We found ourselves quite taken with puzzle-platformer Etherborn after our hands-on preview back in March, so naturally jumped at the chance to interview Creative Director and Altered Matter Co-Founder, Samuel Cohen, about the project on the eve of its launch.
"I’d even build my ideas in Lego first so I could easily see and manipulate the structures before we spent time and effort putting them in-game."
Early on I realized that when creating a game, you have to think about where you put the limits. In a platforming game, the first limit can even be the direction of gravity. But if you multiply that by six (one per axis), you’re probably going to have a couple of headaches. You can solve that limitation by creating others, like making linear levels, or basing your movements on a stamina bar, or even not making a platformer at all. But with Etherborn, the point was precisely to create ambiguous and explorable stages that would act as navigational puzzles, which means the stages could very easily fall apart due to the tiniest of things. One wall a bit too high, and you may be able to reach it jumping horizontally from the other side of the world. One too short, and you might be able to fall into an unintended platform. So yeah, in the end, many, many hours were spent on each corner of the game because in our case they’d make a vast difference on the end result.
We find the game to be a very meditative experience; did you build it with specific intent towards encouraging mindfulness?
I wouldn’t say there was an intention of going towards the specific concept of mindfulness, but I get where this question comes from, because in a way, it intersects with our objectives. We did build the game with the intention of stimulating the players' sensibility, with a kind of design and art that would encourage a less focused play style. If you try to be too stubborn finding the correct paths and the solutions, the game can actually become harder. Since we’ve been watching literally hundreds of players since we started showing the first prototypes at events, we’ve seen an entire spectrum of behaviour and reactions at this point.
And what seems to always get the best results is when players just try to flow with the levels, explore a bit here and there, visualize the landscape in their mind, and try alternatives if their first ideas were not getting a result. Then it’s going to feel far more comfortable and the game should click in terms of “what do I have to do now”. But as humans, we usually don’t operate like this, myself included. We are very stubborn creatures and need answers right away. For this reason, we wanted to use all of the artistic elements of the game to express that you can just take your time, experiment, and figure out everything at a slower pace. The story also talks about the necessity of putting yourself and your world into question, although told in a relatively abstract way, so I think that helps add to the meditative tone.
Meet the Altered Matter team, who you can learn more about here.
How did you come to work with FoxNext? Have they been involved in the game’s development at all, or only its promotion?
FoxNext were planning on starting their Indie Fund and at the onset were looking around for potential games that they believed matched their vision - games that are innovative and a little different, but already have a bit of a track record. We’d been successful on FIG, won a few awards at events and even had a decent announcement so we had some traction already. But we were constantly in fear of not being able to deliver the finished game to all major consoles and PC at the same time. Their help ensured us more breathing room to finalize the game across all platforms and also time to polish and launch at a better time. They have also helped us with the production and planning for the final steps of development and the release, but full creative control of the game and it’s promotion was with us.
With your first project now in the bag, what’s next for Altered Matter?
It’s still a little hard to believe the game is actually out so we’re still stuck in a bit of haze and looking at what the world thinks of our first creation. Depending on how the game does in the next few months will pretty much determine our own future. We have ideas of what we could try next of course, but these are just tiny sparks of light in the back of our minds.
A huge thank you to Samuel for taking the time to extensively answer our questions during what we're sure is an incredibly busy launch period!
For more on Etherborn, check back in with Pass the Controller tomorrow to read our review.
After months of persistent rumours, last week Nintendo finally revealed the purported Switch Mini to be the Switch Lite, scheduled for release 20 September. Strictly a portable console, Switch Lite is of a smaller stature and lighter weight, while boasting greater battery life to keep you gaming on the go for longer. At a cheaper RRP to boot, you’d think everything was gravy, but that’d be to overlook the lack of TV support, detachable Joy-Cons, motion controls, HD rumble, and an IR camera. Keeping that upstairs, do the pros outweigh the cons?
