GameSkinny stood up with, Michael Godlowski-Maryniak, Lead Programmer, and Alfred Nguyen, Creative Director of ThroughLine Games, for an interview.
EGX saw the “first unveiling of the game” to the public, so this was a big moment for the team — and I bet a massive relief that they can finally talk about Forgotton Anne. The spelling of ‘forgotten’ with an ‘o’ is significant to the story, but of course you won’t know how until you play the whole game.
Forgotton Anne is a “2D sidescrolling cinematic adventure game,” and is “very much a story driven game.” The inspiration for the gameplay is taken from adventure games, and puzzle platformers. The platforming is directly inspired by “cinematic 80s/90s platformers such as Prince of Persia, Another World, and Flashback.” According to ThroughLine Games these types of games have of a “certain weight, or realism” to them, “so [they are] going in that direction with [Forgotton Anne].”
Forgotton Anne is set in a place called The Forgotton Realm, “imagine all the things you have lost over the course of your lifetime, it can be anything from the odd sock under the bed to old toys you have left in the attic,” these forgotten objects then appear in the Forgotton Realm. They are no longer just inanimate objects however, as they “take on life as creatures called Forgotlings.”
The story follows two humans who find themselves among the Forgotlings, “an old man called Bonku, and a young girl called Anne.” The mystery of the story, “and what really drives the story forward” is how these two people ended up the the Forgotton Realm, and their quest to return to the human world.
Forgotton Anne’s world reminded me of Inside Out, by Pixar. When I brought this up Alfred responded saying “[ThroughLine Games] is trying to mix in eastern and western aesthetic and design sensibilities.” With one of the major inspirations for the aesthetic coming from Studio Ghibli, but also other animation studios in Japan, the western inspirations come from “darker western fairy tails”, such as Pan’s Labyrinth.
As Alfred very much has a background in film, “it was very natural for [ThroughLine Games] to have a cinematic presentation with the story telling.” Everything is also done very traditionally, as the game is hand drawn animation. “Most of our main characters are hand drawn sprite sheets, and also with the environment we wanted it to feel hand crafted, and painted, and really unique.” It sounds like ThroughLine Games wants to ensure that every environment you go through feels unique, ensuring that you are never, or rarely, seeing the same things over and over. So inspiration was taken from all over the animation world.
Michael then jumped in to talk about the focus of the animations being on “immersion so that you feel like you’re playing in this animated feature film.” This is shown through the smoothness of the animations, where “you will feel like there are a lot of transition animations from state to state, and [ThroughLine Games wasn’t] focusing on the snappiness of the controls by the visual side.”
“seamlessness is a thing in our teaser, it’s a key concept with [Forgotton Anne], and it should feel seamless. This is everything from how [ThroughLine Games] renders most of [their] cinematics in game. There are no difference between cutscenes, and in game it’s a smooth zoom in and out. This extends to everything from the story, to how we engage the player with dialogue options.
This whole seamless transition from game to cutscene has been “seen a lot with 3D games,” such as Max Payne 3, or GTA V. Alfred talks about how “the lines have been blurred, when are you watching something, when are you playing it.” But he then talks about how in the “2D games arena many games continue in this old tradition, where there’s a seamless cinematic presentation, it’s really something that [ThroughLine Games is] trying to do.”
But just because the game is 2D doesn’t mean that you can’t enter buildings by the front or side doors, “also while exploring the world we utilize depth for storytelling, and exploration.” Michael talks about how this depth makes the world look 3 dimensional, even when it isn’t.
“All our assets are 2D, but sometimes it looks like there are some 3 dimensional ones, like stair cases. We did some tricks with parallaxing to make it look like it’s 3 dimensional, but it’s still 2D. We wanted to keep the same art style, and still have the illusion that this is an animated film.”
Even with the very strong Studio Ghibli vibe I get from the art style, Alfred told me that they are also taking inspiration from “often overlooked, great directors in Japan like the late Satoshi Kon, who deals a lot with the subconscious. So we are drawing inspiration from a lot of different sources.”
I then felt we talked about the art, and design that went into that enough, so I wanted to talk about the actual gameplay. Alfred explains:
“It’s rooted in the platforming genre, so you can run, jump, sprint, climb, navigate in and out of the [previously mentioned] depth, and travel up and down stairs. But the key mechanic is that as Anne, the main protagonist, you have this magical stone called the Arca that you wear on your hand. This enables you to manipulate energy in your surroundings, as everything in the Forgotten Realm — a lot of it — is made up of Anima energy — or is powered by Anima energy. Using the stone, you can go into Anima vision, which is sensing all the Anima in your surroundings. You can draw and transfer Anima from different sources, this could be from the machines which are being built by Master Bonku, to also Forgotlings — their souls are Anima.
One of the key parts of the games is that “you sometimes have the choice to decide the fate of Forgotlings,” due to the powerful ability of the Arca stone. As Anne, you are the “enforcer trying to keep order in the Forgotton Realm”, but are also working for “Master Bonku as he is trying to get the both of you back to the human realm.”
You are trying to keep order as “at the beginning of the game there is this rebellion forming, a group of Forgotlings who are actually against Master Bonku and Anne.” You then obviously have to “squash this rebellion”, but I get the feeling due to the emphasis on the narrative, and dialogue, that you may be able to fight with them — is Master Bonku a great or terrible Master?
I suddenly was wondering if the rebellion was player driven; if your actions effected when they would be fully formed. Alfred dives in telling me that “it’s a set story, but your choices during dialogue and gameplay, certain actions you make can actually affect the outcome of different situations. Depending how you play the game, certain stuff might look a bit different.” This extends to how characters react to you as well.
My final question to Alfred and Michael was a simple, but mean question. I asked them to describe Forgotton Anne in 4 words. Alfred gave the answer:
seamless, cinematic, adventure, hand-crafted
Michael agreed with this.
I want to once again give a massive thank you to both Alfred, and Michael, for taking the time to talk to me about their game.
Forgotton Anne is due out in 2017, for Xbox One, PS4, and Steam.