Game news Tunic: between homage to Zelda and copy, its creators express themselves
The beautiful story of Andrew Shouldice has what all independent developers dream of. Hailing from a small town in Canada, the designer didn’t expect his little game to attract so much attention. After very positive feedback from the press and players, Tunic is preparing its arrival on PlayStation machines. We were able to talk with Andrew Shouldice and Kevin Regamy of the Finji studio to come back to the highlights of the development of their game, the creative freedom of independents, but also the difference between tribute and copying.
The interview with Andrew Shouldice and Kevin Regamy took place on May 20, 2022. It took place by videoconference on Teams.
- The Ad Who Tunic Everything
- The freedom to lose players that scares AAA
- References that range from Zelda to Fez for familiar enjoyment
- A fruitful relationship with Microsoft
The Ad Who Tunic Everything
E3 2018, Microsoft Theater. Phil Spencer has just announced the development of Halo Infinite as well as the acquisition of four independent studios. About thirty minutes from the end of the show, a trailer for Cuphead’s DLC is broadcast. The audience applauds, the lights go out. It is then that a little fox appears on the giant screen who wakes up on a beach.. It is TUNIC. In the audience, the artists of the Finji studio have their hearts racing. Andrew Shouldice and Kevin Regamy, respectively creator of Tunic and audio director of the project, do not lose a beat. “It was amazing. It was unclear when the trailer would be shown during the event. So we wait, every time the screen goes blank, we wonder if it’s gonna be the time” remembers Andrew Shouldice. He keeps on : “Then it happens and you watch this trailer that you and the whole crew have been working on all this time. And suddenly it’s over”.
When the spotlight comes back on, Phil Spencer is on stage to talk about this title from a single developer located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Phil Spencer arrives and talks about my hometown. I didn’t know, I don’t think anyone knew this was gonna happen” laughs the young designer. A little attention given by the big boss of Xbox that the developer will not forget. “I sent Phil a thank you afterwards saying it was an amazing opportunity, “thank you so much and thank you for giving Halifax a little bit of a spotlight, that’s extremely kind“. He has answered “let us know if you need anything“.
Everything about E3 2018 was pretty amazing. There was Chris Charla coming in and saying “we’re all looking forward to seeing Tunic”. Several people from Xbox were sending us kind words, encouragement and confidence. I think that was probably the first time that we were really in the thick of the action and talked about the game so much. It was very reassuring not only for our own ideas, but also for this partnership with Microsoft. Kevin Regamy, Audio Director of Tunic
The freedom to lose players that scares AAA
It’s been said many times that being an independent creates the experience that’s right for us, rather than the experience that’s right for the publisher.. This is a point of view defended by Andrew Shouldice, convinced that his game would have been very different if it had been designed by an AAA studio. “The more interesting question is whether or not players can be left to get lost. Tunic is a game where you feel like you’re in a world you don’t understand, where you wander around, where you get out of the way in a way that isn’t maybe not planned”explains the designer. He adds: “those things are cool but… a bigger budget game could have mitigated some points. If a text appeared on the screen saying you’re supposed to go here, I wonder if that would compromise the experience. At no time was this mentioned for Tunic, the experience is completely in line with what was expected” says the author. “At most, we tried to be very careful and aware of anything that looked like a sensitive point” replies Kevin Regamy, the audio manager.
The game also features an original glyph-based language, dreamed up by Andrew and improved by Kevin, which makes it harder to progress through the adventure. “Andrew ended up introducing a bit more complexity into the game’s language to slow down more skilled players. Finally, it was me who did most of the proofreading of the final game: the manual, the panels, the NPC dialogues… so if you find an inconsistency somewhere, it’s my fault and I apologize!” indicates the audio director.
Tunic is a game where you get thrown in and feel like everything is too big for you and you don’t belong. We have the freedom, as a small team, to take risks that look like these. Kevin Regamy, Audio Director of Tunic
References that range from Zelda to Fez for familiar enjoyment
Of course, whether in the aspect of the hero, the design of the game manual or in the overall universe, Tunic is reminiscent of a certain The Legends of Zelda. Andrew Shouldice prefers to say that he was inspired by the feeling of exploration that can be found in the Nintendo title. “What is that ? What does it mean ? Does it matter? Is it dangerous? Every time the player asks one of these questions, it excites me. It’s that kind of feeling, you know, that you can get in a Zelda, that I really wanted to capture. Fez also gives this kind of sensations“. He adds : “people draw comparisons to Dark Souls when it comes to combat, but I think that feeling of “I’m small and vulnerable in a huge world that’s not made for me” is also present in those games”.
It is nevertheless necessary to be careful, when the inspirations are also visible, not to transform the homage into a copy. “This is a delicate point. I think looking at something and assimilating it into something personal happens naturally in any creative process. If you are inspired and create something, then it becomes your own work. It’s a story of intentionsays Andrew Shouldice
People like things that are familiar to them, that’s for sure. If people crave things that look and sound like what they played when they were kids, you have to understand what emotional response those works produced to create them in a modern context. Shaping something that feels like something you remember is about connections and feeling. Andrew Shouldice, creator of Tunic
If I go back and listen to games I played when I was younger, still fairly new games like Age of Empires, the game doesn’t sound that great. I think people have memories of how they felt and what they imagine is very different from what it actually looks like. Kevin Regamy, Audio Director of Tunic
The game’s music has been designed to stick to the visual style and nostalgia atmosphere of the software. That is why a synthetic and approximate style was chosen to form the sound environment. “We continued to work on the different sounds taking advantage of modern technology, while striving to achieve a round look on the sounds themselves, i.e. for the most part no sudden starts, no grainy textures, no abrasive frequencies. This allows the sound design to better match that same roundness of the world that surrounds the player.” says Kevin Regamy.
A fruitful relationship with Microsoft
We had to wait for the Tunic launch trailer to discover its availability in the Game Pass. Better late than never, some would say. “It’s nice to surprise players. Being able to tell all the people who are really interested in the game that on launch day they’ll already be there because it’s in Xbox Game Pass is fun!” exclaims Andrew Shouldice. He keeps on : “the Game Pass allows you to try the games. I love Halo, I love Forza, right there next to these titles there’s this thing of this tiny little team, and it’s great”. He concludes : “Microsoft trusted us. They knew what we were doing. They told us “it’s cool, take your time, play a good game“.
Tunic is available on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC. It will arrive on PlayStation 4 and 5 consoles on September 27, 2022. The game developed by Andrew Shouldice is accessible in the Game Pass.