In Other Waters is a surprising little gem of a game that came to the Switch back in 2020, telling the story of an alien ocean through little more than a three-colour dashboard, full of knobs and switches. You experience the story, and the world, through the descriptions of biologist Dr Ellery Vas, as you help her pilot an AI exoskeleton into the depths.
The game is made largely by one person: Gareth Damian Martin, a jack-of-all-trades type who’s worked in graphic design, writing, games testing, and game design, as well as earning a PhD in literature. It may come as no surprise, then, that Gareth is spinning off In Other Waters into a tabletop role-playing game, while they’re also working on Citizen Sleeper — a video game inspired by tabletop role-playing games. Talk about crossing the streams, eh?
In Other Waters: Tidebreak is currently running a Kickstarter to raise $5,000 for publishing costs, a target that they have already comfortably met, with over $35k raised at the time of writing. So, we (virtually) sat down with Gareth to chat about what it’s like to be working on In Other Waters: Tidebreak, as well as whether it’s harder to go from video game to TTRPG, or vice versa…
In one sentence, can you pitch us In Other Waters: Tidebreak?
In Other Waters: Tidebreak is the first ever official video game adaptation for the Mothership RPG system, in which solo players or crews can explore and study an alien ocean as humanity scrambles to exploit, understand and cover-up this ocean planet’s impossible life.
What are the classes in Tidebreak, and how do they work?
We can put pressure on the player through these stats, forcing the end of a dive perhaps, rather than immediate death
Tidebreak is a module for Mothership so you’ll be using the class system from that game (Marines, Androids, Scientists and Teamsters) but we’ve also added a suit system, which will also add oxygen and power ratings, as well as an armor buff, to your character to allow for underwater exploration gameplay and also to slightly temper Mothership’s infamously deadly reputation. That way we can put pressure on the player through these stats, forcing the end of a dive perhaps, rather than immediate death. Though running out of oxygen deep on a dive is not a good idea!
What’s your background in games and TTRPGs?
I am the solo game developer behind In Other Waters, the 2020 award-winning exploration game that in Other Waters: Tidebreak is based on. My one person studio, Jump Over the Age is also working on a new game, revealed at the PC Gamer show last year and coming in 2022 called Citizen Sleeper.
Citizen Sleeper and In Other Waters: Tidebreak are both a result of me falling in love with TTRPGs in the years since I started developing In Other Waters, through actual play podcasts like Friends at the Table, playing Blades in the Dark with my brother, and exploring solo TTRPGs like Apothecaria and 1000 Year Old Vampire. Citizen Sleeper even features dice as its central mechanic, and takes direct inspiration from the open, player-directed experienced Blades in the Dark (and other Forged in the Dark games) offer.
What was the original impetus for adapting In Other Waters into a tabletop game?
I was approached last year by Lone Archivist, who has made a couple of fantastic Mothership modules, about working on some kind of IOW adaptation. The email happened to come mid-way through the development of Citizen Sleeper, and so my brain was in full TTRPG mode, making it a perfectly timed offer! But in order to move forward I needed to figure out when and where this TTRPG module could actually be set.
This is the kind of setting I like for a TTRPG, because it leaves the players lots of space to shape their own adventure and characters
The revelation came when I thought about the ending of In Other Waters (spoilers!) where a signal is sent out from the planet of Gliese 667Cc detailing the life of the planet to the wider universe. This seems like the perfect moment, because it brings up so many questions and possible stories. How did people react? Did other biologists visit the planet? Were new discoveries made? Did the Baikal corporation try to cover up what they did on the planet? This is the kind of setting I like for a TTRPG because it leaves the players lots of space to shape their own adventure and characters, whether they are a smuggler looking to extract some creatures for sale on the black market, or a mercenary sent to cover up a corporate facility! I should say though, we lean heavily towards players who want to study and explore the planet, not battle its creatures to the death!
Where do you even begin when turning a video game (digital, single player, scripted) into a tabletop RPG (off the rails, unpredictable, definitely not digital, potentially lots of players)?
As I said above, the trick was finding a place where there’s space for the players to make their own stories within the wider IOW universe. However, In Other Waters, while ostensibly being a scripted single-player game, is also a game where you can spend as much time as you like exploring and studying its world.
Because of this, it is a very broad and deep setting, filled with mysteries and strange creatures, many of which don’t really have something to do with Ellery’s story. So this setting is already perfect for a TTRPG because it gives us lots of creatures interacting and living, and a whole ecosystem that players can immerse themselves in and interact with. Making sure that works at the table has been a challenge for this project, but we are confident our tag system, which marks creatures with properties and behaviours, will make the Mothership version feel even more emergent and alive than the game!
