Making Naut, an Answer to the Question ‘Is There Life on Mars?’

May 14, 2015 | Michael Rougeau

ANIMAL’s feature Game Plan asks game developers to share a bit about their process and some working images from the creation of a recent game. This week, we spoke with Lucie Viatgé, Tom Victor and Titouan Millet of the Klondike Collective about Naut, a trippy game made in two days.

These days, it’s not unusual for a video game to be made in just two days, likeNaut was. But it is rare for games like Naut to get as much attention as the short, awkward indie game did. It was featured on countless blogs and websites this year, and its creators aren’t sure exactly why.

“For me it was just another funny little game,” Titouan Millet, one of the game’s three creators, told ANIMAL. Millet, Tom Victor and Lucie Viatgé are members of the Klondike Collective, a group of loosely connected game developers, and they’ve made tons of games together—none of which have received as much attention as Naut.

“I think we received this attention mostly because we posted a nice GIF on Twitter—it makes the game appear kind of epic, though it really isn’t—and it was noticed by people with lots of followers,” added Victor.

The real reason Naut got so much attention is easy to see: it’s incredibly striking visually, from its neon Martian landscape to its cinematic, ultra-widescreen aspect ratio.

The game lets players control one or two astronauts who explore Mars on foot and behind the wheels of ’50s-style space-Cadillacs. Lightning strikes all around, and a piano-driven soundtrack makes everything feel surreal and urgent. Mid-century houses emit sky-piercing beams of light, and ghosts on their porches utter non-sequiturs and single-sentence poems when you come near.

Millet, Victor and Viatgé made Naut as part of a small charity game jam that lasted 48 hours. The theme of the jam was “shelter,” and the three originally envisioned a “survival” game in which you explored the surface of Mars while racing to reach the next house before dark fell.

“At some point we wanted to have a road trip game in which you would have to go to a point, with a compass to guide you, and there would have been danger at night, and you would have to go into the houses to protect yourself,” Viatgé described.

(Early concepts for Naut’s environment)

That structure isn’t present in the final game, which is much more freeform and lackadaisical—partially because two days isn’t much time to create a video game, but also because it was fun for the developers to conceptualize a more traditional game and then strip all the complexities away.

“At first you’re thinking, ‘I have to make a full game, with a complete loop and a game over condition, and depth, etc. etc.,” said Victor.

“…and a shop,” Millet added.

Victor continued, “But after a while you want to take a little less time to bother with this, and think about what you can actually do in an environment, and try things and have fun as a developer.”

Naut was always going to be set on Mars, though, and there’s a really specific reason for that. When Victor tweeted about David Bowie’s song “Life On Mars”—thanks to the American Horror Story episode that includes a weird cover of it—Millet responded that they should make it their “secret theme” for the game jam.

“We all kind of like David Bowie but since we’re French people we often don’t care about the lyrics in English tunes,” Victor said (“Well I do,” Millet interjected.) “And that time I actually noticed that the lyrics were weird,” Victor said.

“The music actually doesn’t speak about Mars at all,” Millet added. “And Naut itself is not really about being on Mars either.”

In addition to “Life on Mars,” the team was also thinking a lot about Interstellar, which is evident in much of the game’s aesthetic. Viatgé, who created most of its visuals, also looked to the styles of fellow game designers Ben Esposito and Chelsea Saunders.

“We liked the fact that some elements of the game are completely anachronistic with the setting,” Victor said. The houses and the cars, for example, are not what you’d typically find on Mars, but they’re relics from the earlier version of the game, when it was a survival-based road trip.

That’s one of the most interesting things about Naut; when a game is created in just two days, it usually hasn’t gone through so many iterations in that time.

(The astronauts originally had faces)

With most of its mechanics stripped away, Naut is really just a game about driving around this weird landscape, a task that is itself an obstacle, because the game’s physics and controls are wonky as all get-out. Viatgé herself described them as “broken.”

“Some people said the contrast was hilarious and others said it was a huge mistake, that it was ‘yet another good looking thing ruined by terrible controls.’ But it’s mostly that way because we ran out of time,” Victor said. “At the same time, we liked that as you get out of the house, there’s this epic music, and then you start driving and the car does something completely stupid.”

That can be fun, especially with two people (“The secret for making good games is just to put a second player,” Viatgé said—”That way, if the game isn’t good, at least you can have fun with a partner!” Victor added). But Naut can be profound as well, particularly in the mutterings of Mars’s resident ghosts.

“Most of the things they say have nothing to do with Mars, once again just like ‘Life On Mars,'” said Millet, who wrote the ghosts’ dialogue. “It’s more like ‘I’ve lost my pants.'” They also make references to music Millet likes and some of his other works, in addition to other random thoughts and confessions.


“For me, most of these ‘ghosts’ are sad…I’m not sure that people really care about the texts in Naut. They are like objectives without real interest. Yet I like the contrast they create,” Millet said.


Wrapping up our chat, I asked the developers what they’d personally hope to find on a distant planet.

“I would hope to find some surprising life,” said Viatgé.

“I hope I’d find an infinite time bubble to work on projects and have fun with friends without bothering about the daily deadlines,” said Victor. “Otherwise a cat could be fine.”

“A piano!” said Millet, “and my friends Lucie and Tom.”

Naut is available on Windows, Mac and Linux for whatever you want to pay for it from itch.io.