Tag Archives: underwater exploration

You gotta swim to survive in Subnautica

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Subnautica from the Humble Freedom Bundle back in February of last year before they ran out of keys for it. However, I didn’t even install it until two weekends ago, kind of waiting for it to finish up treading water in Early Access and release as a full-as-full-gets-these-days game to play. This way I don’t know what has improved or changed or stayed the same, and all I see is a crashed spaceship and an endless amount of ocean to explore, same as you or your brother or your brother’s mother, most likely your mother too. Right…I’m ready to dive in, even if my lungs are not.

Subnautica begins with a bang. Well, more accurately–a crash. You have smash-landed on alien ocean world, and the only place to explore is down beneath the waves. In the distance is your spaceship, on fire and full of radiation, and though the game never explicitly says you should go back there, one feels the need to get inside it and see if there is anything salvageable, figure out where things went wrong. But first, you’ll need stuff, like food and water and gear, if you are to survive Subnautica‘s shallow coral reefs, treacherous deep-sea trenches, lava fields, and bio-luminescent underwater rivers. You’ll also need to manage your oxygen supply as you explore kelp forests, plateaus, reefs, and winding cave systems, and the water is teeming with life, both helpful and harmful. No one ever said swimming was easy.

So far, I’ve put about two hours and change into Subnautica and don’t have a whole lot to show for it. That’s okay. I’m in no rush, so long as I can continue to catch plenty of bladderfish and peeper to sustain myself and various meters. Actually, I have made some better oxygen tanks, fins to swim faster, a repair tool, and a radiation suit, but there’s plenty more to craft via the fabrication panel inside your still-floating escape pod and I haven’t really left the safety of the initial area.

Here’s the problem I am dealing with: I’m not certain exactly what I should be going after and why. I mean, like Minecraft, which is perhaps the only other “survive” style game I have an association with, the goals are sometimes up to you. Clearly, you want to survive as a general rule of thumb and keep your health, food, and thirst meters healthy and high, but after that…you decide. Maybe you also want to construct a better submersible craft to explore the ocean depths or are interested in cataloguing the various fish and underwater life you come across using your scanner to learn more. Ultimately, I do wish the breadcrumb trail was clearer as even a quest log of sorts would help; right now I feel like I’m stumbling my way to progress, and even that is coming about through mere happenstance and not any specific action I took. For instance, I knew that creating a repair tool was important because there were two things inside my escape pod that couldn’t be fixed without it, but then I struggled to find cave sulfur and had to look up a guide outside the game for it, which was frustrating.

Visually, Subnautica is delightful and terrifying. Granted, again, I’m still only in the starting area and suspect there is much more to come, but the variety of underwater alien life balances itself well between recognizable sea creatures and straight-up weirdness. Every new fish or piece of coral is a fun surprise, and you can generally tell whether something will bite you in the face or not. Exploring at night is extremely unnerving because, not surprisingly, it gets dark, and you only have a flashlight and flares early on. The game runs well enough on my laptop, with just a little pop-in here and there, and I’m thankful that you can play it with a controller too.

I recently tried to get ABZÛ running too on this new laptop of mine, but it seems like that one is real heavy on resources, even on the lowest settings I could find, and so I’ll just have to wait until I magically get a copy on Xbox One or something. Surprisingly, when you search the keyword “underwater” on Steam, you only get a handful of games covering this topic, and most of them are horror titles or VR experiences, which, look, I get. I’ve seen enough of Sir David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet to kind of know what lurks in the dark depths of our planet’s oceans. Still, I like exploring underwater areas in a more leisurely fashion, like with Treasures of the Deep, or the time my sister Bitsy brought home a copy of Endless Ocean: Blue World and played for a bit, and it was so relaxing–not boring–that I dozed off.

So I’m going to stick with Subnautica a bit more because it is definitely my speed, but also in hopes that it really opens itself up more and dangles some carrots before my face to keep me pushing forward for reasons. Besides, I’d really like to see one of those time capsules for myself that are all the topics of discussion these days.

