I left my fortress of solitude (one bedroom flat) and ventured into the light and real world today. It was grey and drizzly and about as real as London gets, sweaty commuter tubes (that’s the underground train or ‘subway’ for anyone across the pond) and blank faces of people who are about as animated as an NPC from GTA 3. I’m making this journey because I have been invited up to town for a hands on with Unbox, the upcoming title from Prospect Games, and a chat with the lead developer Andrew Bennison.
Unbox is a charming and fun little physics platformer (physics fun as described by Prospect games. In which you control a box. (that’s right, a box. trust me. its way more fun than it initially sounds) You’re a sentient box from GPS, the global post service, which has self delivering boxes. Except they’re all a bit dumb and so you are the first ‘smart’ sentient box being tested for delivery capabilites. Then off you tootle, rolling and bouncing off on your travels as the first of a new bread. Its an open world explorer with a story line through it. You get different things to deliver to different places and it has puzzles, challenges and collectables along the way. I didn’t get to do any of the story line really, (Andrew talked me through some of it as we played) but what I did do was immensely fun. Who knew? But bouncing a box around on a desert island making deliveries whilst occasionally shooting fireworks at other boxes is a lot of fun.
We sat down to play and I have to say I quite liked the game from the beginning, it reminded me of old classics like Kula world and Crash Bandicoot with very bright and colourful graphics. Its quite a simple game in premise and control, but has its challenges and was fun to play. Andrew talks of big boss fights to come at the end of each of the worlds through the story mode. As I go through the tutorial he guides me up over a hill that looks over the first game world, I was pleasantly surprised, the view from the top looked over a sprawling collection of islands all of which where part of the open world. Its the first world of four, set in an island paradise. He keeps a few details to his chest about the later worlds, only saying that the 2nd world is high up on the mountain tops. All in all its pretty good fun.
We sat for around an hour, tinkering with the tutorials, bouncing around the beautiful island paradise with calypso music in the background. There are customisations for your box, hats and designs to add your own touch. As we played we talked over the game, where its been and where its going. Below is a breakdown of our conversation, put into order. My excitement in playing the game left me a bit all over the place with my questions, but we got the bases covered. When we finished he showed me a video of the multi-player to come (I was secretly hoping to play some of the multi-player, but I guess some things are better left to a touch of mystery) it looks like a great party game, one you can play with 4 people sat on a sofa, cursing each other out as you race and battle in game modes not too dissimilar from the likes of Mario Kart. Its clear the sort of game they are looking to emulate, in my opinion they have done a good job especially considering its still in its Alpha stages. I, for one, am excited to see the final result. Whilst hesitant to get nailed down to a release date or release quarter, the publicist seemed positive for a 2016 release.
TIX – ‘Hi Andrew, thanks for meeting with Thisisxbox and giving us some hands on with your game Unbox. can you tell me about it and what we’re going to play today?’
Andrew – ‘Sure, Unbox is about the ultimate postal service, self delivering cardboard boxes, its a comedy physics game with a big single player component. A sort of ‘Mario’ style system. You’re jumping through worlds, beating enemies defeating bosses and then on the flip side, a local multi-player which is a sort of a throwback to nineties game-play, split screen where your battling each other and racing each other. We’re going to be focusing on the former today More of the single player worlds.’
Tix – ‘Sounds great, I noticed you made a point of saying local multi-player. With a major push towards on-line multi-player in most games was that a conscious decision?
Andrew – Yes, for several reasons really. The primary reason for us going into development was the fact that this is, kinda of, a love letter to all the games we played in the nineties. We wanted to make a local multi-player game because we noticed those experiences are slipping away. If you look on forums and read on line about the responses to certain games removing local multi-player it was negative. that’s where people are being pushed too. That’s where the mega money is. That leaves a space for us, we can’t do massive online multi-player. We can do local multi-player.
So, then we started to get the game out to more events we realised kids and familys became the core market. We’ve made this game originally for 25-35’s, because it reminds us of what we played when we were kids, but we realised kids today don’t know these kinds of games. There aren’t so many local multi-player games like this and they loved it. The parents loved it, playing together for fun. There’s no online leader boards. no connectivity with the outside world. When you play it, it’s just you and you’re friends. We just don’t think online is important for this game.
TIX – OK. The single player story, how long are we talking in terms of length?
Andrew – in terms of straight gameplay, 5-8 for the core storyline. but if you want to find the hours of extra content, thats something we leave the players up to. The idea is all the worlds are quite outlandish places where deliveries are difficult, testing the new box to see if it is up to the task. Whilst doing this you will come up against the ‘bad guys’ (styled like little greasers from the 50’s, but still animated boxes themselves) they have a big boss leader who you will fight in ‘boss fights’ each time you fight him he changes in his style. For example in the first world, it’s just him as a giant enemy, but in the second he has his own helicopter that he fly’s about in. There are loads of challenges, puzzles and collectables to go after and we are trying to hide stuff all over the place, I would love it if in twenty years, someone jumped up said ‘hey, I’ve found this thing hidden over here’
TIX – (laughs) you’ll do well to keep something hidden for twenty years. Sounds great fun. From what I’ve played so far it looks brilliant, what’s the game built on?
Andrew – The Unreal engine, which is a bit different in itself. Most people associate the unreal engine with twitch style shooters, online mulitplayer play and maybe more drab and dreary environments suited to those games. the first thing we did was turn up all the contrasts and colours making it as vibrant and colourful as possible. It’s been fun to use and we where all experienced with the engine anyway so it made sense to us.
TIX – on the development, have you seen many ups and downs with the production?
Andrew – I think, probably, the biggest down was that original single player, that we worked on for quite a while and it just didnt really captivate or engage we had to very rapidly change, In fact I basically had a eureka moment, in about June where it was like, wait! this game could be like a Mario world system and when we made that switch the whole team was asking ‘Andrew, do you really want to make that kind of switch this late in the game?’ I said yes, because its going to pay off. After two months of very very focused work we ended up at the bright colorful version we see now, instead of the drab grey box we started off with. So from a design standpoint that was a low point cause we didn’t know if it was going to work But we ended up being validated in our decision through the events we got to go to and show off the new design and changes. At minecon the story was getting 30 seconds of look in, at EGX people where playing it for an hour. so we got that ‘Yes, ok that was right’.
TIX – In today’s gaming industry we see a lot of DLC and micro-transactions, what’s the model your using for this when its released?
Andrew – Oh, very traditional, you buy the game, you get the content. simple as that. we had some discussions over maybe doing some accessory packs, as you’ve seen there are customisations for your box. But we have no grand plans. If people like it and are asking for multi-player maps over anything else, then we can build some. but we haven’t got anything worked on now that won’t be in the game at release its not a big overarching plan of development. if anything it’ll be reactive. if people want more hats will give them hats. (hats are on of the custom options for you box. I had a crown)
TIX – so I think I’ve run out of time now, but as one last question. If GPS was a real life postal service what would its tag lag line be.
Andrew – The best postal service in the world . . . .Mostly.
So, that was my time with Unbox and chat with Andrew. He is keen and knowledgeable over his game and very passionate about it. That’s all very clear when he is talking about it, we discussed a lot more but I am limited by space so have left you with the core of the conversation. I genuinely liked his charming little game, I’ll be looking forward to more information on it and a potential release date, look out for Prospect Games and Unbox you can check out the game at the website http://www.unboxgame.com/ I’m back off to my dark dingy room to remould my ass grove on the chair, I’ve been out of it for at least three hours now and I’m getting too accustomed to actual reality.
Till the next time. Happy Gaming Everyone