E-Line Media have fast made a name for themselves as the creators of gaming experiences that combine with interactive learning opportunities. After first coming to market with the brilliant Never Alone, the team are now back and taking us under the waves with Beyond Blue on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. We caught up with their Vice-President of Marketing – Steve Zimmermann – to discover what Beyond Blue has to offer and why gamers should be taking the time to explore the wonderful deep blue. He was more than happy to take our questions…
Hi. Please could you introduce yourself. What is your role at E-Line Media and on the development of Beyond Blue?
Hello! I’m Steve Zimmermann – VP of Marketing at E-Line Media, it’s good to meet you!
So, sell it to us. Why should Xbox One, PS4 and PC players be interested in Beyond Blue?
Two words: Baby turtles. More than two? Beyond Blue is an opportunity for people to explore a part of our world that almost nobody gets to see. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the bottom of the ocean and the game is a chance to glimpse an alien world that exists right here on Earth.
Beyond Blue comes about a good few years since the launch of your previous title, Never Alone. What have you learnt most in terms of game development across those years?
I think one of the key things that we took away from Never Alone was that there was an appetite for games that looked a bit beyond the story being presented in the game. When we introduced Cultural Insights, mini-documentaries within Never Alone, we hoped that people would be eager to learn more – and we were thrilled to find that that was the case.
For Beyond Blue we wanted to utilize the same inclusive development process and that took shape as Ocean Insights within the game for people to explore and enjoy.
How important has it been to highlight the mysteries of the ocean and the importance of it to our planet?
Enough that we wanted to make a game about it! We’re on a precipice when it comes to the health of our oceans. Without change, we’re looking at some tragic events unfolding but with change and awareness, we have the power to positively affect the world that we call home.
The ocean is our planet’s beating blue heart and it’s something we wanted to spend some time bringing more awareness to.
Integrating elements of the BBC’s Blue Planet II is one of the most interesting ideas of Beyond Blue. How much footage is included, is it previously unseen and how does it fit in with the gameplay?
Fortunately for us, though maybe not our editors, we were provided with thousands of hours worth of footage from Blue Planet II – much of which had never before been seen. It took our team some time to choose what would end up being included in the sixteen Ocean Insight videos.
Those videos also feature original footage that we filmed and unlocks after players complete certain tasks and they’ll have the ability to watch these mini-documentaries to gain an even clearer perspective on our world’s ocean.
Can you tell us more about the team of Mirai, André and Irina. Have their stories been influenced by any people in particular?
Like so many real world research expeditions, the team in Beyond Blue is international in nature. Each member is there for their own reasons but each has the goal to have a better understanding of the ocean than before.
Mirai is the curious explorer who takes on the challenge of living under the waves for an extended period of time. André, the deeply passionate inventor and researcher who often feels more than he shares. And Irina, the logical scientist and entrepreneur who sees all the ways that the ocean’s health could matter.
Each of the traits of these characters has been drawn from a collection of real world scientists and the stories that they’ve told us.
In terms of the animals found under the waves, how many different species have been included and who have you worked with to ensure that all have been replicated perfectly? Why did you choose those particular animals?
There are 45 different species of creatures that you’ll discover throughout Beyond Blue. Nature pretty much chose them for us, actually! We wanted to focus on a patch of the Western Pacific and within that general area (and at the various depths) you’re likely to find the creatures featured in Beyond Blue.
During the development process, we were able to work with Dr. Samantha Joye, Dr. David Gruber, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Anna Bakker, and a number of other leading scientists to be sure that we got it right.
How has it been working with the science experts? Could this project have happened without their input?
Oh, there’s no way it could have worked as well as it did without our expert scientists! It was such an incredible experience being able to sit and speak with these passionate experts. They want so badly to share their knowledge that their excitement is contagious.
Not only were they the driving force that allowed us to maintain a certain level of scientific occurrence within the game, but many of the subtle little details found throughout Beyond Blue have been directly inspired by conversations with them as well.
In terms of replayability how does Beyond Blue stack up? What is there to keep this underwater world a place to continue visiting?
