April 03 2013 by Colin McIsaac
Rising indie developer AckkStudios is developing an upcoming game called Two Brothers, an action RPG designed to feel like a classic Game Boy game. We at Gamnesia had the chance to speak to Andrew Allanson, who served as the producer and leading composer and on the game's staff, about a wide variety of subjects. Areas of focus in this interview including the design of the game, challenges introducing gamers to Two Brothers' new ideas, and the relationship between plot and gameplay. Read the full interview to see why you should be as excited as we are excited about Two Brothers.
GM: Some of us here at Gamnesia know a lot about Two Brothers. In fact, some of us know the answers to most of these questions. But to someone who has never heard of the game before, how would you describe the it, and what would you say to spark their greater interest?
Two Brothers is an action-adventure game that features a classic Game Boy aesthetic. You play the role of Roy and Bivare Guarder, two scientists who are researching the origins of life.
While researching, Roy is met with a terrible fate, and has a near death experience. While Roy is on the other side of death, he visits an afterlife filled with beautiful 16-bit colors. Now that he has experienced this visual glory, he becomes obsessed with bringing the colors from the afterlife in to his monochromatic world.
GM: When did development begin for Two Brothers, and what parts of the process did the team tackle first?
While working on his senior animation thesis, Brian Allanson (the game’s creator) took a break from 3D modeling to unwind in the evening with 2D sprite mockups. Over the course of the two years he spent animating his thesis, he had also created a vast cast of characters for a game that only existed in his imagination. After graduating, Brian showed his prototype/graphics mockups to his friends, and before long they all enthusiastically jumped in to creating the game together!
GM: Can you tell us a little bit about the story of Two Brothers? How did the game get its title, and how does it relate to the plot?
Roy Guarder, inventor, scientist, and philosopher, is on an expedition to discover the origins of life. This quest has brought him to "The Cursed Lands," a stretch of land so dangerous and shrouded in mystery that it hasn't been explored in over 700 years. When Roy finds what he's looking for, he is met with a terrible fate. Roy no longer finds himself a living man. He is greeted with a world of colors he never believed could have existed! One obsession leads to another and Roy begins to walk the line of life and death—sometimes intentionally ending his own life—just so he can see this land of beauty and color again.
But something is strange: Why is Roy the only man who can cross so easily between the worlds of the living and the dead? What has given him this unique ability? How will he reconcile the existence of an afterlife he never believed could even exist?
GM: Are these two brothers the only playable characters throughout the game, or does your party “grow” as you progress, like many traditional RPGs?
Bivare and Roy are both playable. Throughout the game you will find party members that we haven't shown in screenshots yet.
GM: So we know a bit of the main character’s backstory now, but oftentimes the greatest characters are those that gamers can develop an emotional attachment to. Has the team taken any steps to help create such a bond with the players?
Haha! Yes! We worked very hard to pull this off... how we do it... we can't say yet.
GM: And of course, there must be some sort of antagonist? Could you shed a little light on that side of the story, or is that a surprise best saved for late in the game?
;) You will see... No, that's a crappy answer. I will tell you now that Two Brothers has a very non-traditional story... but even non-traditional stories work better with an antagonist. There is one, but he isn't like something you'd find in Final Fantasy or Zelda.
GM: AckkStudios has talked a little bit about how the player can move between the realm of the living and the afterlife, which sets in motion the key theme for the plot. How do the overworld and afterlife relate to one another both in terms of gameplay and in a thematic sense? Do your decisions in one world affect the other in any way?
This is one of the most difficult aspects of developing Two Brothers. The only way for the player to gain access to the afterlife is by triggering a game over. Sometimes the player has to intentionally find enemies to kill themselves. The afterlife has a pretty vast place. It's colorful, and large... there are lots of characters, and maybe even a few dungeons ;)
From the afterlife hub the player can see the world map below. From looking at this map they can gain clues as to various places they can explore. This was inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, where the player can hold their sword up and find the next boss. However, we do not have a fixed order. You can tackle each area in any order. Doing this changes the story.
