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Exploring a planet and an astronaut in Lifeless Planet

Lifeless Planet has had a long journey from its origins as an early Kickstarter project in the fall of 2011, and the adventure game continues to travel: It's scheduled to be released on Xbox One later this year. And for its creator, Anchorage, Alaska-based David Board, Microsoft's E3 2014 press briefing last Monday represented something special.

Board's Stage 2 Studios had launched the Windows PC version of Lifeless Planet the week prior, a little more than two and a half years after raising more than $17,000 on Kickstarter to fund the game's development. Last Monday, Microsoft announced that the game was on its way to Xbox One by including it in a trailer full of indie titles coming to the console under the company's ID@Xbox program. The video included maybe four seconds of Lifeless Planet footage, but for Board, it was pretty cool to see his little indie game on Microsoft's big stage at E3.

We spoke with Board during a demo of Lifeless Planet in Microsoft's booth on the E3 show floor. It's an adventure game that, according to Board, was inspired by Cold War science fiction stories and The Twilight Zone. You play as an astronaut on a mission to explore an Earth-like planet that's a few light-years away. The game begins with the spacefarer's ship crash-landing on the planet; he wakes up to find his crew missing, so he sets out to explore his surroundings and discover the fate of his fellow travelers.

The planet appears to be a barren wasteland akin to Mars. But you soon discover that the "lifeless planet" moniker "may be a little bit of a misnomer," said Board. Others have clearly been to the planet before: Man-made structures exist on the surface, apparently constructed by the Russians, but seemingly dating back to the Soviet era. You'll find Russian-language audio and video logs strewn about the planet, records that seem to indicate some kind of catastrophe befell the settlers who once occupied the area. Adding to the mystery is a Russian woman who leaves glowing green footprints on the ground.

Lifeless Planet is more of an adventure game than anything else. There are some platforming segments and light puzzles, but they're designed to be relatively simplistic; Board wanted to focus on the story. The game is essentially a one-man project: He handled all design and development himself, and only brought in others for music and voice work. Board told Polygon that he wrote the story partly to explore the unique psychology of an astronaut — specifically, one who chooses to go on a one-way mission in the name of advancing human knowledge. From our demo, it wasn't clear if there will be enough gameplay variety in Lifeless Planet to support that tale, but the bleak world and creepy atmosphere immediately drew us in.

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