Developer Update #8 – Story & Narrative

Today we’ll take a look at the storyline of Core Decay, driving the player forward as they traverse the game’s 11 locations. Note that this does cover major plot points and contain full spoilers to the entire storyline, so if you would rather go in blind at the time of the game’s release, I would advice skipping this dev update!

Narrative Mechanics

Before getting into the story itself, let’s have a quick look at how it’s actually conveyed within the game. In addition to environmental storytelling, there’s two main ways the player gets exposed to the game narrative, both of which are entirely optional:

Data Logs

Throughout the levels, data logs can be found by the player. These logs are generally written from the point of view of facility personnel, and for the most part detail the unique backstory behind each facility the player visits.

Comlink Conversations

On multiple occasions throughout and prior to each level, the player will be hailed on a comlink device, which provides the opportunity to have conversations with key characters throughout the game. These are optional – the player does not need to actually open the comlink during a level – but if opened, they provide a way to delve deeper into the overall storyline of the game and get a deeper understanding of the motivations behind the mysterious organization behind the facilities that the player explores.

Game Intro

The year is 2089.

For decades past, the availability of natural resources has declined to the point of societal collapse. While a guise of government remains, the majority of nations are largely under the domain of massive corporations, the only ones in control of the remaining flow of vital resources.

Earth enveloped by natural and man-made disasters, ecological recovery is now a pipe dream. Late efforts were made, including the Borealis 1 installation – a multi-national project with the aim to restore the atmospheric composure of Earth – but all ultimately failed. There is no way back.

Yet there is a way forward.

At mankind’s darkest hour, in the most desolate place on Earth, a small diode flickers to life. Hastily wrapped coils receive a jolt of power. A large canister slowly slides out of a wall.

The crackle of a communicator is heard across the empty metal chamber.

Backstory

Core Decay takes place as civilization has begun to collapse past the point of no return. With no access to vital resources and enveloped by environmental disasters, nations have all but ceded control to powerful corporations, and those who remain are living out the final years of their lives with the knowledge that these years will be the last of humanity.

It is during this great cataclysm that you jolt to life within a cryogenic storage pod inside an abandoned, sinister facility, and is shortly thereafter contacted by a mysterious presence…

Game Events

This is a complete synopsis of the game storyline, and contains spoilers for all major plot points!

As the game starts, you are awoken by a mysterious entity, identifying itself as Echo and talking to you through a comlink device. While unwilling to divulge their identity or further information in general, Echo stresses the importance of your escape and reveals that you are currently located in a remote antarctic installation. Exploring the facility, you learn something significant is scheduled to happen in 5 weeks and find references to a cryptic Ascension Project along with coordinates to multiple hidden facilities across the earth.

After successfully destroying the antarctic facility and locating means of aerial transportation, you set off to one of these installations with the purpose of learning more, and over the course of several weeks explore four locations. In addition to finding a prison-like complex it appears you have visited before, you also learn of multiple secret projects related to cybernetic enhancements, artificial intelligence and more, along with multiple references of an elusive entity pulling the strings behind all these facilities – the Contingency Accord. Somehow these projects all seem connected…

At the fourth and final location known to you, you find records of an Icelandic installation known as the Borealis 1 – a well-known, globally financed facility intended to de-pollute Earth’s atmosphere. Originally hailed as the world’s solution to the atmospheric crisis, it was ultimately abandoned once more pressing environmental concerns arose. Traveling there, you learn that while it is indeed changing the composure of Earth’s atmosphere it is not to anything that could be considered breathable air. Furthermore, odd logs indicate that the Borealis 1 installation was constructed for a different, seemingly nefarious purpose to begin with. While not able to put together all pieces of the puzzle quite yet, the Borealis 1 does contain coordinates of several more installations, and so for several more weeks you keep exploring more sites in a hope to understand more.

These facilities slowly unravel the truth – the world’s remaining mega-corporations are all collaborating to reach an unknown goal, having formed the Contingency Accord many years back as a hidden network of conspirators. Concerned with the future survival of the human species above all else, the Accord seems to be pursuing drastic forms of human modification to reach that goal.

Ultimately, the last of these facilities sees you neutralized due to a disguised trap inside its reactor core, and you once more wake up in an unknown location. Hailed directly by the acting director of the Accord, who turns out having transcended their humanity long ago, you learn their goal is to forcibly alter humanity into a new, cybernetic species in order to survive the complete destruction of Earth’s ecosystem. As it turns out, the Borealis 1 installation originally had a very different purpose – years ago, the Accord had planned to release an airborne virus that would sterilize 99% of the Earth’s population, forcing a complete halt to overpopulation. When accelerated environmental decline would mean that ecosystems were collapsing to the point beyond repair, however, this plan was abandoned in favor of instead changing the very nature of the species to survive even complete environmental destruction.

While originally facing great obstacles integrating organic and synthetic components, it was discovered that reducing a human to a neurologically “silent” state – death – acted as a primer for synthetic integration, and would allow a “reboot” to take place where the organic mind was mapped to a digital one, implanted into the now lifeless body, and synthesis was achieved.

Entropy made this impossible to perform long after death, but within a small window this was the gateway to hybridization. The Borealis 1 was thus altered to release a modified strain of its original virus. Rather than mass sterilization, it was primed to cause global death – and with it the means for the Accord to enact their global “Ascension” of humanity. Not only would this render the remaining nations of Earth unable to object, but also allow the forceful conversion of every human being and the integration of a compliance chip for absolute control.

Once aware of the Accord’s plans you manage to fight your way through the hidden facility, and make your way to its central control chamber which contains the operation protocols of the Borealis 1 station. Before getting the chance to interact with the controls, however, you are once again hailed by the acting director who offers a final revelation – had you not realized already:

Given that you have performed cybernetic upgrades throughout the entire undertaking, and cybernetic integration is only possible after death… your actual body has been dead all along, a surviving test subject of the final process. The antarctic site a cybernetic integration research facility, you had originally been taken in through the prison complex visited earlier and subjected to the Ascension Project firsthand.

The final piece of the puzzle falling into place, Echo reveals itself to be an agent of the Accord, having sought out the destruction of their own facilities in an effort to cover their tracks as well as evaluate the performance of their creation – but vastly miscalculating the efficiency of a single Ascended being.

The director continues: A profound question emerged early throughout the Ascension process. Mapping a human mind to a cybernetic one, and then re-inserting the same consciousness into a body physically lifeless and animated through machinery… does one retain their sense of self?

You realize that you are the living case that even a forcefully resurrected and augmented human experiences a state of consciousness, if only at a subjective level. Surely your sense of self-preservation would have you agree with the Accord’s motives?

The director argues their case: While their methods may be cruel and enforced upon the global population of Earth, it is also the only remaining means of survival. Borealis 1 has been engaged for weeks, and the vast majority of Earth’s population will have perished already. Even if the facility was to be destroyed, only small pockets of life would be left, and Earth is deteriorating so fast that not a single generation will survive – which would have been the case even if the Accord had done nothing whatsoever. The Accord, the director argues, would in time be able to build up an equivalent of human society, disengage the compliance chip, and return civilization to a state worthy of humanity.

You are given a choice – agree to let the Accord complete their scheme and ensure humanity’s survival… or disengage the Borealis 1 station, destroy the Accord facility, and let the last generation of humanity live out their lives – perhaps without hope, but on their own terms.