Space travel has occupied a large share of our collective conscience for a while now. Much of it is likely spurred on by the promise of travelling to Mars in a number of years, and then beyond that. What will we find?
But there are plenty of alien species to be found much closer to home. The depths of Earth’s oceans are inhabited by creatures that we have never discovered before. And so it’s a combination of these mysteries – outer space and underwater – that the team behind Neptune, Have Mercy is utilizing.
The game is a submarine roguelike. It has you exploring the underwater caverns of Triton, Neptune’s moon, which proves to be mesmerizing and dangerous. The caverns are procedurally generated, as well as the quests you uptake, and the things you encounter.
Siliconera caught up with the game’s designer, Jarrett McKenna, to find out the story behind this ill-fated trip to Neptunian territory, whether or not the FTL: Faster Than Light comparison is warranted, and how the submarine can be customized to deal with this alien ecosystem.
First off, could you explain Neptune, Have Mercy’s plot? Why are these submariners risking their lives?
Jarrett McKenna, designer: The game’s fiction begins after a manned government expedition mysteriously vanishes on Neptune’s moon, Triton. The story follows a group of scientists, industrialists, and private military as they embark on a joint expedition to the enigmatic moon. From the pursuit of knowledge to the promise of fortune, each character has their own motivation for being there. Whether or not their cooperation can last the pressures of descent will determine their fate.
Neptune, Have Mercy has been compared to FTL: Faster Than Light before. Is this a fair comparison? How does it differ from that game outside of the obvious?
It’s a fair comparison but perhaps not for the right reasons. The cross-sectional view of the interior of the submarine definitely looks similar to FTL, but we don’t put emphasis on crew micromanagement in the way FTL does. We determined early in development that splitting player focus between the interior and exterior of the submarine simultaneously didn’t do either aspect justice. The stronger comparisons are in how your vessel moves from zone to zone in an inter-level map view, random circumstances and events, location-based narratives, resource management, and vessel customization.
You’ve said that Neptune, Have Mercy is more exploration-focused rather than action-based. How does this play out in the game? What can we expect to explore?
You’ll be exploring Triton’s undersea cave systems, and their ecological dynamics. Our world generation always provides many alternate cavern paths to be explored. These caverns are full of crafting resources, upgrades, and rare artifacts. Following these paths is usually worth the rewards you may find, but typically requires special submarine tools and may put you through unnecessary risk.
The other part is experimenting to understand the properties of the things in the world and how they react to the tools you acquire; exploring the system. This sort of exploration is how you’ll discover solutions to barriers and puzzles. It will also help you acquire research points that can be used to unlock crafting recipes.
You can still expect an action element in the game – but we’re trying to develop a slower, more deliberate combat system rather than something strictly twitch-based.
It’s mentioned that some of the sea creatures and environmental features may have to be used to progress. Is this right? And could you give examples of how this works?
It is indeed. This is one of the things that really excites me about the design. We’re trying to create a world that feels alien and bizarre, but still has very consistent and understandable dynamics. Elements of the ecology have natural properties and those properties have relationships with each other. Luminescent, temperature sensitive, edible – You need to discover how to exploit these properties to solve puzzles and break barriers.
Many of the creatures you encounter have functional properties beyond just being enemies to shoot. Likewise, rather than being strictly for combat, most of the tools/weapons you acquire also manipulate these properties. Figuring out how the properties of your tools relate to the creatures and other things in the world is core to the challenge of the game.
Have you taken from any mythlore at all when designing the sea creatures? There’s plenty of frightful underwater beasts and ghosts in Japanese culture, for instance. What else have you taken from for sea creature design?
So far the most inspiring resource has been our own real oceans. It’s hard to imagine a fiction stranger than the creatures of Earth’s deep sea zones. We try to design our creatures in a way that also communicates their dynamics and potential utility to the player. The nature of our design means that functionality of these creatures must be readable.
How will we be able to customize our submarine? What advantages and disadvantages can be gained from making changes like this?
Your submarine is modular. You start with a blank hull and attach tools to the exterior of it. As you find and craft new weapons and tools, your ability to interact with the environment significantly changes. You can build your submarine to be highly focused on a specific function, though useless in others, or you can build something more generally suitable to a variety of situations. For any given level, you might decide to reconfigure to achieve a different utility.
Many roguelikes these days have unlockables that persist across playthroughs. Will Neptune, Have Mercy have a similar system? What else is intended to encourage replays?
By finding artifacts and by completing research quests, you’ll add to your persistent wallet of research points. In between games you can spend these points to unlock new recipes for crafting and other perks which will persist.
In regards to other aspects of replayability, each game you will only acquire a handful of the many available weapons and tools. Because of this, the way you can interact with the environment will change. Each descent will generate new layouts and different combinations of elements you may or may not have seen before, leading to new situations. We want players to be consistently learning new strategies for many playthroughs, but having the opportunity to take advantage of old ones when luck presents something familiar.
You’ve announced that the game will be coming to PC platforms. Any chance of it ever coming to consoles and handhelds?
Getting the game on consoles is something we’re considering. We currently have full controller support and intend to maintain that until release. It feels great to play with the gamepad so it’s definitely something we’re looking into.