Regular readers will recall an article a couple of weeks ago featuring The Forest Beyond by Noisy Neighbours – an independent animation and games studio out of Viborg, Denmark – and the recently launched Kickstarter supporting the game’s development. I won’t regurgitate any of those details here but, suffice it to say, if you didn’t read it, you should.
The game really caught Orange Bison’s attention – not least for the unorthodox method of it’s creation and we really admire the attention to detail and craftsmanship going into making it. With that in mind we thought it would be an excellent idea to chat to the guys behind The Forest Beyond in the form of studio cofounder Andreas Husballe.
Andreas thanks so much for making time to chat to us about your game! So for those who perhaps haven’t watched your kickstarter video or researched who you are; tell us about yourselves, your backgrounds and your studio.
My name is Andreas Husballe I’m an animation student from the Animation Workshop, Viborg. I graduated 2010 and since then I’ve been working as an animator in several different movies and TV series, I’ve been working around the world and I ended up here back in Viborg. When I came back I started working as a game designer and a concept artist and an all round indie game developer. So that’s 3 years of experience that I have as a game designer. Christophe’s background is that he’s been working with stop motion for around 15 years now, he’s been working on a lot of different productions. Noteworthy amongst them is Aardman Animation’s The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! He’s then also done his own short film which is called Goutte d’Or which means “Drop of Gold” and it has won a lot of awards around the world. It’s really, really beautiful so check it out!
So that’s our background. The background to the studio is that we started it around 5 months ago, we’ve known each other for the last 8 years or so, but we both became fathers around 1 and a half years ago and started talking about games for kids – were they good or bad? Because we have kids now and we (occasionally!) need some spare time we might give our kids an iPad but we thought there weren’t that many really high quality games for kids. That was something we really wanted to change.
I appreciate you’ve addressed this to some extent on your Kickstarter page but I suppose the most obvious question is why stop motion? Is it simply Christophe’s background and familiarity with the medium or do you think it brings something truly different to the marketplace?
It’s a yes and a no; it’s both things. Christophe is familiar with it – it’s something he brought along and I was swept away when I looked at the potential of it so for me it’s brand new for him it’s an old, familiar medium we’re working with but we really, truly believe that this is a unique thing to bring to the market; there are very few games out there done in proper stop motion. I’m not, of course, talking about Steam because there are some titles out there that are really well made but when you look at the app market for Android and IOS it’s really 2D and 3D which is dominating. So we believe that by using our unique craft and abilities we can bring something unique to the market, so it’s of course a combination.
Are there any specific challenges in creating a game this way? Do you imagine this will be the way you will always create games (if you plan on doing so;) will it be a sort of calling card?
Yes we plan on doing this; this is the uniqueness of what we can bring. I’ve worked at games companies before and I never felt what we were making was super unique other than the story of course and gameplay being fun and good, stuff like that. But with this project I really believe that this is a unique way to tell a story so – Yes! It’s something we’ll keep doing. We’ve had so much good feedback and so much interest in the process so far it’s something that really brings a lot of questions; people asking about it. I truly believe we will continue doing it this way.
It’s been 20 years since the release of Neverhood (arguably the only significant stop motion video game;) given that it didn’t inspire a raft of other stop motion titles are you in any way nervous as to how the game’s visuals will be received? Do you hope to inspire others to make games this way or would you be happy to remain unique in a market where 2D and 3D digital animation is fairly ubiquitous?
Yes! True it’s a long time since Neverhood was released but they did also make the new Armikrog – same guys on Kickstarter! Then again that is on Steam so, again, it’s not something we can relate to. Yes there are problems with stop motion – it’s labour demanding, it takes more to make a stop motion game than a 2D game. Secondly it demands a lot of the person actually doing the stop motion; it takes a lot of years of experience. That’s why, we believe, there are not more stop motion games; the cost of running a stop motion studio and the many, many, MANY, years of experience it takes to create all the stuff i.e. the puppets and the knowledge of how to animate them which is really intense work. After that it’s not a super big challenge to put them into Unity but to create the stop motion itself is really challenging.
Are we nervous as to how the visuals will be received? Not really. We’ve already tested it out. We’ve been at games festivals and testing on our core audience – our 2-6 year old kids. Everybody receives it really well, especially the kids really dig it because they really get the tactile universe and how the characters feel more like they’re really in front of them. So we’re in no way nervous about how it will be received. I think people will absolutely love it.
Of course we’d like to inspire people although of course it would be nice to have a unique position in the market! But we do love to be inspiring for people; we have several different people coming by our workshop, looking at how we’re doing it and we’ve been talking to them, helping them out. That’s part of the unique environment in Viborg at the Animation Workshop – which is an animation school – and we have this place where we are Arsenalet which is like the professional department. We share everything we know here; there’s not that much competition in a sense. Of course we are competing against each other but we really do share a lot of stuff.
You are both fathers to young boys; to what extent does your fatherhood factor into how the game is made? Was making it a response to your dissatisfaction with what was currently available?
Yes it was. We were looking at the market and the best thing we could find out there was Sago Mimi and we’ve been very strongly inspired by those guys because the games they do are really, really well made. Our game is really different because, where Sago Mimi can get a game out every month, our games will be much longer in production! But we have been very inspired by the mechanics and how they’re made – how well the animation is made – so it’s something we’ve been looking into. Other than that we’re not super pleased with what is out there! So that’s of course why.
