Haven, the latest title from French studio The Game Bakers, launched in December 2020 on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series S/X. The game will come to PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch sometime in Q1 on this year. Oh, and it’s on Xbox Game Pass, so if you have an active subscription you can even play the game for free. Despite that, Creative Director Emeric Thoa found a moment to talk to us about Haven and game development in general.
RPG) Haven released on a multitude of platforms, including the PlayStation 5, but on your blog, you noted that you couldn’t test the game with Play Together on PS5 because, like the rest of us, you couldn’t get hold of one! How hard is it to develop a game without having a retail version of the console?
Emeric) “It’s not the best for sure. The retail console is really useful to check how others do stuff, what are the best practices, or simply to understand a feature that you only read about in an obscure documentation. And after the release, it’s useful to test stuff. Devkit can do a part of the tests, but not all of them.”
RPG) Following on from that, there’s been a lot of talk about whether the “Console wars” are over and how exclusives are effecting the upcoming generation. What’s your take on that?
Emeric) “The console war is one of the most stupid concepts I have ever heard. It feels like arguing to decide what’s best between apples and bananas. What I didn’t like though, is that sometimes, consoles manufacturers ask for new content in order to feature a game that has been released previously on a concurrent system. I understand why they ask that, but it can end up being very heavy on the devs and hurting the game itself (not all additions are good).”
RPG) Haven can be found for free on Xbox Game Pass, could you explain more about how that comes about? Who contacts who regarding being part of Game Pass and what sort of advantages does it offer a studio like The Game Bakers?
Emeric) “As a developer, we have contacts at the different companies who sell our games. When we have a new game we discuss opportunities. For game pass, in exchange for the game being “free” to game pass subscribers, Microsoft pays us a fee, upfront. It’s as simple as that.”
RPG) Probably the most unique aspect of Haven is that the main characters are a couple and the player can control both characters at once, or have a friend jump on for couch co-op. How hard was it to balance that and what were the major challenges you faced when creating the couple feature?
Emeric) “The biggest challenge was to design the “gliding together”. We didn’t want split-screen, because it’s a game about being together. It’s supposed to be the feeling of going down a ski slope together. We started by giving each player complete control over their character, which worked fine when players go in the same direction. But as soon as you split, your controls become relative to the character, not to the camera, and it’s a mess (a bit like the original Resident Evil game). We ended preferring a lead character and a following character, and added the “flowblob” to make the following character a bit more active.”
RPG) When gliding around the world a second player controls the flowbob. This very much reminded me of a second player in Super Mario Galaxy collecting star bits. What games really helped to influence the mechanics of controlling two characters?
Emeric) “Indeed Super Mario Galaxy was an influence, but it’s mostly that there weren’t that many options. It just came to us as a fun and simple thing to do. You drive, I collect. Actually, you can also repel creatures chasing you with the flowblob, which is not very well known.”
RPG) Game publishers have been claiming for years that single-player games are “finished” and that multiplayer games are the future. While Haven has couch co-op, it’s not what many would consider a traditional “multiplayer” game, and you even note that the game was designed to be single player. Do you worry about the future of single-player games, or do you think there is a bright future for them?
Emeric) “I don’t worry at all about the future of single player games. Actually, Sony’s internal study revealed that they were more successful for them. I guess it’s a matter of audience. Sony and Nintendo are going to be the leaders in single player games. Microsoft is probably ahead in multiplayer games. Steam and PC overall is a jungle where everything can happen. What’s for sure is that the biggest games are multiplayer, but that doesn’t mean single player will disappear.”
RPG) The game looks lovely, with an anime/JRPG style. Clearly, there’s also an Asian influence within the team as well, with Audrey having worked in China and Emeric having a “passion” for Japanese games. What really influenced the decision to go for a more anime based style?
Emeric) “For sure the love for Asia is part of the reason we prefer that style, but also because a stylised art gives more creative freedom. If it doesn’t look like reality, it doesn’t have to be limited by reality. Also, it never gets old and ugly. Haven will still be pretty in 10 years.”
RPG) If there was one thing that you could go back and tell yourselves before you started working on Haven, what would it be?
Emeric ) “Don’t cut the gliding. We lost a year of development because we cut the gliding early on, thinking we wouldn’t have enough money to put it in the game. Haven was a point and click for a year. Eventually, Furi kept selling, and we felt that the gliding was missing too much, and put it back.“
RPG) How hard was the development of Haven affected by Covid-19 and how did you overcome any challenges the pandemic presented?
Emeric) “Well, when everybody was locked down, team members with kids got slowed down. It made recordings the actors much more complicated, and QA got delayed. I guess we are lucky compared to many people because we were already ready to work remotely. But it definitely isn’t the best time for anyone.”
RPG) Finally, what comes next for The Game Bakers? Are you already thinking about your next project? Can we expect more content in the Haven universe?
Emeric) “Right now we are focusing on patches and closing the PS4 and Switch version for early 2021. We’ll think about what content updates can make sense for the game just after that! And probably think about another game as well! Expect something different, again :-)”
Have you already checked out Haven? Let us know what you think in the comments section below. Also, check back to Ready Player Gone on Thursday for Joey’s full review of the game!