by Jeffrey Demelo on March 20, 2013
In 2012 four guys rose to the occasion of not only making a platformer that defies the expectation of touch controls, but also the expectations of nostalgia-induced platformer fans. Their Kickstarter project, The Other Brothers, was met with warm reception and sadly fell short of its mark, leaving me – and all its backers – to worry about the future of the game. I set out to make contact with a phone-call to TOB Team, and to my surprise found answers on the other end of the line.
All the team members were present on the call. Some spoke from the U.S and others from the U.K; all with a positive-attitude regarding the success of The Other Brothers. I was initially surprised considering the failure of their Kickstarter funding; later realizing the will, passion, and experience behind TOB could never be stopped by such an insignificant speed-bump. These guys have a heart as big as their ambitions and the engine to back it up. Knowing what I know now, they’d probably die before calling it quits on their baby.
Bjorn, the heart behind The Other Brothers’ wonderful art direction, spoke first. I quickly learned he is a father who loves his son – and classic LucasArts games, oddly enough - by how many times he mentioned them in our time conversing. It’s heartwarming to hear of father and son fun-time, and even moreso when it also involves video games. He opened up the conversation expressing his love for “8-bit era platformers”, and quickly expressed how he feels most modern platformers are “unsatisfying”. Harsh words… but he’s right.
I was curious why another retro-stylized platformer needed to exist and TOB Team gave me answers; all of them the right ones. Each of the team members spoke in passionate notes, explaining The Other Brothers’ place as a homage to the best in the genre. I would later believe they’re treating the game as such.
They talked of Super Mario Brothers and Day of the Tentacle as influences with great respect. Capturing the spirit of those classics will not be an easy-task, but that won’t stop this educated team from trying their best. Thomas – the brains behind the level-design - bravely noted, “There’s really nothing like our game out there. I mean…there are plenty of platformers but TOB is a different beast altogether.” In this moment I’m skeptic; slowly growing warmer to their beliefs. I hoped Thomas wasn’t over-selling.
“It’s a nod - more than anything - to Mario, not a satire.” – Giuseppe; Project “Jack of all trades, master of some”
Controls are the biggest worry to anyone who has played a platformer on any iOS device, be it iPad or Phone, and these guys know it. I attacked the conversation with the question, “Why iOS?” Thomas’ tone aggressively turned defensive. “The question is…why not?” he replied. I could have given him a punch-list of “why not's” at that moment, yet decided to stay quiet. “A lot of sweat has gone into the controls”, Thomas noted before giving Robert – TOB Team's Programmer - a moment to talk about his work on, in my opinion, the genre’s most important feature.
Actually, I didn’t speak with Robert per se; turns out he was too busy tuning The Other Brothers' controls – or at least that’s what I want to believe. Instead he spoke in chat, proving his experience as a programmer sentence by sentence. He confirmed virtual d-pad for the project, which is a bit of a letdown. Robert seemed to be aware of my concerns and promises to have, at least, one of the smartest virtual d-pads touch-devices have seen. With no hands-on time with TOB, I can only remain skeptic.
“It's a classic d-pad that follows if you drift too far; however it also works like a traditional d-pad - in the sense if you don’t drag you can still tap left or right and it stays put. It incorporates several gesture recognition tricks to best guess player intention to prevent the yo-yo effect that you get in touch games. In fact, just tilting your thumb in a natural way makes it behave like a real d-pad does. You can forget it's even there, and after a while you do.”, Robert began.
He continued, “There are other touch-screen related additions which basically combine touch velocity, touch position and duration with how close you are to jumping at the edge of a platform - or when under attack - and prepare it; so that if you were 0.01 seconds too late, but intend to do this action, it will let you do it. This is basically fighting how limiting a touch screen is and trying to give players -will the priority.”
Robert also confirmed TOB would launch without a scalable d-pad, but is confident The Other Brothers [d-pad] will not disappoint. Most likely those who like to tailor their virtual controls will see it in an update post-launch. The rest of the team showd confidence on the topic of Robert’s work as well.
