Big Two Brothers Screenshot

GenGAME Exclusive Interview: Two Brothers Devs Talk Zelda Connections, Blending Modern and Retro

Two Brothers is an Indie game that we’ve been following for some time now here at GenGAME. Recently I had the chance to interview three members of the AckkStudios development team about the game, and lots of new and exciting details were revealed. Brian, (creator of the game, its engine, and many of the sprites) Andrew, (the game’s leading composer) and Brigid (designer of the game’s artwork) all joined me to talk about a wide range of topics including the game’s inspirations, its unique and diverse atmosphere and environments, the intricate character interaction system, and more. Read on to see why you should be interested in Two Brothers.

GenGAME: To someone who has no knowledge of Two Brothers up to this point, how would you describe the game?

AckkStudios: Imagine your favorite Gameboy action RPG from your childhood, mixed with a lot of really modern game design concepts. Throw in some odd cool ideas, and you have Two Brothers.

GG: What kind of things inspired you to make Two Brothers? What were some of the beginning ideas that came together to put things in motion?

AS: A few years ago there was this demake fad where everyone was taking modern games and turning them in to Gameboy style screenshot mocks. Brian mocked up a few screenshots of a game that looked a lot like Two Brothers for fun. It wasn’t supposed to be a game already in existance, but rather a Gameboy game he was imagining. At the time, we were all working on seperate projects, aware of each others’ work, and close friends… Brian started to create a prototype game where you played as a black and white hero, trying to save colored relics from this evil force. The game itself was very short, lots of fun, but it was just a prototype. He showed us the game, and from there a LOT of ideas came from it.

GG: We know that story plays a huge role in Two Brothers. When you started putting all these ideas together, did you develop a story around gameplay ideas, or vice versa?

AS: That’s actually pretty tough… it feels like a really long time ago. The story was born from seeing the gameplay. But as the story the developed, we added to the gameplay to reflect the story. They are so intertwined, I don’t think one would able to happen without the other.

GG: Tell us a little about the story and how it relates to the core gameplay.

AS: Well, early on in the game the hero, Roy, is killed. He awakes in the after life, and finds a world filled with colors and strange objects. He’s told that it’s not his time to pass on, as something is binding him to the earth, and he’s sent back to life. However, once he’s experienced this once… he becomes addicted to the colors and feelings of the after life, and quickly begins to find a link on earth.

In terms of the gameplay, the player returns to the after life whenever they die. There is no stopping in gameplay. Everything is instant, one second you’re alive… the other you’re dead. The player can return by jumping to the land below and quickly get back in to the action…. The crossing between the living and the dead is a big part of the gameplay and story. There are many times where the player needs to quickly go between them, solving puzzles in both realms.

I would also like to note that all the characters that die in the game’s story will go to that after life… most without the ability to travel freely between the two. You can converse with them, and such.

GG: How expansive is the overworld of the afterlife in comparison to the land of the living?

AS: It’s pretty big. It gets bigger every day. There are lots of hidden things up there… a few side quests… a few things we plan on keeping hidden well into the games release. Stuff for people to find maybe in a year or two after the games launch… the after life hub is not a mirror image of the land of the living. It’s very much its own landscape. You can see areas from the living realm, and jump to many of them, however.

GG: Getting back to the story, what can you tell us about the opposition that Roy faces? Is there a central antagonist in the game? What’s holding Roy back from his quest for color?

AS: Haha, we always fear this question. For now, we will decline to answer, as it’s really spoiling. Lets just say it’s not a Ganon/Link relationship by any means. And before any rumors start popping up, it’s not your brother either. Nothing like that.

GG: In the past you’ve said that Two Brothers will use a character interaction system inspired by games like Mass Effect. How much can you change the game based on your choices? Chrono Trigger, another game you’ve cited as inspiration, has multiple endings. Could we see something like that in Two Brothers?

