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Unfolding A Fold Apart — An Interview with Mark Laframboise

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A Fold Apart is an upcoming puzzle game by indie developer Lightning Rod Games. OnlySP recently spoke with A Fold Apart designer Mark Laframboise about the development of the game. In Part 2 of the interview, Laframboise discusses the development of the art style and shares some details regarding the game’s upcoming release.

OnlySP: The art style has changed considerably since 2017. What influenced the change and what inspired the current look of the game?

Mark Laframboise: 2017 is when we first started showing the game publicly. We probably went through a couple of iterations before then as well. We have our own little Twitter thread that’s going out before Valentine’s Day which is basically going to go through the entire art development process, so it’s gonna be kinda interesting. There will be a lot more background and you’ll see some of the old concept art.

At a high level, the original idea of the game was based on a real-life long-distance relationship, but we tried to abstract it early on. It was this idea of two characters who lived in two physically different worlds. The original design of the game was that every puzzle was literally just one piece of paper that had two different characters on it, and you were just trying to reunite them. Every puzzle was like a standalone thing. It felt a little bit more conducive of a mobile environment where you’d have one-off puzzles like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope (even Monument Valley a bit as well), but we really wanted the game to be a bit bigger and tell a bigger story and also be able to be something we could launch on PC and consoles. That was where the scope expanded to the idea of having paper that you walk through from one to another, so that you can walk through these paper worlds and get to a paper that is the puzzle. That is kind of where the idea of the stars came from; instead of getting to another character you get to the star to finish the puzzle now in most cases.

The initial idea there was that the stand-alone puzzles would have two characters that were genderless, abstracted characters—very much like Wall-E or Eva, from Wall-E. That type of character where they sort of have gendered features, but they’re not really people, they’re aliens, or whatever. We explored that but it never really felt good. We realised the game is about a long-distance relationship and the story and the emotions are much stronger if we made it about a romantic relationship. We developed a few characters that way.

The next idea we explored was to have the characters be literally origami. We found origami patterns for people and used those as the characters but they didn’t have any faces and it felt like it would be very difficult to represent the emotions because on the screen the characters are very small, so we needed bigger heads and faces that you can represent emotion on from a distance. That was kind of where the next design went. We were like “Well, what if we made these characters physically out of scraps of paper?” That was the stuff that we had in 2017—we called them the “paper golems.” The characters were representations of “real-life” characters who are in a long-distance relationship and then these paper characters were made from papers from their desks. The architect character was blue because he was made from the blueprint paper of the real-life architect’s desk. The teacher character was made out of craft and construction paper, so she was a brown colour with a purple and orange dress held on with a paperclip. That was the design we had in 2017 (and what we presented at EGW) but it didn’t feel right. It was this juxtaposition of this real-world environment and then you have these characters walking around but it didn’t hit the right notes emotionally.

We liked the idea of creating a more papercraft world where the characters lived in this world made out of paper and then we could explore more the idea of these characters living apart and having emotional moments that we turn into puzzles. The puzzles are almost a physical manifestation of their negative emotions in the game now. It felt like a more interesting way to explore the emotional and miscommunication aspects of living apart compared to what we had before. We hired a concept artist, Stephanie, in April 2017, so when she came on board, that’s really where we revamped our art style and we decided that we really wanted to go in a different direction to make it more light-hearted and more pleasing to the eye—it’s much more colourful now. It was a pretty big change; we had quite a bit of art that we ended up having to redo, but I think it was worth it.

Stephanie has taken over as art director of the entire project at this point too. We’re really happy with the work that she’s been doing and the direction that she’s put the game on, and I’m really hoping that’s something that gets appreciated. Honestly, there’s two things that I’m hoping people appreciate: I hope people really like our art, because our art team is really amazing; I really hope that people like our sound, and especially our music. Riley Koenig is our composer, and the music in our game is phenomenal. Every time he delivers a piece, I always get really excited—I get really emotional just listening to the music. And then, I guess on a personal level, I hope people really like playing the puzzles too. [Laughs] But the art and the music, I’m really hoping to get some acknowledgement for those.

OnlySP: For a puzzle game to include an emotional narrative is an unusual choice. Did you consider other gameplay genres when concepting the game?

Laframboise: I actually kind of disagree with this. I feel like my favourite puzzle games in the last five years or so all have a really strong emotional narrative; things like Limbo, Braid, Fez, Brother: Two Sons, The Swapper, The Talos Principle—even Ori and the Blind Forest, which is more on the platformer side. I feel like all the best puzzle games have an actual interesting story because it’s the secondary aspect to the game. That was really the inspiration. I really wanted to make a game that had this strong emotional narrative that felt like a good match for a cool puzzle mechanic. That was one of the things that we wanted to do: not just tell a story, and not just have a cool mechanic, we wanted something that had an interesting story and a mechanic that matched it. That was really the idea behind the game.

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That said, we did explore different genres at one point during the project. There was a point where we tried to do a folding RPG, where it was a top down perspective and the paper was a flat floor and the characters were kind of on top of it and you would flip it over and it would have a top side and bottom side. It would be more like dungeon exploring but it never worked in a way that I was really happy with. A lot of the design sort of made you feel like you wanted to backtrack and explore but when you fold paper it inherently makes the paper smaller, so there were a lot of challenges to it which never felt good gameplay-wise. It also lost that emotional narrative that really meant something to me so I didn’t think it was going to be as good of a game. The RPG thing is something we would like to explore at some point—I really do want to work on an RPG and a combat-driven game—but I didn’t think it was a good fit for folding.

OnlySP: A Fold Apart has won a number of awards throughout development. Has this placed additional pressure on the team to deliver the final product?

