It only takes one
I recently played through the Stasis alpha demo, and I can tell you two things about it. First, a great deal of work remains to be done: path finding is extremely wonky, character models look like mannequins and appear to glide weightlessly when they walk, interactivity and feedback is very limited, and it’s just “rough,” in various ways, to varying degrees. Second, and more important, it is absolutely overflowing with potential. Even in its brief and incomplete state, it left me very much wanting more.
Stasis is a point-and-click sci-fi horror adventure set aboard the research vessel Groomlake, which has suffered some sort of catastrophe that’s left it nearly derelict, with most of its crew dead or missing. Systems are shut down and signs of struggle are everywhere; it also slowly becomes clear that the ship’s crew was inflicting horrors of its own, long before disaster struck, as part of its mission. Figuring out why, and what role you played in it, will be an important part of understanding what went wrong.
“Stasis really is an amalgamation of everything I love about science fiction,” creator Chris Bischoff told me. “Alien, Event Horizon, Sunshine, Dead Space, The Dig, System Shock… they all have some element of DNA in the game. From a gameplay point of view, System Shock‘s way of telling its story through audio logs, video logs, and ghosted re-enactments is a heavy influence on Stasis.”
Bischoff is the lone developer on the game, handling everything from programming to graphics and animations, although his brother recently signed on as “the business mind” of their indie game studio, handling things like the Stasis website, community management, and contracts with voice actors. He’s also involved in crafting the story, and they discuss, refine, and discard ideas on a daily basis.
Being a solo act limits the speed of development, but it also allows Bischoff to set priorities and take on tasks as he sees fit. “I have received an immense amount of incredible feedback from the alpha, so the next few weeks will be spent addressing those major issues raised: path finding, things like the doors stopping the character, sliding, and other technical changes,” he said. “Once all of those technical changes are complete, it becomes an exercise in polishing and tightening the rest of the game. Because I am the sole developer, I am very flexible in terms of how I work. One day may be focused on sound design, another on writing, another on graphics.”
Stasis will feature adventure-style puzzles, but the primary focus will be on the story. Bischoff said the final version of the game will be much more interactive than the alpha and will feature “lots of incidental things” that he hopes will bring the setting alive. But while the game is incredibly atmospheric even in its current state, and I did actually jump once or twice while I was playing, he said he doesn’t expect that it will be full-on frightening.
“I don’t think that you can get that same level of visceral fear, because by the very nature of an isometric view you are ‘detached’ from your environment. John [the lead character] is very much a separate character with his own emotions and motivations,” Bischoff explained. “Where the horror will come through is in the story itself. I have an advantage in being completely independent – I can really push the story and visuals into some places that [a] publisher may not be too happy with. There are some truly disturbing scenes later on in the game where I hope the player will have a ‘No, that’s not gonna happen’ reaction!”
I won’t spoil any surprises, but even early in the demo there were a couple of moments where I found myself surprised by what I saw – and what I did. It may not be horror but it’s certainly horrific, which in a way is actually kind of refreshing; it allows Stasis to inflict its undeniable awfulness on players without turning off those who just don’t have a tolerance for full-on Amnesia-style fear.
The Stasis Kickstarter is live now and doing pretty well for itself, notching up more than $42,000 of its $100,000 goal in just three days, and is also up for your consideration on Steam Greenlight. Bischoff said that if the Kickstarter is a success, he hopes to have the game ready for release by August of 2014.