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!
We called Etherborn "outstandingly clever and effortlessly spellbinding" in our review.