Switch Lite: The Switch that doesn't switch.
Do I need a Switch Lite? Absolutely not. My original Switch is still serving its purpose well, both at home and on the road, but that hasn’t stopped me coveting one since the redesign was announced.
The sleek new addition to the Switch family is, in my opinion, a much better-looking console than its bigger brother. The lack of removable Joy-Cons and the addition of a proper d-pad give it a solid, more premium look and perhaps make it a bit more robust, too.
I have no problem with Nintendo muddying the waters by making a Switch that doesn’t switch. I use mine as a handheld most of the time, and had the Lite been available at launch, the lower price, longer battery life and appealing design probably would’ve swayed me to go that way from the start.
The only part I don’t like is the smaller screen. Some of the more visually demanding games already feel a little cramped on a regular Switch’s 6.2-inch display, so to reduce it even further to 5.5-inches could be pushing it.
But, as I said, my original Switch is still serving me well, so I won’t be getting one. I’ll wait for the inevitable release of a ‘New’ Nintendo Switch instead.
Sticking with this guy is probably for the best.
I've never been into the portable side of gaming so, from a purely personal standpoint, the best outcome for me would be the Switch Lite bombing catastrophically, reaching the unenviable status of Atari E.T. cartridges and (fingers crossed) Google Stadia. It's not that I actively want Nintendo to fail, I'd simply prefer them to concentrate on the things that I might care about.
It seems Nintendo have "fixed" one glaring issue with the Switch (the poorly designed dock which Sam alluded to) at the cost of functionality. This is absolutely fine if you just want to play Skyrim on a train, but I suspect no-one has done that more than once, and even then only to say they've done it.
If you're a fan of gaming on the go, you might get a lot more out of Switch Lite. Sure, it lacks some of the features of the Switch and may be a little more cumbersome than a DS, but we can't expect too much from a company who willingly hired and promoted a guy named after the antagonist of their biggest franchise.
Pictured: Bowser Bowser wins Doug Bowser's heart by sharing his best princess abduction tips.
First things first, the Switch Lite is not aimed at me, and that's OK. In the past I've never opted for one of Nintendo's snazzy, reworked consoles, missing out on the Game Boy Advance SP and even the DS Lite back in the day.
As recently as the 2DS Nintendo has proven there’s a market for something like this though, and it's encouraging that the company is still pushing more options for consumers (and making a spot of money at the same time).
The company has struggled to meet its massive yearly projections and it feels as if Nintendo is the underdog, despite it making over $11billion a year, and this move is one which keeps them on parents' minds for Christmas time.
A "pro" version could come next Christmas, but in the meantime this gives developers confidence there are no plans whatsoever to leave the Switch console family languishing like Ninty did the Wii U, hopefully meaning there are more long-term third-party projects on the way.
In terms of the console itself, not having detachable Joy-Cons is a bit of a shame, but otherwise the tighter size and canny cost-saving measures seem smart and should bring plenty of joy (despite the cons, ba-dum-tss), to young'uns this Christmas.
2006 brought us Nintendo's original Lite handheld in the DS Lite.
So much speculation, so many supposed leaks, and finally, here we are: the Nintendo Switch Lite!
As you may be aware, I've been on the fence with the Switch since its release some two-odd years ago. Is the Lite the answer to my prayers? In short: I think it just might be.
I was one of the ~17 people to own a Wii U in the UK - I still have it by the way, along with a healthy backlog of games to start/finish. Do I feel burnt by it? No, not at all. Did I feel let down by Nintendo's lack of long-term support? Oh, yes indeedy.
But the Lite offers new hope to this cynical old bastard. I really don't get much time to play games at home these days, so a dedicated portable device seems the way to go - and the Xbox, 3DS and Wii U are all ready for a trade-in, too!
The only thing left holding me back are the games on offer (I need at least five big hitters before I’ll drop coins on a console), but with the impending release of both Fire Emblem and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, I think we might finally be there.
