“The Aral Sea is an important place,” begins Magnus Nystrom, artist for The Working Parts. Located near Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea was once one of the four largest lakes in the world. However, Soviet irrigation projects led to rapid shrinkage to the point that it has nearly disappeared completely, leading to local climate change and economic catastrophe.
It is called one of the world’s worst environmental disasters and it is the setting for The Working Parts’ latest game, a 2D platforming adventure called Residue.
“Residue is a story-driven 2D platform adventure which intercuts between three different playable characters, all exploring an abandoned excavation site in the remains of the dried-up Aral Sea in present-day Uzbekistan,” said Nystrom. “Its main purpose is to tell some of the countless stories of the Aral Sea as well as a story of our own, and doing so in the language of platform games. That means letting the difference in how the three characters can move make up the rules of dramatic encounters like chase scenes, reluctant cooperation and such. Our story concerns itself with the personal consequences of a failed miracle operation to restore the Aral Sea. Each character has an important connection to what happened at the excavation site ten years earlier, and during their stay in the Aral Desert that connection will change each of their lives forever. We wanted to create a game with a powerful dramatic arc, but where the story was still dictated by game logic rather than set pieces.”
In talking about the Aral Sea, Nystrom cites many of the visuals that surround it, including the numerous fishing ships that lay abandoned in the middle of the desert. It’s an area mostly unexplored in games, particularly given how recently the sea dried up. “We were exploring why people wanted to be important and examining the ideal of saving the world,” Nystrom added. “Even then, we used Residue as a title, meaning that which remains where something else has disappeared, and it’s a concept that still pervades the game. When we came to think about the Aral Sea early in pre-production, we instantly knew that this setting was meant for this story. We started to read everything we could come across in order to try to do Central Asia justice without even knowing anyone who’d ever been there. Since we, unfortunately, haven’t been able to visit it ourselves, it’s turned into something of a western romanticization of the real-world Aral Sea, but sprinkled with cold, hard truth.”
Nystrom goes on to describe the game’s main characters. Emilio is an 11-year-old boy, accustomed to traveling the world and aiding his mother in protecting various disaster zones. His mother has disappeared in the vast desert and must now search for her using his superior swimming and climbing abilities. Nikolai is a friend of Emilio’s mother and a part of the original excavation team. He lacks agility, but makes up for it with a grappling hook. Jumagul is Emilio’s grandfather, a fisherman of the Aral Sea who lost everything when the sea dried up. He can aid Emilio’s climbing and light up darkened areas with his flashlight. Players will have a chance to experience the story through everyone’s eyes through dialogue, flashbacks, and notes (both recent and from the original project) sprinkled around the excavation sites.
The idea of giving players perspective from every character means there’s no traditional central villain. Instead, the player is competing against the environment. “This is a platform adventure, and getting around is rarely a matter of just walking about,” explained Nystrom. “Much of the story takes place in and around an enormous stranded drillship, which gives us plenty of room for very vertical level design despite the desert setting. The controls are pretty basic most of the time though, so identifying the right way to go becomes a much more central challenge than executing difficult jumps.”
Residue has been in the works since summer of 2009, long before the development team was first assembled. The first demo was ready before the end of that year, but the team went back to the drawing board after observing a large number of bugs. The team continued work on the game through March, inputting mechanics and character scripts, in addition to fully drawing and designing the environment. Aside from working on other projects, like They Breathe, Residue has been undergoing a steady stream of polish.
“It was a pretty stable development in the sense that we stuck to the plan,” said Nystrom. “Being students at the time, we’d been blessed with a whole summer of pre-production — sketching, researching, writing, and thinking. We came out of that with a game script that didn’t actually change all that much during the course of production. Even then, we knew what scenes we wanted to do and what mechanics would drive them. To find the place in time where Residue was a completely different beast, you’d have to go all the way back to that summer, when Residue took its first step as a mix between Super Metroid and Forbidden Siren in a castle in Italy. But every game goes through that phase, right?”
Though Residue is polished to the point that The Working Parts has released a demo, the studio isn’t ready to commit to a release date just yet. Look for Residue to arrive in the future on PC. In the meantime, check out the game’s page on Steam Greenlight.
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