“It shows, once you play it, how amazingly different it feels [compared] to other platformers [on iOS].” – Thomas
These guys were full of enthusiasm, roaring like a subway-train about their game. It ignited a confidence in the project with me, especially knowing they’re coming off a failed Kickstarter. I would have imagined a tired team of developers to be on the other end of this Skype call; boy was I wrong! To top it all off The Other Brothers is a development “side-job” for a few of these guys, since the funding from Kickstarter didn’t pan out.
I knew then and there how real their passion for the project is. It’s the type of story I relate to. On the flipside of the failed Kickstart, the TOB Team healed their wounds with the loving touch of the backers and fans. Their spirits were lifted and undoubtedly present when we spoke. It was quite honestly…infectious.
We moved on to level design chit-chat. The Other Brothers’ levels – unlike Mario levels – focus on exploration and point-score. Ultimately the objective is finding a path that gets you the most points within the time limit. This design decision should amp-up the replayability factor with completionist-gamers certainly.
Thomas began to explain how he feels coin collecting doesn’t have enough player payoff. He continued, “A lot of players don’t even bother [with coin collecting], they just speed run a level and move on to the next”. Seems The Other Brothers is “taking that to the next level” using a points-system for their collectable – which turns out to be oil cans instead of traditional shiny gold pieces. He did conclude, “high scores may lead to a gold star”; which could be a telling sign of how the game progresses in structure.
Exploration was a term used frequently during my time with TOB Team. The conversation erupted once Thomas struck the first note; Giuseppe - TOB Team's "Do-it all guy" - quickly adding “Explorative is also what I call it. I actually quite like getting lost in the levels.” The Other Brothers’ levels were then described to me as “not huge” yet “had enough hidden nooks leading to areas the player may have not realized was there.” Bjorn expressed his love for the flexibility of The Other Brothers’ gameplay. “You can speed run if you want to play that way, [or explore]. Like if I’m playing TOB [alone] or [along] with my son, I play it differently”, he concluded. I was sold on their ideas by now, and can only hope the level design holds up.
In discussing their game the TOB Team described it as a “modern-twist on the era” and are trying to make a platformer than “appeals more to today’s audience.” Turns out that The Other Brothers’ pixel-art is spruced-up with modern lighting tech and will “produce shadows, and particle-effects”, Thomas says. Simian Tech is an engine built “on-top” of Unity and what TOB was built in, I was told, and was designed around a philosophy of “artist empowerment". Giuseppe explained the thought-process, “why not just throw out tile-sets and grids? So what we did was take a *sort* of mega-texture approach and this allowed our artist to paint really huge Photoshop docs, instead of having to make these limiting tiles. It means the entire world of The Other Brothers is completely unique art-wise. There’s no visual repetition in what you see.”
“[The health mechanic] actually works much like Sonic the Hedgehog, except with Pigeons [instead of rings]” – Giuseppe
What came next was narrative. The pitch: Two mechanics – which happen to be brothers – fall witness to a kidnapping. Now, the mob and a slew of other zany, interesting antagonists are out to keep The Other Brothers’ mouths shut. One would expect homage to classic platformers to simply be another damsel in distress story but Thomas warned “don’t count on it”, when I asked. “There’s something bigger at play than simply a damsel in distress”, said Giuseppe continuing “It gets a bit wild, let’s just say that.”
I’d expect nothing more than the highly-praised influences of the TOB Team to play a role in the comedic value of The Other Brothers. In our time together we touched upon Ren and Stimpy’s ridiculousness as well as the charm and hilarity of LucasArt’s adventure classics; all things I anticipate will blend well with my expectations of classic game references and satire in The Other Brothers.
When my time with these loveable guys came to an end, I had made a few new friends. We closed out our talk on the subject of comfortable skate sneakers and – as any loyal European would – great, relaxing cups of tea. Emotions were running wild as I said goodbye; sadness for every minute more I couldn’t continue speaking to such an interesting group of men and happiness that these passionate lads were nearing the release of this promising game.
The Skype call ended but my thoughts didn’t. I couldn’t help but think about The Other Brothers goals as an iOS game and everything this team is promising to achieve with Simian tech. More importantly, I couldn’t help but wait to get my hands-on time with TOB and see for myself if it would be everything these guys hoped it will be. It won’t be long before The Other Brothers sees a release as the TOB Team is aiming for a late March/early April 2013 release; initially on iOS, with Desktops and Ouya to follow at a later date.
For me: it can’t come soon enough.