"So, these two ideas clashed - Kewa being grumpy about your presence but also welcoming felt contradictory and confusing. But, after a lot of discussion and tweaks to suit gameplay better, Kewa has emerged as a much more “chilled out” sort of character. Mostly."
In October 2020, after patchy lockdowns and our almost new game Before We Leave cracking 50,000 sales, I flew down to Ōtepoti Dunedin to finally meet the other three people on my team. It feels like a lifetime ago now, and I don’t have a clear idea of what exactly we got up to while I was visiting, but I do remember being fed lots of Kiwi biscuits (aka cookies) and discussing what was next for us as an up and coming indie studio. Specifically, we talked about the sequel to Before We Leave, which was excitingly called Before We Leave 2.
We knew the game would be on the back of a Space Whale, which meant fleshing out the lore of the Space Whales, and developing the character of the one the Peeps would be on the back of. By necessity, they couldn’t be like the ones in Before We Leave! They had to be more than the annoying planet eaters that people seemed to have a love/hate relationship with.
To remind myself of what exactly we talked about, I went digging through The Archives (our company Google Drive) and found a dusty tome (a Google Doc) that I put together with notes from this conversation we had about BWL 2. I found the initial story I had begun drafting up for the game, which is such a special thing to be looking back on three years later, even though the story has changed drastically!
Anyway, here it is, for your reading pleasure:
“Here it comes! Go!”
You and a few other adventurous Peeps stand atop the Whale Charmer, and jump onto the back of the purple leviathan breaching the upper atmosphere of the planet you call home. You feel a wave of vertigo hit you as you slam against the side of the creature, holding onto a… barnacle? The size of a dinner plate.
“This is crazy. Why am I doing this?” you ask yourself. But you know the answer - to explore. To discover. To find some answers about the Space Whales, and why they keep harassing your solar system.
This creature is huge, even for Space Whales. You see your home planet disappearing into the glittering expanse of space, and panic begins to boil within you. Fighting to remain calm takes a lot of effort. Using cobbled together technology and the knowledge that the other peeps are relying on you, you scale the side of this beast like a sheer cliff.
Reaching the back of the whale, you look across a large indigo expanse. “Let’s set up some shelter” you tell the others.
As you’re setting up a small hut, you crouch down and place weathered hands on the deep purple and blue skin of the whale. You’re unsure if the beast is even aware of your presence - deep, thrumming breaths vibrate through the flesh of this leviathan.
This, plus the lore and worldbuilding Sam had already done, combined with the inspiration taken from Ents in Lord of the Rings, formed the foundations for the character development of Kewa. Our beautiful, big Space Whale has been living in my head rent free for quite a while now, and it’s my absolute pleasure to tell you all about them.
Kewa, named by our UI/UX & Game Designer Mereana, is the Space Whale where much of Beyond These Stars gameplay takes place. Like all Space Whales, they’re very big, very old, and very isolated, meandering around the cosmos by themselves. Remember the big Space Whale that comes to the Whale Charmer right at the end of Before We Leave? That’s Kewa! They are drawn to the signal of the Whale Charmer and the hope of companionship, but what they find instead is the Peeps and their strange technology.
For many reasons, Kewa is different from the other Space Whales you’ve encountered - apart from the patch of lush grass and trees with a river flowing down their back, they’re more gentle than their kin. That’s not what was originally envisioned, though - at first, Kewa was extremely unimpressed by the Peeps’ presence and was generally curmudgeonly. However, we also wanted Kewa to be comfortable with the Peeps living on their back; we didn’t want a situation where the Peeps would arrive and exploit Kewa - we’re trying quite hard to get away from colonial tropes, and sticking to our promise of “no violence” too.
So, these two ideas clashed - Kewa being grumpy about your presence but also welcoming felt contradictory and confusing. But, after a lot of discussion and tweaks to suit gameplay better, Kewa has emerged as a much more “chilled out” sort of character. Mostly.
By now you might have noticed that I’m talking about Kewa like they have their own personality, and agency too. That’s because they do! Kewa is very much their own, uh, person? with wants, needs, experiences and desires. Developing their character and story alongside the one for the Peeps has been so cool, but challenging. Where do the Peeps and Kewa align on certain things? Where do they disagree? How is their relationship affected by these highs and lows? And most importantly, how does this serve and elevate the gameplay? While I’m molding Sam’s story for Kewa into something that fits into a video game, I try to remember that people generally don’t play city builders and simulation games for a dense narrative experience - they play it because building stuff and seeing the simulation play out feels good.
What do you expect from Kewa? Are you wondering if they are a gentle custodian of the universe, or a hungry Peep and planet eater regardless of their demeanour? Come tell us developers what you think in our Discord!
That's it from us this year - thank you all very much for your ongoing support.
See you in 2024, the year of lots of big things!
Community Manager/Narrative Designer