Upbound: Worlds Apart is an upcoming highly-stylised puzzle-platformer from Alien Pixel Studios. While it’s still early in development, the game has garnered attention for its unique feel and atmosphere. We spoke to Sergiu Craitoiu about developing Unbound, it’s early builds, influences, and the realities of funding an indie project.
Cliqist: Is there an unspeakable horror behind the protagonist’s hood? Or a cute face?
Sergiu Craitoiu: I can’t say too much about the character right now but you will find more in the game about his past. But for the moment, let’s say that is just a cute face trying to help his own world.
If you had pick one emotion for players to take away from Unbound, which would it be?
I hope it’s not frustration! (laughs) Every person will be different. For some there will be an accomplishment, for others the exploration part will trigger some emotions. If you care about the story it will trigger other emotions. I think it will be a mix.
Unbound: Worlds Apart’s Early Builds
The game started life in 3D, then progressed into a 2D. Was this driven purely by practicalities?
It was around spring 2016 when we came up with the idea. Making an environment that effects you would be a nice idea to explore in the game. We also wanted to learn Unreal Engine, we thought FPS Horror would be the right genre for the game. Quickly we realized that 3D requires lots of resources (time/money/people) to make so we put the project on the shelf.
Until autumn of 2016. When I saw a clip from a band called Architects on YouTube for a song called “Gone With The Wind” and they had this massive bubble behind them. I was inspired by that. We decided The environment would now only change in the portal. Also, Unreal Engine is cool, so we choose it as an engine even if it’s a 2D game.
Post-Hardcore Meets Indie
There’s this thing in another Architects Video that looks kind of Unbound…
It’s always cool when games go outside the standard gaming world for inspiration. Lots of people link specific music to their working process. Is there any music you particularly go for while working on Unbound?
I’m a huge metal fan and I listen to all kind of bands when I’m working. But sometimes I need to stay in silence when I need to be more focused or I have a hard task. Sometimes I also listen to commercial music, I really like Dua Lipa now. It really depends on the mood too. Architects influenced the portal mechanic for me. For level design, I’m inspired by the conceptual album Pelagial by The Ocean. It’s a journey from the surface to the bottom of the ocean, giving you a claustrophobic feeling as you descend. You don’t have any light and there are sea creatures lurking in the dark. So I tried to apply that approach in the game. Instead of the ocean, you will descend into the dark places of the world.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to that Horror idea after Unbound?
I would say no at the moment, I don’t consume horror movies anymore. It’s really hard to develop a 3D game with just a hand of people.
Funding an Indie Game in 2018
Are you working with any publishers for the game or crowdfunding?
We’re not working with any publisher at the moment. If we found a good one, then we would. We are thinking of a Kickstarter campaign for early next year (2019) to test the idea of the game. Also to have a little more financial security and be able to focus on developing the game full time.
Do you have concerns about crowdfunding? Would you want to have something solid and playable in place before asking for funding?
Oh, I’m super concerned. People are just not backing projects as they did a few years ago, even if they like the idea of the game. Some projects failed to deliver what they promised and that made people stay away from Kickstarter games.
Yes, we are putting together the level design and the puzzles for the demo which will be in the final game. You can expect around 20-25 minutes of gameplay with two different portals, and an introduction to the story. Right now we are polishing the demo, then we’re going to work on a new game trailer.
We’ve been working on and off for two years now. The work was only done in our free time outside of full-time jobs. So we were not always focused on the game. For example, I wake up at 5 AM in the morning and work on the game for 3 or 4 hours. After that go to my job. Our artist, Olga always worked in sprints before the conferences. And I think that if you gather all our efforts maybe it was like 6-7 months of full time working on the game in 2017 and in early 2018.
Unbound: Worlds Apart’s Future
That sound seriously demanding. Have you come out the other side confident about Unbound?
Yeah, it’s really hard. We really like working on this game and that’s super important to keep us motivated during the development process. I and Olga started working full time on Unbound in June. We are super happy that things are moving a lot faster and now we have a shared office with the guys from the game Move or Die.
I really like working as an indie. It’s super motivating when people come and play your game at conferences and events. It’s an awesome feeling when you see that people really enjoy your game. However, you also have to take care of your resources and see how you can earn money to cover the costs of living.
Are there any plans to bring the game to consoles?
We would be happy to launch it on all consoles. We are already Nintendo approved developers so Nintendo Switch it’s on.