Beyond Blue is an educational game that’s set to deliver a marine biology learning experience.
It’s being developed and published by E-Line Media, best known for publishing Never Alone, which explored Alaska Native culture through the lens of an adventure game with platforming elements.
Beyond Blue continues Never Alone’s strong narrative focus, putting players in control of marine biologist Marai, who is investigating the South China Sea. A biomass has formed, pushing creatures together into a tight area, leading to strange behaviors like inter-species pack hunting and breeding.
Beyond Blue takes place 15 years in the future, but Zimmermann says real scientific evidence is central to the game. “We have scientists embedded in our team,” he says. “They’re part of our stand-ups. We run everything by them. We want to make sure that this is as accurate as possible.”
Swimming through Beyond Blue’s ocean is a serene experience reminiscent of Abzu or Flower. E-Line has made a point to get out of the player’s way, allowing them to enjoy the scenery and watch the animals swim by.
“We’ve minimized dialog when people are swimming around,” Zimmermann says. “We want people to experience the environment. Most of the dialog happens back on your sub.”
Beyond Blue features branching narratives, but not in traditional dialog trees. Instead, players choose how to share information with the crew, as each member has different intentions and ideas. “What you do with the information you’re gathering and how you handle the relationships with your crew can possibly affect the ending,” Zimmermann explains.
As part of the undersea exploration, Marai uses her suit to scan animals. Over time, this reveals how the creatures move throughout the ocean, where they hunt, and even where they go to breed.
“As the game progresses, and you study the same creature over and over, you’re learning that creatures pattern, their habits,” Zimmermann says. “Basically, you have the ability to put tags on some creatures. You’ll be able to see the world from their perspective.”
Beyond Blue puts Marai in challenging situations, with predators lurking nearby. Players won’t be facing a “game over” screen due to her death. Instead, if she runs into trouble, Marai will retreat to her submarine. She’ll need to use a drone or some other method to navigate the dangerous areas.
The tension comes from isolation. In my demo, I was tasked with repairing a sensor that was malfunctioning. These play a key role, but also give E-Line a way to create situations in which Marai is completely cut off from her team.
“As you set up the sensors, each one opens up about a kilometer of space,” Zimmermann says. “After that, you’re out of radio range. As the game advances, you can be bolder and bolder and swim outside of sensor range and communication.”
While Beyond Blue has a strong educational focus, it’s not designed out of the gate as a classroom learning tool. E-Line hasn’t ruled out that kind of secondary impact, though.
“[Education] is a key component of what we’ve done in the past,” Zimmermann explains. “Before Never Alone, we were primarily an education-focused company. We want to put forward entertainment in a way that helps enlighten and encourage people. We’re approaching this as a consumer product first, with the added bonus that you might take away something you weren’t expecting.”
Beyond Blue is due to launch next year on Windows PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.