Capsule is uncomfortable to play. The game has you piloting a tiny ship of some sort, presumably underwater, using only a radar screen to guide you. All you can do is move and stay alive, but actually doing so isn't easy. There will be plenty of moments where you'll find yourself drifting without power, gasping as the last of your oxygen ebbs away. It's difficult and claustrophobic to play, so it might come as a surprise that Capsule comes from Adam Saltsman, who is best known for two of iOS's more intuitive games, Canabalt and Hundreds. In spite of his track record, it was Capsule's cryptic and challenging nature that interested him in the project. "I have this kind of ongoing nihilistic / sublime fantasy of just waking up someplace completely alien, and eminently hostile, and having to overcome it from a kind of ground zero position," Saltsman tells The Verge.
You'll spend most of your time simply trying not to die
The game does have at least one thing in common with his previous work, however, in that it's exceedingly minimalist. All you need to play are the arrow keys to control your direction and thrust, and the spacebar to send out a pulse to help you determine what's around you. This is incredibly important as your capsule is left to explore with no supplies — in order to survive you'll need to find air pockets and ion vents to refill your oxygen and power levels. This turns what is essentially a very simple game into an incredibly tense experience, as you'll often find yourself frantically searching for air so that you can keep going. When your power runs out you're forced to sit and wait until you suffocate. There is something of a story in Capsule, complete with an ending, which you'll uncover by finding stations to dock with, but you'll spend most of your time simply trying not to die.
The uncomfortable nature of Capsule is due in no small part to its sound design. The bleeps and bloops as you navigate the world make it feel like you're working at an ancient computer terminal, but more importantly the uncomfortable sound of someone struggling to breathe as you run out of oxygen is almost enough to induce panic. The sounds come courtesy Robin Arnott, the designer behind the terrifying, sound-based game Deep Sea, who previously worked with Saltsman on Old Spice's bizarre Dikembe Mutombo's 4 1/2 Weeks to Save the World advertising campaign. Saltsman believes that the sound is perhaps the most important part of the experience. "I worked really hard to get the graphics to be nice and sparse and minimal, but also kind of filthy, and the way the story and world generation works is all stuff I'm proud of," he explains, "but like, the moment-to-moment emotions you feel are easily 70 percent Robin's doing, and maybe 30 percent my doing."
"You pretend that your bedroom and your laptop are this damaged escape pod."
Capsule is available now on both Windows and Mac for $8. Saltsman acknowledges that it's definitely not a game for everyone, but in the end he simply built a game he wanted to play, and hopes that there are people looking for the same kind of experience he was. He describes it as role-playing as a "desperate astronaut ... where you pretend that your bedroom and your laptop are this damaged escape pod because that's kind of the only option the game gives you.
"There probably aren't that many of us," he admits, "but the few of us who really dig this, we really dig it."