By Quentin H. / September 15th, 2020
Last week, I was given an opportunity by Natsume, Inc. and Lucid Dreams Studio to see a gameplay demo of Legends of Ethernal, the latest title to emerge from Natsume’s indie program. While I could not go hands-on with Legends of Ethernal myself, I found myself captivated by the gorgeous art style of both the characters and world at-large. It was seriously a very pretty indie title with an art style that will hold up no matter how far in the future people pick up this game. The combat looked like it was fluid and easy to grasp as well, as Wilfred slaughtered many enemies on his quest to find out what happened to his parents.
Afterward the demo, I sat down with Francis Lapierre and Maxime Grégoire (with Natsume popping in later to help answer a question) to talk about this upcoming title. In Part One of this two-part interview, we talk about what Legends of Ethernal is about, the hand-crafted art style and multiple difficulty levels, why they chose to have a game be about the ‘fear of being alone’ and deciding to tell that story in a ‘gray’ perspective, and more.
You can also wishlist Legends of Ethernal on Steam now. The game is scheduled for release in October 2020 for $19.99 USD, and will be coming to PC (Steam), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you [two] are?
Francis Lapierre: Hello, I am Francis Lapierre- co-founder and technology director at Lucid Dreams Studio.
Maxime Grégoire: And for me, I am Maxime Grégoire, co-founder and CEO of Lucid Dreams Studio.
OR: What is Legends of Ethernal about?
MG: This game is about- I think it’s about the fear of being alone. It’s the story of a young boy, who like in any other game, goes fishing. And his life is not bland, but he [does] what his parents tell him to do. He gets back home- and his home is destroyed, his parents are gone, and he finds himself alone. And he is around ten years old in the early game. So he doesn’t know what to do. And so his reflex is to go to the nearest village to find some help.
So this is the main thing about this game, the main idea, but beneath it, the whole story that we want to tell is a story about being alone and not wanting to be alone and wanting to find some care and things like that.
FL: And there’s a big arc in the game where you see Wilfred growing up with confidence. Always having courage to continue, even if everything seems to go against him. He choose[s] to continue. And at one point at the game, you will find a friend, which [are] the little white spirits following you around. And [his friend] has his own story too. But the two of them together form a team, and they help each other to overcome obstacles to finally try to find out what happened to [Wilfred’s] parents and what is happening to the world of Arkanys.
“I think, at one point, it’s fun for the player to have a purpose when they play the game.”
OR: A moment ago, you mentioned that this is a game based around “the fear of being alone.” Why did you choose that particular theme?
MG: We thought that it was something interesting. I do have some kids, and they are always looking for attention- to be with people. And we thought that if, for this specific game, it could be interesting to show a story about kids overcome- I don’t want to spoil anything, but by the end of the game, you will see that you reach a point where he doesn’t understand his fate, but he understands finally that he can be somebody by himself.
So we thought it would be a good thing to talk about, because there’s not that [many] games about that.
FL: As a company, every game we make, we want the story to always be a ‘gray zone’. So building something around saying ‘Okay, I still need to do something, but why are they gone?’. So it’s not clear that something bad happened. It could be bad. But you don’t know the reason why they’re gone or why the people came to get them or why they did that. So it really helps us build this whole ‘gray area’ in the story. And as you progress, everything becomes more clear and complicated. So it was a good base for this.
OR: Let’s talk about that ‘gray area’ for a moment. One of the goals of this game is to tell a story that is not just good or evil, but instead falls within that ‘gray’ area where “things are not clear”. How do you go about crafting this kind of story? The thought process, and the story- because it’s not a story of good or evil, it is a story about both.
MG: Exactly. There was something that always fascinated me in many, many games. I don’t want to spoil, again, but The Last of Us’s story has some ambiguous parts. Like, you don’t know if Joel’s good or bad. And we always thought that this was pretty brilliant. Even in movies, there are always things like that. But for some reason, in games, there is not. So for us, it was really important. And in the game, we have something like that because as a young boy, you need to do stuff, but you don’t have all the information about this. The same thing goes for the other side that you are fighting. They don’t know you, they are reacting to what you’re doing. So it all depends on which side you are.
You know, sometimes being in the game, they are like the Jarken people and the tree-like creatures. You think that they were the ones that captured your parents at some point, so you want to reach them. But the Jarkens got attacked by creatures and they attack you. So you need to react to that. But you don’t really want to irk them, but you have to because they attacked you. At the same time, the Jarkens don’t really want to hurt you, but they have to because they got attacked and they are not sure if it’s you or people working with you. So it’s all a matter of being ambiguous-like.
And this is how it creates unique situations. And this is how we wanted the game to evolve. And it’s not the only example like that in the game, I just told you one. But there are other parts in the game where you’re doing something, and as you progress, you learn that ‘Oh, I see, maybe this is why these people were doing that.’ And you get to understand the whole thinking behind that.
FL: That’s really how we proceed in every part of the game. We basically think ‘What’s really happening’ and then we give bit by bit information to the player, so slowly they can build [up] what’s happening and that what is happening might not be good and evil, because maybe [the character] has a false assumption or things like that. So this is how we proceed.
OR: In a June 2020 [developer diary], Francis said that Legends of Ethernal was “inspired by the classic action/adventure games of the 90’s while adding a modern touch” and today, Maxime said [during the press meeting] that it was inspired by D&D and Zelda. Why did you choose to make a game in that genre with these influences?
FL: The main reason is [that] I used to like these types of games when I was young. And I really wanted these types of games to have better graphics, but we just could not because we were like twelve- we were the original NES-era with 8-bit graphics.
