It’s only been a month since I last explored the colorful underwater world of Abzû, but even a few weeks was enough time for the team at Giant Squid to add another layer of polish. This time, I sat down with creative director Matt Nava and lead engineer Brian Balamut to take a look at what’s been added to the depths of the sea for E3 2016.
From the instant the diver ducked beneath the waves, one change was immediately apparent: the music. While the previous build I’d seen claimed a slightly choppy, placeholder score, this version boasted a full orchestra and choir piece that transitioned smoothly through each location. The man behind that music is Austin Wintory, composer of the soundtracks for Journey, The Banner Saga and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and Nava informed me that the London-based choir was the same one that performed in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Music plays a part in every game, of course, but for a game that relies as heavily on atmosphere as Abzû, a good soundtrack is nearly as crucial as good gameplay.
“One of the cool things about the ocean is that it is so mysterious and there are so many things we don’t know about it,” Nava said, elaborating on the creation of the game’s atmosphere. “I think we all have in our heads this wonder about, ‘What is down there?'”
Well, what’s down there ? at least in the opening levels of the game ? is fish. Hundreds of thousands of fish. It seems unbelievable, but Giant Squid’s managed to add even more fish to the game since my last viewing, and there are now more than 200 separate species. It’s not just a numbers game, though. With the new forms of marine life come new behaviors and new tricks to discover, such as dolphins that can be directed to leap above the waves, pulling the diver into the air.
“The goal was to make this feel like ballet, to be very fluid and acrobatic,” Nava said as he directed the diver in a twirl around a school of fish.
Other fish are driven by hunger, creating a constant struggle for survival as larger fish hunt down the fleeing silvery forms of smaller schools ? even while the diver’s clinging to the fin of another fish or shark. Your undersea dance partners will be happy to spin, flip and boost around the seafloor with you until you wander too close to a tasty morsel and hunger kicks in.
More secrets, too, have been added to the depths of the ocean. Hidden paths in the color of coral or kelp lead to fallen drones. Clam shells open as the diver approaches. A chirp at the right time lights up a mysterious wall full of glowing hieroglyphics.
“There is a narrative in the game that you uncover as you explore,” Nava explained. “The beginning throws you into the water and you see all these seemingly disparate elements ? the diver and the drones and the fish and the spirit world ? and as you go deeper you understand the relationship between all of those.”
The build of the game I played covered only the opening levels, so I didn’t personally see much of that narrative. From a programming perspective, the game has eight main segments, according to lead engineer Balamut, and I’d only begun to explore the first.
The full version of Abzû is set to release this summer on the PlayStation 4 and PC. Personally, I can’t wait to discover what else is lurking at the bottom of the sea.