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PAX AUS 2014 – Never Alone Interview
Never Alone is a cool and atmospheric platformer that I spent some time with at this year’s PAX Australia.
I came away pretty impressed with its productions and puzzle designs, and also sat down for a quick chat with one of the designers behind the game.
Lets just start by introducing who you are and giving a quick pitch for Never Alone
Jonathan: Hi, my name is Jonathan. I’m one of the game designers for E-Line Media and Never Alone is a two-and-a-half-D atmospheric puzzle platformer – so if you think in the vein of Limbo, Braid, Journey and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons you kind of get an idea of what we’re trying to accomplish with the gameplay, feeling and tone of the game.
I definitely got that vibe when I played it. Why did you choose to focus on this Alaskan Inuit culture with the game?
J: It’s really cool because a lot of people ask, ‘why did you pick this?’ and what is was actually is that they picked us. They are the people up in Alaska – the Cook Inlet tribal council which is made up of a bunch of different communities up there – [and they] contacted our game studio because they wanted to make a video game, one to make a profit so they can help their communities survive better than by just having to rely on government money.
They also realized that their community and culture were starting to wane a bit and their children weren’t learning the language and they felt like their culture was dying. So they contacted us and said ‘hey we want you to make a video game about our people using our story lines and our community in a way.’ There’s plenty of games based around Greek mythology, Norse mythology but nothing around these really interesting people who are still around.
You mentioned Limbo and Braid as influences. How are you building on the mechanics and concepts of these games?
J: So obviously Braid and Limbo are huge influences on us – they have been on the game industry since they came out. And one of the things were doing to build upon that is well obviously there’s co-op with these two characters and neither of those games had that except Journey and Brothers and we’re really building upon that, upon this idea that it takes both to get through.
Journey you can play through alone, it’s better with a second person but both characters have the same skill set and then Brothers is technically one player, though you could have someone grab the other stick and then that makes it much easier.
In our game the Inuits have this huge thing about community and they’re very interdependent in each other and so when we designed the game we knew we wanted to have co-op. We needed to capture that independence – that idea that it takes two or more people to survive in this frozen tundra. And so we started making it we made sure that both characters had different skill sets. Like, you just played and you saw that the fox can scramble up walls, jump backwards and all these things like reveal spirits. Nuna gets a bolo later in the game that allows her to help Fox get around places and there are parts of the game where Fox might be able to get up somewhere but Nuna can’t so he has to go back and help her get up there. They have to work together.
So is the whole game co-op or is there a single player mode?
J: There is single player where you’ll play as one of the two characters and you’ll use the Y button to switch back and forth and the AI will follow you along.
How big is the full version of Never Alone? What’s the scope looking like?
J: Yeah. So the game has lots of different levels. For the average player, first playthrough will be about 3-5 hours. And there’s a bunch of different collectibles to collect. Some are easy to collect, others are hidden and take more time to find. It’s really fun to find them and watch the videos [attached]. You get 24 videos and each is about 2-3 minutes long which is really cool because that’s extra value that you might not realize is in the game.
How far along is development?
J: We’re coming out November 18th so we’re just about done. Our team’s actually in the studio now doing some hard work trying to get it ready, polish it, get some of the last bugs out. So it’s coming out really soon and we’re absolutely excited.
Any ideas where the studio will be heading next?
J: Yeah so we’re not super ready to talk about it yet but the idea we always had with Never Alone was this being sort of the poster child for the first attempt at this thing we call ‘World Games’ and our hope is to show people that there’s a bunch of cool stories in these cultures and that video games can be a way to help share stories like people used to do orally or do with movies now. These traditions and values can be stored in a game and our hope is that if Never Alone does well there are other cultures we can explore.