Players of Phosphor Games' upcoming urban survival massively multiplayer online PC title, Nether, will constantly be at the mercy of their environment and its many threats, director and co-founder Chip Sineni told Polygon in a recent interview.
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have mutated into terrifying creatures known as Nethers. As players explore Nether's wasteland of a city, they must craft and loot items to survive. Speaking with us during a recent demo in San Francisco, Sineni told us that no area in the game offers a truly safe haven. Even the highest rooftop is an easy monument to breach for the game's teleporting monsters.
Nethers are fast, and if they catch you, they'll kill you without thought. Their eyesight is poor, but their hearing is sharp. If you run, jump, fall or fire a gun, they will find you.
"We're trying to make sure every creature feels like a threat," Sineni said. "I can never just sit here and kill. We wanted to avoid things like other zombie games, where you're just clicking as fast as you can and trying to see who can get in the most amount of hits first. In [Nether], the creatures are very unpredictable. One of them can take you down if you're not careful. Two of them, once they start ganging up on you, is really hard."
The game will include many different classes of Nethers, each a blurred, distorted figure. These include small, wispy shriekers that draw enemies close or heavy, melee-based attackers. During our demo, we encountered a Hunter. This tall, skinny creature moved wicked fast and struck out with quick, vicious swipes. Unlike other zombie games, which include hordes of walkers players can easily fend off, Nethers present more of a challenge, Sineni said. They're unpredictable, and require players to think about every move they make.
"They're never just pinned down," Sineni said. "You've never just kiting them. Something that you see in a lot of zombie games is you see one zombie and you're not really even scared of it. You know he can't catch up to you, you know he doesn't actually do a lot of damage. If he did get up to you, he'd be dead, pretty much. As soon as I attack [a Nether], I'm not in a good position for my next hit. I have to worry about where they're going to come next."
That idea of unpredictability will permeate the game's experience, according to Sineni. It all leads back to making the player feel constantly uneasy — a trait influenced heavily by Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The novel follows a father and son making their way across a desolate landscape after a cataclysmic event. These characters feel "perpetually unsafe," Sineni said, and every new avenue brings some new terror. In Nether, the feeling is meant to be much the same.
"There could be a threat anywhere," Sineni said. "Someone could be sitting anywhere, a creature could be in any corner. There could be any type of threat anywhere in the world. You never feel quite safe."