Q&A With Twirlbound

In my ongoing bid to cover more Independently developed games and indie developers, and ahead of my trip to London this weekend for EGX Rezzed, this week lead me to discover a  game on Kickstarter called Pine. Pine, being developed by Twirlbound games operating out of the Netherlands, is an open world survival adventure game made in the same vein as the likes of Don’t Starve, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Horizon Zero dawn. Incorporating many of the same gameplay elements from the aforementioned titled, albeit with it’s own unique graphical style and conceptual design, it also incorporates a combat system heavily influenced by Bloodborne, and from the looks of it, requiring a comparable level of skill and caution to master. This week, I had a Q&A session with the game’s creative director Matthijs van de Laar about what gamers can expect with Pine, and what influenced the game’s creation. Here were his answers:

What were the influences behind your game?

We’ve been mostly inspired by the great action adventure games like The Legend of Zelda and Fable – they tend to strike a chord with people that isn’t being struck enough, we think. Only once every few years a game like that comes by, and there’s still so much to explore within that genre. A very physical, natural feeling to the game was important to us – everything should feel grounded and real, with an easy-to-grasp groundwork of physics and interaction. We look at platformers and jolly action adventures for fun, but we look at more serious games for this grounded look and feel. Some of our team members have credits in cinema, and we all have a general interest in movies and TV – which has been a good influence for Pine’s storytelling, camerawork and rhythm.

What has the developmental process been like?

Starting out as a floating idea about 3 years ago, we’ve done an insane amount of research and prototyping. We wrote several theses on the subjects that are tackled by Pine (mainly about adaptation in game design, machine learning and natural environments), and all that knowledge was brought into a bigger game after graduating last year. It was only when we knew we had something that worked and after thoughtful consideration, that we decided to go at it full time. We worked really hard on the next step, which became Kickstarter – this included trailers, but also a lot of groundwork for the game and systems. Maybe cool to show is this 12-week video of that graduation phase:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhLdiLPQ2Ng

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

The idea process. There is such a wealth of ideas among team members that every meeting is a joy. We’re always bursting with inspiration, and seeing those ideas come to life in the form of environments or specifically the species, is really fun to witness. The alternative evolutionary course of Albamare has been a lot of fun to think about, and we’re not even remotely running out of ideas!

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Being only with 6, we have to make really important decisions sometimes. It’s important to keep the game small enough, but make it feel like an adventure that can last. We have a very strong vision of what it should play like and what the focus should be, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with that vision with only the few people we have. The open-world nature of the game has certainly been one of the tougher aspects (e.g. building the island, letting assets stream and simulating the ecology).

How well has the game been received so far?

We’ve always been blown away by the response, actually since the start! For example, we started out with sending out demos only five weeks into the process. We expected a few dozen testers, mainly from our school, but after about 6 weeks we had 3000 testers – people had been sharing it on Reddit and NeoGaf, and we got a lot of good data out of that. Things kept going like that. We went on the Square Enix Collective without any expectations, and became the highest rated project to date. We signed up for the Unity Awards, and in a completely surprising turn of events even won that one! We applied for a small grant and we got it – and now, on Kickstarter, we raced past 50% in 10 days. Like I said, we’re just pretty much blown away sometimes – the demand for a game like Pine seems to be real.

In respect of the game’s theme, do any of the team have any experience of outdoor survival?

Not really, to be honest – we all have been on camping trips before, but no real survival. It’s more about the theme of adaptation, change and evolution for us. We’ve always had an interest in evolution theory, for its beauty and undeniable systems behind it. When we realized these could be translated into a game, the theme took shape even more.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

We’re currently developing on PC, aiming to bring it to Mac, Windows and Linux. But consoles are definitely in the future vision – depending on publishers and the platform holders’ interest in Pine, we really hope we can take consoles into account early on in the process.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

The only advice I always give to developers or those starting their own company: it’s all about the people you do it with. If I hadn’t met my co-founder Marc early on in high school already, finding out we worked together really well, nothing would have happened. If we hadn’t had such a good cooperation with my companions, Pine wouldn’t have existed. Like Pixar’s president Ed Catmull says: find people you’re intimidated by, professionally. Find those who are absolutely better at things than you are, that’s the only way you can make something truly great! It’s really about the people and what they bring to the table. Recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, be honest to each other!

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

Everywhere! More specifically, we’re on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and email:

http://twitter.com/Twirlbound

http://facebook.com/Twirlbound

http://reddit.com/r/pinegame

pine@twirlbound.com

Do you have anything else to add?

Kickstarter is scary, as you’re putting your whole game AND team online, but it’s so cool to see people engage that it’s all worth it!

Lastly, I would like to thank Matthijs for agreeing to our Q&A, and would like to take this opportunity to wish him the best of luck with the remainder of the Kickstarter campaign.

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