When Cornelia Geppert, the creative director of Sea of loneliness, first sat down to design the monsters of the game, she focused on specific emotions. The game, who launched last month, speaks of a girl named Kay facing her personal demons, who have become real monstrous creatures. Geppert says that, with a black pen in her hand, she "imagined the sheer sense of hopelessness, anger, and confusion" that she wanted the monsters to represent, but nothing came out of the process. She finished with a page full of black stripes.
Then Geppert tried a different tactic: she started thinking about how creatures would be linked to specific characters. One of the monsters is supposed to represent Kay's mother, for example, who has spent years trying to keep a small family together, often to her detriment. In the game, she appears as a huge creature resembling an octopus, covered in black fur and tentacles – perfect for hanging on. "Every design has such underlying meanings," says Geppert.
The art style of Sea of loneliness plays a particularly important role in the game. It's a story about heavy topics like depression and mental health, but it also tries to visualize these intangible concepts. Kay does not explore the real world; it is rather a sort of dream landscape where she is constantly confronted with problems of her past. The game takes place in a sunken destroyed town and based in the hometown of Geppert in Berlin. As you explore, you'll encounter all sorts of creatures that are supposed to represent various members of Kay's family and other important people in his life.
Geppert says that the look of Sea of loneliness was defined early enough in development. The director has experience in artistic creation for comics and she wanted a similar look for the game, but translated into a 3D world. One of the challenges, however, came with the colors and the contrast between light and darkness. Not only Sea of loneliness a dark game thematically, but it can also be visually dark. Kay will often find herself in shadows or dark clouds covering the rainy city. Almost all characters – including Kay – are rendered in an incredibly pure shade of black with bright red eyes.
But Sea of loneliness can also be bright and colorful at a time. The sunken city offers clear blue waters, beautiful misty sunsets and snowy mountain landscapes. Finding this balance between the two extremes has been a big part of the development process. In fact, early versions of the game featured a much darker opening sequence, which was eventually modified to achieve that balance. "We started to refine the system to find a good balance between sunny weather and gloomy weather," says Geppert. "It was very important for us to give the player enough positive vibrations between the two viewers so that they did not inadvertently drop."
This balance was particularly delicate for monsters. At first, they are incredibly scary, with imposing shapes that mix animals with humans. But they are also meant to evoke real people in Kay's life. Geppert said that at first she wanted them to look scary, but the more they get to know each other, the more they feel affordable. In fact, she says progress is ultimately the message of the whole game.
"People with mental health issues may seem overwhelming or intimidating at first, when they open up to you, or simply take them involuntarily because of their suffering," says Geppert. "It means that they appear at first scary. That's what I wanted to represent with the scary drawings of monsters. But in Sea of lonelinessAs in real life, when you approach them and interact with them, you quickly realize that they are not scary at all, but that they need support and understanding. They are not monsters at all.
For more on the art and design of Sea of loneliness, check out the conceptual art selection below.