Big adventures with a little fox — A Tunic interview

Tunic’s vibrant color palette pairs up with an isometric camera to offer a game that plays as good as it looks. An action adventure game with lots of heart, there is still a lot we don’t know about the game’s fox protagonist and the world that it inhabits.

I was able to check out Tunic at PAX South at the Finji booth. A large, sprawling banner of the protagonist fox holding a sword and shield greeted me as I approached. As I sat down to play the demo, I was given the controller and prompted to wake a sleeping fox which was resting on the shore of a mysterious island.

As I explored the island I found more danger than my unequipped foxy friend was prepared to handle. White blobs with eyes threatened to attack me, hopping closer and closer as I drew near. I explored a bit through a doorway nearby and found within its shelter a treasure chest — inside was a stick! After equipping this stick to use as a weapon, I went back to face the evil I found lurking about earlier and swung my makeshift sword with reckless abandon, defeating the enemies. As I continued to explore I eventually found myself a proper sword and was then able to cut through thick bushes that had previously blocked my progress.

Enemies began getting more and more challenging as I pushed further through the land, with some requiring use of precise timing to dodge and counter their attacks. Conveniently, I could lock onto enemies and they give a visual flash of color before attacking, letting me know the perfect opportunity to avoid it. The whole experience was tough but fair, but as I came to the boss fight, at the end of the demo, I was no match for its intense speed and power. I quickly fell to its prowess and, even though I had failed, the demo unfurled a splash screen, indicating to me that my fate was intentional.

I got a chance to ask Andrew Shouldice, the lead developer on Tunic, about his mysterious game and the development behind it.

Bryan: Tunic is a game that stars a fox amid ‘spooky ruins’ and that’s about all we know. Does the fox have a name or is there anything else you can tell us about the story of the game?

Andrew: It’s never really felt right to give the little fox a name, because it’s kind of meant to be You, The Player. One of the things I really cherish in games is the feeling of actually exploring — the point where the distance between player and player character is as short as possible. The fox knows as much as you do about this new world, which is to say, not much at all. Go! Explore! This is a projection of you into the game, figuring things out as you go.

B: How did you come up with ideas for your game?

A: Inspiration comes from all kinds of places. Books, other games, walks in the woods. The challenge is finding out which of those ideas fit in, which don’t, and which fit in but are out of scope. The TUNIC team is very small, so picking battles is really important. We want to make sure those that do get implemented are the right ones, and are done right. 🙂

B: Upon playing the game at PAX South, I was surprised to see how much it reminded me of Ocarina of Time with the progression of your character. What kind of weapons can we expect in the final release?

A: In the demo, you can find a stick, a sword, a shield, and some other hidden goodies. Without spoiling anything, you can certainly expect some more “traditional” items throughout the world. There are also more… unusual things hidden around, which may prove to be more important than your everyday weapons.

B: You have a fabricated language that you created for the game. When I first saw it, I found it a bit humorous — in a good way — because of the absurdity of the prompts, not knowing what any of it meant. What were the challenges in making your own language and are there any other languages it references?

A: Yeah, one of the ways I hope to evoke a feeling of not belonging is to have the text in the world appear like it’s not meant for you. Whether they’re meaningless or not, it’s challenging to make glyphs that appear like part of a real language — having some amount of visual consistency without making it too homogeneous and bland.

I also wanted to make sure it wasn’t cribbing directly from any real-world alphabet. If it’s supposed to look strange and mysterious, it should look that way for everyone, regardless of what alphabet they use.

B: I heard a story that when Tunic dropped on the Microsoft E3 event stage last year, you had no idea that it was going to be featured during the presentation. What did you think about that kind of exposure for your humble indie game?

A: We knew it was going to be there, we just didn’t know exactly when in the stage event it was going to be, so every time the screen went black my heart skipped a beat, wondering if this was going to be it. 🙂 We were in the audience, hearts racing.

It was a bit surreal! I didn’t know that anyone was going to talk about the game after the trailer ran, let alone Phil Spencer himself giving a shoutout to my hometown. It was definitely one of those moments that made me both very proud and deeply appreciative of everyone who has helped this game on its journey.

Tunic

B: I have to admit that I was defeated by the boss at the end of the demo, as I assume most were. Is this the level of difficulty you expect players to face in the final release or will we see an easier version?

A: I love challenges that make you think “oooh, I’m not supposed to be here am I”. That being said, the main goal is not making a game that is brutally difficult. It’s safe to say that players will be facing terrible monsters that feel well above their pay grade, but I believe in you and know you can do it! 🙂

(But yes, the boss at the end of the demo is meant to kill you — although it is possible to defeat)

B: You’ve been very transparent with the development of the game with your developer videos on YouTube, and I wanted to thank you for supporting the game development community with them. Were there any particular challenges in releasing these ‘teasers’ of the game?

A: Sharing development progress on a game about discovery is tricky. I’ve come to realise that my favourite part of games is the feeling of potential, and the prospect of novelty and discovery on the horizon. There are plenty of things I could spill the beans on, but I’d really love for people to stumble upon them themselves when they play.

In the meantime, it’s fun to show behind-the-scenes stuff like animation techniques, trailer storyboarding, and lighting breakdowns.

Tunic

With its open exploration nature and gorgeous visuals, it’s easy to see why Tunic has gotten so much attention. Likening it to Zelda meets Dark Souls wouldn’t be too far from a basic concept, but Tunic has so much more to offer with its charm and varied gameplay. I loved what I got a chance to play so far and can’t wait to see more of the game as it continues development.

Tunic is an Xbox One console-exclusive and is also scheduled to release on PC simultaneously. Check out the website for the game and follow the development on Twitter for more information.

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