After almost three years in development, we are pleased to announce that Heavenly Bodies will be launched on PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 on December 7, 2021. We have worked hard to make this game everything we had imagined and we can not wait to share it with you. Our new gameplay trailer below suggests some of the varied, alluring and often ridiculous scenarios you will find yourself in, whether you are playing solo or with a roommate via local co-op.
The art of the heavenly bodies
In the past, we’ve written about how the game feels to play and what you want to do out there in space. To celebrate that the game is so close to being released, we thought we’d dive into the reference that inspired us and how Heavenly Bodies came to look like it does.
The visual style of the game is influenced by technical illustrations from the middle of the century, archival images of early exploration of spaceflight and carved drawings that allow the viewer to see detailed structures. Our goal has been to create something that appears more like an artist’s interpretation of space rather than striving for realism. The work of Soviet architect and designer Galina Balashova and NASA collaborator illustrator Russ Arasmith has been crucial in informing our visual language.
Image credit: Artwork by Russ Arasmith, date unknown. NASA
Capture illustrative qualities in a real-time context
To render this bold, graphic, and analog aesthetic, we first analyzed what it was we needed to effectively reproduce in an interactive real-time context. The main features we wanted to include were:
● high contrast between highlights, midtones and shadows with a little mixing in between;
● the ability to replicate illustrative techniques such as shading and dotting;
● grains that are felt in relation to the scale of the objects in the scene;
● ability to control the roughness of an object;
● texture support for hand-painted details.
The results of our initial experiments are below, and we felt they were an early step in the right direction.
Once we had encapsulated these features in real-time 3d on smaller objects, we were eager to apply them to larger, playable environments.
Our main considerations in translating this style into Heavenly Bodies were:
● prioritizing the playable space and interactive objects over unnecessary details or clutter;
● use colors to highlight essential elements and different types of interaction;
● prefer analog technology and large forms that communicate their operation.
Here’s a look at the ‘Data’ scenario in the game where you can see all these elements come together.
Concepts for communication terminal and operations manual
The information required to complete the current task is provided by Mission Control via the communication terminal at all levels. This information arrives as a paper printout, which is then added to the operating instructions carried by the player.
The Operations Manual is informed by NASA manuals and checklists issued to astronauts for quick reference in stressful situations, of which there are plenty in the game. Preferring analog technology over digital, modern and sci-fi is an underlying direction of the game. Below are some early concepts for the clumsy communication terminal, followed by an example of the materials they dispense in the ‘Energy’ level.
Throughout the game, we have stored a lot of special collectibles that players can find and send back to Mission Control to be proudly displayed. These collectibles are our nod to significant achievements in space history, such as Sputnik, the first satellite put into orbit, and the Voyager Golden Record, which burst through the cosmos containing the sounds of our universe, and more that we will leave for you to discover.
The work of art for the PlayStation Trophies is our way of acknowledging the efforts of our brave cosmonauts, and celebrating their efforts in the form of a physical artifact that players can collect and reflect on – creating their own story of memorable events. Vintage space morabilia, including stamps, matchboxes, needles and badges, were integrated sources of reference, so making our own set of assets felt like a great way to celebrate a previous era of space exploration.
Our love of historical space illustration extends to every corner of Heavenly Bodies, and we have strived to capture the magic of mid-century graphic illustration where possible. For us, this era embodies the early romance and optimism of space travel. Although loosely set in the late 60s, early 70s, we have adapted events and technologies from recent decades to create the kind of scenarios we want players to experience, and we hope you enjoy it. See you in orbit! Heavenly Bodies will be released for PS4 and PS5 on December 7, 2021 – you can wish list played here.