oprainfall@GDC 2020 INTERVIEW: Axon Interactive’s Quench

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

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Quench | Title

Axon Interactive’s first foray into developing video games, Quench, is a narrative puzzle game where you help out and protect various animal tribes to restore their home. Despite GDC 2020 being postponed, I caught up with Tabby Rose, the Creative Director/co-founder of Axon Interactive to talk about their game. During our e-mail interview, we talked about Quench’s gameplay, the different animal tribes in the game, what it was like working with the INDIE Megabooth, and more.

You can find out more about Quench on the game’s official website, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

You can also check out Axon Interactive on their official website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

You can buy Quench now for the Nintendo Switch (North America/Europe), Steam, and itch.io. From May 5 to May 12, Quench will be on sale on Steam as part of the Indie MEGABOOTH Going Away (For Now) Sale.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and content.

Operation Rainfall: Could you please introduce yourself?

Tabby Rose: Hi! I’m Tabby Rose, and I’m the Creative Director and cofounder of Axon Interactive.

OR: What is Quench about?

Quench is about guiding and protecting herds of animals on a difficult journey. You play as an avatar of nature who is helping a young elephant named Shaman lead her tribe in a pilgrimage and convince all of the other animals to join her. You can control the weather and environment, so the game is all about solving environmental puzzles to help these animals. Along the way you start encountering ghostly smokebeasts, who have been attacking the herds and spreading pollution. Learning about them becomes a large part of the journey.

“I love springbok, which are a kind of antelope, because they have a beautiful stripe down their side, quirky faces, and this hilarious pronking behaviour, which is where they spring high up into the air.

OR: In Quench, you play as the weather-controlling [Shephard] as you play across [twenty-five] levels with four different types of objective challenges. How do you control the weather in the game, and why did you choose these forces of nature as a gameplay mechanic?

TR: Quench started as a game for Toronto Game Jam in 2012, and the theme that year was “the world is not ending”. We wanted to create something that was anti-apocalyptic – about restoring and protecting things. I got the idea to make a game about water management, and that led to the weather powers, particularly the rain power. We thought each power (rain, quake, wind and lightning) should have both positive and negative effects depending on how they’re used, in order to create a sense of responsibility in the player. They are very powerful – but that’s also potentially dangerous, so they have to use their power wisely.

Quench | Weather Power

You play as Shephard in Quench, who can control the weather. (Image courtesy of Axon Interactive).

OR: The landscape in Quench is papercraft-inspired. Why did you choose to go with that style of graphics? Did you actually make any papercraft animals in real life along the way?

TR: The animal tribes in Quench each have a culture and worldview that we wanted to convey, but in a prehistoric way. We researched cave paintings quite a lot and wanted the art to reflect that sort of imagery. At the same time, we also wanted the levels to be played on a hex-based grid, and those two ideas led us to imagining a world that was origami-like; colourful and fractured like a mosaic. This naturally has similarities to papercraft in real life. We didn’t ever make papercraft animals ourselves (though that’s a great idea) but we did 3D print elephant figurines back when Quench was still a prototype, and sold them at local events.

Quench | Provided Elephant Statutes

(Image courtesy of Tabby Rose).

OR: Quench has Baboon, Elephant, Lion, Springbok, Wildebeest, and Zebra Herds to encounter. How did you choose these particular animals (especially the Springbok, which people might not have heard of before) to feature in your game?

TR: Our original prototype started with water buffalo. I can’t remember why – maybe because they seem like common herd animals? But as we developed the idea, we realized that we should use one of the “charismatic” animals, because people tend to empathize with them and humanize them a little more. So we switched to elephants—specifically African elephants—which are beloved animals that also happen to exhibit a lot of their own fascinating culture in real life (did you know they visit the graves of other elephants?)

Because African elephants are sub-Saharan savannah creatures, we decided the other herds would be from a similar region, and so would the plants and trees used in the environments. The rest of the herds were chosen mostly for having distinct silhouettes or colour patterns, or interesting behaviours that we felt would relate to their characters. I love springbok, which are a kind of antelope, because they have a beautiful stripe down their side, quirky faces, and this hilarious pronking behaviour, which is where they spring high up into the air. Our animator used that in the game and it’s really cute!

OR: The development company, Axon Interactive Inc., is known for its work in web development for healthcare and education. Where did the decision to make video games come from, and what was it like transitioning into the game development field?