Gimme a good Zelda bundle on day one and I'm ready to come back home, Nintendo.
Considering the Switch Lite launches on the same day as Link's Awakening, it's baffling that there doesn't appear to be a bundle for Rob.
What are your thoughts on Nintendo's Switch redesign? Let us know with a comment below.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time inspired a hatred of water-based levels within many members of the N64 generation; its Water Temple was, and still is, an incredibly divisive dungeon which to some sours an otherwise near-perfect game. We’re (mostly) cool with water levels, but not so much the other design staples to follow.
Using Peachette to avoid all contact with the ground is the correct way to play winter levels in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe.
I have no issue with stories that take place in the ocean, like BioShock, but I always feel a certain degree of unease when I'm faced with an underwater journey in an otherwise dry game.
Whilst sub-aquatic sections aren't as ubiquitous in real life as I'd been conditioned to believe by the plumbers and hedgehogs I grew up with, not being able to swim has likely compounded my anxiety. Mario's ability to breathe underwater - a fitting trait for someone in his line of work - makes those levels the most palatable, whereas Sonic sits at the other end of the spectrum with that pant-shitting music that kicks in as he horrifyingly starts to drown.
Games about swimming are far fewer in number than games about war, and with good reason. As a community we've decided that being shot is more entertaining than taking a dip, yet developers often force us to stop having fun at predetermined moments anyway.
Tomb Raider is perhaps the biggest offender, forcing us to dive underwater in each and every instalment. Lara Croft is a terrible human being who gets her kicks from shooting live ammunition at the kindly old man who raised her, by the way - that’s the kind of person that likes to go swimming.
Listen at your own (and your pants') risk.
No one likes to be shushed. Whether at the library (if indeed they’re still a thing?) or perhaps a family gathering, people want the freedom to do as they please.
The same can be true with games, and nothing irks me more than a mandatory stealth section, especially when it flies in the face of the all-guns-blazing approach you were perfectly happy with up to now, thank you very much.
Stealth can be forced in, even to some success, as seen with the likes of Mass Effect 3 and Marvel’s Spider-Man, but when it's optional, and especially if you don't know it's optional, that's when things get really interesting.
In games like Deus Ex or the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, which admittedly emphasise player choice as an ideal, the option is there to go sneaky if you want to take it, or you can just run in and shoot the place up.
In the end there's a satisfaction to finding out you can squirrel out if a situation, if that's what you want to do, but to mandate player behaviour more often than not feels unnatural and just reminds you that you're playing a game.
Deus Ex and other immersive sims do stealth right - they make it entirely optional.
Character creators have always been my least favourite part of any game they’re in. I can tolerate a dodgy level or mission-type because they’re usually a temporary grievance, but with character creators the pain is instant and often permanent.
When I start a game, I want to start the game, not spend half an hour worrying about eyebrow alignment and my avatar’s body mass index. Because I usually rush through these things in order to get to the good stuff, like in Mass Effect, I often end up creating a face that only a Systems Alliance can love, which I then have to stare at for the rest of the game, thus souring the experience.
For my first Skyrim playthrough I made a very generic-looking Nord character, which I rather creatively named Liam. It didn’t suit him, and instead of immersing me further it had the opposite effect whenever I saw it crop up in letters and messages.
By the time I realised how silly it was, I was dozens of hours deep and unwilling to either continue or start all over again. I have since tried restarting, at a much later point in time, with an Argonian named Bask, but there are only so many times one can clear Bleak Falls Barrow...
Liam the nondescript Nord probably looked something like this.
What typical gameplay sections can't you stand? Whether it's wonky driving stints in non-driving games, or maybe tedious escort missions, be sure to let us know with a comment below.
Somehow we’re already into the second half of 2019. After getting over the disturbing realisation that the unrelenting passage of time is all too quickly sending us towards an inevitable death, we took a minute to discuss our favourite games released so far this year. Check ‘em out!