Laframboise: I don’t think so. I think there’s a lot of pressure to deliver a good final project regardless of any awards we’ve won. I wouldn’t say that any of the awards that we have won have been like, “oh my goodness, now we have to live up to it.” The awards that we’ve won have been in the context of the build that we have presented at those events so I think they were justified for what we showed. I think it is more like we have a lot of internal pressure to deliver the best game that we can. I’m really excited about the progress that we made and the work the team’s done. I’m hoping that people like the game. If we end up winning awards after launch, that would be great. Like I said, it would be really cool if we got some acknowledgement for our sound, our music, and our art. Those are our really big strong points. Hopefully the puzzle design as well. It’s not something we really care much about though to be honest. I mostly care about making sure the game comes out and people enjoy it. I feel like we are going to have some people really enjoy it based on experiences that we’ve had at conferences we have gone to, like PAX South and East. People have played the game and cried at the tutorial level which is honestly the happiest level of the game so if they are crying there, I think we might have people cry much more during the rest of the game. [Laughs] I feel good and bad when I see people cry during the game—it’s good because I’m glad they’re feeling emotional, but I feel bad because people are still feeling sad after playing something I made.

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I’m hoping that the story and the puzzle and the art and music all come together to create something special that people will really enjoy playing.

OnlySP: A Fold Apart is scheduled for a Spring 2019 release date. Are you planning on announcing a set release date and if so, can you share when our readers might be able to play the game?

Laframboise: Unfortunately, we are not ready to announce the release date. It’s not that we don’t want to announce it. In some ways it’s just because releasing on consoles is a bit of a black box for us and there is a certification process involved that we haven’t gone through as a studio yet. We have talked to other studios and we have a general idea of how long things will take. The honest answer is that we just don’t know. I don’t want to set a date and then change it. We know it is going to come out on PC and Switch in the spring, which is the end of March to the end of June. Production-wise we’re on pace to have the game done very soon.

If you’re interested in keeping up to date with our release date, we have a newsletter you can sign up for on our website.

A Fold Apart screenshot 4

A Fold Apart launches on PC and Nintendo Switch in early 2019, followed by PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For more on the game and the world of single-player gaming, stay tuned to OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

 

What does a fitness instructor like to do with their spare time? Write about video games obviously. Amy has been obsessed with video games ever since watching her parents play Crash Bandicoot on PS1. All these years later, she is thrilled to get to share her thoughts on the games she loves so much.

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Interview

The Long Return Creates a Beautiful Aesthetic in Each Level — An Interview With Max Nielsen

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The Long Return is a beautiful third-person puzzle adventure game, following the story of an orphaned cub. The player explores hand crafted levels as the cub retraces the steps it once took with his mother. The Long Return’s level design is familiar yet still distinct and refreshing, taking inspiration from both new and old games to create this muted low poly feel.

This gorgeous, debut project is the work of solo developer Max Nielsen. Although he is currently finalising the game ahead of its release later this year, he took the time to talk to OnlySP to reflect and tell us more.


OnlySP: What inspired you to bring The Long Return to life? Was it an idea you were sitting on for a while or did it come on quite suddenly?

Nielsen: Actually, I never planned on releasing this game, or even finishing it. I had just quit my job at Microsoft and wanted to create a quick demo for my portfolio, so that I could apply for jobs in the industry. At the time I was working on a 2D RPG mostly for fun, and I knew I would need to make something in 3D for the bigger studios to give me a chance. So I decided to make a fairly simple demo with around 10 minutes of gameplay. However, while working on it, I got offered a job as an application consultant at a great company, and they said they would let me work on my own games and run my own company on the side, so I accepted the job and since then I have been working on this game as a hobby on my free time.

OnlySP: Each zone in The Long Return has such a pleasing aesthetic, how did you go about level design in a mostly natural world?

Nielsen: I am a huge Nintendo fan, Zelda OoT is still my favorite single player game ever, and I had just played through Zelda BotW, and wanted to create a world with a similar color palette and feel. After trying out a few different things I decided to use the low poly style because that would mean I could actually model some stuff by myself. I think I’ve gone through the level design of each zone in my game at least 10 times since I started, it’s crazy how much you learn just by trial and error (although time-consuming).

OnlySP: Will the game have a stronger focus on gameplay and location or story. Is The Long Return is a mix of the two?

Nielsen: Since the start I really wanted to tell a story without any words or text, and I have kept true to that. Instead I tell the story using memories and visuals. This does set certain limits to how gripping and detailed the story can be, especially when working with animals, but I think the message comes across quite well. The game is, at its core, a puzzle/adventure game, and you spend most of your time solving different puzzles and finding your way past obstacles, accompanied by an amazing original soundtrack that I still cannot believe is for my game.

OnlySP: Being your first big project game, what have you learned during development?

Nielsen: That list is incredibly long, and hopefully I can create a post-mortem detailing most of it. But I would say the main things I will take away from this project is:

– Plan, research and test; When starting out I kind of just created features for the game by trial and error, this leads to some really messy code. Nowadays I always make sure to properly plan, take notes, research best practices and test everything in a dev-environment before putting it in my game.
– Marketing is a necessary evil, even as a hobby developer with very limited time, I still don’t do enough of it, shame!
– It’s okay to take a day off, don’t burn out, it’s supposed to be fun!

OnlySP: Overall, how long has it taken for you to develop The Long Return?

Nielsen: Roughly a year. But I’ve been working on games for 4-5 years before that as a hobby.

OnlySP: Do you have any plans after The Long Return is released?

Nielsen: Big, BIG plans, haha. While I love this game and all I’ve learned, I am so excited to start my next project. It is much more “my type of game” and I have very high hopes for it. I won’t say too much yet, but it will combine my two favorite genres of single player games; RPG and city management.

The Long Return is set to release in August 2019.

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