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Dive deeper, swim faster in Beneath the Waves

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Beneath the Waves begins with, naturally, as all platforming-based videogames with a retro aesthetic should, the destruction of a romantic relationship. See, the Sun and the Ocean used to live in harmony, united, all smoochy smoochy, but have now fallen out. Well, the Sun wants its CDs back, and by CDs I of course mean precious gifts. You’ve been requested to gather these idols hidden beneath the waves–hey, that’s the name of the game wink wink–and return them to a series of pedestals high in the mountains. The trouble is, the Ocean and its denizens do not like this plan. Not one bit.

As mentioned above, Beneath the Waves is a platformer. Well, two types of platformer actually. There’s the part where you are on land, jumping from ledge to ledge, escalating higher into the sky to find the pedestals upon which you will place the returned idols. Then there’s the other part, in the water, where you are swimming and diving deep and avoiding dangerous schools of fish or heat-seeking sharks. The platforming underwater is actually more challenging than above the surface, as the little dude is able to cling to walls to reach higher ledges, but swimming past obstacles while the pressure is on requires a little more finesse and patience. I guess the best comparison I can make is that the swimming has a similar feel to arcade racing games–a little loose, with momentum an issue.

Controls in Beneath the Waves are fairly simple: use the arrow keys to move around, and [X] or up jumps. I stuck with [X], in case you wanted to know. Your main goal, to progress forward, is to find the idols deep down in the water, and thankfully you don’t need to worry about an oxygen bar as the main character can evidently breathe underwater indefinitely. Y’know, like Aquaman. As you search the underwater caverns for these idols, you’ll notice an abundance of friendly aquatic life that you can swim into without taking damage. However, once you pick up the idol, everything in the ocean changes and becomes your enemy. If you take too much damage, you drop the idol and need to swim back down and pick it up once more. Once you safely make it to the surface, you can bring the idol to a pedestal and open the gate to the next area, getting a sliver of interesting, if not entirely clear story-stuff the moment skin touches water again.

Rinse and repeat this a few times, with the underwater caverns becoming more twisted and maze-like as the game goes on. The above-ground platforming sections never really become too challenging, but the final boss fight against the Ocean’s biggest defender did force me to remain on my webbed toes, as this boss chases after you harder than any shark ever did, as well as steals back the final idol to its original location. The game does a good job of building up to this moment, so that you have all the necessary skills and knowledge readily available for you to succeed, though it took me a few tries.

It can be easy to dismiss Beneath the Waves as another one of those indie platformers with retro pixel graphics clearly made quickly for a game jam. Though Gregory Avery-Weir did make this initially for Ludum Dare under the title of simply Waves, before expanding on the idea. Still, the story is somewhat mystical, as well as something I’ve continued to think about in the days since playing it, and the swimming–when the sea creatures are not attacking you–is dreamy and fun and reminds me of the only reason I ever played Ecco the Dolphin, which was to dive deep and rocket-ship up out of the water in an epic, Sea World-worthy reveal. I’d say give this one a play if you’re looking for a different way to platform, under the sea.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #52 – Beneath the Waves

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Sun and Sea, no more
Return gifts, avoid cross sharks
Platforming two ways

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

St. Chicken is actually about surviving the perils of the ocean

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I don’t think I can actually tell you where my copy of St. Chicken came from–probably a bundle from yesteryear–but I never imagined it was a game about a magical guppy leading its offspring to ancient relics while keeping them healthy and nourished and out of harm’s way. The game’s executable file has sat untouched in my laptop’s “videogames” folder, but I’m trying to make a dent and open up some hard-drive space.

Truthfully, I expected a cutesy, colorful platformer starring a cartoonish chicken, like a throwback to the early Sony/Sega mascot days, on some sort of religious mission to save his or her brethren from factory farm management or an evil tractor while gathering enough eggs to unlock power-ups. Nope.

St. Chicken is a quirky puzzle-lite maze explorer where you play as a lost pet guppy with special healing powers. Basically, you swim around as the titular St. Chicken, collecting white pellets that ding as you touch them, which I imagine are food. As the guppy eats each pellet, it grows larger, and after a set amount, spawns a tiny offspring, called fry, as well as shrinking back down in size. Your fry need to remain close to St. Chicken to stay healthy and alive, and by pressing the space bar you can summon the offspring over all at once. Kind of like the “all units” command from whatever RTS franchise floats your boat.

