I used to be simply minding my very own enterprise on a quiet night once I stumbled throughout Alpha Beta Gamer’s protection of South Scrimshaw: Half One, a free visible novel that presents a nature documentary about alien whales. I could not ignore a premise that good, however I nonetheless had all my expectations blown out of the water (pun totally meant).
The actual killer for me with South Scrimshaw is its worldbuilding—it nails the Disco Elysium factor of initially showing very acquainted, however then slowly unfurling right into a setting that is virtually vertigo-inducing in its strangeness. There have been a number of moments in South Scrimshaw that hit me just like the whammy of The Pale’s reveal in Disco.
One of many earliest (so it is not a giant spoiler) is the biology of the “Brillo Whales”. They domesticate symbiotic relationships with different ocean species, forming specialised micro-ecosystems of their pores and skin. The whales specialize of their biota, virtually like they’re choosing vocations, and South Scrimshaw presents a dizzying array of uh, I assume “whale RPG classes.”
The protagonist whale’s mom, for instance, seems to be like a floating forest, completely obscured by all of the flora which have taken root on her physique. One other whale hosts a colony of octopi on its pores and skin, which confer their energetic camouflage and permit it to be an ambush predator. Nonetheless one other mimics the pores and skin and pheromones of a species of pack-hunting sharks, letting it develop into the alpha of the group.
The “Kronos VII” documentary crew who body the story will break into these digressions in regards to the stunning interplanetary politics and society looming behind the manufacturing. There’s this surreal “as you already know” frankness utilized to keyhole views of what seems like an already extraordinarily well-realized sci-fi setting. They drop a primer on how alien ecologies have an effect on human intestine health right here, a digression a couple of cartoonist who made a Spongebob-style creation impressed by this world’s marine biology there. Once more, I come again to the Disco Elysium comparability for this sense of fictional historical past that may be by turns extraordinarily distant or painfully, instantly related.
Creator Nathan O. Marsh’s illustrations deliver a surprising watercolor vibrancy to this alien ocean, whereas additionally including simply sufficient animation and motion to interrupt up what’s in any other case a sequence of nonetheless pictures. It is just like the tropical vistas of Avatar: The Approach of Water by means of Studio Ghibli (I do know, I do know, I am sorry for saying it seems to be like Studio Ghibli however different comparisons fail me). “What if Hayao Miyazaki was actually into the ocean as a substitute of the sky?”
I discovered the entire thing to be an emotional, virtually life-affirming expertise. The story of the whale calf at its coronary heart strikes between charming and devastating whereas South Scrimshaw: Half One sketches out an optimistic future for humanity. The Kronos VII expedition and human society within the background of South Scrimshaw appear outlined by this basic Starfleet-style sense of curiosity and goodwill, whereas the transient point out of battle again on Earth presents it as a fleeting factor that was left behind in favor of this newfound deal with discovery and cooperation.
It is refreshing to have the ability to take pleasure in compelling, credibly optimistic sci-fi at a time when it is laborious to have hope for the longer term. I am additionally nonetheless virtually haunted by South Scrimshaw’s portrayal of vibrant, thriving ocean life at a time when our personal biosphere is so grievously threatened.
The game looks as if one other small indie miracle. “Getting publicity for a bizarre artwork challenge like this has all the time been difficult,” Marsh wrote in a touch upon Alpha Beta Gamer’s video. “I am sitting in a restaurant dish pit without delay having a second studying all the type feedback.”
Elsewhere, Marsh characterizes South Scrimshaw as a labor of affection labored on between paying commissions and jobs. It actually simply would not really feel honest that this factor is free.
Marsh continues to work on South Scrimshaw: Half Two, with chapters to be launched piecemeal earlier than being bundled collectively on Steam like Half One. You may comply with Marsh on Twitter, help him on Ko-fi, and take a look at South Scrimshaw: Half One for your self on Steam or itch.io.