"I feel like it's a fine line between saying too much and not enough," Lunar Software's Aaron Foster says when asked about the premise of the studio's upcoming sci-fi horror game Routine. With its 80s vibe, first-person perspective, and interesting design choices like permanent death, Routine is certainly an intriguing game. It's also the first release from the new indie studio, which is comprised of just three people, Foster included.
At the outset Routine drops players on to an abandoned moon base, but beyond that the team isn't revealing much. "At the moment the player in Routine is a blank canvas," says Foster. "It's not stated anywhere if you are male or female and your job is to find out what has been going on inside the moon base. We really don't want to give much away as it's important to experience those things first hand without knowing what you are getting yourself in for."
While it's not clear what exactly happened on the base, what is clear is that your decisions in the game will have a strong impact on how the experience unfolds. Routine will give players a good amount of freedom when it comes to exploring the deserted facility, and because of this not every playthrough will be the same. Some players will see certain areas of the base that others might miss, for instance, revealing new information that others might never see.
"My intention was to make sure that the player knows there are consequences to their actions."
"My intention was to make sure that the player knows there are consequences to their actions," says Foster, "also that your playthrough should be specific to how you play the game — it's not a linear rigid path that everyone will experience. This is your challenge based on your choices."
Routine also strips away a number of features that players have grown accustomed to. There's no heads-up display providing valuable information about the world around you, no health gauge to let you know how close you are to the end, and when you die in the game, well, you die for good (a feature typically relegated to the more extreme difficulty modes in games like Dead Space 2 or the Torchlight series). These elements, along with the first person perspective, are meant to immerse players more deeply into the game's world.
"There is something about that era that really still sticks with me."
And that world is heavily influenced by the 1980s. The technology you'll come across as you explore the abandoned facility is decidedly retro, whether it's a robot or a tool, and you'll even spot a few floppy disks laying around. For Foster, the decision was simply a way to share his love for the look and feel of sci-fi films from that period, such as The Thing and Alien. "There is something about that era that really still sticks with me that I can't find today," he says, "and with Routine I am trying to get some of that feeling across to everyone else."
The exploration-based, atmospheric nature of the game will be punctuated by moments of intense action, as players will have to worry about running and hiding from potential dangers — though, of course, we don't know exactly what those dangers are. And while many of the design elements are intended to make Routine as immersive as possible, the team is hoping to go one step further. This August, Lunar announced that it had pledged to the Oculus Rift headset Kickstarter campaign in order to get its hands on two developer kits.
Nothing is guaranteed just yet, but Foster believes that the headset could be an ideal way to play the game, which controls similarly to Rift-supported titles like Doom 3 and places a strong focus on full body awareness. "We can't say 100 percent whether or not it will be implemented but we will try our best. It would really help just immerse the player that much more," he says, adding that it would especially be great for "peeking around corners."
"It would really help just immerse the player that much more."
Oculus Rift aside, Lunar has already cleared one major hurdle — Routine will eventually be coming to Steam thanks to the service's new community-led Greenlight program. Foster hopes to eventually get the game up on services like GoG.com as well, but he says that having been greenlit for Steam already helps to ease "the stress of trying to sort that out half way through development." And considering the small size of the team, any bit of reduced stress is likely very welcome indeed. Routine has only been in development for around five months in total, though with a number of other projects now out of the way, the trio at Lunar will be shifting their focus to the game full time.
However, the release date of Routine remains nearly as mysterious as the world the game takes place in. Foster says we can likely expect to see its release sometime in the first quarter of next year, but he won't be any more specific beyond that. "Making a good game for me is more important than a hard-set deadline," he says. "So we will keep it loose for now."