Your goal is to get all your fry safely to the end of the level where some glowing bit of treasure or relic awaits, which is not as easy as it sounds. Like in Pikmin, your babies are pretty vulnerable, and if an eel or sting ray makes contact with them, they will perish, with no way to get them back. You also have to stay on top of the fact that St. Chicken’s fry are always close because if they linger too long away from their parent, they will perish from general weakness. I ran into a few cases where one little fry got caught behind a wall and didn’t follow the others along the main path, perishing after a few seconds by itself.

From what I can gather, there’s a total of six levels to get through in St. Chicken, each gated by a specific number of rescued fry. Alas, I couldn’t get past the fifth level, as I found it beyond frustrating to lose all of St. Chicken’s offspring right near the end. Granted, it was my fault for not paying close attention, but the thought of going back and redoing the entire level over again–it’s fairly lengthy and tedious by nature due to having to move slowly and meticulously since many paths are blocked off at first–did not excite me. And so I’ll walk away from 2012’s St. Chicken with 64 fry happy and safe from underwater predators, but no more than that.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Treasures of the Deep

games I regret parting with treasures of the deep 01

My childhood best friend loved animals, especially reptiles and all kinds of fish. I don’t know if he still does, as our relationship fell apart during the college years, and one day he just vanished from my life. I’d like to imagine he works at a zoo or is a veterinarian, but thanks to the magic of Facebook stalking…I know that’s not true. For most of his birthdays, I’d get him a couple packs of whatever new set of Magic: The Gathering was out (the Invasion block era if you want to pinpoint it), but one year I got him a videogame, one that I thought played directly to his interests–Treasures of the Deep.

I don’t think he liked it or played it very much, as eventually I ended up borrowing it from him–y’know, like people do all the time with the gifts they give loved ones–and then later traded it in with a bunch of my other PlayStation 1 games when it was clear the birthday gift was not missed, not a winner. Hence, it being a game I regret parting with.

In Treasures of the Deep, which kind of sounds like an Indiana Jones subtitle that I’m sure Shia LaBeouf would love to steal without crediting, you play the part of Jack Runyan, an ex-Navy Seal who has become, naturally, a freelance underwater treasure hunter.  Your main objective is to complete 14 varied missions ranging from disasters, such as things going awry on oil rigs or a plane crash, to simple exploration type missions, like scouring the wreckage of a sunken ship for goodies. Along the way, you can pick up as much treasure as you can find; once a mission is complete, Runyan can use this golden booty to buy more weapons, equipment, and upgrades for SDVs (swimmer delivery vehicles) or submarines. By capturing rare sea creatures in nets, you can also earn extra money.

Similar to Colony Wars, another game I regret parting with (post still forthcoming), the game had a real sense of place. You’re underwater, and you felt that constantly. Plus, you’re not just in some ocean; there’s real-life locations to see, like the Bermuda Triangle, the Puerto Rico coast, and the Marina Trench. Dolphins sing, your radar beeps, bubbles escape, and the water swooshes to create a laid-back atmosphere, backed by a moody soundtrack-stirring ambience. I have both a fear and fascination with large bodies of water, able to find it extremely relaxing and also terrifying and full of unseen monsters. I don’t want to dive too deep, though I do want to know what’s down there. That probably explains why I can only remember the very early levels in Treasures of the Deep, as I played it extremely safe, keeping close to the surface. My recent time with Hero in the Ocean reminded me warmly of those early missions.

Unfortunately, the sad truth hidden in this post is that it’s currently a lot easier to get a copy of Treasures of the Deep back in my life, but it’s really the childhood best friend I want. Unfortunately, that priceless treasure sunk to the dark bottom of the ocean years ago, that fateful Thanksgiving break, and is now buried and irrevocable, with no radar map to help.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #64 – Hero in the Ocean

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Deep and untroubled
The ocean holds all–men, stars
Be submersible

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.