AS: Your choices influence the layout of the final area, as well as the deaths of some characters, and some other pretty major events. It’s not QUITE the scale of Mass Effect, it’s more of the Gameboy imagining of Mass Effects system. Also for Chrono Trigger and it’s multiple endings… the answer is yes. We have some plans for that at the moment, and the system is in place to feature them. So you can expect some!

GG: Let’s talk a little about the items and weapons in the game. The Gameboy-inspired feel of the game has me thinking of the Gameboy Zelda games. Can we expect to see a large Zelda-like arsenal of items and weapons?

AS: You have a LOT of swords. Samurai swords, rapiers, whips, axes, broad swords, comically large anime swords… the weapon selection is closer to Dragon Warrior than Zelda I’d say. There are also some odd items that are different than things you’d find in Zelda. Remember that Roy is an inventor, so kinda how Jeff would make new items over night in Mother 2, Roy or Biv will sometimes do the same.

GG: And are these items mostly used for battle, or are they worked into the puzzle elements of the game as well?

AS: Some will be worked into puzzles later on in the game. But it’s not the temple-item-puzzle-solver-magic-device sytem that Zelda uses… each area will not always give you an item you need to complete it and go on. Zelda did that to confine the player to which areas they do in which order… our game is a lot more open than that. You can do a lot of areas in whatever order you like.

GG: So can we expect Two Brothers to have a relatively open-world style of gameplay?

AS: Yes. But not on the scale of something like GTA or Red Dead Redemption. We still want the Gameboy feel, and the story does confine you a little bit. Imagine Shadow of the Colossus if you could tackle the Colossi in any order. But that’s just for one section of the game, then it changes… still open, but no longer a fair comparison. Or Majora’s Mask if you could do any of the four temples in any order. Sadly, we don’t have a vechicle stealing system, haha.

GG: Maybe you can sneak that into Two Brothers 2 haha.

AS: Haha!

GG: So tell us a little about the overworld. What is the world of Two Brothers like?

AS: The overworld is very much like a classical JRPG. The world of Two Brothers is a little odd. People live inside giant animal houses that are very much part of their families. Every building is an animal. Think Jabu Jabu from Ocarina of Time, but if every single house was like that… except funished rather nicely. There are plenty of serious moments and characters in the world, and plenty of quirky ones. Each town has a bar where you can get in to bar fights, over hear funny conversation, and meet new people. All of the characters in the world are important; if they don’t have somtehing vital or funny to say, they don’t make the cut. In a way, the world is a little bit like the Mother series… which was not intentional when we first began talking about our inspirations for the game.

GG: Sounds like the world has a pretty in depth social aspect! What can you tell us about the physical world? Can we expect diverse environments?

AS: Absolutely. Each new area has all new graphics, unless something really worked from before. We want every location to feel different, like it has its own culture and look. Off the top of my head there are canyons, deserts, mountains, bay, islands, volcano, underground catacombs… a gigantic library, various cities… archaeological dig sites. And that’s just the land of the living

As for the afterlife… that stuff is just flat-out out of this world! Expect locations made of earth-like areas, but also some things that are just not normal… from there, you can see the planet down below, locate things you may have not known were there from up close.

GG: You mentioned earlier that there will be puzzles that involve jumping back and forth between life and death. Will there be ways to access the afterlife other than dying? I’m reminded of the Light World/Dark World aspect of Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past in which portals and a mirror were used to jump back and forth between two worlds.

AS: No, you need to literally die. We really want to drive in the concept of what Roy is doing… as it may not be the best of ideas.

GG: That sounds pretty intense. It seems like Two Brothers is going for a sort of dark and mature atmosphere.

AS: Sort of… referencing a game I didn’t think was as influential as it appears to be… sort of how Mother goes between quirky, serious, and down right depressing… our game shifts quite a bit too. It’s still a game.

Dying isn’t a big deal in most games…so we are sort of playing with how light-hearted dying in games can be.

