Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

In search of the magic of maps.

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

A Science Fiction Saga Preview: A Modern Adventure

This is just the beginning.

I wonder if David Ostman, the indie developer behind A Science Fiction Saga, has received a call from Futurama's lawyers yet. His upcoming release tells the story of Anderson Kane - an unfortunate chap who finds himself thrust thousands of years into the future after an incident at work. The involvement of pizza and cryogenic freezing is something that's yet to be confirmed.

Far removed from Futurama's silliness, though, this point-and-click adventure is set in a world touching on Star Trek, Firefly and fellow indie point-and-clicker Gemini Rue. In it, the entire human race has found itself caught up in a vast conspiracy, full of interstellar police forces and private investigators. You'll even become the owner of a spaceship, complete with crew members who begrudgingly accept your space travel ineptitude.

Impressively, all this is in the first game of a planned series. It's a vast undertaking for a solo developer, with a little help from an animator on the side. Is he mad? "You have to be a bit crazy to get into game development," he says. "It's hard work and often little-to-no glory, and you need to be stubborn as a two-headed mule to stick with it."

The game is colourful and striking, although the developer says his art is a compromise between quality and speed.

After five false starts in the first few months, Ostman recently redesigned the game to take the form in which it sits today. Trimming things back, he opted to take a less ambitious approach to the visuals - yet they remain utterly striking. "People keep saying things along those lines, and it surprises me," admits Ostman. "Pleasantly so, but it's still a surprise. I had to figure out the best balance between time spent making the art, and the quality of the art - and, as far as I'm concerned, ended up at 'good enough'."

That's why the visual style, rather than clarity or pixel count, is the most important. Finding this balance has allowed Ostman to create something impressive but manageable. "It's vital," he says, "as it will allow me to actually complete the game. That said, this is very much a labour of love, and I do take as much care as I can afford to make it as good-looking as possible."

Meanwhile, Ostman is eager to escape the wildly illogical conundrums of certain similar titles. "It's not easy," he ponders. "The genre is quite known for its obtuse puzzles, and some people recognise that as part of the challenge - trying to get inside the designer's twisted mind and figure out what the heck is going on in there."

Protagonist Anderson Kane is easily stressed, says the game's creator - so expect some brute-force puzzle solutions.

These aren't the players A Science Fiction Saga is aimed at, however. Ostman plans to infuse his game with what he calls 'natural challenges' - think dialogue puzzles, occasional brute force, and a need to re-evaluate your understanding of the world in this strange future.

All this concerns only the first five-to-seven hours of Anderson's adventure, which is roughly the time it'll take you to play through the initial release. That's Ostman's focus at the moment: getting one highly polished game out of the door. The remaining saga should follow, all being well, but the approach is one game at a time.

The first installment should arrive by the end of 2012, although plenty is subject to change at this stage - even the name. What's promising, though, is that the developer seems unfazed by the pressures of the industry, and unwilling to let others' expectations cloud his vision.

There'll be no DRM, and the price point will be a 'reasonable' one, dictated in part by feedback from testers. As for the game itself, Ostman doesn't have his sights set on a point-and-click revolution, but nor does he feel compelled to stick to any proven formula. "First and foremost," he says, "my goal is to make a game that I would love to play myself."