The Indie Showcase is a chance to see some of the best new and upcoming titles from the ANZ development scene with past winners including celebrated games including Hollow Knight, The Gardens Between, Hacknet, Objects in Space, Infliction and many more. This year will be no different and Player2 encourages anyone visiting PAX AUS to make their way to the PAX Rising area and check out the following title as well as the many other excellent indies on display.
PAX AUS Indie Showcase 2019 – EXO ONE
Selected for the PAX AUS Indie Showcase, Jay Weston of Exbleative will be attending the convention for the first time to demo EXO ONE, a gravity-defying, exoplanetary journey. Player2’s Chris Button interviewed Jay ahead of PAX AUS to discover what went into making the mysterious sci-fi PC game.
Chris Button: Congratulations on EXO ONE’s Indie Showcase selection at this year’s PAX Australia – what does it mean to you to receive this recognition?
Jay Weston: Thanks! It’s an honour! Having never been to PAX, being able to go and show a whole lot more people the game will be great! Most of all, I get to watch people play, get their feedback and fine tune the game.
CB: EXO ONE is quite a unique space exploration game that is difficult to describe using standard genre conventions – how would you describe the game to someone who had never heard of it?
JW: This is something I’ve wrestled with a lot since day one! The official version right goes something like: “Pilot an alien craft on a gravity-defying, interplanetary journey.”
Gameplay-wise unless someone has played something like Tiny Wings it’s very tricky to describe. You can fly, glide, roll (just like driving), jump and … ‘control gravity’. You basically fall faster or slide down hills faster when using ‘supergravity’, and use this to build momentum to launch off hills into the sky, surf clouds and build huge speed and height.
I’ll be including the latest version of the tutorial in the PAX build, it will be interesting to see if I’ve finally nailed teaching the gameplay or not – it has had many, many iterations! At past events there’s always been people that don’t get it no matter how much I try and explain it.
CB: I played a build of EXO ONE at AVCon in 2017 and was impressed by its smooth traversal concept combined with the stunning interstellar landscapes, so how does the 2019 version compare to 2017’s?
JW: In some ways it’s very similar. More than once I’ve actually gone back and played that same version myself. [In the 2019 build] The craft feels nicer to control, it’s less sluggish. The biggest thing you might notice is the craft pulls up now when you’re in a dive. Previously you’d reach some great altitude, run out of energy and just be like… oh great, time for a boring descent/thunk into the ground. Now you can use that height to plummet at great speed and turn that into even more speed as you pull up and level out.
That, and there’s a whole bunch more planets and a story. To get the full breakdown you could go nuts going through the monthly/bimonthly Kickstarter updates.
CB: You’ve spoken about EXO ONE’ influences, including the likes of Dear Esther, Tiny Wings and Journey, in addition to the works of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, the most obvious comparison is with Tiny Wings‘ momentum-based movement – how did the concept of a malleable space drone speeding up and down dunes come to fruition? How did you manage to convey such a satisfying sense of speed?
JW: I think about these games so much. It’s kind of tough having these masterpieces as measuring sticks!
The concept was originally born from the thought, “Andreas Illiger made Tiny Wings and he’s one man. I love Tiny Wings, I should try it in 3D”. That was Unknown Orbit on iOS. It wasn’t particularly inspired but it served its purpose allowing me to get my feet wet with Unity. I felt like a slight sell-out though, as I never play iOS games, and I kinda didn’t want a point-scoring system or anything, but did that because I thought it’d have wider appeal. It got good reviews but wasn’t a commercial success. Having worked on that for a year, I had this sense that I wish I had followed my own creative vision a bit more…
So it evolved from that to me trying to pour all my favourite influences into the game and giving it meaning. That was Journey‘s and Dear Esther‘s influences. Everything in the game is geared toward providing that satisfying, exhilarating feeling when you nail a jump or reach the clouds.
For the sense of speed I never particularly focused on it aside from the sound. The game can feel very slow if the wind sound doesn’t ramp up at high speeds!
Funnily enough, I can’t remember having the idea for the sphere changing into the flattened glider, it feels like it has always been there. To be honest though I have the worst memory ever, hah!
CB: Of the other influences, what significantly impacted EXO ONE’s development and in what ways?
JW: This is hard! Often I just replay or rewatch gameplay from Journey/Dear Esther/Proteus etc. for no real reason, other times I’ll be asking myself how those games direct the player without artificial UI elements, or how does tone, music, art changes throughout the game. I’ve read extensive notes on Dear Esther‘s script from Dan Pinchbeck (no longer online it seems), but I won’t say I’ve come away from any of this finding the perfect solution for anything that went into the game. Even though these are big influences, they’re still quite different games with different stories.
CB: My goodness, the environmental and particle effects in this game look astounding – how did you achieve this look?
JW: I take some brilliant tools made by programmers at Unity, and plugin developers, and try to use them to best effect! In a general sense, both for thematic reasons and indie game dev reasons, things are grainy, dark, set during sunset, and covered in bloom. The more you blur things out, darken them, etc, the less you can see the imperfections!!
One of the biggest factors in the game’s look is trueSky, a third-party volumetric sky solution. It’s super flexible and looks amazing!
CB: What can PAX Aus attendees most look forward to about playing EXO ONE at the Indie Showcase?
JW: I’ll be bringing the first planet (features the tutorial) and another planet or two… there’s a few to choose from so I’m really still not 100% sure yet, but neither have been shown yet in public. You’ll also get a taste of how the story kicks off.
CB: What are you most proud of with your work to date on EXO ONE?
JW: Phewf… tough question! I guess I had to spread myself so thin learning so many different things. I couldn’t even code three years ago when I started. I’m kinda happy with the knowledge I’ve gained and trying not to be too self-critical about not being the best at any one thing. There’s a few moments throughout the game though where the gameplay is at its best, specific sequences of jumps/hills/etc that I’m quite pleased with. I’m curious to see if they resonate with players in the same way.
Something else that ‘gets me’ is when I put in new music from Rhys Lindsay. It makes it feel like I’m experiencing the game again for the first time – I’ll perform a few nice jumps and break through some clouds at sunset and… it makes me pretttty happy! Even during extended glides where nothing is happening, his music fills the gaps and more. Perhaps I’m most happy with how all the elements jell together. If anyone ever says they get goosebumps from the game it’ll all be worth it!
CB: Finally, when will EXO ONE release?
JW: Next major Kickstarter update I’ll be saying some official things!
CB: Any other comments?
JW: Hope you like the game! If you’re coming to PAX, swing by and have a look!
Adelaide-based Donkey Kong Country evangelist & enthusiast.
Chris writes for Player2.net.au, Vooks, PC PowerPlay and Hyper about games and the wider community.
Also loves the Crows & the Philly Eagles – feel free to say hi!