“Our wish, our salvation, and our only hope is to end the historical crisis by becoming the alien, by ending alienation, by recognizing the alien as the Self, in fact – recognizing the alien as an Overmind that holds all the physical laws of the planet intact in the same way that one holds an idea intact in one’s thoughts. The givens that are thought to be writ in adamantine are actually merely the moods of the Goddess, whose reflection we happen to be. ” — Terence McKenna
E3’s in full swing just now, and one of the early surprises was that Bioware’s new sci-fi game, Anthem, isn’t going to have any romances — this is a pretty controversial take in some ways, considering Bioware are well-known for romances being a cornerstone of their Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles. In fact, it’s what a lot of people play their games for. Obviously, that’s not to say they’re beholden to add smooching into all of their games, but it still gave a few folk on Twitter — self included, despite my usual aversion to sci-fi space-operas — a certain kind of yearning for a new space game.
So I came up with an outline for Aria — a sci-fi game set in a transcendental spacetime station. I decided I wanted the game to express some of the things I think you could take to interesting places in games.
We start the game with our main character, a young man from 2118 awakening from hypersleep onto a cyclopean organic structure that appears to be floating in a vast sea of limitless light. Upon talking to a few residents of the station, we discover we’re on a spacetime station – an anchorpoint in the folds of spacetime that unites people from various times, places, and spacetimelines.
Over the course of the game, our main character befriends people (much in the same way as Tusks‘ socialising at camp scenes), which often results in the character getting new options in-game. The structure of the game is open-ended — my goal with the game isn’t to get the player to an end-state, but to present stuff that might make you go “holy shit yes, I’ve been trying to articulate this for ages”.
So, we meet:
- A cigar-toting droid (center), who is our main character’s primary partner from before the main character was suspended in hypersleep. The two can then decide between themselves if they want to continue their relationship. Our droid man’s primary focus is all about working on the self — through writing one’s own narrative, learning to be comfortable with one’s body or changing it where possible, and experiencing bliss and happiness. As an AI that has had to work on his own sense of self, he’s become quite adept at helping others with it. His missions tend to be about helping other people foster things like personal satisfaction, self-care and mindfulness. Completing his missions gives more options for allowing the main character to be more expressive in conversations, which includes (because it’s me, lbr) the ability to have the character walk around with their junk out.
- A fashioniste (bottom left) who is a member of a lineage that practically deifies style, fashion, accessory, markings, posture and gesture. They consider their voices vestigial, and instead, much like cuttlefish, externalise and communicate ideas and thoughts entirely through the presentation and manipulation of their bodies. Their missions usually involve helping to synthesize exciting new materials for garments, and completing their missions gives the main character more clothing options to choose from.
- A person (center left) who is a lunarian xenopologist. Their life’s work is to help catalogue and disseminate knowledge about the cultures and customs of life at all scales, using the vast computational power of several drives installed in their body and connected to numerous information networks throughout the universe. Their missions usually include learning and practising different customs, and completing their missions provides new ways of interacting with other forms of life in conversations, as well as providing always-on access to an ever-growing database of information in the game.
- A man who has shaped and formed their body into that of a minotaur, and spends almost all of his time playing games, usually involving strange physics. His missions involve helping him develop games as you play them with him, and completing his missions unlocks minigames.
- A woman (bottom right) who has been an anti-work activist for numerous years, and is now watching her dream of a life without mandatory work coming to pass. Her missions usually involve exchanging resources to bring cultures to resource-based economies, and completing her missions results in less resources being needed for any tasks the player wants to perform, and teaches the player how to automate AI.
- A sensthete (center right) who has modified their bodymind to become a personal playground: their sense of time can be changed at whim, they can instantly hydrate or satiate themselves, they can enter trance-states at will, their consciousness can be made non-local… their missions involve finding new ways to customise and push their body to the limit, and completing their missions provides new ways to change the player character’s body.
- A mushroom entity (top right) that is the pilot of the spacetime station. This creature (or possibly these creatures, it’s unclear how many there are) has a psychedelic effect on people in its presence as it sheds spores wherever it goes. It has no missions, but spending time with it provides insight into time, the history of humanity, the reality of consciousness and the imagination.
There are no guns in the game, no military, no wars or crises that require you to enter into any kind of martial conflict — instead, the game focuses on helping other people complete their own personal goals in a universe-spanning society where work is optional, humanity is upgradeable, and time is transcendable.
I wanted to make a wee teaser image for the game that embodied that kind of utopian energy (in fact, the image and the game concept kinda came into mind at the same time, and both developed as I worked on each). I wanted something that’s styled like videogame boxcover art and sci-fi pulp magazine covers, but which has the kinda utopian theme I was going for — what better way than having two of the characters in the shot interacting, and what better way to do that than have it be two men holding hands? I feel like you so rarely see that kind of thing happening in ensemble-cast games like Mass Effect — it’s all action shots, even though many people’s love of the game comes from stuff outside of the action.
Time (and interest) will tell if I ever make Aria, though – it would be a pretty big undertaking after all. For now, I’m happy to just put this wee image and blurb out there to say that I wanna find more folk who’re talking about spacetime exploration in much broader ways, across much stranger dimensions, than just “military conquerors from Space America and sexy blue alien women fly through space in a metal bullet.”
(Helix nebula image source: NASA, Earth image source Pxhere)
This article was originally posted on Patreon in June 2018.