"So, where have you been?"
I'm interviewing Colin Northway about his latest game, Deep Under the Sky, an exploration puzzle game that looks alien. This is the third time I've interviewed him. Every time I've spoken to him, he's been somewhere new, and that new place has inspired a game. The first time I spoke to him, he had just released Incredipede, a game that drew inspiration from his travels to Honduras and the Philippines. The second time was when his wife, fellow game designer Sarah Northway, released Rebuild, a survival game inspired by their time on islands in the Caribbean.
The places not only influenced the look and feel of his games, they influenced the games' themes, too. You could say Northway's games are about places as much as they're about play. So to find out more about Deep Under the Sky, I asked him: "Where have you been?"
Northway's most recent travels took the couple to Panama, where the two lived on a secluded island and snorkelled every day.
"We had this amazing bay to ourselves, and one day when we were smorkelling through the mangroves, we came across these jellyfish called Comb jellyfish, and they had these radiating colors moving through them," he said. "It was like wandering up to a UFO. It was other-worldly. I actually don't know how the biology of the colors work, but it was amazing."
While snorkelling at night, the Northways would often float in the glow of bioluminescence, which radiated from the microrganisms in the bay.
"So if you move your hand through the water, a wave of bioluminescence color wafts behind," he said. "It was totally unbelievable. Sarah would dive down and do snow angels in green color and green light. If you snapped your fingers in front of your face, a puff of green flame would erupt from the top of it."
Then there were the cuttle fish, whose bodies were covered in animated patterns as they swam.
These other-worldly experiences formed the basis of Deep Under the Sky, a one-button game where players launch a jellyfish-like creature through a hypnotic, radiating world of color, patterns and movement.
In each level, the player's goal is to launch the Venusian Jellyfish and maneuver it so it makes contact with scattered targets. The game is about timing, but it's also about flow. Hit the button at the right time and the jellyfish will change its direction. Miss a turn or get the timing wrong and the jellyfish will crash into a wall. Hit all the targets and the jellyfish will float its way through darkness into a new level. Understand how the jellyfish moves and you can tap into a state of flow, where everything feels seamless.
"With flow, it's like snorkelling, or hiking in the woods," Northway said. "If you're snorkelling, there's always something going on, but it's never that frustrating an experience. Or if you're hiking in the woods, you always want to go somewhere new because it can't be unengaging. You can't be seeing the same things you've seen before. You have to be presented with new challenges and new visuals and new feelings all the time, or you fall into boredom."
Deep Under the Sky tries to capture part of the sensation of the flow of snorkelling. The colors on the screen pulsate like those of a Comb jellyfish. The environment's patterns are alive with movement, light and color. Moving through the world feels effortless, but it also doesn't feel like you're doing nothing. Northway said it's about keeping your brain interested without making you work hard on anything.
Deep Under the Sky is out now Mac and Windows PC, and iOS and Android devices.
"So where are you going next?" I asked.
Northway didn't even have to think: "South Africa!"