"The eating Kewa memes - objectively hilarious, please don’t stop."

Hey peeps, guess what? Streams are back - and we have an actual schedule now!

Last month, we hit Twitch for the first time since 2022 to discuss what we’ve been up to with Beyond These Stars. Our narrative designer Emily quizzed creative director Sam on the last two years of development and took us all down memory lane with such highlights as:

  • Some of the very first concept art of BTS
  • Forbidden anthropomorphic office appliance romance
  • A very very early model of Kewa (eerily smooth)

More importantly, we got to chat live with our community and answer some of your questions. Without further ado - here they are!

Where did the idea of having a whale as the animal [in BTS] come from? 

Sam: Well, settle in kids, it’s story time. In Dunedin every year, there’s a midwinter carnival - has been for a few years at least - and people parade around the centre of town with all these big lanterns on poles, and dancing, and all the rest of it. In 2016 (I think?)...2017? Something like that - I was just starting to get back into game dev, just as a hobby, and we went along to the midwinter carnival with my kids for the first time. And one of these giant parade float lantern things that people were holding up was a great big whale with a bunch of skyscrapers on its back. 

I imagine it was a commentary about us taking over the natural environment and all the rest of that. But I looked at it, and I turned to Anna and I went, “I’ve got a great idea for a video game!” 

The very first game I tried making as a hobby was effectively what Beyond These Stars is - but at the time it was too big; I was just learning Unity, just getting back into it. So I abandoned that and made something else, and then I made something else, and then that one didn’t work out so I pivoted and turned it into what became Before We Leave. So now we’ve come full circle and we’re actually making the game which is the game I wanted to make back in 2016 (or 2017, whenever it was).

(we also talked about this in an earlier blog post; read it here!)

What was Before We Leave originally meant to be?

Emily: Before We Leave was meant to be a strategy game, right? Or was it always meant to be a city builder?

Sam: So the game I started making that I abandoned and then repurposed into Before We Leave was going to be a strategy game; but Before We Leave was always going to be a city builder.

Emily: I feel like we have really, really early footage of what you were making in….2017? In a video that I made.

Sam: Yeah. It was called Pax et Belli which is Latin for “Peace and War”, and the idea was…it was going to be kind of like Civilization, but playable in half an hour.

(for those curious, you can find remnants of Pax et Belli’s development in our old articles on our website - here’s one such post, and here’s another where Sam talks about pivoting towards what would become Before We Leave)

In Beyond These Stars, you’re not actually digging into Kewa.

Sam: We actually have taken quite a few pains to say that the thing that you’re on and in particular digging into is not Kewa; it’s a layer of debris on top of Kewa. So no mining an actual living being here at all, thank you.

We had a lot of discussions about this. When we were like “hey, you can build on a whale, and that’ll be really cool!” and then it went kind of “....oh…but that means you’ll be digging into their skin, and…ew?” So we were like oh no, what can we do? And decided that that’s all a layer of debris on top of Kewa. You can’t build on Kewa’s skin, or mine into it or anything. Because ew.

Emily: I feel like I wrote a line of dialogue, and we had some people test the game, and someone was like “why am I digging into the whale?” and I was like, no no no no no no that’s not what I wanted that word to mean! In hindsight very funny, at the time - super embarrassing. 

But yes. The eating Kewa memes - objectively hilarious, please don’t stop.

No space whales were harmed in the making of this GIF.

What’s on the cards for 2024?

Sam: Apparently we've got to make a video game. Um. So that’s what we’re doing. 

We're working really hard on getting in everything that we want in for Early Access; starting to head into the phase of planning out marketing and release dates and all the rest of it - and still putting features in, and polishing and fixing bugs and all the rest of it. 

As was announced recently on socials, we’ve brought in a few more people for private play testing on our Discord, and we'll probably be adding another few groups of those in the next few weeks and months, just to get fresh eyes on the game each time. 

Secretly, yes, we do have an early access release time frame, but we are not saying what it is yet. Sorry! We haven't fully approved it with the publisher and we haven't picked everything, and you know, the last thing we want to do is give you a date and then go “oh, soz, had to change it!”

