This Breton drew on the sea and his childhood to create one of the most anticipated video games of 2023
Behind its virtual melodies, video games speak lives: to the people who play them, to the people who create them. Under the Waves, the ambitious project of a small French studio based in Paris, is a perfect example.? After the presentation of this game, last summer, the independent specialized magazine JV devoted a front page to it, and the newspaper Le Monde just added it to its list of the most anticipated games of 2023.
A childhood between sea spray and video games
The game hasn’t been released yet, but its universe is already meeting some success. And this universe, we owe it in part to the imagination and Breton memories of Ronan Coiffec, founder of the studio and creative director of the game – “director of the game”, in the very English jargon of video games.
My father was a military sailor and worked in Lorient. I moved its changes, always near the sea
Born in Lorient before growing up in Quimperlé (29), this nearly forty-year-old bathed in spray as much as in video games. “My father was a military sailor and worked in Lorient. I moved its changes, always close to the sea,” said the man who now lives in Paris. A childhood to visit the boats, to follow the path of the ports. The joystick soon became part of the maritime world, when his father “brought home an old Atari, with a lot of games on it”.
Beginnings at Atari and Ubisoft
From a hobby, the video game becomes a guide, at a time when he is hesitant about the studies to follow. “My visual arts teacher in Quimperlé explained to me that we could work on video games”. A horizon that Ronan Coiffec “didn’t think about” before but decided to follow. Applied Arts in Brest, then a school of art and design in Paris, opened its doors to video game studios, including Atari and Ubisoft. What did he like? “Go into a universe and immerse yourself, like when reading a book, with stronger implications.”
Commander Cousteau rocked my childhood
Immerse yourself: this is the beginning of Under the Waves. Players will take on the role of Stan, a grieving professional diver working under the North Sea for an oil company. Around him: the darkness but also the marine fauna and flora to discover by swimming, or thanks to a small submarine. This submarine, certainly, with its retro shapes, still borrows from a familiar figure. “Commander Cousteau rocked my childhood,” recalls Ronan Coiffec. During his high school years, in Quimperlé, and during his wanderings in Emmaus, he discovered, fascinated, “a whole group of Cousteau’s books on the sea world”.
The sinking of the Erika as the first inspiration
Later, however, he discovered that some of Cousteau’s inventions and expeditions were financed by oil companies. This difference reflects the Breton experience. December 1999, the Erika sank and polluted the beaches of Brittany. The event marks him. The subject is his very first play, produced from his boarding school in Brest. In this prototype, “a character had to clean oil from the seabed”, and each cleaned surface revealed words. The beginning of Under The Waves.
A collaboration with the Surfrider Foundation
Environmental concern remains anchored. This was already found in the studio’s previous game, Eqqo. In Under The Waves, a collaboration with the Surfrider Foundation, which fights for the protection of the oceans, has made it possible to integrate ecological thinking throughout the project. The choice is left to the player, for example, to actively pick up the items he leaves behind. The goal: “Raise awareness, without being moralistic, thanks to the interactivity of video games, a powerful way”, judges the designer. “It is a kind of responsibility that we have given ourselves”.
In other words, Under The Waves reminds us how much the controller can evoke serious and personal topics. The question of mourning and this wave to overcome also draws on the personal history of the designer. The grain of the images or the retrofuturistic style speaks of losses as in the natural cycle, like a wave that changes the landscape in its path.
Nature becomes a man in itself
In this adventure, “nature becomes a person in itself” where “the character can seek comfort” to face the chaos. A small reminder, again, of real life: Ronan Coiffec found the inspiration for part of the game’s scenario by isolating himself for several weeks on the island of Groix (56). Finally, we will not be surprised to learn that the two co-founders of Parallel Studio, by his side, are two other video game lovers related to the coastal regions: Normandy or Corsica and the Côte d’Azur.
Under The Waves, developed by Parallel Studio, published by Quantic Dream. Expected release in 2023 on PC, PlayStation, Xbox. The exact date is yet to be announced.