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Big Cake Games Interview: Developing Cold Horizon

A polar bear and a gifted child embark on a journey of friendship and survival

Last week, we let you know about an upcoming indie title, Cold Horizon.  I’m pretty excited by this game – I love the painterly, hand-drawn style, and I found the story quite compelling.  Earlier today, developer Big Cake Games released a new teaser trailer, and to coincide with that, I spoke to the team about the game, their inspiration and biggest challenges.

What are some of the creative and cultural influences of the game, given the diverse backgrounds of the development team?

We’re certainly a varied bunch! But that’s definitely a good thing as it inspires us and hopefully guides us toward some incredible possibilities. In Cold Horizon, you’ll see Norwegian influences in the game, you’ll also see Welsh, Brazillian, American, Polish, and others. It’s a deeply personal project for all of us, and we’ve already invested plenty of ourselves into it.

To illustrate that, amongst other things, we will be using a range of different ethnic instruments in the soundtrack including the ones already heard in the trailer – such as the Balinese gamelan and the Armenian Duduk flute.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg (pun possibly intended!) – we’ll have a lot more to show off as we get closer to launch.

How long did it take to develop Cold Horizon’s story?

Pre-production began in September of last year, and the story has been redrafted several times since. Back then, we were rebuilding after things didn’t quite work out with the Metal Gear remake, still trying to figure out our next move. Our artist conceptualised these two very different characters which set the groundwork for the game. Problem was, all we knew is that we wanted them to share in an adventure together. With their obvious differences, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out a way to do that.

Eight months later, we have a beginning, middle and end, with all the core elements of the game’s story finalised heading into early development. We’re clear on the story’s structure, setting, plot, characterisation, how we’re approaching the seasonal changes, as well as cast interactions and their ongoing development throughout the game.

There are still blanks to fill in, mostly related to puzzles, dialogue exchanges and level design, so we’re still bouncing ideas off one another when considering in-game features and mechanics. As a result, we’ve actually included a few unexpected components where they fit and are appropriate. But we want to ensure that the characters and the narrative drive the in-game experience, which is why we’ve taken our time in getting everything just right.

Regarding the hand-drawn animation for the game, was that decision due to a technical aspect or an artistic one?

Definitely an artistic one. We first planned to hand-draw everything, but later decided to just hand-draw the cut-scenes, then digitize the in-game art. That said, many of the assets in-game are hand drawn to give CH a unique feel. All of the promotional art and concepts are hand-drawn as well.

Technically, it would be easier to do everything digitally, but we believe that the artistic style creates a totally different atmosphere for the player, and will help the game to stand out in their memory. It’s important to us that Cold Horizon has a unique identity.

coldhorizonnew

What most excites you about this project, and what is your favourite element of Cold Horizon?

It’s very exciting to see what we can create as a group with various different ideas and personal backgrounds. As development moves ahead, we’re only going to become more aware of each others abilities and work to one another’s strengths.

A popular element of the game amongst the team has definitely been the puzzle-solving component. With the seasonal changes impacting the boy’s abilities throughout the game, we’re very much looking forward to keeping players on their toes with new sets of challenges throughout the journey.

What’s been the most challenging aspect for the project?

Persistence and team work. You can’t always please everyone. Communication and honesty are very important, but also being able to accept compromises in order to make this project happen. Sometimes that’s more of a challenge than some people care to admit.

What is your greatest inspiration when it comes to developing games?

The team are full of lifelong gamers. From the early NES days to the PSX and generation of 3D. But it wasn’t till MGS2 came out on PS2 that Game Director Sheraz really went into and started to research game development. He saw the art of Yoji Shinkawa on the making of MGS2 DVD and was immediately hooked. He’s played lots of games, but always felt something could be different. He wanted to combine story inspired by movies and darkness into the 2D genre. A cute and nice game, with dark content, but also with a unique art style inspired by different artists. Sheraz’s goal is to make the player want to keep on playing, not only for the gameplay and look, but also for the catching story. Sheraz has opted for interesting cutscenes ahead of walls of text and believes that will engage the player, immersing them in the story, rather than encouraging them to skip it.

His greatest inspiration, though, is the passion of all the people working and putting their heart and soul into this project. And, of course, other indie devs who have proven in the past that you don’t need a big AAA-title budget to create an interesting and unique gaming experience.

What advice would you have for budding indie developers?

Don’t be afraid to team up with other people. Embrace it! Having a creative pool of people all working together and moving in the same direction can only breed exciting, and potentially excellent, results.

Also, it’s probably a cliché to say, but, seriously, don’t give up. Keep trying. The simplest things will take you the longest amount of time, but when it all starts coming together, it will be completely worth it.

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AIFgOfJkzQ” width=”500″]

Thanks very much to Ian and Ray from Big Cake Games for distributing our questions to the team – good luck with the project!  Cold Horizon is expected to be released for PC and PS4 later in the year.  You can also check out the game’s Steam Greenlight page if you want to support it.

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Aussie gamer lady who loves fantasy RPGs, board games, sci-fi TV, unicorns, cats and shoes. Fave gaming franchises are Zelda and Final Fantasy. I also sing a little bit, do a spot of cross stitching, and wax lyrical on my chosen topics. I enjoy theorising about foreshadowing in TV shows.