TR: It sounds like a weird transition, right? Axon was started by my husband and I after I graduated from a Masters degree in Biomedical Communications, which has its roots in medical illustration. So I had contacts in that field and started out working for hospitals and universities to design e-learning content, with Jeff doing programming. But we always wanted to make games, and eventually he went back to college for Game Programming. He and his classmate James Zinger used Quench as their capstone project and from there we made a prototype that we used to get production funding.

The transition meant that our time was often split between working on client projects that made us money, and Quench. That stretched out our development timeline a lot more than we wanted, and it meant we had to seek funding from several sources in order to complete the game. We’re very excited that Quench is out in the world and are already in very early phases on the next project!

Quench | Animal Text

There are many different animal tribes that you can interact with and help with your weather powers in Quench. (Images courtesy of Axon Interactive).

Quench | Animal Text

OR: Donald M. Murray once wrote: “All my writing -and yours- is autobiographical.” What of yourself do you see in Quench?

TR: I see a lot of myself in Shaman, the elephant. Her story is all about learning to be a strong but kind leader, and feeling like she doesn’t have what it takes. It took me about a year into writing to realize that she shared a lot of my struggles with impostor syndrome and breaking into the game industry as a studio lead. Once I made that realization, I think all of the writing became more relatable.

OR: You successfully got Quench funded on Kickstarter back in 2016. What was your Kickstarter experience like? Would you do that again on a future project?

TR: Running a project on Kickstarter was one of the most challenging emotional rollercoasters I’ve ever been on. I’m extremely proud of our team for getting funded, but it’s even more difficult now than it was in 2016 to run a successful video game campaign. I feel like given the right project, I would do it again, but that might be because it’s been four years and I can’t quite remember how rough it was the first time.

“Making a game of this scope as a first-time developer was definitely challenging for everyone involved, but we’re very proud of the final product.”

OR: Why did you choose to bring Quench to the Nintendo Switch? Are there any plans to bring Quench to other platforms in the future?

TR: We felt like the touch capability of the Switch would be a really nice way to experience the game – being able to have magical weather literally come from your fingertips. Beyond that, Switch has the family-friendly audience that Quench is a great fit for.

We don’t currently have plans to bring Quench to more platforms (though we are on Steam and itch.io), but we would be open to it if the opportunity arose.

OR: Quench launched in August 2019. What has the reception been like among the gaming community?

TR: Our reception has been lovely! We have a small, thriving Discord community and I smile (and cry) every time someone posts a piece of fan art for us online. I think because our game is about kindness and beauty, we have been able to attract a friendly audience for the game as well.

OR: Quench was supposed to be part of the INDIE Megabooth at GDC 2020 before the conference’s postponement. How did you get involved with the INDIE Megabooth, and what has your experience been like working with them starting at PAX East 2019?

TR: We love Indie MEGABOOTH! Our GDC appearance was going to be our third, and final, time exhibiting Quench with them, as we were lucky enough to also show at both PAX East and PAX West last year. The folks at Indie MEGABOOTH are universally amazing and have done so much to support the teams they work with. Even though GDC was cancelled, we were invited to participate in the Steam Games Festival over that same week with our demo available to play online, and it was a very positive experience for us and the other teams who participated.

We’ll also be part of the Indie MEGABOOTHGoing Away (For Now) Sale from May 5th to 12th on Steam. We’re heartbroken that IMB is closing up shop because of event cancellations this year, but very hopeful that they’ll be back and stronger than ever in the next year or so.

Quench | Gameplay

Quench is a papercraft-inspired world in a narrative/puzzle world. (Image courtesy of Axon Interactive).

OR: As mentioned earlier, Quench was Axon Interactive Inc.’s first video game. What lessons did you learn along the way in developing Quench that you will implement in developing your next video game?

TR: We learned so much, from running a business, to working as a team, to actually shipping, to building a community. Making a game of this scope as a first-time developer was definitely challenging for everyone involved, but we’re very proud of the final product. Next time around, I’m certain some things will be easier, and we’ll make all-new mistakes along the way! That’s just how development goes.

OR: What is next for Axon Interactive Inc.?

TR: Oh, that’s a secret for now! It will be something beautiful, though.

Have you picked up Quench yet? What animal tribe in the game is your favorite?

Let us know in the comments below!

About Quentin H.

I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it. Do you want to do an interview? You can reach me at interviews@oprainfall.com