There are countless movies, TV shows, and books featuring dissimilar heroes who put aside their differences to thwart evil. Take Woody and Buzz Lightyear in the original Toy Story, Arnold and Danny DeVito in Twins, and in the case of upcoming video game Bookbound Brigade… Dracula, King Arthur, and Nikola Tesla! Yes, some of the most iconic literary and even real-world figures joined forces to upend bad guys in what is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing 2D adventure games that we’ve seen, and not simply because of the unlikely squad, but also a unique gameplay feature that will challenge players to solve puzzles and defeat enemies in different ways than they expect.
That said, we sat down with Lead Game Designer Fabio Respighi, Lead Programmer Timothy Van Der Gen, and Producer Alessandra Tomasina from developer Digital Tales to not only learn more about the mechanics behind Bookbound Brigade, but why Queen Victoria is battling alongside Robin Hood, and the Monkey King.
OK, where did the idea behind Bookbound Brigade come from?
Bookbound Brigade was born out of the love of our team for role-playing and action-adventure games… and a fortuitous coincidence. We had been playing around with the idea of a group of heroes moving and fighting as a single entity for some time, when a call for proposals by the European Commission was published back in 2014, asking for innovative games promoting cultural values. So we wondered what would happen if the group in our game concept was actually a dream team of popular fictional and historical characters, wreaking havoc in the literary world. That’s how Brigade came to be.
What is the gameplay like? Are we literally controlling all of the heroes in unison?
Bookbound Brigade is a 2D side-scrolling platform-adventure in the Metroidvania subgenre.
The player controls eight characters at the same time and can change their formation on the fly, deploying them in Standard (compact), Line, Column and Wheel formation. The formation choice will be a key strategic element, equally affecting combat, puzzle solving, and platforming.
Although the Brigade members have individual stats and skills, a physical connection keeps them together at all times and affects their behavior during gameplay. One for all, all for one!
The game's description says we will beat up historical and literary characters. Who can we expect to encounter throughout the game?
The Bookbound Brigade has been hand-picked by the Narrator to support the player in his quest to recover the Book of Books, a magical tome encompassing every word ever written by man, and to save the Literary World. It is made up of King Arthur, Count Dracula, Robin Hood, Dorothy Gale, Sun Wukong, Queen Victoria, Cassandra, and Nikola Tesla. It’s an unlikely dream team of historical and literary stars who overcome their differences - often with unpredictable and hilarious results - and join forces to save their world.
On top of them, the player will meet 51 NPCs (all historical or literary characters themselves) while exploring four thematic worlds. We picked the most disparate characters, so that each gamer could meet some familiar and less familiar faces, ranging from Julius Caesar and Cleopatra to Dorian Gray and Captain Nemo.
How long was Bookbound Brigade in development, and what was the creation process like?
Bookbound Brigade has been in development for about three years, sometimes on and off in-between B2B projects that we took on to self-fund the game. Our team is made up of 16 people, but not all of them worked on the project full-time, except for the Producer, Lead Game Designer, Art Director and Lead Programmer. Everybody on the team, regardless of their role, contributed to the design of the game with suggestions, fresh ideas and/or play-testing. We can say Brigade is a true labor of love.
What challenges cropped up during development, and how did you overcome them?
From a technical point of view, each platform has distinctive features, pros and cons.
The Switch required a greater optimization of the memory usage, for example, while the PS4 imposed stricter technical and features requirements, such as user management or trophies. All in all, the Switch version gave us some more headaches, but we were determined to bring Brigade to this platform because we think it’s a perfect match for the game, and for Metroidvania games in general.
A fun and interesting fact is that one of the most annoying bugs was eventually turned into a gameplay feature, as is often the case with game development. It was far from easy for our designers and coders to have eight characters moving and jumping around the game world in unison, so the platforming sometimes didn’t work right. When jumping onto small-sized platforms, some Brigade members would not fit because there wasn’t enough room for all of them, yet they didn’t fall down since they are held together by spring-like physics. While trying to fix this issue, we realized it would be fun to find the right balance with the Brigade on some platforms and even to use this trick to reach inaccessible areas or triggers in order to solve puzzles, so we fine-tuned that as a mechanic and actually turned it into a unique selling point!
Cool! So what message do you have for gamers seeing Bookbound Brigade for the first time?
We hope they will like Bookbound Brigade’s take on the Metroidvania genre: our goal was to develop a Metroidvania game revolving around the Brigade concept as opposed to the player controlling a single character, as is usually the case. We also aimed at making the genre more friendly and accessible for non-hardcore gamers, while keeping it challenging and satisfying, nonetheless.
It’s up to you to actually tell us if we succeeded!
Bookbound Brigade will launch on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch later this year.