Our fatherhood of course..as every parent has children they say, “Oh my child should never play with digital devices or at least be as limited as possible,” then reality kicks in and you think OK well if I want to make dinner tonight or I want to have peace and quiet or if I want to educate my child in some way that doesn’t necessarily come easy just playing with the real world, then apps and digital entertainment is really the best thing! It’s an educational tool and a life saver for parents.
You obviously have some great access to some game testers from your key demographic in your own kids; have they made any suggestions or spotted any opportunities that have surprised you? To put that another way have they been involved in the creative side as opposed to just telling you whether something works or not?
The kids that Christophe and I both have are both 1 and a half more or less so they’re not really involved yet other than they are good at pointing and looking interested! But that means that whenever we show it to them if they stay around that means it’s good! Christophe has an older kid who is 6 years old and he really, really likes it though he’s a little at the old end. The 3 of them do come with good suggestions but mostly we can see in them what they think and feel so I hope that answers that question!
I noticed in your interactions on your Kickstarter page that you were asking questions of your backers and testers and that you value that constant audience dialogue at this early stage of the game’s development; Kickstarter is sometimes – cynically – referred to as a glorified preorder platform but have you found it to be a useful tool in shaping the game?
Yes and no – we are in dialogue with our backers and the best outcome is every time somebody backs us we of course send a very polite mail to them saying thanks a lot but also ask them just a few questions and people are usually quite nice and responsive so we get some data out of that. We get a better insight into who our core audience is; of course we know this is a game for kids but also what kind of parents support us, who could see themselves buying the game..stuff like that. So for us it’s not really a preorder platform but more a dialogue tool but of course it ties really well into our Facebook group where we have a lot of dialogue going on.
Also Kickstarter is nice because we have more games than we actually have room for right now so we’re going to make a little competition and we’re going to ask people to say something about game they prefer and what specifically they like about each game and then people can choose their favourite. So this is a way to interact with people too.
You have provided a breakdown of how your game is being funded – with Kickstarter contributions making up only part of the overall budget. I noticed references to the DFI (which I believe is the Danish Film Institute) and West Danish Film Fund; is support for the creative industries – specifically game development – quite healthy in Denmark?
Yes, yes it is! I think it’s a quite good system we have running here in Denmark. DFI which – you are correct – is the Danish Film Institute and West Danish Film Fund are 2 funds you can apply for when you’re a game developer. It’s something that came up (don’t hold me to this!) 10 years ago that you could apply for games – before that it was a film fund only hence the name. It’s quite good, it’s something that pushes the very, very small indie developers in the right direction because what you need in the beginning is a small budget because otherwise how are you ever going to make that step? So yes it’s pretty good.
DFI is an overall national fund and the West Danish Film Fund is, as it says, for supporting productions in the west of Denmark. So since we live in Viborg which is the west, we can apply for both of them.
Do you hope to continue making more Forest Beyond games? Do you have any other game ideas in mind? Will we see any more non-game creative projects from you in the future?
Yes! We have tons of stuff we’re thinking of, a drawer full of stuff! We have been in this process of narrowing down because, in the beginning, we were aiming for 200m of forest with valleys and canyons and mountains and underwater areas and space etc! We had to really narrow down and focus because what the budget allowed us was really limited. Each of these ideas – which were actually small games themselves – will be something we’ll look into if we can make a series out of it. So Fenley could go on an adventure in a submarine, he can go in a spaceship, he can go skiing and so on and so forth – we have tons of ideas that we can do with it. If this is something that catches on and people like it – it’s just the imagination that sets the limit.
Will you see any more non-game creative projects? Yes we have also, to support the company in the startup phase, taken in projects. So we are making other stuff but it’s unrelated to The Forest Beyond and game making.
Finally are you gamers yourselves? If so (and if you do have any free time!) what are you playing?
Yes and no! Free time with a startup company and kids that’s not really gonna happen! I can’t really speak for Christophe but I remember him talking about……oh (Andreas pauses to try an remember)..Monkey Island! That was something a long time ago from Telltale Games! For me, I’m a bit more of a gamer. If there’s anything I’m playing right now? I’m really hooked on the Civilisation series, I’m really looking forward to the new game coming out here soon. So Civilisation. Also I have a good friend, we play Call of Duty when it’s really good to switch off the brain! Then old school stuff I’ve been playing? More or less everything that is strategic! I’m a strategy guy so that’s why I also like creating a company! Everything from Red Alert to Stronghold to Starcraft any of these kind of games – that’s my strong side; something I really like. Yeah. Oh Full Throttle! Full Throttle was a really nice game..that was the best I got into point and click. I never got into Monkey Island; I always rammed my head against the wall every time I played that game!
At the time of writing Noisy Neighbours’ Kickstarter for The Forest Beyond has raised around 65,000 of its goal of 200,000 Danish Krone (roughly £23,000/$30,000.) The campaign is due to end on Saturday 1st October and we sincerely hope they make their target. If you haven’t already pledged why not consider helping a great studio bring something different to market? We wish them success and hope to play (and review) their game in the future. Don’t forget you can also follow the progress of The Forest Beyond on their website, twitter, facebook, instagram and youtube pages.