Adventure gamers have never had it so good. Developers of every shape and size from around the world are putting their finest talent to work in point-and-clicks par excellence, and standing out from the crowd are Sugarpunch Games. Their debut title, Behind the Beyond, fuses RPG mechanics and Hungarian folk tales into an adventure game with a cracking art style and plenty of promise.
Point Click Pundit put forth some questions to Kate from Sugarpunch Games, who was kind enough to reveal the thinking behind not only her upcoming adventure game, but also the team’s influences, inspirations and intentions going forward. It all seems to make Sugarpunch Games a studio to watch!
How would you describe the history behind Sugarpunch Games? It seems there’s a lot of passion and determination behind the team!
In the business of indie game development, you need all the passion and determination you can get, so if it is showing, then I guess we are doing it right! 🙂
About our history, well, I hope you are sitting comfortably because it may be a long story…
If you want me to start at the VERY beginning, we have to go back to the early 2000s. I have always been a gamer myself, but I decided that I want to make games when I played Lionhead Studios’ Black & White. I loved the puzzles, I loved the silly sailor’s song (which I can still remember!), and I loved the idea of having a giant pet that I can teach to behave. And – spoiler alert – it absolutely broke my heart when it was taken from me after finishing level two!
It was only after that when I was introduced to point & click games, so I quickly caught up on as many of them as I could — Monkey Island, Broken Sword, The Neverhood, and so on…
I went to uni with the purpose of making games, but it just didn’t seem like it would happen. I am from Hungary, and all the big game dev companies that I knew and would have wanted to work for closed before I finished university. I got a degree in computing science and ended up working for non-game companies.
Eventually, in 2013 I moved to the UK. One day we wanted to go on a trip with some friends and we needed a driver, so one of them, who works for Creative Assembly, brought one of their colleagues along (also a Hungarian) to be the driver. It turned out he used to work for Lionhead Studios and I started fangirling on that fact right away. He is my husband now. He inspired me to leave business software and go back to my original plan of making games.
I started working on my first point & click idea alone. Basically I started learning Unity and improving my drawing skills. In the meantime, we entered a bunch of game jams with my husband. That helped me a lot in gaining the necessary experience for making my own game — also game jams are a good way to expand one’s horizons and maybe try something new every now and then.
Behind the Beyond also began life as a game-jam project, right? When was the moment you knew the game was ready for the big-time?
Yes, my husband and I teamed up with two artists to enter AdventureJam in 2016. In the two weeks we had to finish our entry, I already mapped out a longer, more complex story, which we of course had to cut short because we didn’t have time to finish. Even though towards the end of the story that we implemented you could see the decline in quality of the animations and the logic of the puzzles, we felt there was SO much more that we can do here!
So at that point I put away the original idea I was working on and completely switched focus to Behind the Beyond. We decided to remake the game almost from scratch. We scrapped major parts of the engine, redesigned all the backgrounds and characters (now that we had enough time to deal with them) and replaced animations too — and added the skills.
Then, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend GDC in San Francisco. There we went to an indie game show-and-tell event where we could demo the game we made and gather feedback. The conclusion was that it was an ‘okay’ game, and we thought that’s not enough. It has to be great. So once again, we redesigned the entire visual appearance, and then we thought “Okay, NOW it is ready.”
Hungarian folklore is a wonderfully rich area of inspiration to draw from. What do you think will surprise and excite players most about it?
To those who are not familiar with it, I think most of the appeal is that it is a new world, and not the usual Tolkienesque fantasy. Our art style is quite unique and charming too, and that also builds heavily on folk art.
Since Slavic and Hungarian folklore have a lot in common, fans of The Witcher series may find some things familiar in our game. Although this is a much more lighthearted story with way less blood and gore, it will have about the same amount of weird creatures.
The choice to add RPG-like skills to vary up puzzles sounds fantastic – how did you come up with this idea?
