We talk to Romanian-based developer Alien Pixel Studios about their upcoming puzzle platformer Unbound: Worlds Apart. With a striking art style and metroidvania elements, this is another promising indie to look out for. Check out a demo for the game on Steam, and find out more about the game’s development below.
What were some of the inspirations for Unbound?
The core concept for Unbound is the portal. Back in 2016, we decided to do a 3D game where you can shift lights and see different things in the colored light. We quickly realized that we don’t have the resources to be able to finish a game like that, and it’s probably best if we move the idea somehow in 2D. We had a problem doing that because switching between worlds at once can be annoying and disrupting so we needed to find a solution for that. Once I was watching a video with the metal band Architects and they had a huge bubble behind them where they displayed different things, and that instantly clicked. What if we show things only in a region like a bubble?
We started to add depth to this mechanic, to see how we can combine the portal with different elements or what abilities a portal can give to the character. I think lots of games inspired us. Most notably I would say it’s Braid, Limbo, Hollow Knight, Ori and The Blind Forest and Portal.
What sets the game apart from similar games in the genre?
Each portal has its own unique mechanic, which gives the player the ability to experience the game in a lot of different ways, compared to other games where you only switch the worlds throughout the entire game.
I would say the diversity of the magical portals the player gets adds a lot of fun and offers interesting things to do and ways to explore the worlds of Unbound.
Going from a 3D idea to 2D, the art style must have changed over time…
At first, we had a much simpler and cleaner art style, although the dark atmosphere was there already. The main color scheme and the idea behind the environment and the characters were already established at that point.
In time, as the scope of the game grew it got more complex story and gameplay-wise, so we had to come up with more complex and detailed visuals to sustain the lore of the game. It gradually evolved into the game you see today.
Who is working on the game right now?
The core team behind Unbound: Worlds Apart is I, Olga, and Andrei. We all have experience in the gaming industry working on various indie games and AAA games as well. However, this is the first project we work on in this formula. We started working on Unbound in our free time. In 2018, Olga and I decided to quit our jobs and dedicate ourselves full time to Unbound and then in 2019 we did a Kickstarter campaign to see if there is an interest in a game like this. The Kickstarter was successful and that motivated us to continue the development of the game. Andrei joined full time as well in 2019 and now we are working with full force ahead. Recently we decided to expand our team with three new and very talented artists to help us finish the game on time. We are creating music, writing and animations with external help from some experts in this field.
What makes the development process challenging?
Because we are working on the game for quite some time, I think the hardest thing is to keep yourself motivated along the process. That’s why we decided to go to lots of gaming conferences around Europe. Seeing other people playing your game gives a big satisfaction and motivation to continue the development.
Kickstarter was another challenge. You have to work very hard to convince the backers that your project is going to be kickass. That takes a lot of planning and work.
Last but not least, the financial situation is a challenge for every indie developer. You need to survive somehow and most of the time you have to rely on very little money. Besides the development process, you also have the business side of game development where you have to convince potential investors and publishers that your project is awesome and the investment in it is worth their money.
2020 has been a strange year – did this affect development?
It affected how we work. For example, in 2019 we managed to rent a small office in Bucharest and work together. But now we are working remotely. Surprisingly it didn’t affect our productivity so that’s really a good thing. But I haven’t seen my colleagues since March.
Also, we booked tickets for a few gaming conferences and they were canceled, postponed, or moved online. It’s a totally different experience now, but we hope that all things will be back to normal soon.
When the game releases, what do you hope people will take away from the experience?
I hope that people will say that Unbound is fun, intriguing, interesting, and challenging. Because it’s an atmospheric game we hope that people will enjoy the story as well. We put a lot of effort into making a good story that ties everything together. We are really curious what people will think about the game 🙂