Chris | Guacamelee 2
I dismissed the original Guacamelee as nothing more than one of the countless gimmicky indies that litter digital storefronts, but I rushed to download the sequel - not even six months after it's eventual Xbox One release this January - for reasons completely unrelated to needing a game to discuss in this here Team Talk… Ahem.
Whilst the developers clearly had a lot of fun writing the story, I'm happy to report that the gameplay is all business. Complex systems are disguised as simple mechanics, thanks to intuitive controls, and challenging sections never feel daunting, as muscle memory builds quickly once you get into a rhythm.
The fusion of Mexican wrestling culture and old school platformer is an odd one, for sure. I mean, I like both morphine and ice cream, but you don’t see me blending the two together to create some brain-ruining horror-shake. I hold myself to higher standards than that.
Thanks to DrinkBox Studios’ superior ingenuity though, it works! Guacamelee 2 is refreshingly lighthearted, unashamedly immature, and charmingly addictive. Kinda like morphine. That last part, anyway.
James | Metro Exodus
While a newcomer to the Metro series when I sat down at a preview event earlier in the year, the legacy of the series was long-established as one filled with claustrophobia, survival-horror-tinged action beats and a rich lore to draw from, being based, as it is, on a series of books.
Little did I know how accessible the game would turn out to be and how much fun I'd have with it, despite the frequently underwritten female characters and the odd technical hitch here and there. It certainly did enough to earn a well-deserved 10/10 in my review, anyway.
Its success shows the power of single-player narrative experiences today, even when they aren't exclusively on PlayStation, and the people at 4A Games seem to have the balance right between storytelling and actually providing an engaging gameplay loop.
Of course, the move by publisher Deep Silver to release the PC version exclusively on the Epic Games Store soured the experience for many of the master race, but at least they honoured existing Steam pre-orders. That’s good, right?
Will we see another Metro adventure in the future? While there are no more books to draw on, there are certainly more stories to tell, so here’s hoping!
Liam | Chippy
I’ll be honest and say I’d never heard of Chippy until a Steam code popped into my inbox whilst I was sunning myself in Spain, but after watching some footage and reading about its main concept - which sees you dismantling hulking bosses piece by piece until you’ve exposed their vulnerable core - I was eager to get cracking.
The problem was, like some sort of fool, I’d left my laptop at home - I just knew a Switch, a 2DS XL, a small library of books, and a family wouldn’t be enough to keep me busy by the poolside! Fortunately, the wait was worth it, as Chippy really is quite something.
A twin-stick shooter of the bullet-hell variety, it’s one of those addictive games that has you coming back for more despite repeatedly kicking your arse, which is a strange phenomenon for me, given that I normally avoid those like the plague.
Game of the mid-year might be a bit of a hollow victory seeing as my pickings were incredibly slim (shout out to Swords and Soldiers 2, Crackdown 3 and the fun-yet-frustrating Band of Bastards), but Chippy definitely deserves the nod, if only for forcing me to roll up my sleeves and finally ‘git gud’.
Rob | Heaven’s Vault
How quickly is this year disappearing, folks? As summer's sticky heat reaches me up on Ditchling Mountain, Brighton, I ponder Sam's latest topic: what has been my game of the first six months of 2019?
I had a great time at Rezzed once more, thoroughly enjoying Codemasters' latest DiRT and F1 games - review for the latter on the way - but my personal highlight has to be Inkle Studio's Heaven's Vault.
Honestly, I don't think I've ever been so spellbound by an adventure outside of the Zelda series. Inkle's recipe is thus: one part branching narrative; one part third-person adventure; one part point-and-click; a large dollop of beautiful art/animation; a heaped teaspoon of ethereal soundtrack. I think we can all agree that makes for a most delicious gaming soup, no?
Put it this way - it's going to take one helluva game to knock Heaven's Vault off its perch when it comes time to decide my overall game of the year. Bon appetit!
What's your favourite game of 2019's first six months? Let us know with a comment.