GM: So it's entirely nonlinear? That's exciting! If the story changes with each different dungeon order, it sounds like payers are going to be spending a lot of time on Two Brothers in order to get the full feel of the game. How long do you expect each playthrough to be?
Most of it alters the ending of the game and the game’s final dungeon. A typical playthrough lasts about 15-20 hours.
GM: Does completing certain areas before others pose any sort of benefits, or is it entirely free for the player to decide?
It's up to the player. Imagine Ocarina of Time if you could tackle the temples in any order.
GM: How did this concept of the afterlife influence the story, or vice-versa?
We are trying to make the plot and gameplay one entity. We had gameplay concepts before we started the story, because we knew we wanted to try and have a strong unity between them.
GM: It sounds like death is a pretty central theme in Two Brothers, but it also seems like you’re approaching it with a light-hearted and almost comical nature in contrast to other games, where death means the "game over." Can you tell us a little bit on what you had in mind for the theme of death in Two Brothers—how you want it to affect the player or what emotions you hope for the system to convey?
I am afraid I can't answer this question without ruining the game.
GM: Ah, so we have one more surprise to look forward to?
Maybe two ;)
GM: Now, how does one get a "game over" if death doesn't do the trick?
Two Brothers is a different type of game than people are used to; there are absolutely no game overs, nor is there anything like it in the game.
GM: Kirby's Epic Yarn tried something similar a few years ago and while many praised the game, others complained that not having a game over system made the experience less enjoyable. While the idea of breaking the norm by eliminating game overs in a faster-paced game than Kirby sounds quite exciting, do you fear that some may not be so fond of it?
At first when people are told that’s how it works during play tests or press runs, they are a little surprised... but once they see it's not Zelda or Mana, and only inspired by them, it makes sense. It isn't like we made a Zelda game and took out game overs. We are working hard to make sure it fits with the gameplay. A lot of games you play as immortals, and yet there are game overs... That’s always felt quite stupid to us. The gameplay should reflect the story... don't make a character be able to come back from the dead if it's not integrated in to the gameplay. That's just our opinion.
GM: The whole story of Two Brothers—a boy bringing color to a monochrome, retro landscape—is very interesting, especially when you throw in the dual world system and this theme of death. How did the preliminary ideas for this story come about, and how have they evolved throughout the development process? In what ways does the final product's plot differ from the initial storyline you had created?
Thankfully we've managed to stay close to our original vision. We planned the game pretty well before we began developing. The concept of finding color came from Brian drawing up screenshot mockups in Game Boy style. We both got really excited about making a Game Boy style game. About a week in to conceptualizing, Brian said he wished he had done it in color... So he did. We thought for a few hours that we'd have to decide whether to make a color or monochromatic game, and eventually it occurred to us to just make it both. From there, the story was born.
We knew we wanted Roy and his brother Bivare to be inventors, because we were a little sick of what type of hero we kept encountering in games lately, so we went for something we didn't see too often. From there things really just fell in to place early on, and just seemed to work.
GM: How is the overworld designed? Can we expect a diverse range of environments and terrain? Is there a central hub and surrounding landmarks, or are there several locales of equal focus? In what ways has the team taken strives to truly immerse players in the world of Two Brothers?
The overworld is a classic JRPG-style overworld that is zoomed out and features smaller Game Boy-like sprites than you find throughout the game. There is quite a bit of variety in the game’s world. You will find standard RPG stuff, along with some things that we feel are original concepts.
As for immersion, we've put in a lot of effort of making every character in the world feel alive. They all react to things you do, and you can change some of their lives dramatically you stick around to find out more about them. The world is also somewhat surreal. People live inside of giant animals, and they are living, so we've put a lot of detail in making it feel believable... and sometimes intentionally absurd.
GM: And what about the world of the afterlife?
The afterlife is in full color... it features a lot of mysterious objects that trigger mysterious events... and the entire thing is quite... mysterious.
GM: AckkStudios has said that games like Chrono Trigger, the Legend of Zelda series, and RPG-type games for the classic Game Boy have greatly influenced the design of Two Brothers. On top of these inspirations, what makes Two Brothers feel entirely its own? What have you added to the formula to make Two Brothers a fresh experience?
