Alien Pixel Studios are set to release their new indie Metroidvania game, Unbound: Worlds Apart, this coming Wednesday, July 28th. The hand-drawn puzzle-platformer will have you channeling unique powers as you make your way through challenging worlds, overcoming the beasts and dangers that lay within them. But before the game comes out, we got to chat with game designer Sergiu Craitou about the game and the work that went into it.
BG: Hey Sergiu, how have all of you been doing during the pandemic?
SC: We went through a lot during the pandemic. We had a small office in Bucharest, but when the pandemic hit the country hard, we very quickly decided to work from home to keep safe and save some money. Surprisingly, our productivity was actually better. If you have a plan in place and everyone knows what to do, then working from home can go very smoothly. The downside is that of course, we miss human interaction! We also managed to strike a partnership with Triple Dragons during this time and get more funds, which allowed us to increase the size of the Alien Pixel team and accelerate game development for Unbound: Worlds Apart.
Aside from the game, what have you been doing to stay busy and active during this time?
We all moved to the countryside so there's lots of things to do; from gardening to repairing the house, or taking care of animals and barbecuing.
Getting right to it, how did the concept for Unbound: Worlds Apart come about?
The idea for Unbound: Worlds Apart came somewhere in mid-2016. It started as a 3D project, where players have a magic torch that affects the environment based on some lighting. We quickly realized that it is better to make the project 2D and find a main gameplay mechanic similar to the torch. I was watching the Architects' music video "Gone With the Wind", and they had a big portal in the background. That's how it clicked. The next question was 'how can we create a portal mechanic that's fresh, interesting, and enjoyable in-game?' The idea hit us that we can have multiple portals, each affecting the character or environment in different ways.
Did you have an idea for the game's concept first and worked to make that happen, or was the story fleshed out first?
Unbound: Worlds Apart evolved around gameplay mechanics, and its story came way later. We had different story prototypes but kept building on top of them. We had the world settings, some characters, and even some quests ready to go when we decided to ask Dave Cook to help shape and connect everything into a deeper story. Now, the narrative has expanded to have a very important role in-game.
What was the motivation to go for the Metroidvania elements for this particular game?
It started as a linear puzzle-platformer – the Metroidvania elements came later. I think the way that the game evolved over time asked for some Metroidvania stuff. We wanted to give players the option to complete different puzzles or explore different parts of the map, so had to change the level design from linear to non-linear. Adding abilities was the next huge step for the game, and it was very painful for the Alien Pixel team because we took this decision later in development. Basically, we had to redesign lots of levels and puzzles, but at the same time, it opened the game to new ways of creativity – especially regarding game design. The end result feels more dynamic and rewarding. Lastly, we added boss fights, which were pretty interesting to design since you don't combat enemies in Unbound: Worlds Apart, but use portals to outmaneuver and defeat them.
What unique elements did you add to the game's mechanics to make it stand out from other titles in the genre?
Having different magic portals that affect character movement or the environment, combined with beautiful hand-drawn art, makes it stand out.
What was the inspiration for the art style and the characters we get to see?
Each character has a purpose in the game's story, so we wanted to emphasize their role by adding specific objects or accessories to their designs. We oversized these elements to make it even clearer to the player what each character is about. This technique helped us to come up with a lot of interesting and unique silhouettes. Unbound: Worlds Apart features a lot of characters so it was quite challenging to come up with new ideas for all of them!
When designing the maps and monsters, how was it creating something challenging but not overkill like some Metroidvania titles can be?
Every map section in Unbound: Worlds Apart is tied to a specific portal and always starts with some easy challenges. Let's call them fake tutorials, designed to teach the player how each portal works before gameplay gradually becomes harder. Even at the end of the game, we introduce new elements through simpler challenges. On top of that, every map section includes optional puzzles and platforming which are very hard, but not mandatory to finish the game – designed for gamers who are looking for a challenge. What's very interesting is that some challenges can be done in multiple ways. For example, a puzzle can be solved through platforming or a platforming section can reduce in difficulty if you first solve it as a puzzle.
How was the process in getting the music together for this game and finding the right tone to match the action?
We are working with Alexey Nechaev, a very talented composer who previously worked on the game Inmost. Besides music, he also did sound design for Unbound: Worlds Apart. Our first priority was to find a general musical theme to match the game's mood and atmosphere. After that, we created lots of variations on it to blend with gameplay. The music is super important because it adds a lot to the player's level of immersion, so we tried to find the perfect match.
How do you feel about the final version of the game as you're about to release it?
We feel very confident about Unbound: Worlds Apart and how it has been shaped over the years. The Alien Pixel team enjoys it every time we play, and we hope the players will love it as well.
What do you hope people take away from the game when they play it?
Unbound: Worlds Apart is an atmospheric puzzle-platformer in which players can explore magical hand-drawn worlds, an intriguing story, and of course, can test their skills conjuring unique portals. We hope that gamers everywhere will have a great experience playing Unbound: Worlds Apart.
Is there anything else you'd like to promote that we didn't chat about?