Game Call of the Sea
Developer Out of the Blue
Publisher Raw Fury
Platforms PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Release Q4 2020
Call of the Sea is a love letter to the adventure genre. It's a quiet contemplation on the value of family, a search for answers leading Norah across the South Pacific ocean to find her husband. First there was an expedition and then there was silence. There's no telling what this intrepid explorer may find as she begins to push beyond the shores of the island lost within the South Pacific; as she begins to peek beyond the veil and into the unknown.
This is developer Out of the Blue's debut, drawing influence from the likes of Firewatch, Myst, Soma, and Subnautica. An adventure game in the truest sense, with progression driven by your desire to piece together a puzzle that has been laid out in front of you. "We really love narrative games, especially the ones that involve some puzzle-solving," Tatiana Delgado tells me, game director on Call of the Sea and co-founder of Out of the Blue. "We wanted to build a company that was focused on making these kinds of story-driven games with puzzle solving. We are also avid and devoted role-playing gamers; we wanted to tell a mystery story, like the ones you can play at a table, and bring that to life in a game."
Exploring a mysterious world
Out of the Blue wants to be clear in its intent. The type of experience the studio is crafting is reflected in its visual aesthetic – calm and contemplative. Call of the Sea is a first-person adventure game where the story takes focus, with the team eager to let players settle into the otherworldly expedition and set their own pace through it. That, Delgado says, has been a big focus for the small team of 12 industry veterans from day one. "We want to make a place where you want to spend time. That’s why we made the environment very beautiful and peaceful. We want you to spend time just looking around and looking for clues – trying to figure things out through exploration."
Call of the Sea is entirely non-violent too, featuring no discernable physical combat. Instead, the game centres on storytelling by way of solving the central mystery. "We want the narrative to be more important than the puzzles. So whenever there’s a puzzle, you, as a reward, make the story go forward," Delgado continues, explaining that the team has put much of its focus over the year of development into intertwining these elements as closely as it can. "We wanted the puzzles to be integrated into the world. You have to explore to understand the world and learn how it works to solve its puzzles."
"We’re trying to avoid that feeling of 'Oh, a puzzle. I have to unlock this to open a door'. The puzzles are related to an old civilisation that you're going to find – you might need to explore some ruins to try and figure out what a building was used for, for example. There are puzzles related to their technology too – you have to fix a machine, but you'll need to try to understand how the gear mechanisms work before you can try to fix it," she says. "We like to craft environments where you can just explore the details. We want you to feel like a detective, figuring out what happened on the island and what people were doing here."
That doesn't, however, mean that Call of the Sea is set in an open world. Out of the Blue has gone to great lengths to create authored spaces; enclosed environments dense with detail. It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that Delgado has previously held positions at Tequila Works (Deadlight, Rime) and Vertical Robot (Red Matter). "We decided to structure the game… I know sometimes when we say 'linear' it's considered bad, but in this case we needed to close areas of the island off because we wanted to craft the story and detail."
"We also wanted to give the player the feeling that they haven't left anything behind. That's why we prefer to give you an area of the island where you have plenty of room to explore and once that part of the story is closed we move you forward to a different place," Delgado says, adding, "We don't want you to think 'I've left this part unexplored and I’m missing something'. you can move forward with a fresh mind to face a new puzzle and a new part of the story."
It's easy to see the appeal in an experience such as this. Call of the Sea is vivid and vibrant, its island is a space I'd be only too happy to get lost in. But looks can be deceiving, Delgado warns. For as inviting as the island may look to an outsider, it won't take long to realise that there's something amiss in paradise.
Into the deep
There's no telling what you might uncover beneath the surface. After all, Call of the Sea is being touted as an "otherworldly adventure". The studio is embracing its fascination with the occult and the supernatural, leveraging the unknown to create a sense of unease on the island as you begin to piece together information on the locale's past and the fate of the missing expedition.
"Everytime I mention H.P. Lovecraft, people think we are making a horror game," laughs Delgado. "We're not, but we are drawing inspiration from his stories. You aren't going to find jump scares in the game or monsters with tentacles or anything like that… we want you to solve the mystery we have created, slowly realising that there is more to the world than meets the eye."
Things are not as they seem on the island. While Degado is staying tight-lipped on how the supernatural has taken root, she does tease that Call of the Sea will play with expectation, distorting reality for impact when the occasion calls for it. In the quest for truth, there's no telling what strange secrets you might unearth.
Guiding you through this adventure will be none other than Cissy Jones, the actor who famously lent her voice to Delilah in one of the best adventure games of the generation. "We were fascinated with her work in Firewatch, because she was able to bring to life this character by only her voice through the radio. We thought it was a perfect match for our game," says Delgado. While the character wasn't written explicitly for Jones, Norah began to take more of a third-dimensional shape once the actor came on board with the project. "We tried to involve her in the creation of the character," she continues. "Cissy put a lot of herself into the character. It’s been fantastic working with her, she’s amazing!"
Searching for answers
Delgado tells me that the studio was eager to explore a different type of character and relationship to the one that we typically see depicted in video games. "We want to tell a story about characters in their 40s – we're not used to seeing characters that have adventures at that age," she continues, explaining that the studio was eager to create an intelligent love story between Norah and her missing husband. "We also want to portray a love that is not seen in many games; they have been happily married for a long time and are very happy together [...] You will discover how their relationship was and what she thinks of Harry on the island. We want to tell a more mature love story in this game."
An enticing mystery, a vivid world, and an emotional journey, that's what we should expect to find from Call of the Sea when it launches on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Game Pass in late 2020. As we close up our conversation, I ask Delgado whether she believes there will be room for this more intimate style of narrative game in the next-generation, particularly at a time where it seems so many developers are striving to make bigger and louder games than ever before. "I think it has a bright future ahead," she tells me. "I think it’s so nice that we have this new genre. Some people used to talk about it in a bad way – the 'walking simulators – but I think it's fantastic that these games can exist. I'm sure it will continue to grow… there are still so many stories to be told."
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