Finally, IOW really relies on text and description as well as topographic maps to explain its world, something I think TTRPG fans have already been enjoying about it, so there’s some natural crossover there too.
You are using an adapted version of the Mothership game engine — why Mothership?
I think fear and curiosity make good bedfellows, and Alien is a core text for both Mothership and IOW
We are definitely doing something different to the usual Mothership module with Tidebreak, that was something me and Lone Archivist discussed from the beginning: what would an exploration and ecology focussed Mothership module look like? Mothership is a great fit, I think fear and curiosity make good bedfellows, and Alien is a core text for both Mothership and IOW. The latter parts of IOW certainly go into dark and scary places, and the presence of inhuman corporate interests and weird and unsettling life is something IOW doesn’t shy away from, it’s just that we favor the unsettling life, and probably want to point out that it’s not a monster, just a being that we don’t fully understand. But then again, isn’t that historically what a monster is?
To add to that, Mothership is a system that is interested in the player feeling powerless, overwhelmed, where you can’t save the day, understand everything, and survive. You have to pick 1 or 2 of those. This fits with In Other Waters, which, while not a horror game, is not about a clean and pristine frontier just waiting to be harvested. This is a world that offers resistance to the player, not necessarily in terms of violence, but in terms of being strange, unknowable, and complex to the point of confusion!
Is it harder to make a game, or a tabletop game?
From my perspective, one of the reasons I fell in love with TTRPGs was the way they enable you to build narratives out of a few simple tools, and as a Game Master you can shape stories around players quickly, without even thinking too hard about it.
I started running them late in IOW’s development and the difference between slogging through gamedev in the daytime, fixing bugs, and inventing whole worlds in the evening at the drop of a hat was what hooked me! This flexibility and openness makes them a lot easier to work with! Even making one is about making generative rules, rules that will be the underlying structure for people’s experiences, so there’s something wonderfully expansive about the process.
Video games in comparison are like typing to build a structure that pre-empts every possible story and action that can take place within it, which often makes them into unwieldy monsters! For Citizen Sleeper I have been trying to bring some of the openness and adaptive nature of TTRPGs to a video game, but time will tell if that has actually worked!
Is it harder to make a game-inspired TTRPG (Tidebreak) or a TTRPG-inspired game (Citizen Sleeper)?
We haven’t finished Tidebreak, so not sure about this one, and I am working with someone else on the design side, so that takes some of the pressure off, but I suspect Citizen Sleeper will have been harder in the end!
However, one wonderful thing in Citizen Sleeper is because the game is reliant on text, and character portraits, as well as the diorama of the station, I am able to change and adapt things very easily. All it takes is rewriting a scene or writing a variant, and I can have a character betray you rather than help you, or put you in the middle of a gunfight rather than a busy bar. So I guess I am trying to bring TTRPG style storytelling in, which makes things easier!
How do you think TTRPGs and video games can learn from one another, and inspire each other to explore new frontiers?
This connection is something that is under-utilised, I am actually slightly amazed that there aren’t more games like Citizen Sleeper! Video game RPGs so often draw from the same old ideas that TTRPGs have actually mostly moved away from. Dungeon crawls, turn-based combat, character classes like rogues and barbarians, it’s all a little long in the tooth.
Video game RPGs so often draw from the same old ideas that TTRPGs have actually mostly moved away from
Meanwhile systems like Forged in the Dark or Powered by the Apocalypse have made TTRPGs into character focused, wildly diverse, exciting and unique player-led experiences. There’s also thousands of zines, card RPGs, one page RPGs and more to draw inspiration from, rammed with new ideas that could be brought into games. Citizen Sleeper is my own attempt to do some of that, and I’d love to see more of it.
Tidebreak, meanwhile, is pushing back the other way, so I’m having a lot of fun exploring this very fertile ground between the two at the moment.
Is Tidebreak more about the character roleplaying aspect, or the exploration/discovery?
Tidebreak is an exploration focussed experience I’d say, much like IOW, but we are putting together solo rules for the game which will work without the Mothership system. This version of the game will have a journaling aspect, like Apothecaria or 1000 Year Old Vampire, and so will actually allow for a more character-focussed experience. If you’ve played In Other Waters you’ll know that Ellery’s journals are an important narrative element of the game, so I think it’s a natural fit!
I’d love to see players use the solo rules to play a journalist on assignment to record the strange life of the planet for example, or an artist interested in painting the newly discovered creatures. The solo rules are still in development, but I’d like to offer these kinds of experiences to complement the group play with mothership.
Have you played through a game of Tidebreak? If so, do you have any stories from the game?
The module is still in development sadly, so not yet!
Make sure to check out In Other Waters: Tidebreak on Kickstarter, and support it to get those stretch goals met!