So yeah - we're pretty careful about giving out dates when we're not *absolutely* certain.

By one of our playtesters, GumGumKingKonGun.

What are you looking forward to with Early Access?

Sam: I am so looking forward to getting lots and lots of people in front of the game. It's going to be so good. I mean, we're so proud of what we're building: it's really cool, it looks beautiful, it plays really nice. Unlike Before We Leave it's got a great story in it - but not too much, it’s still a city builder and not a narrative game.

It’s just going to be really good and we’re really looking forward not just to showing you what we’ve been working on, but getting everyone’s feedback. With Before We Leave, technically it wasn’t Early Access or anything, but we did seven or eight content updates. Getting players’ feedback and adding in stuff that players come up with is really exciting and lots of fun, so I’m really looking forward to that. 

What will the challenges be in Beyond These Stars?

Sam: In Before We Leave there are the Gremlins and the Sphinx and so on. This time around, we’re not putting anything like that in the game. The intention with BWL was that it was going to be a nonviolent game - and from a certain point of view it still is, but we ended up taking that description out of the Steam page ‘cos people were like uh…there’s whales that eat my planets…and giant laser turrets that blow up my buildings…this isn’t really a nonviolent game. And we were like, you know what - you’re right. 

This time around we are trying to actually be nonviolent. That’s not to say there’s not any conflict; I mean, you are literally travelling on the back of an intelligent being who is allowing you to be there, and you have a relationship with them - and that relationship is not necessarily going to be a good one. And even if you’re getting along, they have their own wants and desires and dreams, and they aren’t always going to mesh with what the peeps want, or what you as the player wants. 

And y’know, there are aliens, and none of them are going to be mean and nasty and sheep with laser guns, but again, they’re not necessarily going to want the same things you want, or the same things Kewa wants. So you’ve got to navigate your relationships a bit. And the other driver is that you’ve got to keep your peeps happy, you’ve got to keep them fed, you’ve got to explore…there are hazards that you will find in exploring the galaxy, and all that sort of thing. 

Why is the sun so small?

Emily: Someone asked something about the suns in the solar systems, because they looked a little bit small. Those were from a very, very, very early version of the game - they look a little bit more proportional now. Sam, can you talk about that?

Sam: I mean, the suns are still kind of small if you’re basing them on our universe…we want to find a balance between on the one hand, wanting space to feel big but on the other hand, everything needing to fit on one screen, and to actually be able to see things and all the rest of it. For example, the sun is there because it provides light and warmth and so on, but aside from that you can’t click on it, you can’t visit it, you can’t do anything with it; so from that point of view we actually made it so that it’s a bit smaller than suns are in our universe, because it’s not as important, I guess you could say, from a gameplay point of view. But yeah - we’re still playing around with the sizes of things and all that sort of thing.

Emily: There’s a great talk by the people who made Outer Wilds that discussed the difficulties of making a solar system. It seems really simple on paper, but then you do it and you’re like, oh no, this is really hard. I’m very lucky to be the words girly because I think if I was presented with that challenge I would simply go into the sea. But y’all have done a great job (aggressively Australian accent) ~down in Dunedin~.

Is Benedict Nichols back to do the music?

Lia: I can confirm that yes, he is!

What is the speed of an unladen Kewa? 

Sam: Seven and a half.

Emily: You heard the man.

The whole stream was a fair bit of chaotic fun, courtesy of Emily’s incredible slideshow skills and her uncanny ability to impersonate ‘Strayan pilots. Watch the VOD here:

We’ve also just uploaded a full schedule for the next few months of streams on our Twitch page. Our next one will be on Friday 10th May, with streams continuing at either a weekly or fortnightly cadence (check the schedule to be sure).

In general though, when it comes to game updates, our most frequently updated channels are:

  • Our Discord - for regular bite sized stuff (where we are just starting to share weekly development updates) - this is also where we’ll be posting links to anything significant, and keep people reminded about streams as well!
  • Our website for more longer-form updates; subscribe to our newsletter if you’d like a (roughly) monthly digest on what we’ve been up to!

Looking forward to hopefully seeing you on some streams in the coming months! <3

- Lia, Community Manager