October 23, 2023
Games Lift: Markus Koepke stays the course
Years of experience have led him here: Alone, on an abandoned ship in the middle of the ocean. Markus Koepke's project "Journey Beyond the Edge of the World" in the Games Lift Incubator lures us in with its melancholic vibes.
The trailer looks like it is coming from an almost finished game: Through a washed-out and pixelated lens, we see a ship rocking in the heavy sea. Synthesizers keep humming and creaking. Someone walks across the deck in first-person, glances at ghostly outlines and picks up objects. A voice echoes, barely audible, searching for words. The mood is thick. Typically, we would expect this kind of showing from a project that is close to being done.
“Journey Beyond the Edge of the World” will be a first-person adventure game in a minimalist setting: Everything takes place on a ship, alone on the sea. The experience is structured by music pieces and narration. Puzzles evolve from the story and are meant to make sense in context; an early gameplay example involves patching a leak.
The game and its trailer are both the work of one man. Markus Koepke describes himself as a generalist. The proof is in his project. Music, design, code, graphics, editing; everything is made by him.
More of a generalist
In Markus Koepke’s words, his career falls into a series of logical steps. It all began with studying media management, which “basically” translated to “project management”. Working in an agency, he “switched to the creative side relatively quickly”. He dedicated more of his time to camera work and built-up practical experience in a variety of fields. He learned with and from professionals, dealing with production, directing, filming and editing over several years. Koepke sounds grateful. “I learned an incredible amount,” he says.
His career journey was marked by the search for the right creative avenue. After the agency, he started a production company. And he rediscovered his interest in game development. Games had always been important to him. He is a fan of the German cult-classic RPG “Gothic” and loves to “dive into worlds.”
As a teenager, he made his first experiences with tools like RPG Maker and Flash. As a professional, Koepke took up developing increasingly complex projects in a variety of engines. A main inspiration for him as a camera person was the vibrant indie scene with its visual diversity. This showed in his own projects; they “always started with a visual idea.” Story and game mechanics could still be important, but they came later.
With his project in the Games Lift Incubator, Koepke shows a new side. This is a conscious decision in his creative process, aiming to build up knowledge with each new project. A stunning example is the way the sea seems alive in “Journey Beyond the Edge of the World”, with waves rolling by in a dynamic and occasionally terrifying way. The low-poly look and its implementation go back to his previous project “Lost Carcosa.”
Inspiration for Koepke’s project is provided by indie horror hit “Signalis,” but also by the cozy “A Short Hike.” Even though both games look and feel vastly different, their influence is easily recognizable: “Journey Beyond” combines old-school graphics with modern visual effects. The emerging mood feels completely new.
From the very beginning, “Journey Beyond” took a new direction. Here, the music came first. Koepke has been playing the guitar “forever,” and has added synthesizers and production to his toolkit for some years now. While he was working on new pieces, something happened in his imagination: Themes, a story started to emerge. He thought about the project in terms of visual representation, about an interactive kind of music video. He developed “Lost Carcosa” as a proof of concept. And it worked; he was onto something.
He might be a solo developer, but Koepke emphasizes that he is not alone: Over the years, he has built a strong network. When he runs into a specific problem, he knows where to find the right help. His approach to the Games Lift Incubator is in the same spirit – he is not here to go it alone, but with a special focus on making contacts.