There is a moon which orbits an otherwise lonely gas giant, just beyond the rimfield asteroid belt of the Arcturus system. It isn't known by many, for it is overshadowed by the large Federation-owned space-station tethered to it; hovering just outside of moon's thin atmosphere. Tzatziki Pirates and Tarnassian Merchant vessels alike pass close by as they decelerate from hyperspace en-route to Gaia, the new home of deep-space humanity.
It goes by the humble name of Bernard's World: an innocuous enough handle, which belies both the curious nature of the moon itself, and the top-secret research facility which rests upon its surface. Zoo Base nestles within a rocky ravine, patiently ticking away, waiting until it is ready to change the face of the galaxy forever.
Zoo Base is an intergalactic misadventure, set in a familiar, yet startlingly different place: the far future of our galaxy. It tasks the player with maintaining a top-secret research facility and managing the political hydra which runs its core service departments. The bases' purpose is, ostensibly, ultimately to capture, maintain and research twenty animal species (ranging from the cute to the bizarre to the not-entirely animal). Its ultimate purpose, though, is unknown.
The future galaxy is a strange place indeed - where anything is possible and everything is for sale. Observe the humble Chronorabbit: the miraculous mammal with such a predictable life-span that it has become the de-facto standard for tracking time across a multitude of star systems. It is every bit as reliable as atomic decay, but far cuter. Now step into the swirling vortex of Cyberspace, humanity's gift to the galactic community and a place which has increasingly fewer ties to the physical universe (and where not every avatar has a biological controller behind it). Then listen to the cracking whip of The Circle, the shadowy organisation which runs the giant corporation of ConOrbital, manipulating the very universe to its desires and driving Zoo Base to do its bidding.
It is against this background that you awaken into a brightly lit room. Before you is a short man wearing black sunglasses, a red-and-blue hawaiian shirt, and orange surfer shorts. Will you partake of the cup he offers? It fizzes deliciously, a green umbrella peeking cheekily over the top.
Zoo Base is played entirely in a console window, trading off graphical fidelity for complex simulation, rich interaction and limitless narrative possibility. The principle gameplay occurs through both top-down roguelike sections, in which the player wanders the base and embarks on missions to capture different animal species; and through Interactive Fiction sequences, wherein the player makes high-level decisions to navigate various situations, from simple conversations to complex scenarios, like fending off attacks from malevolent hackers.
If the name Zoo Base rings a bell (or even sends a cold shiver of fear and frustration down your spine), it's because it's actually the spiritual successor to Bay12 Games' Star Zoo (2002). In a time before Game Jams, Tarn Adams (of Dwarf Fortress infamy) wrote Zoo Base within a period of 36 hours whilst waiting to catch a train. The result is a collection of nostalgic, 8-bit coloured mini-games, glued together with short interactive-fiction sequences, and a story so far out it could only be set in space.
Star Zoo is famous for being a gruelling, challenging and unforgiving experience, broad in its imaginative range and obscure (even obtuse) its narrative canon. We've extended that canon for Zoo Base - but we're aiming to retain the screwball humour, the dark themes, the persecuting difficulty and the compelling imaginative streak (er, wish us luck…- Ed).
The original Star Zoo is available for free from Bay12 Games' website. Or, if Let's Play's are more your thing, the brave (and patient) YouTuber GrimithR has played through the whole game in a charmingly Seth Rogan-ish way. If you close your eyes and squint a little, you can almost pretend it's Paul playing (as in, the alien from the eponymous movie).
Zoo Base is currently in production by Gnovahex Computing. An alpha-stage demo is slated for release in March 2014.