I can’t answer this without spoilers, so SPOILER ALERT! 🙂
We were thinking about a puzzle that involves getting a piece of gingerbread from the salesman in the village. We wanted this to be a little bit harder than just asking the salesman. We had two ways to solve this: ask very nicely (charm him) or distract the guy and steal it. We felt that neither option was difficult enough and we had the idea that it would be a nice twist if players would have had to work for these solutions to be available to them. This is how we came up with the skills.
On top of that, we couldn’t decide which solution to have for this bit. We felt that both the ‘charm’ and ‘steal’ options made equal sense. It is quite common in adventure games that players have a different way of thinking than the devs. They may have perfectly logical solutions for a problem which don’t work, only because the devs didn’t think of them. So we also thought it would be cool if we implemented both options and let the players choose how they want to resolve the situation.
What are some of your favourite adventure games from years gone by, and how do you feel about how active the industry is today?
In terms of point & clicks, I’m mainly a LucasArts girl. Monkey Island is my absolute favourite, but I also love The Neverhood with it’s kooky art style and music. I have to admit I gave up trying to finish Grim Fandango by myself, but I was so captivated by the story that I read some walkthroughs and finished it anyway.
Some people say that the time of point & click adventures has passed, but this year only, I backed about 6 new games on Kickstarter!
If AAA games could take anything from adventure games (an idea, a gameplay concept, a dev style), what do you think it should be?
Innovation. And I don’t mean it in a technological way. I don’t need more frames per second, nor more pixels. Indies are experimenting with new concepts way more often than AAA studios do. There is nothing wrong with making a sequel to a successful game if the sequel is good, but I would like to see more original ideas from the big guns.
How are you and the team tying art, sound, music and narrative design together with such fantastic confidence for Behind the Beyond? What’s the secret?!
All these things, art, story and music have the same root — folklore. We are focusing on the unique elements in all of them. For example, Hungarian folktales have a very specific structure which is unique to the geographical area, and so are all the different embroidery styles that we use in the art. All the vegetation in the game is actually a piece of embroidery. As for the music, it is based on traditional folk music and features the distinctive sound of instruments like the shepherd’s flute.
What I personally do when it comes to designing the visuals for a scene is I think back to times spent at my grandparents’. I do some ethnographic research too, but I am mainly channeling that ‘hot summer days in the countryside’ vibe from my childhood.
I come from a relatively small town. Living almost at the edge of the town, going on ‘adventures’ and following dirt roads and paths bordered by various trees and shrubs was a common pastime for me and my friends. At home we had rabbits, chickens, and when I was very little we even bought our milk from a farm that was literally five minutes away from our house. I think this helps a lot in giving an authentic feel to the game.
The demo’s already out on Steam and Itch – but we’re keen for the whole thing! When are you hoping Behind the Beyond will be ready for release?
At the moment we are looking at early 2023 to finish the full game. Depending on how much funding we can secure, that may change.
If you could give any advice to your younger selves – or any aspiring game devs taking their first creative journeys – what would it be?
Start small. Don’t try to conquer the world all in one step. Or at least if you do try, know your limits and try to focus on areas you are really good at so you can make a game that really stands out.
Enter a lot of game jams! Most of them are short and they help so much in getting the game dev experience you need! You never know, they may spark ideas for your next game.
What excites you the most about the way adventure games are being developed nowadays? What are you hoping Sugarpunch will add to the industry?
I like to see new things and interesting concepts in adventure games. I also value player agency a lot. That’s kinda my thing. If someone promises me that my choices will matter, they should actually do. And I expect the same from our games too.
Finally, have we missed anything about the game, the team or anything else you want to take this chance to mention?
Behind the Beyond is a fantastic first foray from a studio that’s clearly taken plenty of time to hone its craft on an intriguing, comical and whimsical adventure game. We’re keen to see how the RPG skillsets mesh with the classic gameplay and puzzle design, and wish Sugarpunch Games every success!