Pressure: The best game you’ll never play

PRESSURE is a first-person underwater disaster/survival horror simulation, slated for a Q3 ’09 release, that seeks to deliver a cinematic experience that is never played the same way twice.

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PRESSURE takes place in the deep-sea facility Belisarius, a secret zoological research lab over two miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The game begins with the player going about business as usual in Belisarius until, inevitably, disaster strikes. The world of PRESSURE is inhabited by gargantuan underwater monsters lurking in the dark and murky waters around the lab, many of them large enough to devour a man in a single gulp. From whale-sized sharks to Lovecraftian horrors to bioluminescent serpents hundreds of times your size, the game’s array of monsters is far more unsettling than most horror games can boast, and anyone with a fear of water and what lies beneath may have trouble playing this game in large sittings. After disaster hits the lab, the player must then utilize every resource at his disposal to stabilize or ward off the threat long enough to save the facility or make an escape, with any other survivors. Throughout the game, several fully-destructible areas will take realistic levels of damage and will increase the danger accordingly. The way in which the lab becomes damaged is not pre-determined, so depending on the circumstances you may have to deal with anything from small but dangerous leaks to explosive decompression and subsequent destruction of various chambers, blocking normal passage through the area. Your primary tools are simple weapons, ranging from deep-sea suits and harpoon guns to neutralizing chemical foams and shock grenades. Most of your weapons are ultimately useless against the bigger baddies, though, and in those situations your best bet is just to run, hide, or swim as fast as you possibly can.

One of the game’s two core design philosophies is change. The game is meant to be played multiple times, rather than most games which seek to deliver the majority of the content in a single playthrough. Some plays will be very short, some will take hours. And because the game is never quite the same on any two playthroughs, coming back for a second game is a much more appealing prospect. One of the most interesting differences is the way the game begins: the player has a choice of twelve different professions within the facility, including head of security, medic, electric engineer, and biological technician. These will affect not only your starting abilities (physical strength, stamina, weapon accuracy, capability with tools, etc), but also the tools and security clearance you start the game with, and where in the facility you’ll begin play. A technician will have repair tools to help restore certain areas of the lab to limited functionality, but his skill with any kind of defensive weapon will be almost nonexistent. On the other hand, a security officer makes a tempting choice, with his firearm skill and good physical strength for moving obstacles and using nearby objects as improvised weapons, but his lack of skill makes some tasks more tedious and even potentially hazardous, in one example where a rookie squad member blew himself up using a highly-pressurized underwater welding kit.

The disaster itself is also dynamic and randomized. In once example developers shared, the player, a diving and undersea demolitions expert, had just enough time to wake up from his bunk and step out the door to see a huge whale-sized creature crash headlong through a three-story glass window and flood the main area, resulting in a desperate dash for survival by not only the player but all the nearby staff, one of whom even shoved the player off a ladder in an attempt to scramble up past him. Yet developers also said that sometimes, the player might go about their daily routine for over fifteen minutes before any real danger arises. There are over 40 different tasks, some unique to the player’s profession, some general-purpose, and over 100 objective locations. This helps raise an atmosphere of suspense and unease as the player finds himself wondering when disaster will finally hit. It also helps put the player in a variety of situations: the same disaster of sudden decompression plays out very differently when you’re a scientist working with over lab specimens than when you’re a mechanical engineer tightening bolts in the guts of the facility, surrounded by spewing steam and rattling pipes, or a diver welding with a tiny, flickering torch, back to the open sea in the cloudy darkness around the lab.

Even the nature of the disaster is different each playthrough. Sometimes a gigantic sea monster will attack the facility directly, other times the danger is less immediate or obvious. Maybe a horrible beast is lurking in the darkness around the facility at night, devouring anyone who dares head into the water. Maybe the strange new aquatic lab specimens have broken free and are wreaking havoc from inside. On rare occasions, the developers said, the danger won’t even involve sea monsters at all. A systems failure or explosion could cause plenty of damage to the facility without the need of humongous creatures. Then again, disasters can also strike multiple times, so just because you’ve started to seal a potentially-catastrophic leak doesn’t mean you won’t have a tentacled horror the size of the Eiffel Tower bearing down on you a few minutes later. Developers say there are over 120 possible “catastrophe events” that are dynamically combined or linked, and this doesn’t even count the numerous dynamically-destructible areas, which can lead to flooding, gas leaks, oxygen depletion, explosive decompression, fires, lockdowns, electric hazards, and other life-threatening situations. You never know where you’re going to be when disaster strikes, or what that disaster’s going to be.

