Ocean Boy, the investigation of why I like stories at sea

I realized recently that I have a fascination for the ocean.

It felt like it came out of nowhere, but when I traced it back, it was surprised to find that it’s been something in the back of my mind for a very long time. Check this out:

This is an image I drew when I was maybe 18. An adventurer on a phinisi, sailing the eastern seas. I was going to start a comic about him, though I never did.

phinisi

I never gave it much more thought. But over the years I started writing down ideas for stories and games, and looking back, turns out a fair few center around locations involving water:

Captain on a haunted pirate ship.

Find a secret sunken japanese nuclear submarine.

Dockworker at a 1940’s new york shipping harbor.

Escape being stranded on a tropical island before a storm hits.

Explore the ghost ship Caleuche as a native of Chiloe Island.

A city planner from a floating city investigates trouble with the big stopper in the ocean floor that keeps the sea under control.

This was years before I would connect those dots.

Then in 2015 the Amsterdam-based studio Submarine Channel posted a challenge to design a game taking place on the ferry at Amsterdam Central Station. As I was living in Amsterdam at the time, I definitely wanted to get in on this.

At the same time, I was invited to spend a week in De Torenkamer to develop a new game. It seemed like a great opportunity for this idea, but I did not have faith in my skills with 3D at that time, so I chose something more manageable, and created Last Voyage Of The Orlova – another boat-based game! (You can read how that went here).

orlovapromo.png

As I worked on that game and got better at Unity, I also wanted to get better at 3D, and I made Reconquista based on a dream I had. That one tapped into the tropical island idea, and I got very happy playing with the water shader.

Screenshot_6

After that, the ocean took a backseat in my creative life, and I made a few other games exploring different themes. Until Sea of Thieves was released this year.

Sea of Thieves had the most amazing-looking water in a game to date, and it definitely got me thinking about ocean games again.

Having now succesfully made a few 3D first-person games, I felt like it was time to give De Pont another look. The deadline for submission had long passed on that challenge, so that was good, I could do that project for my own amusement. Plus, most of the submissions for that challenge were, sorry to say, not very good. Lots of alien and horror tropes, not a single game with a realist narrative. This project seemed made for me.

depont
A quick test with the Pont asset pack and a water shader.

I wanted to see if I could use real 3D models for the characters this time, not 2D sprites again, so I trawled around the Unity Asset Store. I didn’t find anything particularly useful, but I did come across this package. It totally fit with that 1940’s dockworker aesthetic, and I started imagining another game, where this crew was out on the high seas, maybe a bit of a Lovecraftian angle to it. So I said fuck it and bought it.

It was at this point I realized I now had three ocean-based games in development.

Screenshot_2

In the end I can’t really point to a cause or a moment of origin. But it has definitely become clear that this fascination has been around for a long time. There’s something about the ocean, and swimming, perhaps as a sensation that is so different from walking on solid ground, or the seemingly infinite-ness of it. It’s something I must explore further, in my work and in real life.

swim

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