The game’s world is quite unique for all the reasons I mentioned above. Another thing I should point out is the game doesn't follow the plot formulas we all know and love. Mainly because we all know and love them so well sometimes I feel they should be left alone, as someone already perfected them. We're trying to keep the story under wraps until release, and we've done a pretty good job about it so far... so I'll tell you that you only have heard the setup. We haven't unveiled anything past the first couple hours of play.
GM: What exactly is the gameplay system of Two Brothers? We’ve heard a lot about combat and puzzle elements, but how do they work in contrast to one another? Is this an action-RPG title, is it more like a Zelda-type overworld action game, or are there also that classic battles like that of Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior?
The game is closest to Sword of Mana than any other game we've listed as being inspired by.
GM: Why you choose this combat style? Were there any points in development where you worked with or considered another direction for the gameplay, or were you always certain that this is the right fit?
We tried quite a bit of combat styles, and this one felt most accessible and closest to the vibe we wanted, as we wanted to convey our love for Link’s Awakening.
GM: What type of music will the game have? Will it keep one style through and through, or will the score evolve alongside the changing world from 8-bit chiptunes to a more modern sound?
The game’s music slowly evolves from 8-bit to a fully record live orchestral score. It's also massive, featuring well over 100 tracks.
GM: A lot of what we’ve been talking about sounds like a very artful approach to gaming. Can you say a little bit about your views on games as art and how certain recent games have been changing the traditional role of the medium?
I don't like to speak for others, but I will say that personally, I think games are art. They are an art form of many genres. Mine just happens to be a surrealist Game Boy painting, as you'll see once you play it!
GM: We’ve heard lots of conflicting information about what systems Two Brothers will appear on. The Kickstarter page officially mentions Windows, OSX, Linux, Android, iOS, and Xbox 360, while many news sources claim it will make its way to other systems such as Wii U. Can you give us a solid list of which platforms Two Brothers will be released on, and what it might take to expand its reach beyond those consoles?
Currently we are finishing the PC, Mac, and Linux versions of the game for release this summer. We are also porting the game to Wii U, and will be out a few months after the release of the PC version. The Xbox 360 version of the game should come out around the same time as well...
We have plans to bring the game to iOS and Android, but we'll only do it if the game feels justified and fantastic on the platform. We have the game running on those platforms, but we want to make sure it's perfect before giving it a date.
So... PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U, Xbox 360... and eventually iOS, and Android.
I want to bring it to a PlayStation platform... and I'm working on making that happen, so just give me a bit of time and I can give you a straight answer on it.
GM: And as for portable consoles? Are Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita in the realm of possibility, or are you guys going to be tired of the Guarders after so many consoles plus the potential release on PlayStation 3 and/or PlayStation 4?
PlayStation 3 or 4 and PS Vita are very possible! We're working on that now... I’m not confirming anything, but I can say we're actively pursuing bringing the game to these platforms. 3DS is harder, as it doesn't support our code base, and would require a complete remake. We would love to make a 3DS game as some point though.
If you like the look of Two Brothers, you can get a glimpse what type of games we'll make in the future. We'd probably have sold more games if we existed in the 80s and 90s, but back then we were too busy play them and... being children.
GM: AckkStudios is also developing a top-secret game currently known as “Project Y2K.” Are there any details you can share with us at this time about the story or gameplay? Or if you’re keeping it closely under-wraps, could you maybe tell us a little bit about the inspirations behind the game?
3D RPG, Wii U & PC target release, aiming for originality, heavily inspired by the Mother series without stealing anything from it... probably. Expect screenshots this summer! We want it playable at next year’s PAX East.
Also... my hands hurt from typing all of this.
GM: I'm sorry! Luckily, we're all done. Thank you so much for your time and patience, and we can't wait to see the game once its finally released.
Keep an eye open for more news regarding Two Brothers in the coming months.
To keep up to date with AckkStudios, check the following links: