Nature plays such an important role in Arctic Awakening that we treat it as somewhat of a character all its own. For that reason, even with a stylized sci-fi setting, grounding the game world in the real world has been a focus since the very early days of pre-development.
Since Oklahoma isn't known for sweeping mountain vistas, using our local environment for inspiration wasn't going to cut it. While traveling to location in Alaska was well out of our indie budget, a quick trip to the snowy Rocky Mountains would serve as a perfect backdrop to collect reference materials.
Beyond gathering references, I also wanted to immerse myself into Kai's character as much as possible (learning to fly was just the start). So, I booked a week-long stay at an AirBnB n a remote part of the Rockies during prime blizzard season.
To truly feel Kai's total isolation, I found a place with no TV, no internet and spotty cell coverage at best. I would have no contact with the outside world for the entire week, which would get as close as possible to simulating the isolation that our characters would experience.
When I wasn't hiking through three feet of snow within dense forests or climbing to mountaintops, I was fleshing out the outline of the script. This trip would double as the first of several writer's retreats where isolation allows for the extreme focus needed to make leaps forward in the progress of the game script (I'll write another post detailing the writer's retreat process later).
Getting into the head of Kai and our other characters was an invaluable experience to understand their point of view. But, it wasn't all about getting into character to aid in the writing process. I also carried my phone camera, an action camera with head mount, a drone and a notebook.
We believe that transformative work is created by focussing on the little details that others might miss. So, the idea was to take note of every little detail in the physical world while documenting all of it through photos, first-person videos and detailed notes. These would lay the foundations for our early work in populating our world and making sure it was rooted in reality, while still allowing the freedom to apply our own stylized flair to the experience.
The popular image of indie game development is a few developers locking themselves away in their virtual "caves" for months or years on end to hammer out the code, artwork, sound design and music required for a vision to come to life. That is of course part of the process, but I believe it is just as important to get out of that cave and put yourself into the shoes of your characters. After all, you can't fully realize a vision if you don't know what you're looking for.