Extrasolar: Blurring the Line

"In this unique private venture, we're allowing you to take control of one of the many rovers we'll be landing on the surface of the planet." Someone stumbling on the polished promotional video for the eXoplanetary Research Institute (XRI) might be shocked that they'd never before heard of the ambitious company.

At first glance, the newly announced project Extrasolar appears completely authentic. It promises anyone with a Web browser the opportunity to play a pivotal role in the first expedition beyond the confines of our own solar system. Interested applicants are directed to XRI's website at www.exoresearch.com.

The agency is fictional, but it's easy to get lost in the rich universe that's been created by Lazy 8 Studios, the independent developers behind the award-winning game Cogs. The game so thoroughly blurs the line between fantasy and realty that at times, it's hard to know where the science ends and where the science fiction begins.

At XRI's website, players can apply to pilot one of the many toaster-sized rovers that will soon be landing on the surface of the planet Epsilon Eridani e. Given its size, atmosphere and the distance from its parent star, the destination planet boasts the capacity to support life.

In a manner consistent with prior exploration of Mars, players will explore the planet one photo at a time. Rover operators provide instructions to their rovers about where to go next and what to photograph. It then takes a few hours for the rover to receive the command, visit the destination, take a photo and transmit the data back to Earth. These beautiful, realistic photos will give players the clues they need to catalog exotic alien species and uncover the mysteries of the planet.

As time ticks by on the destination planet, the sun rises and sets over the ocean, the moons drift through the sky, flowers bloom and creatures scurry about. Every player's photos will be unique, guaranteeing a personalized experience.

As the mysteries of the planet unfold, another rich, intertwined story will play out back on Earth where the player will soon find her/himself wrapped up in the lives of several characters both inside and outside of XRI. No one seems to know the whole truth behind the secretive foundation and it will be up to the player to decide whom to trust.

Rob Jagnow, the founder of Lazy 8 Studios, explained the inspiration behind the ground-breaking new game. "Extrasolar isn't so much a game as it is an interactive narrative experience. I'm thrilled to see the Web emerge as a gaming platform, but the games that are currently available tend to be shallow and repetitive. We wanted to raise the bar enormously by offering deep story, compelling character development and stunning imagery. Our small, dedicated team has pioneered new technologies that allow this all to be done over the Web, even on mobile and low-cost devices."

For players who want to delve deep into the world of Extrasolar, Lazy 8 Studios is preparing diverse content that will breathe life into the fictional universe. But as Rob points out, "we understand that not everyone wants to commit to a time-consuming game, so we're designing Extrasolar such that it can be played a few minutes at a time over a lunch break or at the end of the work day without compromising the story."

It will still be several months before Extrasolar is ready for a global launch, but interested rover drivers can sign up immediately to stay informed as the project takes shape. Visit www.exoresearch.com for more details.

About Lazy 8 Studios, LLC

Founded in 2008, this San Francisco indie studio seeks to raise the bar for story and imagery in casual games. Lazy 8's flagship game Cogs garnered numerous awards, including the Grand Prize in the professional category at the 2010 Indie Game Challenge.