasks while mission control stayed on missions but also made quips of what was occurring. Mirai would come across sonar posts, and the game would switch into a small mini-game where players would locate and the audio signature of a particular creature. In one instance, I located the audio signature of a bottlenose dolphin, and actually retrieved a piece of coral. The dolphin then appeared and took the piece of coral from Mirai, enjoying it like a toy and tossing it around with other dolphins. Seeing this in-game was amazing as dolphins are known for their playful nature, and this game accurately captured an observation that they likely perform int he wild. The mission also had me come across a cave filled with sharks, schools of fish, a surprised octopus, and even finding a pregnant whale shark.
Eventually, I would find a pod of sperm whales that were many times larger than Mirai and was quite intimidating to swim with at first. Once again, I was amazed a the level of detail and fidelity observed with recreating a massive mammal in gaming space. After scanning further sperm whales, the target sperm whale was located and actually with a calf, nursing. I had figured this was the end of the demo and I felt both amazed and fulfilled at something so remarkable. The demo concluded as Mirai headed back tot he sub to investigate a strange, artificial hammering noise.
Beyond Blue is taking a risk of sorts, but I feel those risks will pay off immensely. It is a known fact that underwater levels in video games are perhaps the most unpopular gaming level designs, typically for being slow, rough, or uninteresting. Beyond Blue is shattering those tropes with an oceangoing experience that is relevant, impactful, and significant. Beyond Blue seeks to change the not just the expectations of ocean or water-based video games but the narrative of how we present important topics to players. The game is not looking to push an agenda or drive home a political view on the player and shame them into believing it, but instead, encourage the player to observe the world around them and the life that is beyond the borders of everyday life. Earth is the only home we have. it’s the only planet we know of that can sustain intelligent life. When you think about it, it is a miracle that the Earth hasn’t been obliterated by the Sun;’s solar flare or a wayward meteor. It’s as equally important to take of the Earth, make it better than we found it, and preserve life for as long as humanly possible as it is to pursue a new world beyond our own for colonization and life. Beyond Blue is shaping to be a great experience and I cannot wait to find out more.
Beyond Blue is arriving for PC and consoles in early 2019.