No Oxygen? No Problem!

Designing the World of Cosmonious High

We’re so excited to show everyone the first glimpse of Cosmonious High and share our process for creating this harmonious yet chaotic world. 

The initial seed for Cosmonious High was “high school in space”. Owlchemy’s humor relies on having familiar, relatable places (like High School) with a goofy twist (like Space!). We had to make both the high school element and the space element fit in with our overall brand goals of eye-catching accessibility, quirky humor, and extraordinary polish.

In our initial explorations on the theme, we ran into a few challenges right away.

Space: Why So Scaryous?

Most games in outer space focus on the grimness of no gravity, no oxygen, no light, and LOTS of discomfort. Not super accessible! 

We wanted an overall optimistic future untethered from the dangers of reality. No oxygen? No problem! We ensured that right away—from the very first scene—the player understands that the void of space isn’t something to, well, avoid. It’s a playground in and of itself.

We also added constant reminders that outside was A-OK, like doorless archways to outdoor balconies, open-air locations like the Sports Dome and Courtyard, and walkways between one floating classroom and another.

Most importantly, all of our architecture is situated on chunks of space rock, literally grounding the player so they never have that vertigo feeling of wondering which way’s what.

Cartoon Kabooms

Lack of oxygen wasn’t the only danger we wanted to dismantle. Part of the fun of VR is wreaking absolute havoc, and that means untangling playful actions from uncomfortable consequences. Even though the whole school is going haywire, we wanted to ensure that players never felt like they were doing harm or that people were getting hurt. 

So our characters are pretty much invincible, our creatures take kindly to being burned, frozen, and chucked into space, and even our world fixes itself over time. We wanted players to spend their time exploring, experimenting, and yeah, maybe even destroying. We wanted players to play.

Robots & Rocketships

Another aspect of space we challenged was its associations with technology, robotics, and machines in general. Technology-based science fiction is common, but we wanted our setting to be organic, almost magical, and for the objects within it to be relatable. There are no robots, no phasers or plasma guns or warp cores, and even the basic materials in the game veer away from shiny metallics and focus more on familiar school textures like resin, carpet, and grass.

These warmer and more welcoming objects and materials help combat the idea of space as cold and uncaring. Keeping the focus on organic, friendly aliens instead of unfeeling technology or machines furthered our goal of accessibility.

And, well, let’s face it… we’ve done the robot thing.

So we made outer space organic, approachable, and safe. What about the school side of things?

High school isn’t all happy memories for most people. Finding the line on what we wanted to include in this game took us almost a year. 

Should this be a game about uniting the cliques of high school?

Did we want the player to be the odd one out? Or the chameleon between factions?

Were there going to be pop-quizzes, tests, and ‘boss fights’ of exams?

Did characters respond to you differently depending on how you dressed? What you looked like?

We spent a long time exploring mechanics of cliques, clothing, and fitting in. Like, months. 

And then we threw that all away.

“The most critical skill in game development is knowing what to hold on to and what to cut away.”

Chelsea Howe, Product Director

Cosmic Optimism

We let our gut guide us on what felt approachable and accessible, and wound up using the word optimistic often in discussions. In this future, people respect and celebrate each other’s differences and let everyone be their own unique self. We removed the idea of cliques, of judgment, of evaluation. We added classes based on emotional intelligence and other skills we thought the world would benefit from.

We kept characters that represented different cliques: we have our jock, our nerd, our underdog, our rebel. These tropes are deeply relatable and ripe for humor, and as you get to know each character you’ll discover how we subverted those tropes in favor of showing how no one fits perfectly in any box.

We’ll talk more about the delicate balance of maintaining edgy humor in an optimistic world in a future blog, but TL;DR it’s one of the trickiest lines we’ve had to walk so far.

Hey New Kid

How does the player fit into this world of tropes? Well, luckily there’s a trope for them, too.

We’ve all been the new kid at some point in our lives: coming into an established world and not knowing the rules, the dynamics, or how we fit in. What was important here was that the player never felt left out, ostracized, or ungrounded. From the moment players crash land, they needed to feel an open invitation to join the fun. In short, they needed to feel welcome, no matter how very different they were.

Welcome to Alien High

In the end, the final phrase for Cosmonious High’s world direction became: “Welcome to Alien High”. 

  • We created a world where you always feel welcome, where the characters are approachable and the humor positive, where outer space is just another fun place. 
  • We created a world where people and things are strange, quirky, and alien – yes that’s a locker, but does your locker have a multidimensional portal behind it? 
  • We created a world filled with all of the relatable, hilarious, sometimes-awkward archetypal touchstones of high school

Thanks so much for joining us for this first glimpse at our development process. Stay tuned for our next blog filled with tasty tidbits on how we brought Cosmonious High’s unique look to life.