The other core design philosophy is choice. The player always has a choice of action, and assuming the player’s character has clearance to the various areas of the lab, Belisarius can be roamed freely at any point in the game. Even when passages lose oxygen, erupt in flames, or become completely destroyed, there will always be a way to get through, and sometimes this is unavoidable. In one example, the player had to reach the remote mining area, connected to the main lab via a long glass tube and a mined shaft which runs under the ocean floor. The tube had been destroyed earlier when an explosion rocked the facility, and the tunnel was filled with fire and acidic smoke. Lacking protective gear that wouldn’t be eaten away by the caustic environment in the tunnel, the player instead chose to head through open waters to get to the airlock of the mining area. Swimming through murky waters with almost no visibility proved to be a bad decision: about halfway to the destination, an immense shadow passed just at the edge of the player’s vision. The scene ended with a frantic chase with the player scrambling in a panic towards the airlock as a nightmarish creature pursued him with its toothy maw gaping wide, threatening to swallow him whole. In the end, the monster was faster.

The player has a choice of action too, and this can affect many aspects of play and determine the overall time it takes to beat the game. You can choose to run like a coward, leaving everyone else stranded. In an example we saw, one player was near the deep-sea submersible when things really hit the fan, and, forsaking the rest of the lab and all the people in it, he killed a nearby supervisor with a computer tower, stole his access card, and took off towards the surface with the sub. Even though the sub was swallowed by an eyeless, beaked whale-monster, the developers assured us it was possible to win this way, resulting in a game that only lasts a few minutes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could have a very long game in which you attempt to save key survivors, recover valuable documents, and stabilize the facility long enough to attempt a safer escape. Of course, if the sub blows up early on or you’re on the opposite side of the facility when terror strikes, it’s going to be a longer game even if you just try to save yourself and escape. Perhaps the most nerve-wracking option is to simply horde air and supplies and wait for rescue, which is usually an option of last resort when most other actions would mean certain death.

You can meet up with other survivors, but if the nature of the disaster is severe enough, you’re far more likely to just find waterlogged corpses. Sometimes the other team members are more capable than yourself, and every profession has a purpose. There are times when you must escort unconscious or less-capable team members through hazardous areas or past potential monster attacks, but failure never means a game over. Even if every person you escort dies (heck, even if you kill them all yourselves), you can still finish the game. It’s up to you to determine what winning means in any given situation, and how to achieve that. Maybe you just want to be an agent of chaos and help destroy the base – that’s an option too. No matter what you choose to do or how good you are at it, if you’re alive, that means you can still win. And even if you do die, you can still avoid a bad game over if others survive because of your actions anyway. Whether drowning in the inky blackness of the open ocean or dragged under a broken glass floor by horrible, monstrous tentacles, your death does not have to be in vain.

Death is frequent, however. Because even the longest games will probably only last a few hours, expect to die and restart a lot. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to avoid. In the demonstration we saw, the player took the role of the Captain himself, and was killed right when the disaster started. He was walking to the main deck when he turned to look out the window into the murky blue and saw a huge fish with a knifelike grin charging at the window. He stood in frozen fear for a moment before the thing rammed the window, rupturing the compartment, flooding the area, and killing the captain instantly. When the first blowout, fire, or leak occurs, lots of people usually die, and sometimes you’re one of those people. It can be annoying, but it also adds that much more tension to the pre-disaster game, knowing that if you don’t stay on your toes and out of trouble, you could be dead before you even know what hit you.

In short, PRESSURE offers a unique and terrifying playthrough every time you start a new game, and the sheer amount of possibilities promises that each game will be an unpredictable experience, never knowing what terrors might be coming, or when, or from where. The game’s system links together a series of events which work together to provide a cinematic, dynamic experience of increasing danger, lulls of false safety, and explosions of pure catastrophe. The constantly-changing environments and randomized layout of the facility and its personnel, along with the unforseeable and nightmarish dangers which lurk in the dark waters beyond, make this game an adrenalie rush of horror the likes of we’ve never experienced before.

And it’s not real.

Pressure is a brainstormed game concept born on an anonymous imageboard, which has captured the imagination of everyone who has read it. So much so that an effort to make the game a reality, or at least bring it closer to that level has started with the creation of a collaborative wiki for all those whose imagination has been captured by the concept can add their grain of salt to the project.

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Let’s hope they’re successful, since the game sounds awesome! 🙂

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