I need a vacation. I knew I needed a vacation when I took a trip to Play NYC and honestly had a fun time hanging out in the hotel room relaxing and eating weird things from the 7-Eleven next door. Thankfully one developer offered to take me on a vacation at Play NYC. When I saw 0°N 0°W advertised as a virtual vacation simulator, I knew I needed to step into its strange worlds. I came away quite interested in coming back.
It's hard to describe just exactly what 0°N 0°W is beyond those three words though. When I sat down to play the game, I was booted into a surreal world and left to explore. This is all you're really doing in 0°N 0°W, exploring strange dream-like worlds and trying to piece together what happened on your own while relaxing and enjoying the sights.
The interesting thing is in just how varied these dreams could be. Several were just a disarray of colors and shapes, no real rhyme or reason given. These explosions of colors were neat, though I never quite got much from them. Still, there's always something interesting in just seeing how weird these stages can get.
The dreams that I really enjoyed are the ones that you can relate to and sort of piece together. One dream saw me inside a weird house, where the water flowed upwards in a strange black goo-like form. Another looked like some kind of corruption ran through it, with the world outside looking like static. There aren't any in-depth stories to discover, just what you decide on your own. It may not be traditional gaming, but 0°N 0°W gives the feeling of stepping inside a piece of art, and allowing me to just appreciate it.
My favorite, and final, dream was probably the most realistic of them all. It opened up inside of a house that looked like it belonged in a sci-fi movie. In the distance I spotted two cities: one bathed in light and another in darkness. Naturally I moved towards that dark dystopian looking city first, though I would never get there. Crossing a desert, I noticed what looked like a building jutting out from the ground, and decided to detour into it. Inside I came to a strange conclusion: this was a school at one point. Now parts of it were collapsed, and someone had violently driven a car into one of the classrooms. What does it all mean? Well I'm still thinking about it, this abandoned desert school between the two opposing cities.
After spending some time with 0°N 0°W I had a chat with Max Arocena, the solo developer behind the game.
TechRaptor: So this is 0°N 0°W.
Max Arocena: Yes, correct.
TechRaptor: Why don't you just quickly tell me about the game?
Max: Sure, yeah. So 0°N 0°W is a surreal exploration game where you're wandering through all these different dream worlds, and the whole aim is to relax and have a very meditative experience. There's a hundred dreams to discover and they're all like very beautiful colors and environments. You get to see cities, deserts... but again, the whole aim is just to have a virtual vacation of sorts where you could just explore endlessly and just meditate.
TechRaptor: What exactly, or, well doesn't have to be exact, but what did you do on this game? What did you make?
Max: So I'm the solo indie developer. So I did the programming, composed the music, did all the environments, the shaders, and everything.
TechRaptor: So basically you did absolutely everything?
Max: Yes, yes. It's... yeah. Three long years of no social life. [Laughter].
TechRaptor: It's all okay. How does it feel now that it's...?
Max: Awesome. Yeah, it's great. I released in March on Steam and so now it's amazing going to expos, getting people playing and just hearing their feedback first hand. It's a really special moment right now.
TechRaptor: So while I was playing this I was in one dream that just surreal. There was just colors everywhere, just-- I'm not sure if there was any sense or reasoning behind it, and then I go to another dream where I started in this really nice sci-fi house and across the way there's a dystopia, a utopia... So how do you make all these dreams?
Max: So it's a lot of different inspiration factors that happen in making the dreams, and what I like about dreams is when you're dreaming usually you start in one very specific setting, and then quickly something happens in a dream where you're in an entirely different environment. There's no real in-between. You just kind of fall into it. So a lot of the visual styles I used in the levels are inspired by early 20th century modern art, like cubism and futurism. I love going to the museum and looking at these paintings and I always wanted to, like... wouldn't it be awesome if we could actually explore them in 3D? So that was a big driving factor, making these very sharp, angular, colorful worlds.
TechRaptor: So you said it took about three years to make this game. Did it always start as just the virtual vacation simulator basically?
Max: Uh, yes, so it started as a side project. I was working in another field even, and I always wanted to do video games. So I released a small world, like a small dream, on Itch.io back in December of 2014. It somehow blew up, there was like a lot of good reception, some Youtubers covered it. So I was like "you know what, I want to keep doing this" and I applied for [Steam] Greenlight and in just two months it got approved in Greenlight so from then on its been like a magical ride, you know? Just developing and... took way longer than I thought.
TechRaptor: It's all okay, that's one consistent that I hear, that it "took longer than I thought."
Max: Yeah, yeah, way longer. [Laughter.]
TechRaptor: You said currently this is out on Steam, right?
TechRaptor: Are there any plans for consoles?
Max: Yes, so actually in PaX East I was approached by PlayStation about porting to the Ps4, so I'm starting that process. I need to raise funds for doing the development time and getting the dev kits, but yes I would like to release on every other consoles like the Switch, Xbox, PlayStation. It just takes time and, as a solo dev, it's going to be a slow process.
TechRaptor: It's coming to consoles. Is it also coming to VR?
Max: So yes, right now I'm starting to work on the VR patch. So when you buy it on Steam there's a free DLC that is essentially the Early Access to the VR version. So you can already explore one of the worlds in VR and the more I introduce into VR the more you can play. I want to do VR Early Access, you can jump in as soon as you want.
TechRaptor: Awesome, 'cause this does seem, like you said it's a virtual vacation, that seems like it's almost ready made for VR, nice headphones, just relaxing.
TechRaptor: Alright I'd like to thank you for taking the time with talking with me.
Max: My pleasure.
TechRaptor: It's a really interesting game, I'm glad I got to see it.
Max: Thank you.
We'd like to once again thank Max Arocena for taking the time to talk with us.