Creating a new video game, not under the auspices of a AAA developer/publisher, is a daunting task. Doing so, while also launching your very own, brand-new studio sounds multitudes of degrees more difficult. But this is what new, Polish development Studio, Far From Home, is doing. With team members from Techland, The Farm 51, Bloober Team and Larian Studios, Far From Home includes a lot of real and impressive talent, but nothing is a sure thing.
That being said, after speaking with Wojtek Liwanowski, Producer and Co-Founder, Pawel Jawor, Brand Manager and Co-Founder and Tomek Wlazlo, Creative Director and Co-Founder, I’m confident that the team is working on something unique and intriguing.
As are they.
Project Oxygen, the codename for Far From Home’s first game, is a single-player, first-person survival game coming to PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X. Set in the distant future, players control a lone scientist, exploring “an ecologically ruined and evolved Earth after humanity failed to fight off their own demise.”
It’s a premise that speaks to me as we live through the most difficult period of human existence in my lifetime. Politically and ideologically divided and arguing about the monetary value of human life, as a society, we are reckoning with multiple, serious issues all at once. COVID-19, Climate Change, historic and systemic racism; Project Oxygen feels like a natural and logical look at a potential future for earth and its people.
Far From Home – Project Oxygen
The team is already thinking along the same lines telling me, “It’s hard not to notice the current global situation. An ecological disaster is potentially around the corner and yet nothing substantial is being done. When this kind of doom and gloom starts preoccupying our everyday thoughts, it’s easy to start looking at a potentially interesting setting.”
Extrapolating on this idea, Far From Home imagined what would happen if nothing was done to right the ship, so to speak.
What would be its next steps? We picked one specific scenario and started building a game concept around humanity losing this fight,
Then the current pandemic happened and it was like pouring gasoline on a fire. Seeing how things were panning out in front of us over a situation that we’re actually meant to be prepared for, pretty much solidified our ideas.
Humanity was failing in front of our very eyes on something we should have gotten the better of. So how in the hell are we going to deal with something as vast as a breakdown of our environment?
It was sad and depressing but in a twisted way also inspirational to our world-building.
World-building is an important ideal for Far From Home. I asked about taking the plunge and creating a studio and what the name meant. “Creating a studio is something you think about as a gamedev,” I was told, “Being at the helm and holding the steering wheel. All the people involved with Far From Home worked in quite a few studios before and have seen both the good and bad sides.”
So, the core of Far From Home was to be a new studio, with new ideas. The team had conversations about what the studio should look like and why and eventually, those involved had built their own, brand-new world. Even the story behind the name creates a vast, imaginative narrative in the mind.
Far From Home actually has a couple of meanings and roots, both in terms of the name and the visual. Firstly, when we decided to take this plunge, the lone untethered astronaut drifting out on their own towards uncharted territory kind of captured how we all felt. It’s a journey so it feels exciting but at the same time rather cavalier and bold.
The team at Far From Home tells me the name is meant to signify them, “straying far from our own comfort zones,” which is exactly what the lone scientist in Project Oxygen will be doing.
Living high above the ruined planet, the scientist travels down, into the “inhospitable world raging below and around them” in a futuristic zeppelin. The zeppelin is the scientist (and player’s) tether to the surface, their lifeline to survival but it might also be the key to reversing and repairing the damage already done. Players will be protected while inside the zeppelin and it will provide them with “transport, life support, storage, research laboratory, shelter and escape.”
This special, technologically advanced zeppelin is a good analogy for Far From Home itself. It provides the founders and team members a safe place, a home and a way forward. While I wouldn’t go so far as to label the games industry as an “inhospitable world,” there are certainly enough stories about the issues in the industry to envision it as something less than ideal. However, Far From Home doesn’t afford the same kinds guarantees that AAA studios do I’m told. “We’re all leaving behind rather big-name studios and positions to go on this expedition. As volatile as game dev is, there is still a very noticeable safety net when you are part of a big AAA team working on massively known and popular IPs.”
So as the team at Far From Home, board their zeppelin and head out into the unknown, what exactly do they have planned?
For now, we only know a little as Project Oxygen is still a tightly guarded secret.
We know the core gameplay loop will be “focused on survival in a harsh, dangerous environment” and it will include combat. However, Far From Home told me it wants to avoid a “guns solve all problems” mentality, especially because the protagonist is a scientist, not a soldier. Players will have a range of tools at their disposal to “resolve problems or confrontations along the way.” Players will need to think critically and use problem-solving to deal with issues as they arise. Far From Home makes it clear, strength and violence won’t get players far in Project Oxygen.
The tools available to the player “some of them may include weapons, some others will be built on avoidance or subterfuge. At no point will the player ever feel they are the alpha in this encounter. The world and the evolved life that took over once humans left the picture will always be the bigger threat.”
We also know that it’s going to be single-player, rather than an always-online MMO style of survival game like DayZ, Rust or Last Oasis. Far From Home told me some games it had been inspired by include; Subnautica, Green Hell, Raft, The Long Dark and Don’t Starve. Removing PvP has also freed the team up to focus on “creating a strong survival loop and narrative because that’s what people will be focusing on. Where exploration for the sake of uncovering something new is the goal vs just running around looking for the next player to kill.”
