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Designing the apocalypse: Why Chaotic Era is a terrifying sci-fi vision of our future

This is an ongoing development series about CHAOTIC ERA, an interstellar strategy game. Join the beta waitlist here or follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.

Chaotic Era is a worst case scenario for humanity.

The Earth is destroyed; its last hope, a solitary evacuation ship, is lost in space. Damaged, thousands of light years offcourse.

And that’s where you come in. In Chaotic Era, the player takes on the role of a hyper advanced AI system designed to guide humanity through its darkest days and rebuild civilization from the ground up. After you’re first activated and scout out a suitable planet, you land your ship and begin trying to create some semblance of a life for your marooned crew on a hostile and terrifying new world.

The universe wasn’t made for humans, and that’s really the truth at the centre of Chaotic Era. We intentionally set out to not design an optimistic, high fantasy vision of the future—but something that felt much more in line with the world of today and where things could realistically be heading.

Life in outer space is a struggle. You hope the next planet you land on has the appropriate resources to sustain society. You dig deep under the crust for energy, or build out solar farms to capture what you can from a nearby star. And above all, you attempt to survive against the elements: Devastating heat waves. Meteor impacts. Plagues from alien biology.

If you can survive, you build your outposts into cities; developing more sophisticated technologies to travel further and further into space. Remember: Almost all of human knowledge is destroyed. All that’s left is a ship, its crew, and an AI system designed by LONGGAN NAVCOMM, a future super-chaebol with unknown motives.

But this is the terrifying version of the future that we wanted to share. It’s something that’s brewed deep in the back of our minds fueled by our retro sci-fi roots: What happens to humanity if everything goes wrong?

And that’s actually why we recently came to the realization that Chaotic Era is a post-apocalyptic game. This is what happens after the world ends, and after humanity takes one last shot at survival somewhere far away.

With that in mind, we wanted to explore a few projects that we’ve been working on recently that focus on the visual identity of Chaotic Era’s apocalypse.

Notification Drawer

We recently added a new notification system to communicate upcoming and active incidents, as well as more mundane details like new units being completed. 

Incidents, something we interchangeably refer to as “disasters” or “events” is the system we built to replace the need for combat or traditional enemies in Chaotic Era. Again, thinking about a realistic view of our future, the odds of encountering an alien species by chance are extremely low. Lower still are that an alien species would resemble anything like what we can imagine.

So, in Chaotic Era, the primary gameplay challenge for the player is mitigating and avoiding Disasters that they might encounter on a planet, whether random or brought on by human-caused factors like excessive resource gathering or overpopulation.

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We took inspiration here from many different sources, especially microfiche machines, CRT displays from 80s and 90s computers, and HUDs from older fighter jets and helicopters. We wanted our notification system to feel analog and utilitarian, like a system that had been built out years ago and never changed because it served its purpose. 

This plays into the ugly retrofuture aesthetic we’ve been cultivating to drive home the feeling of humanity having advanced tools, but no longer knowing how to build or improve them.

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Contextual inspector menu

Selecting units in the garage now displays significantly more detail and makes actions more explicit with single icon buttons being replaced by buttons with labels. The new system is extensible and composed of modular components which are contextual to the unit they represent. A ship unit for example will display the Dispatch action, and a unit acting as an ecosystem will display a population counter. Again, we’ve taken great care to make these menus feel as analog as possible — all as if they were from the same computer system as the new notification drawer and our “Lens” Nav view.

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Improved visual direction

Worker models have been revamped to be more realistic to the type of vehicles that would be used for this type of exploration, and planetary terrain has been improved to appear more physical. We’ve also worked on different tints and terrain types to give each planet a unique look and feel.

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