At this year’s PAX West, the setup for my first experience with Diluvion was perfect. Publisher Gambitious had set up a dark room, muffled by heavy cloth. There was a big computer screen, like a porthole, set in the back wall. They had a keyboard from a steampunk joint out in California and a heavy, solid brass mouse made from two old telegraph keys. Before the game even booted up, I knew I was in for a treat.
Diluvion is an adventure exploration game set in a retro-futuristic world where humans are trapped underwater. Centuries after the great floods, humanity lives inside cobbled-together structures clinging to the bottom of massive glaciers and the remains of sunken high-rises. The most intrepid citizens are the submarine captains, who gather together a crew and seek their fortune among the ancient remains deep below.
Arachnid Games’ creative director Leo Dasso was on hand to guide me through a short dive.
"To give you just some context," Dasso said, "a lot of the inspirations for this game were Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Kingdom — the animated movie. And while the story kind of falls short, I felt, but the designs are super cool. Of course, on the games side there’s inspiration drawn from FTL, from Elite: Dangerous and Freelancer. But of course, it’s a very different setting."
Our ship, such as it is, looked like it was barely holding itself together. There was a large rudder in the back, and up front they had strapped on a few old fishing buoys as air tanks. Inside, though, was where things got exciting. Unlike Elite or Freelancer, in Diluvion you’re more than just the ship you’re riding in. There’s a crew in there with you, and they have wants and needs and quests for you to go on.
Dasso says that caring for them, utilizing their unique skills and improving their abilities will be a large part of the experience of the final, 10-hour game.
The other part will be exploration and, ultimately, combat.
We set out in search of an engineer, and after we’d convinced him to join our crew, we continued on in towards an old sunken ship to salvage. But as we left port we were attacked by a pair of other subs, who pursued us. When their torpedoes went off, the water around our ship filled with the reflections and silhouettes of the hundreds of tiny plankton in the water. It was a beautiful display, but also carefully calibrated to give a sense of orientation and momentum.
Diluvion is being designed for controllers as well as keyboard and mouse, and it offers classic six-degrees-of-freedom gameplay akin to games like Descent. The WASD that I used, as well as Q and E combined with mouse inputs, gave impressive control. Dasso could unlock the camera, looking behind our ship as he moved forward, which he used to great effect to knock out the slow-moving enemy torpedoes with our ship’s main gun.
Before long, we had subdued the subs and could board them to search for loot.
But in Diluvion, docking is no small feat. Dasso maneuvered our ship close by the wreck, which was rapidly sinking into the deep part of the map where it would crush our low-level sub’s hull. He launched a pair of grapples at it, and while watching a small indicator of his ropes’ tension as not to break them, gently pulled the two ships together.
Inside, there was a small narrative adventure to unlock. Behind what Dasso called an "adventure door" was a deranged sailor, trapped inside the sub. We had reason with him to get past. To do the work, we had to offer up one of our crew.
"We don’t have any crowbars, so I can try to talk him down," Dasso said. "There’s a chance that our crewmate might die. He was able to talk down the deranged sailor which then gives me access to higher-value loot."
The bright, interior spaces were a great contrast to the murky waters. Dasso does all the two-dimensional art himself and has taken great care to put a lot of emotion into the small, lightly animated drawings.
Finally, after using our sonar to read the ocean floor out ahead of our sub, we reached our objective, a massive ancient battleship the size of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s Yamato. And maybe it is the Yamato, it’s hard to tell because as soon as we pinged it with our sonar it rose up on eight thick legs.
A massive crab or ... something had taken the battleship as its home and began firing off torpedoes as we draw near.
"My partner Jacob Stove Lorentzen is a huge Dark Souls fan," Dasso said, using his sonar to lock onto one of the battleship’s massive guns and fire off a torpedo. "Once you get his guns out, you have to dock with him." Inside, who knows what other adventures await.
Rolling onto his nose, Dasso fired relentlessly into the long axis of the battleship’s main deck. Then he hit the gas, zipping below its keel. Dodging between the crab’s legs, which he says can crush the our tiny sub with a single blow, he paused the action to re-arrange his crew to repair the sub. But it ended poorly. The main gun ran dry, a torpedo got around his guard and caused a catastrophic implosion.
Keeping his small team afloat is the hybrid publisher and crowdfunding/investment house called Gambitious. Dasso said that without Gambitious’ financial support, the game simply wouldn’t have made it this far.
"They’re our first publisher, so we really didn’t know what to expect," Dasso said. "There are horror stories of an indie studio working with publishers. But Gambitious has been nothing but supportive.
"What I like the most is they’re very in-tune on the creative vision of the game. They get it. It’s a game that they played long before they decided to back the project, and they decided to publish. So working with other people that are passionate about the project in the same way is super good."
Diluvion is scheduled for a fall release on Windows PC and Mac, with modern consoles to come later in 2017. Dasso says there will be three zones to explore — the Forgotten Fjords, the Sunken Coast, and the Abyssal Trench — each with their own biomes and enemies. For video of a playthrough, check out the embed above.