Having never heard of Deliver Us The Moon until very recently, I was intrigued by the premise of a sci-fi thriller that’s set in space during a time period when Earth’s natural resources have been all but depleted. And with an official release date only days away, the team at KeokeN Interactive has been busy crafting an immersive experience that aims to go well beyond the notion of mere gaming. As part of this, I spoke to Sander van Zanten (audio director) in order to determine exactly as to what lengths the studio has gone to in order to formulate a believable and authentic setting. Enjoy!
How long has the game been in development for?
The game has been in development since late 2015, so we’re about to end before year development cycle.
I assume it’s an indie game, like a middle-tier indie game, if that makes sense?
Yeah, I think you could call it like that. We started out with a very small team, like 3 people strong. We’ve been expanding for a while. We had 20 people for a short time. And currently, we’re back to 10 people just to round off the game.
Wired Productions are the publisher of the game. What made you want to work with them?
Wired Production is a publisher that is very interested in narrative experiences. And so it was a very natural fit for us to be included in their portfolio. So that’s what makes it sensible for them to approach us. At the same time, we were looking for a publisher that would help us release the game and bring it to the attention of a much larger audience than we have previously been able to reach. And it just felt like a natural fit to go with these guys.
As the audio director for a game that is set in space… obviously the setting brings with it its own unique challenges in terms of how’d you go about making the player hear stuff in what essentially a vacuum. What sort of challenges did that pose?
The interesting thing about sound in space is that indeed, there is no sound that’s being carried by air. So there’s no air for sound to vibrate in. But there is your body, and vibrations in your body can also cause a sound, so if you were to hit yourself with your ears closed, you would actually hear that. You would hear the impact. And we’ve tried to emulate that kind of impact by means of a filter, its basically a filter that goes over all the audio in order to get out all of the higher end frequencies and only preserve the low end frequencies when you’re in areas that have no oxygen in them. And its taken a lot of experimentation and trial-and-error to see what feels right, but we’ve now come at a point where it feels convincing and compelling so you don’t hear things that are far away, because there is no air to carry the sound from the source to you. You only hear the things that are close to you and the sounds that they make, you only hear the really low layers from them. So it feels very physical, the sound.
For those who don’t know much about the game…. Say, if I was in an elevator with you and we only had 30 seconds, how would you pitch the game to someone? Why would they be interested?
This game is all about being an astronaut. It’s all about being out there in space. It’s about being alone. It’s about being isolated from the rest of humanity. But at the same time, next to that terrifying aspect of space travel, there’s also the beauty, and the majesty, and elegance of space. And we’ve tried to capture the beauty and the terror of space in one game.
And I assume there’s a narrative to go with the game?
Absolutely. This game takes place in the second half of this century where natural resources have been depleted on Earth. So we’re out of gas, out of coal, out of oil. And instead, we found a resource on the moon, Helium-3. And after being able to extract it, and process it on the moon, we’re now able to send it back from the moon to Earth. Now that energy resource has served us well for a long time, but at one point all communication with the colony on the moon has ceased, a black-out. And the energy just stopped. And only years after have the people on Earth been able to launch a small-scale rescue operation to the moon in order to find out what happened to the people on the moon. Why did they vanish, why did they abandon the energy source and can we find a way to bring it back online again?
This isn’t like Dead Space, is it?
There is no violence. It’s not a horror game. There is tension, there is suspense. Being an astronaut can be a really scary thing at times.
Do you go up against any enemies?
There are no enemies in this game.
Except for the environment. So yeah, there are no aliens. There are no hostile humans out there set to kill you. No, it’s just the environment itself. It’s the vacuum of space, malfunctioning machines, whether that’s electric hazards or intense sources of heat or power.
So no AI? Nothing like 2001: A Space Odyssey?
No, not in that sense. Although there might be a bit where a hostile AI is out to get you.
What inspired the game?
Movies like Interstellar, and Gravity, and Duncan Jones’ Moon. And of course let’s not forget Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Movies like that have inspired us to make a game that’s really cinematic, that really captures the feeling of being out there in space. Of course it’s still a game so we’ve also looked at games like Tacoma, Adrift, and several others in order to really evoke that sense of space and emptiness in a game experience.
What made you think that there was a viable enough niche within the market for a space game?
Right. I think we’re always looking for experiences that are uncommon, things we can’t really do in our everyday lives. And so, one of the most uncommon things for people to do is to go out there and be in space. It’s one of the most exclusive things for a person to do, to actually go out there and witness the void. It’s a very spiritual experience from what we’ve heard from astronauts who’ve actually been up there and have witnessed our planet either from the moon or from the ISS. And we think that that is an experience that is really worthwhile for people to get into.
Obviously, this relates to authenticity. How much in-field research, or anything of that sort have you done to… you know, just even from your perspective, to get the sounds right? Did you go to NASA, or have you been up there where nobody else has been before? Just that stuff…
Right, so in order to really create a compelling and convincing astronaut experience, we indeed have had to drown it in a very realistic setting. So we’ve made a significant effort in order to find out how things would actually work in the game. So for example, in the beginning of the game you get to launch a rocket. And we don’t just go through a random series of steps, we’ve actually been looking at how NASA prepares the rocket launches, so you actually go through the steps that are actually performed when a rocket is launched. And the same goes for sound for example, when we talked about the sound before, we’ve actually listened to recordings made by the Apollo 11 astronauts. And you can actually hear what it’s like for sound to be out there in space and how the astronauts themselves have experienced it. They’ve talked about it in interviews. So it’s really going through a lot of interviews with people who’ve been out there. It’s scouring databases and watching a lot of documentaries.
Is KeokeN Interactive a new studio?
The studio has been around since 2013 I believe. But this is our debut title. So first game.
How did the studio form? What sort of trials and tribulations has the studio had in bringing its first title to the stage that it’s at right now?
There are a lot of challenges that you need to overcome when this is your first title. For example, you don’t have a track record with the public, people don’t know you yet. You know, we’re not a Ubisoft, we’re not an EA. We have to get out there and make sure that the crowd notices us and that’s one of the hardest things for an indie developer such as us to actually get our game known and out there. And that’s something that Wired Productions as our publisher has been really helpful with. Not only are they really making significant efforts on marketing, they’ve also helped us to get the game in multiple languages. So we not only have English voice-over, there’s also French and German voice-over. And I believe the game has been textually translated into 10 other languages. Not to mention the fact that they’ve also helped us bring the game to consoles. So PS4, XBox One, and Switch. And all of that just helps us to let the game reach a much wider audience than we would’ve been able to on our own.
Thank you so much.