Project Oxygen will also lean heavily on the established mechanics of survival games; resource gathering, crafting and staying alive. The Zeppelin will gradually be upgraded as players explore Project Oxygen, unlocking new features and changing the way they explore and progress.
In order to progress you will have to expose yourself to the elements, go below the toxic cloud and discover new forms of life, environments, resources and also remains of our own world. And the Zeppelin is essentially your life-line in all this. It’s your home and everything in between. It’s where you’ll use your collect, store and craft your resources.
It acts as your main source of transport. It’s where you’ll upgrade all your tools and tech. The more you progress, the more modules you’ll open up for your Zeppelin allowing for better upgrades, newer tech and more advanced items to help with exploring the world below.
What we don’t know, is the exact form Project Oxygen will take. I asked Far From Home if it’s going to be an open-world or narratively linear, scripted experience and was told the team’s not yet ready to reveal those details. “We are not ready to discuss the delivery and boundaries of the game narrative because in all honesty, that’s yet to be decided yet,” Far From Home said. However, it was revealed that Project Oxygen is being envisioned as a “playground where all the important mechanics will be tested and finally placed to deliver a specific and one of a kind experience.”
I also asked Far From Home whether there were any plans for multiplayer, co-op and crossplay. Again, I was told that, at this stage, it’s too early to say, but Far From Home is interested in the concept.
It is definitely on the table. We’re obviously quite focused on the single-player aspect right now but when we map out a rough idea of what could potentially happen post-release, a multiplayer / co-op is a feature that keeps cropping up.
The way it would work is still in its infancy so it’s hard to say if we’ll go more co-op or multiplayer focused. How crossplay is treated and approached on the next generation of consoles will very much decide that one for us. But as devs, it’s something we’d love to have.
Hearing about Project Oxygen’s Zeppelin, I immediately assumed the game would have a Steampunk aesthetic. However, Far From Home is going in a very different direction. The team acknowledged that zeppelins often conjure up images of Steampunk but Project Oxygen, taking place thousands of years in the future, will have a futuristic, technologic style.
“Our airship is a sophisticated high-tech machine, that you as a player will expand technologically, customize, pilot and repair,” Far From Home said. “The choice of zeppelins in the far future also makes sense narratively. They are easier to keep fuelled and maintain in the circumstances that our envisioned earth will be in.”
Again, I’m struck by the analogue between Far From Home’s game and the studio itself. The studio is smaller, more manageable, more easily fuelled and less difficult to maintain than a sprawling AAA studio. Like Project Oxygen’s Zeppelin, a smaller crew has more control, a finer attunement to the ‘machine’ and faster response time to fix things when they go wrong.
Eschewing the AAA, big-budget style of development, the team is working towards, what it calls, AA+. I asked Far From Home how it will get gamers’ attention and draw them in, given there are almost infinite games to play on every conceivable platform.
“Man, what brutal question,” came the team’s reply.
“To be honest, we’re hoping that our AA+ dev approach here is the answer. First off, we know that to compete against the AAA titles that hog so much of our attention we got to come close to their level on something like visuals or gameplay depth. These are 2 elements that a lot of players easily latch on to at the start and it’s where we think our AAA experience and quite high budget will help us achieve this.”
Something else Far From Home helps will differentiate it from AAA studios is its innovation and “bold ideas.” “AAA sticks to a certain mould because they know that’s what people expect and that’s what works. So here is where our smaller, more nimble team sizes come into play. We know we need to be focused on unique mechanics, game loops, settings and topics that no one else previously tackled to get people hooked for the long term,” I’m told.
Far From Home is correct of course. The amount of money, time and resources thrown at big-budget, AAA blockbuster games is unbelievable and so, it’s unthinkable for a publisher that a return on investment won’t occur. By definition, this inhibits innovation, creativity and unique ideas. Far From Home wants to do things differently and by positioning itself as AA+ it “requires new ideas front and centre.”
It helps that the game development scene in Poland has, to use Far From Home’s own expression, “boomed.” I’m told “local investors and a relatively accessible stock market setup are both actively looking to support our scene. So we’re able to acquire the types of budgets needed to realize a project of our planned scope and quality without the need to compromise with a publisher.” This is incredibly important for a studio with the vision and drive of Far From Home.
Those unique ideas, innovation and creativity mentioned earlier, wouldn’t be entirely possible if Far From Home was tied to a publisher. Its games would need to be tried and tested moneymakers and the vision for Project Oxygen would be compromised. Thankfully, that’s not the case and the team has the freedom to create the games they want to create, without interference.
While COVID-19 means they’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future, the team at Far From Home is hard at work on Project Oxygen and will eventually open its offices and join contemporaries Techland, CD Projekt Red and Donkey Crew in Wroclaw, Poland.
Like the lone scientist aboard the zeppelin, high above a poisoned, dangerous earth, Far From Home is embarking on its own voyage.
The team says, “We’ve banded together as a small crew of experts and now we’re going into uncharted territory to see what we come back with.”
Special thanks to Wojtek Liwanowski, Pawel Jawor and Tomek Wlazlo for their time.