The ocean is a pretty big place! While Beyond Blue isn’t an open world adventure, players will have the opportunity to get back in the water after the credits roll and swim around exploring things that they might have missed the first time around and scanning creatures that might have originally eluded them.
Mixing great gameplay with an educational aspect can’t have been easy. How have you ensured that Beyond Blue players will be exposed to both?
We knew that the place to start was in the truth of creature interactions you’d be having throughout the game. For example, if you were going to swim up to a whale shark, what would that scale against the player character look like? The natural world is infused with so much awe and wonder that we didn’t have to reach beyond those types of truths to create something that we thought people would find compelling.
Then we have our infusion of the Ocean Insights. Players have the chance to unlock 16 mini-documentaries throughout the game that share a bit more about our oceans. They contain interviews with scientists and researchers that will shed more light onto what the player is experiencing within the game.
Beyond Blue has been in development for a few years, what has been the biggest stumbling block throughout this process?
Never Alone left us with some big shoes to fill. Knowing that we wanted Beyond Blue to live up to the level of critical praise that had come before was one of the bigger challenges we faced. Not that that is a bad thing at all, but it means pouring as much truth into the science as we could, making sure that the animals move and react as you would expect them to, and creating an engaging experience that might help shift the way the player thinks about the world around them.
The launch during World Oceans Week fits perfectly. When did consideration of releasing during this period first come about? Has it required a big push by all to ensure it has been ready?
I don’t remember exactly when it was first suggested, but as we got closer and closer to having the game finished the launch date began to come into focus. It also happens to have been at the time when we transitioned everyone to working from home. Then once it looked like we could make the date every aspect of the development really put in an amazing effort to be sure that things would be ready. We couldn’t be prouder of the team for dealing with unexpected circumstances and then still getting us smoothly to launch day.
How important has it been to ensure a high level of audio is included? How have you ensured both the sights and sounds included are ultra-realistic?
Just like for the whales who we’re following in the game, audio is key. Throughout the game players will be hearing actual animal noises as they’re scanning and tracking these creatures. That level of accuracy comes from our relationships with scientists who provided us with the understanding, and the recordings, that were necessary to pull it off.
But it’s not just creature sounds that you’ll be hearing. While interviewing our scientists, we learned that music plays a key part of their expeditions – as something to enjoy during the down time and even as they journey to the bottom of the ocean. Beyond Blue has a full soundtrack that players can enjoy inside their sub too.
If you were to highlight one must-not-miss moment of Beyond Blue to players, What would it be?
For me, it’s the bait ball. It’s a moment where the sheer size of the ocean and its inhabitants is brought into crystal clear focus.
In terms of Xbox achievements, how does the Beyond Blue list play out? Will some of these require multiple playthroughs to obtain?
This is a great question. Dedicated and inquisitive players will certainly be able to earn all of the achievements in Beyond Blue on a single playthrough. And, if you’re a fan of puns then I’d suggest trying to get them all.
Your previous game, the gorgeous Never Alone, was complemented brilliantly by the addition of the Foxtales DLC. Are there additional content plans for Beyond Blue?
We would love for that to be the case! Things are looking very good and while I can’t say for certain – we are very open to exploring more of the undersea world with some DLC.
And finally, you’ve taken us to Alaska and now under the waves. What’s next for E-Line in their quest for educating the gaming public?
Oh, I’d love to be able to say exactly – but I can’t. Not quite yet. What I can say is that we’ve committed to continuing on in the tradition of Never Alone and Beyond Blue, utilizing our inclusive game development process and bringing some of the real world into the digital one through Insight videos.
Huge thanks go out to Steve at E-Line Media for sparing us some of his time to allow for further insight into the beauty of Beyond Blue on Xbox One. If you wish to know more about the game, and how it all plays out on Xbox One, then it’s well worth taking in our full review. Or you could always follow E-Line Media on Twitter, keeping up-to-date with their announcements in the process. Once you are sold on a purchase of Beyond Blue though, the Xbox Store will happily sort you out with the usual downloads – it’ll cost you just £16.74.