GG: One element that can really play a huge role in setting the mood for a game that has emotional shifts is music. Can you tell us about the music in Two Brothers?

AS: Yes! That’s one of the things we’ve had the most fun with. The music in Two Brothers begins as very primitive Gameboy like music with only a few musical instruments playing. As the game goes on and Roy collects more color, and finds more areas filled with new colors, the music becomes more realistic. As for the influences… Lufia 2 inspired a lot of the score, as well as the first Wild Arms game, and of course Final Fantasy 6. As the game’s score gets more realistic, it starts to resemble something closer to Ravel, Debussy, or Brahms. Very romantic, big orchestral guys.

GG: It almost seems like the game plays out as a metaphor of the evolution of video games.

AS: That’s the idea!

GG: So let’s shift gears a little bit here and talk about life as a indie game developer. What are some of the obstacles you face, both in creating Two Brothers, and in establshing AckkStudios in the gaming industry?

AS: You have to check your email a LOT. And Facebook. Normal challenges there… knowing that it’s a risk, working as hard as you can, hoping it will work out. We’ve put a lot of our lives on hold to work on this project. We’ve all had to sacrifice things to make this project the way we want it to be.

GG: What keeps you going when you the development process seems endless?

AS: The game… we still get excited about it. And once we test it, and hit a point where there isn’t any more, we just want to make more. That and the few beta testers we’ve had have all shown an overwhelming reponse to the game and it’s world… when our testing sessions end a few of them have gotten a little angry at us for not letting them keep going… it’s what we want to do. we love doing this… we all do. We’ve all made other projects in the past, but this is what we TRULY want to make.

GG: Judging by your recently launched Kickstarter page, it looks like the game is really gathering a strong following. I know there are lots of people eager to know when they can expect a demo, or even the full game. Where are you guys at in terms of development, and what are you hoping to accomplish with your funding from Kickstarter?

AS: Well, the time frame we’re throwing around together is next year, first quarter. As for a demo, there are plans for that, probably shortly after the Kickstarter we hope. We are thinking of releasing the games first prototype so people can see where it came from. But… that’s only if we can dig it up! As for in terms of development… we’re about 70% complete. But we make a lot of progress each day… at this point in the development we’re past all the major technical issues that require most time to hammer out. As for the funding, everything we’ve created up to this point as come out of our own pockets. There are a few things we simply can’t afford, and that’s why we created the Kickstarter. People can reference the list on there for a proper breakdown.

GG: We know Two Brothers is planned for a PC release first, and then later Xbox 360 and OSX. What would it take to see it Two Brothers come to other platforms? I know I’d personally love to have it on my 3DS XL via the eShop!

AS: It would take a lot of press, an a bit more money… it’s not impossible. It’s something we’d REALLY love to do. We’re going to be posting our stretch goals soon as we’re almost near $5,000 and we have quite a bit of time to go… those goals will include development costs for porting to iOS and Android. As for the other devices… it’s something we’re working on and would really like to do… but we can’t make an announcment, as that isn’t entirely just on us to say it can happen.

GG: Well I certainly hope you get all the support you need! Closing thought: To gamers that are unsure about Two Brothers, what would you want them to know about this game? What does Two Brothers bring to the table that gamers should be excited about?

AS: It’s a VERY different game. It may look at first glance to be your normal throwback RPG, but that’s 100% intentional. We want you to look at the game and see Zelda, Sword of Mana, Star Ocean, and then when you play it… you’ll realize we love those games, and we want to show you how different they can be. This is a modern game… I mean, it’s a Gameboy style J-action-RPG made in America in the year 2012. It’s people who played those games as children, looking back at them now with all of their other life and game experiences thrown in to the mix. It’s a labor of love, and it’s very much its own thing.

GG: Thank you all for your time. It’s been very interesting and enlightening, and I’m looking forward to playing Two Brothers next year!

AS: Thank you!

To learn more about AckkStudios and Two Brothers you can check out their Facebook page or their Kickstarter page.