So what is Astral Horizon, and where has Seventh House been? Well, similar to the project itself, I was going to post this earlier, but it grew beyond my power to control – and perhaps that of mankind? Let me explain.
Astral Horizon is something I’ve wanted to make since an early game pitch I gave in one of Pyrodactyl’s design meetings back in 2014 – a bit of space opera, a bit of retrofuturistic anachronism, Dumas-like revenge plots and class divides, a small girl with a big coat, commentary on transhumanism and the exponential advancement of the human race. You know, simple homely stuff. In space!
The idea started out as a simple premise where you embodied the youngest and most un-inheritable 278th scion of a family of immortal nobles, seeking a world for your own cadet house and looking out for (or manipulating) your seed ship of more-or-less loyal vassals along the way. Throughout the game you would encounter a series of trials to test your judgement, your ideals, the image you’d cultivated as captain, and the relationships you’d built with the ship, the crew, and their descendants. Based on your choices, you’d find a more or less fitting conclusion waiting at the end of your little multi-generational expedition.
Though we eventually passed the concept up for the insightful and poignantly Estonian Late To The Party, I think proto-Astral was a good fit for Pyrodactyl’s house style. The politics between the crew, the player scion, and their liege’s clone throughout the journey were an interesting mix… I’d go further, but let’s save that for another post. What kept my focus even after we moved on was the setting itself.
I wanted to write stories in this far galaxy where nobody remembered the name of the mother planet; where ships had ghosts, and sailors needed them to cross the astral sea; where tech and culture had advanced a vast and uncomfortable distance from our own, yet by intentional design had now hearkened back to grand adventures on the high seas.
I wanted to write about transhumanism – the Big T – and not just about robot arms and skull-guns. Rather: whole colonies created from glass wombs, immortal aristocrats with clone executors, sentient space vessels, living planetary defense systems, future-predicting seers, and continent-spanning superorganisms. And not just these things, but the culture and context that explained their existence. The kind of thing scenario designers for series like Blue Submarine or Last Exile (seemingly now free to watch?!) took great pains to do back in the 2000’s – or that my dude Kinoko Nasu just kind of pulled out of his butt one day, wrote down, and promptly forgot about forever (even though it was pretty cool!).
I wanted to write, at least, about a small girl with a big coat, given to her by a hero she barely knew – now no longer in this world – and her unlikely journey to live up to his legend.
There are other influences too, of course: incredible tactics series like Fire Emblem and X-COM; countless other sci fi anime – Gankutsuou, Ergo Proxy, Wolf’s Rain, Escaflowne, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and even Gurren Lagann.
Tsutomu Nihei‘s surreal and atmospheric ultra far-future manga, from BLAME to Aposimz. Dan Kim‘s many simultaneously cool, comfy, profound, tragic, and adorable web series. Jack Vance‘s novels about the infinite yet relatable weirdness of a thousand disparate human societies spread across the stars, and the characters who live in and exploit them in their own peculiar ways.
After taking my present job in the triple-A space, I spent some months working with Arvind on a tactics game about an alchemist’s apprentice. We learned a lot, and did some of the best pre-production I’ve been part of on a game to date, but sadly this project had to be put on hiatus as well. So at that point, with everything already pointing in this direction… the die was basically cast.
The Invisible Plan
For some time now I’ve been working towards a game that captures the above ramblings. It’s built on Unity, using a minimum of store assets and programmed from as close to the ground up as the platform allows.
I’m aiming for a 2.5D look, with the camera at a fixed downward angle and sprite characters employing fake perspective in a stylized 3D environment. The style will be familiar to you if you’ve ever seen a Disgaea game, or something like Ragnarok Online. We won’t talk about how I had to write my own shader to accomplish this yet. It’s not completely done and I’m still praying someone will save me.
The UI is still mostly conceptual, but I’m shooting for a kind of holographic Art Deco feel – sister to the lovely Art Nouveau menus in Transistor, and the incredible deco linework in Last Exile. I’ll carry this through to the environment design of the ships as well – it seems fitting for this kind of hyper-elegant far future society.
The design document is mostly complete, and I’ve been implementing features as my time and skill allows. I even put the thing on Roll20 via macros for my friends to play – but that’s another another story. There’s a PC client with a playable battle you can win and lose, though lacking AI and complex attack animations. My sprites are purely placeholders borrowed from similar games, to calibrate the rendering and get a feel for how it should look when I bring on an artist, so keep that in mind.
That is, with the exception of a certain girl with a certain coat, courtesy of incredible concept artist Truc Bui.
As for the gameplay, it’s a tactics RPG (strategy RPG? Turn-based character tacticker?) that straddles the distance between Fire Emblem’s highly colourful characters and super tight focus on positioning and unit roles, X-COM’s flexibility of options, and the fun projectile sim driven gameplay of Into The Breach. Between battles I’d like to let the player get to know their crew through conversations, do some research and engineering, and go spacefaring in different systems, meeting new characters and making Important Decisions™ in text-driven, semi-systemic events.
Features? Support Conversations, unique character skills, eccentric traders, treasure, explosive barrels, destructible cover, doors, ballistics, gravity, traps, stealth, snipers, limit breaks, bullets, hacking, and that one shot you make where you didn’t mean to knock a hole into space but the guy dodged and it’s happening now oh it’s happening and everything’s outside the ship and it’s far too late to stop it.
Waifus? Husbandos? No horns? Yubi? Yes.
The solitary thing it doesn’t have by now is a miss chance – which is intentional.
Going forward I’ll try to write a bit about the development and design process of these things as I reach them, workshop bits of lore and characters, or even ramble more about the cool stuff in old games and anime, if that’s interesting to you folks.
Thanks for reading. Wish me luck!