It’s a personal opinion, but one of the things is that I played this type of game when I was young, and now there is a new generation of people playing games. And what we find is that when people take this type of gameplay and add the pixel art for these types of games- and for me, because I’ve played this type of games before, we thought that ‘hey, it could be a good idea to finally have a game play like that, but with great graphics.’ It’s just like a dream of an older game having graphics more cutting edge.
MG: And something that was happening more and more as we were developing Legends of Ethernal was that there was- and I really like it- the Dark Souls phenomenon where every game really stopped telling stories. It was only lore, and to be fair, it really works. But for us, being based on a Dungeons & Dragons adventure, we really wanted to do a more story-driven game where you will know what you will do. Because I think, at one point, it’s fun for the player to have a purpose when they play the game. And of course, it works for Dark Souls to not have too much- but for us, we wanted to have that.
And that’s why we took this kind of RPG story, and linked that with ‘old school’ 2D action/adventure game with modern graphics. Because we spend our own life in pixel art games [but] I like our graphics, as we did it enough. But that’s personal.
OR: These graphics in Legends of Ethernal are said to be “hand-crafted”- I think you mention it on your website. Why did you choose to do that for a graphical style, and what has the process been like to create those type of images?
FL: So basically, the process itself- we looked at a lot of games while working at Ubisoft. There was Raymond Legends– I don’t know if you’ve played that game- but basically, there was a GDC video showcase that explained that they were able to get the concept art in Photoshop and import it directly into the game. And we thought that this was really clever, because then you can draw the game in high-res. And ten years from now, the game will still look good because it’s hand-drawn like a book. You don’t say [that] ‘this book is five-years old and it’s not nice anymore.’ So that can’t happen. So as a strategy, this was one of the reasons. And the flow- we really developed all the tools so that Véronique [Bellavance] or other artists were able to draw concept art. [Véronique] would just cut off the object in Photoshop, and we could directly integrate this into the game in one step. [OR NOTE: Véronique Bellavance is the Art Director at Lucid Dream Studio.]
And that allows us to create this huge game with really a small amount of people- otherwise it would have been impossible- you really need to develop your technology and your tools to do that. And the art style itself- we wanted a game to be fun for everyone. And if you want to do that, then your art must be nice looking for everyone. If you go to 2D, you try to find a style, like Véronique did, that is appealing and that people love.
And we see that at Tokyo Games Show, Gamescom, everywhere we went. Everybody that passed by and saw the game- everybody said ‘It looks nice! It looks unique! It has that special touch!’ So we’re really happy about this part.
Do you want to add something, Max?
MG: No, I think you covered everything. Like we said earlier, for the art inspiration, the paper-cut, it would add a nice effect- more of a fairy tale since [that is] the story we tell- it did fit well with the art style that we chose.
OR: Legends of Ethernal is said to have five difficulty levels. Why five different levels, and how do they affect gameplay?
MG: The main reason- I told this story earlier [during the press session] about Tiny Toon Adventures, which is really what drove us to do that. [OR NOTE: When he was young, his parents bought him a game called Tiny Toon Adventures, which was released in 1991 for sixty-dollars Canadian. And he could not get past the second level of the game, because it was too hard for young kids. The memory of that game being really hard stayed with him.]
And even other games- we’re a huge fan of Hollow Knight, which is a great game but pretty difficult. There is only one difficulty. For our game, we wanted people to have good memories of it. We wanted people to start a game and be able to complete it. There are too many people, and there are so many games out. So there are many people who start a game and never finish it. And sometime it’s because of the difficulties that they didn’t expect, even with a game that looked appealing. Many kids look at your game and say ‘Oh, this looks nice! But at normal difficulty…well, it’s hard, it’s challenging.’
FL: So in all the difficulties we developed, they affect the gameplay. So if we start [at] the easiest one, the most accessible one, it would be ‘Relax Mode’. In this game- and in every mode- it’s the full game. There’s nothing removed from the game, so you really choose the mode you want. In Relax Mode, you get additional help with the platforming. So if you fall in a hole, the game will ask you if you need help. But we leave that choice to you. So you can say ‘No, I want to try it.’ But if you request help, we will add additional platforms that will help you cross that section. And every boss in the game has their own puzzles to them, where you need to do steps in order to defeat the boss. In Relax Mode, some of those steps are streamlined or removed. So basically, somebody with less experience could just beat the boss without doing all the little details [and] solving all of the little puzzles.
In ‘Easy’, it is basically the same difficulty as in Relax Mode, but without the platforming support and without [having] the puzzles removed. If you go ‘Normal’, this how the game is designed. So this is really a good challenge [and] you expect to die, but you should be able to complete it if you’re a player that is experienced with 2D action games.
‘Hard’ is really challenging. The monsters are tougher. So you play at Hard if you really want a challenge. And we have ‘Hardcore Mode’, which has the game at ‘Hard’ and you can’t die. And we got this idea from Ori and the Blind Forest– they have a hardcore mode like that. Some people really like that. We have friends who tried to do a run in Hardcore and they had a lot of fun with all the thrill and the intensity that it gives you.
Please return later this week to see the conclusion of our interview where we talk about Legend of Ethernal’s music, what it was like partnering with Natsume, Inc. for this game’s release, future plans in this game’s universe, and more.
You can also wishlist Legends of Ethernal on Steam now. The game is scheduled for release in October 2020 for $19.99 USD.
What do you think of Legend of Ethernals crafting a ‘gray’ storyline? Do you enjoy the graphic art style?
Let us know in the comments below!
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