First Look plus a Q&A with the Developers
By Becky Waxman
This game begins on a desert planet strewn with the debris of human civilization – half buried spaceships, radioactive waste dumps, and the fabled ruins of Metropol, a once-great city. The only remaining sentient beings are robots. Our hero, Horatio, is a Nullbuilt v.5 -- a robot with intuitive creative ability and a gruff, husky voice. Horatio has chosen an isolated existence, living in the hulk of a crashed ship far out in the wasteland. His sole companion is Crispin, a mag-lev bot with an attitude.
More Things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio
Life for Horatio and his sarcastic sidekick changes abruptly when a plundering bot breaks into their engine room and steals its power source. To replace it, the duo must navigate the wastes and overcome multiple obstacles. Their quest becomes a journey into the planet’s troubled history and Horatio’s own past, which he seems unwilling (or unable) to acknowledge.
Most challenges in Primordia use inventory items to fix or create mechanical devices. You must also tinker with the data pouch, figure out access codes, and employ clues to locate new areas to explore. The game features a third person perspective and a point-and-click interface.
Come Unto These Yellow Sands
The environments are off-beat and sinuous – stark exteriors and monochromatic, baroque interiors. As in classic adventure games, the graphics exhibit a pixelated effect. In this alien, post-apocalyptic world, the art style works well. Dissonant, eerie techno music provides background atmosphere.
I played for a couple of hours, and the story grabbed me. I’m already full of questions: what in this desolate planet caused humans to colonize it? What caused the ensuing destruction? Why is the city of Metropol nothing but trouble? Why is the giant robot engulfed in sand? How did bombs turn into sacred artifacts? Will Horatio reconcile with his past?
Primordia releases in December – and when it does, I’m looking forward to finding to some answers!
Here to provide answers about Primordia’s development are Wormwood Studios’ Vic Pflug and Mark Yohalem – as well as Wadjet Eyes’ Dave Gilbert and composer Nathaniel Chambers.
GB: How did you first become interested in creating Primordia?
For a long
time, I focused solely on concept art for other people's games. But
it was frustrating doing art for other people and having to conform
to their ideas, when I had so many of my own. I started using Chris
Jones' AGS engine and made a small adventure game, and came away
feeling like I had a lot more to bring to the table than just art.
GB: Can you tell us a bit about the development team?
Studios is the core team: me, Mark Yohalem, and James Spanos. My
focus is on atmosphere and the creation of unique settings, worlds,
and the beings who inhabit them. Mark tells the stories that take
place there, provides the narrative and mechanics of the game. James
is the man who brings it all together and actually makes it work.
GB: Horatio, the game's protagonist, plays the “straight man” to Crispin, a wacky mechanical sidekick of his own design. Why did Horatio design a companion whose personality is so unconventional? Why isn’t Crispin more respectful of his creator?
One of the
themes throughout the game is the choices that builder robots make
when creating other robots, so it's great that you've homed in on
that! All the robots in Primordia have a "fabrinymic" -- a
builder-name akin to the patrinymics historically used throughout
Scandinavia, and still used in Iceland today (e.g., "Sven Svensson"
or "Ingrid Svensdotter). So throughout the game, the player will be
able to compare generations of robots and draw conclusions from
GB: What is the function of a sidekick (in addition to making snide remarks)? Is writing dialog that establishes the relationship between two robots different than writing dialog for human characters?
sidekick has to complement both the personality and the skill-set of
the protagonist. That's true from Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to
He-Man and Orko to C-3PO and R2-D2. The complementary skill-set is
especially important in a game because a good companion has to be
*useful* to the player so that the player has a gameplay attachment
as well as a narrative attachment. (Think of the weighted companion
cube in Portal.)
GB: Horatio is voiced by Logan Cunningham (Bastion, Resonance). How did you come to choose Cunningham for the role of Horatio?
I met Logan
through Sarah Elmaleh, who plays Clarity (a character you meet later
in the game). When we were casting the VO for Resonance, our
previous game, we needed someone who could do the gruff cop. One
thing I noticed about getting "gruff" type voices -- it's very hard
to find someone who can do that voice and sound natural at it. And
Logan, he's a natural. Not only that, but there's a level of
melancholy and wistfulness that just comes naturally to him. When it
came time to cast Horatio, I couldn't think of anyone better.
GB: Why did you choose a pixel art style that resembles classic adventure games?
VIC: I love the pixellated look. My favourite adventure games are from the early to mid 90s, where the graphics started to look really pretty, but they still had a relatively low resolution. To me, low-res graphics are a medium in their own right: the pixels are like brushstrokes, in a way. Another consideration was expediency; low-res sprites are far easier for me to produce and animate than high-res ones.
GB: Early in the game, the only indications of human presence are the abandoned machines and a desiccated skeleton. Why in Primordia do we see human civilization only as decayed remnants?
From the outset, Vic wanted to do a game about robots. If we were
going to focus on robots, I decided that I wanted humans out of the
picture. I think robot stories really get hung up too often on the
question whether (or when, or how) they are going to rise up and
kill humans. That's not the story I wanted to tell in Primordia.
Instead, I was inspired by a poem I've known since childhood called
"The Inheritors," which starts like this:
GB: Why is the background music inside the Unnic so much more melodic than elsewhere? Why did you include an antique phonograph as part of the engine room?
liked the idea that each area had music that was tied to the
situation, the characters, and the area itself. In the case of the
ship, Horatio (the lead protagonist) finally gets his home working
again. Being somewhat of a hermit, Horatio is attached to being in
his home because he's comfortable there. With the generator
temporarily working, the threat of running out of power is now
delayed. So I wanted the scene to be a bit comforting. Horatio's
music on the ship is also the theme of Horatio himself and can be
heard in certain spots in through game if you listen carefully,
though it's fairly different each time. The only other character to
really get a reoccurring theme is the villain, but it isn't melodic.
GB: Many of the puzzles in the game involve building and using mechanical devices. Did these puzzles spring naturally from the story, or did you work the narrative around the puzzles?
MARK: They sprang naturally from the union of the story and the Wormwood Studios team. James, the coder, is about to get his PhD in electrical engineering. Vic is a serious tinkerer and is constantly building crazy electronic devices. I have no electronic skill, but I build Rube Goldberg devices for killing wasps, repairing doors, and so forth. Since Horatio is naturally drawn to (and skilled in) repairing machinery, we were able to use our own backgrounds to construct these tactile, mechanical puzzles that really worked with the game setting. My favorite example of this is probably an engine rewiring puzzle later in the game, where Vic came up with a way to turn a traditional IQ-type logic puzzle into a plausible mechanical one that fit the setting.
GB: What was the greatest challenge you faced while developing Primordia?
VIC: For me the greatest challenge was creating a vision for Primordia, and then staying true to that vision - believing in my own ideas.
GB: Why did you decide to publish Primordia via Wadjet Eye?
VIC: At its conception Primordia was to be a short freeware game I could use as a stepping stone onto other projects, it was really going to be just a small offering so people would take me a little more seriously when I released my first commercial title. Very early on I brought Mark and James on board, things really took off and Primordia developed into that commercial title. When Dave contacted me about publishing Primordia through WEG, in many ways it was a no-brainer to join forces with him.
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