OCEAN BORN: Puzzle Horror Beneath the Waves

OCEAN BORN is a work-in-progress narrative-horror game by Alex Rose (she/her). The title is a spiritual successor to the jam version of the title developed for SUNY Poly Game Jam 1 Spring 2021: Underwater.

OCEAN BORN is a puzzle, horror, and exploration game about submarines, underwater cryptids, and WIRES.

The main gameplay screen. On the left is a panel of modules which are used to operate the submarine. The modules are connected by wires that you place using the mouse. On the right is a monitor currently displaying sonar readings. The monitor only displays what you tell it to, so it’s up to you to configure it in a useful way.

Hold up, did you say cryptids?! Tell me more about the cryptids!

I love cryptids! When I was little I would buy books about weird monsters and just learn everything about them. Now that I’m an adult I own so many monster manual type books for TTRPGs.

The jam version of OCEAN BORN had enemies that followed your sonar pings, internally called “obj_oceanborn” which is where the title for the game ended up coming from. They showed up on sonar as masses of interference and would follow the sound of your pings, trying to break through the hull if you got too close. They will be making a return in the full game, though definitely doing more than just chasing the player. I’ve also since done research into the vast amount of established ocean mythos to draw inspiration from.

You might see strange things while playing, so pay close attention. Even your manual can change when you’re not looking.

Why the ocean and why submarines?

I think there is a certain mixture of isolation and hostility that comes with the setting. A submarine is basically a small space keeping you safe from an incredibly deadly outside world. A big part of the original jam version was “you are trapped in a survival situation and the tools you need to use are almost comically obtuse”.

Of course, the jam version was also text based which I switched to the wires system because I don’t think I could convince anyone to use text input for the game length I want. The wires and modules can still be pretty obtuse. Trying to navigate systems that you need to use but are difficult to manage at best and outright hostile at worst is sadly a pretty relatable experience I’d imagine.

Why are you making me use my brain and forcing me to read a manual?

I love game manuals! Playing through older games, I’d always reference the manuals heavily for games like Metal Gear Solid or Clock Tower before ever going to the internet.  A lot of PS1 and PS2 era manuals have a ton of charm to them. The jam version’s manual was a PDF which was far easier to make but also severely limits interesting things I can do with it. Also, not many people want to have a PDF open in another window while they play! I was inspired as well by games like Keep Talking and No One Explodes as well as TIS-100 which I adore both.

The manual contains descriptions for how to use the modules. You’ll need this since you aren’t always equipped with the same modules on each level. Once you get the basics, it’s up to you to experiment, since interestingly, OCEAN BORN is a puzzle game where there isn’t just one correct solution.

Things felt pretty safe in the demo, will there be more dangers in the full release?

I’ve thought a lot about this! There will be dangers yes but I’m undecided of the scope to which they will be able to harm you. I think at its core I’m making a puzzle game where each level has the puzzle of making the submarine move with whatever controls the game throws at you. I think that getting booted back and having to redo your wires would be more frustrating than the danger would be engaging. But yes, there will be dangers in these waters for sure.

How long have you been working on OCEAN BORN?

Well over a year now. Files show that I started working April of 2021. I don’t do crunch and the grand majority of that development was me by myself, so it’s been slow going. Then on top of that, I got nasty RSI back in August that I’ve been doing physical therapy for. 2022 has been a very weird year for sure. Hopefully things can start to return to normal for me soon! I’ve had my really good friend Eeva (they/them) programming a bit for me and I’ve recently just gotten back to being able to program myself using the onscreen keyboard. Eeva has been a great help through this! They’re great.

Carefully navigate tight underwater caves to find the exit, and try not to panic.

Last thing, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’ve been making games for most of my life! I got an interest in [game development] when I was 12-ish and learned MMF2, which is now called Clickteam Fusion. In addition to making games, I do community management work for a few different games; mostly Discord stuff and occasionally social media management. Community management is like my other main professional passion. I’ve been doing it forever and I LOVE it! When not working on OCEAN BORN, I’m hard at work compressing images of cats by hand to make them fit on a gameboy cartridge. That sounds like a joke but I swear it isn’t. Something about Gameboy homebrew is actually very relaxing to me. Other than that, I GM in a few TTRPGs, live with several cats, enjoy collecting video games, take my estrogen twice a day. You know, normal game developer things.

Where can people get the game when it comes out?

Itch definitely, Steam hopefully. If I had my way I’d mail out CDs.

Big thanks to Alex for joining us and extra big shoutouts to Eeva. Show some love and support by following her socials (Tumblr, Twitter, Mastodon) and playing her work on itch.io.