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How Deliver Us Mars honours cinematic greats like Christopher Nolan

KeokeN Interactive managing director Paul Deetman reveals Deliver Us Mars' inspiration from beloved directors, crafting sound in space and its emotional story.

Astronaut Kathy Johansson in the game Deliver Us Mars

In a galaxy not so far away, astronaut Kathy Johanson is on a mission to save Earth’s future. Deliver Us Mars is the follow-up to 2018’s Deliver Us The Moon, and a lot has changed since our last interstellar escapade. We sat down with Paul Deetman, managing director of KeokeN Interactive, to uncover the game’s lofty cinematic inspirations and adding sound to a soundless world.

Deliver Us Mars’ galactic adventure might seem futuristic, but the reality of its generational story is closer to home than you may think. Picking up a decade after its predecessor, Earth isn’t completely safe from its ultimate foe: mother nature. Astronaut-in-training, Kathy Johanson, embarks on a quest to decode the mystery of a lost colony on Mars, which could be the key to vital technology in a time of need. Deliver Us The Moon was just the beginning, and Deetman says there’s a deeply resonant adventure ahead.

“Most space experiences are very horror [influenced] or very deep future, we try to tend to stay a little bit closer to reality […] it’s very close to the heart and a relatable family story,” explains Deetman. Describing the galaxy as “a stage among the stars,” Deetman’s own goals of space exploration influence the Mars experience. “This is something we wanted to do. But for some reason, we set let’s start a game company because that might be easier than being a real astronaut.”

So why move players over to Mars? With the success of Deliver Us The Moon on their resumé, Deetman cites expansion as a vital ingredient to Mars’ creation. “Now we could really expand on these characters and say ‘Wow, maybe we should give them a voice’ […] and with Frontier on our side, we could actually expand on these things.”

This time, players will revel in the fruits of motion-captured cutscenes and fully-voiced characters. With Horizon Forbidden West developer Guerrilla Games also in the Netherlands, Deetman says their presence inspired KeokeN to “go for bigger 3D rules, but with a way smaller indie team.”

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Striding across the orange dunes of Mars brings new avenues of space for KeokeN to craft. How can Mars offer a contrasting feel to the stark silence of the Moon? “Space doesn’t have sounds, although you might think it has. When there’s an explosion or something in space, you don’t hear anything because it’s in a vacuum,” Deetman says. To give players a sense of their unfamiliar surroundings, he clarifies that “we have some very intriguing systems for when you’re climbing or axes hitting walls […] there is around six hours of music that completely blends over the game.”

Sander Van Zanten returns to score Deliver Us Mars; an element that  Deetman is ecstatic about. Players will enjoy shaping Zanten’s music, as Deetman reveals that the game will “have different chords playing kind of randomly – you as a player are re-mixing the soundtrack constantly, to an extent” as more intriguing moments unravel.

Sci-fi fans are blessed when it comes to exceptional music too, predominantly in the world of cinema. Deliver Us Mars is dressed in the trappings of cinematic greats, stemming from Deetman and his brother, KeokeN Interactive co-founder Koen Deetman: “I think Koen and I have always been very much inspired by cinema. Even when we were younger with our video camcorder, we would create our own version of Star Wars, James Bond, and even Scream.”

Deetman professes influences from “movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, and Interstellar. We have a lot of [Christopher] Nolan in spirit or inspiration. With Mars, we also went for a cinematic director. Somebody that whose narrative understanding was also good, but also understood cinema.”  Achieving that is no easy feat, but Deetman says as “an ode to all these kinds of great movies” this approach weaves itself into the game’s musical score.

“We listened to the Interstellar score. Looking at the great combination between Christopher Nolan and [Hans] Zimmer we said ‘hey, can we make it [space] very intimate’. We wanted to give the player a little bit of that isolated feel […] the main character Kathy wants people to think about what should we do with planet Earth and the future of mankind, space travel, the waste that we are creating, not only on Earth but maybe in space.”

These perspectives are unique to every player though. Deetman delineates that the game isn’t “particularly saying it’s good or bad but maybe makes you think, as a player. It shouldn’t be too educational. It’s not a school project.”

However, it is no secret that space-themed games are on the rise. With Starfield on the horizon, Deetman is confident that Deliver Us Mars will offer an emotionally rich adventure: “We are just on this tiny blue pill blue dot, you know. And if you zoom out to your observable universe, it’s so big. Everything that we care about, every future and history that we witness we know happens to this tiny blue dot.

“That’s fascinating to me.”