Moon Mystery Dev on Making Flying into Black Hole Realistic & Engaging

Mikołaj Szymanowski told us how the "flying into the black hole" sequence in Moon Mystery was made realistic and discussed zero gravity puzzles, various vehicles in the game, building a relationship with the AI companion, and optimizing AI with a limited budget.

Moon Mystery is an upcoming space adventure with FPS elements that allows you to fly right into a black hole. We've talked with its developer Cosmoscouts about the game's environments made in Unreal Engine as well as its weapons and the studio's approach to gravity

Today, Moon Mystery's creator Mikołaj Szymanowski will tell us about the black hole sequences, vehicles, and the relationship with the AI companion.

Flying into the black hole is probably what captures viewers' attention first when they see the game's trailer. This realistic portrayal is unusual, and even the biggest titles don't offer anything like that.

"In video games, encounters with black holes are exceedingly rare, and when they do occur, interactions are typically limited to instant death or teleportation to alternative locations. We endeavored to elevate the experience of falling into a black hole beyond mere convention, integrating it seamlessly into our game's narrative fabric. Extensive research into the enigmatic realm of black holes underpinned our efforts, culminating in an immersive portrayal that captures the awe and wonder of this cosmic phenomenon. Our intention was to not merely present a scripted event but to engender a truly interactive experience. Thus, players assume direct control of their spacecraft, navigating its perilous descent into the heart of the black hole. The journey itself is designed to evoke a spectrum of emotions, from curiosity and anticipation to a palpable sense of trepidation as players venture ever closer to the event horizon. 

The developers also implement zero gravity movement as puzzles at some points in the game. They focus on diversity in this area, so you'll find many different puzzles, two of which use zero gravity.

"The first one is a platform level where we can walk normally in space because we're in an alien base with a special force field allowing movement in space as if we were on a planet. However, the force field has a limited range, and if we don't jump properly, we'll fall out of the force field and into zero gravity with preserved momentum and direction. We won't be able to change our momentum or direction, so we'll be floating endlessly in zero gravity, but don't worry, before infinity greets you, the "end screen" will appear, and you'll be able to try again. The second puzzle involves specially crafted zero gravity in a room. In this case, we'll be able to control ourselves in zero gravity, but not using the regular movement of our character. We'll control ourselves by utilizing weapon recoil, shooting in the opposite direction of where we want to move."

Moon Mystery is a space adventure game, but you'll be mistaken if you think a spaceship is the only choice you have.

"You know that situation when you see a cool vehicle in a game and think to yourself, "It would be awesome to drive that," only to find out it's just a static background object? Well, in our project, we wanted to do the opposite. See that modern sedan as part of the Earth-level scenery? Of course, you can drive it. Fancy taking a spin in a small RC car on a planet? You'll be able to control it too. Tired of land vehicles? You'll have the opportunity to pilot a spaceship and a submarine. We've dedicated a lot of time to including various vehicles to ensure that the gameplay is diverse."

Another intriguing piece of the story is your relationship with an AI companion. The AI topic is extremely popular nowadays, but you have an opportunity to look at it from a new perspective.

"One of our inspirations, which may be surprising for an FPS, is the game Firewatch. That's because, just like in Firewatch, we want the relationship between us and our robotic companion to be authentic and engaging. Throughout the gameplay, we'll be constantly conversing with our companion Toby. He'll be advising us, guiding us, and making us feel less lonely in space. However, it won't be a perfect relationship. There will be ups and downs; we'll get angry at him, we'll praise him, and ultimately, we'll appreciate that he's with us. We made sure that the voice actors created a genuine relationship between us and Toby. You'll easily hear the emotions in our conversations. We hope that players will feel various emotions while playing with Toby. Perhaps at times they'll feel that Toby could be fairer to the player, but in the end, they should conclude that Toby is a great friend."

Speaking of AI, it doesn't only talk to you but it also controls your enemies and many other aspects of the game.

"Our game is a small indie project. We strive to make everything possible with a not so huge budget to bring our AI to a state where combat with enemies is fun and satisfying. We've decided to prioritize simplicity but with careful implementation and consideration. Our main adversaries are humanoid robots capable of taking cover behind obstacles or throwing grenades at us when we linger too long behind cover. However, we aim not to overcomplicate the core AI itself. We don't want the AI to aimlessly run around during gameplay, attempting to flank us in nonsensical ways. Instead, we emphasize highly polished basic AI and various enemy types. In the game, we'll also battle flying drones, turrets, and suicide bots that explode upon reaching us."

You can already see that Moon Mystery is going to be a complex project full of activities. So how do the developers combine puzzles, platforming, storytelling, FPS elements, and different vehicles in one project without a huge budget?

"One of our main gameplay principles is diversity. In the game, players can drive various vehicles and encounter numerous puzzles, both logical and platform-based. Moreover, the project primarily focuses on FPS, featuring a considerable amount of combat. Why did we opt for such diverse gameplay without having a AAA budget? Primarily because we are gamers ourselves, and our goal was to create a game that we would personally enjoy playing. Within our team, we are fans of Half-Life 2, a game renowned for its diverse gameplay and other aspects, often considered the best FPS in history by many. So how did we approach this? Similar to our approach to AI, we prioritized simpler yet robust solutions that provide enjoyment to the player. Our aim is for players to experience something new throughout the game, from beginning to end, every time they play."

If you compare the latest articles about the game with the one we wrote back in 2022, you'll see that it's not a solo project anymore. It has grown significantly, and its management had to change as well.

"I began the project as a solo endeavor. It was a hobby project that I worked on in my spare time after work. Now, there are 15 people working on the project. Initially, as a small team, we worked somewhat haphazardly without much organization. However, we have since adopted a methodology akin to Scrum, and our productivity has steadily increased month by month, reaching its peak, where we now collectively complete over 200 tasks per month as a team. We are confident that we will deliver all aspects of the game, and players will be pleased with the project, created with passion by gamers for gamers."

Mikołaj Szymanowski, Game Developer

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