I’m a sucker for cool masks, which immediately put The World Next Door from Rose City Games on my radar given that it had a masked heroine in the spotlight. Published by manga-and-anime distribution giant VIZ Media, the game combines RPG, match-3 mechanics, anime, and indie sensibilities. This gained my full attention. Also, nonhuman skeletal characters are always a plus.
“What’s nice about marketing this game, it’s not just to gamers, but also people who like story,” said Jenny Windom, community manager at Rose City Games. “It’s neat to see this game fusion of different styles bring people in.”
Combat Meets Match-3
The World Next Door is about Jun, a human teen whose dreams come true as she wins a lottery to visit Emrys, an alternate dimension populated by supernatural beings. But Jun’s dream day trip turns sour when she misses the deadline to return to her own dimension. She must now find a different way to return home with the help of her supernatural friends from Emrys.
During GDC, Will Lewis, co-founder and director of Rose City Games, talked about how the battle system focuses on match-3 mechanics.
“Marlowe and I were playing a lot of Tetris Attack, and it seeped into the puzzle aspects of the game,” Lewis said. (Marlowe Dobbe is an artist and animator at Rose City Games. Lewis said she also did some marketing work.)
Windom said The World Next Door also has visual novel elements. This allowed the team to market to fans of visual novels and match-3 games as well as new players. Windom said that gamers who were drawn to the game’s art style or battle system usually decided to stick around for the story. Windom thought it was neat to see non-gamers grow intrigued too.
According to Windom, there is an assist mode for players who want to enjoy the story and not get blocked by combat. She explained that in regular mode, enemies can both reduce your character’s HP and manipulate the battlefield to increase the difficulty of matching runes. Windom gave an example, saying that enemies can nullify the runes you need to attack.
In contrast, Windom said assist mode will remove enemies’ ability to attack, but they can still manipulate the field. She also added that enemies can still directly affect you, like slow your speed down. Windom shared that under assist mode, gameplay becomes more about navigating obstacles.
VIZ Meets Indie
According to Lewis, The World Next Door became VIZ Media’s first video game because the manga-and-anime company wanted to reach more people.
“It’s a very interesting relationship,” Lewis said when talking about the partnership between Rose City and VIZ. He said VIZ listened a lot to Rose City, giving them creative control.
“Would say VIZ has been very good working with us, and adding a level of authenticity to the creative aspects of our projects, and supporting developers,” Lewis said.
VIZ also published a free comic prelude leading up to the new game’s story. While Rose City’s other co-founder and director Corey Warning is credited as the prequel comic’s editor, Lewis shared that he wasn’t too personally involved with the project.
“I was reading it and I was enjoying it,” Lewis said. But he added that he did provide a little critique for the worldbuilding in the comic, like how Earth and Emrys can communicate when the portal is hibernating, and how the two dimensions differ from each other.
Lewis shared that Rose City has multiple future projects with VIZ, and he’s currently leading one of them.
Character Meets Development
“I’m really happy about the twists in it,” Lewis said, when asked about his favorite part of the game. “And I’m really happy about the personality of the characters in it.”
Lewis continued, saying that characters in The World Next Door are identifiable, and that there are many instances where they each get to stand out and truly shine.
After playing the demo, the skeletal Horace was my favorite character. I mentioned this to Lewis who gave an enthusiastic, “me too.”
He then elaborated on Horace’s character, describing how the living skeleton is rude and presents himself as a “bad boy.” However, that’s not the only thing about his character. Lewis said that Horace can take things seriously, “and because he changes, it’s very impactful.”
While Lewis discussed Horace’s internal development, he also went into how Jun’s design visually changed.
When asked about why Jun wears the mask, the short answer from Lewis was that Jun has to hide that she’s a human who’s overstayed her welcome in Emrys. But Lewis elaborated on the history of her mask.
“Interesting thing about mask,” Lewis said. He explained that originally Jun was designed with a kitsune mask, but that changed when the team did more research. Wanting to avoid possible appropriation they decided to search for something more original and better suited to the game. They ultimately decided to create an entirely new mask design for the character.
Past Meets Present
Before today’s partnership with VIZ, Lewis was in college for film, and learning community management for it. But he also made board games before college.
“I’ve always loved games,” Lewis said. “My first game was Kirby’s Adventure on NES.”
Later, Lewis started the Portland Indie Game Squad (or PIGSquad), transferring his skills in community management for film to games. Lewis described it as a “nonprofit community platform” that supports indie game developers. Lewis said that PIGSquad hosts a lot of events monthly “to help people find each other to make games together.”
Eventually Lewis’ work at PIGSquad led to work with Cartoon Network and other companies that wanted help with community management. The money Lewis earned from hosting a Game Jam for Cartoon Network was used to found Rose City Games.
According to the developer’s official website, The World Next Door was later born in summer 2017, conceived by freelance artist and game asset designer Lord Gris while she collaborated with Corey Warning and Will Lewis during a game jam. Rose City then started building a prototype and presented the idea to VIZ Media. Their partnership and The World Next Door was announced in February 2018.
Before its release, the game would go on to receive various forms of recognition, such as earning a place in the “Best Action/Adventure Game” category at Dreamhack Austin 2018 and a nomination for the Gamer’s Voice Awards at SXSW Gaming 2019.
Players can visit Emrys when The World Next Door releases on PC and Nintendo Switch starting March 28. The game will also be available at Indie MEGABOOTH during PAX East, which also starts on March 28 and runs until the 31st.