The Gardens between is a beautiful, smooth, curious, story driven, indie puzzler crafted from nostalgia by The Voxel Agents (Train conductor world, Puzzle retreat) Available for Steam on PC or Mac in Q3, 2018. The Gardens Between is definitely on my watch list.
Gifted with the chance to play about a 30min demo of the game, I was introduced to some of the main mechanics and elements of the game while not delving into any of the main story, so as to not give away the context and reason why the characters (Arina and Frendt) and are in “The Gardens Between”
Never really being big on playing puzzle games myself, I did thoroughly enjoy what I was able to play and found that while made for PC and Mac, the game is best played with a controller, which if you have a PS4 or XBOX controller with a USB cable is relatively easy to connect up.
Ingrained in this witty, challenging puzzle scape is a very well executed sense of nostalgia, the scenes portray a story of childhood and imagination which is backed by beautifully soothing score and scattered sounds that hint at another world outside.
Time is the governing mechanic in this “little puzzler” and I’m sure that it will also play a considerable role in the story as well.
I caught up with Henrik Pettersson to talk about the main inspiration behind making games like The Gardens Between. What he did before making video games and what music he enjoys listening to.
If you would like to catch up with the team behind “The Gardens Between” and try your hands on this fantastic game, they will be at booth AiS04 in the PAX Rising Arena.
What was the main inspiration when you decided to make “The Gardens Between”?
Henrik: The main inspirations, well, there were a lot of games that inspired it for sure. This game started a long time ago. So this was during the kinda Indie revolution that happened in 2011.
There were games like Braid and certainly the time mechanic there was an inspiration and then later on “Journey”.
So those were the kind of games that we were looking at, and a whole heap of Japanese games because the whole team grew up with Nintendo.
Other inspirations were games like “Ghost streak.” Oh yeah, and a lot of symobil games which are mainly on tablets and phones, really clever little puzzlers.
In terms of books, we were very inspired buy and movies in general, stories that have an internal journey like “Alice in Wonderland” [or] “Pans Labyrinth” or “Coraline”. These little stories that have an internal journey….. inside of the subconsciousness.
These are the type of stories that we were very interested in and the formula around that, what in script writing is called the “voyage and return.” That….. story structure that we were kinda interested in to explore.
Usually, you can see the similarities there. They all kinda start of in this environment where they usually have a quite young protagonist that you follow who then finds the self falling into this mysterious world.
They have to encounter things in order to grow up and deal with reality.
Those kinda things were the inspiration. We’re big into story telling for sure and we wanted to tell a story that was true and honest, that was another big requirement for us.
Nice, well it definitely translates across that. I think a big thing for me is that when you’re playing, you can hear a lot of childhood noises and there’s a lot of objects that are nostalgic as you’re going through this puzzle. It’s very much an internal story that they’re making a story or making a game out of what they have available to them.
It’s cool that you picked up on the sounds. I have been working a lot with our musician and composer team to have reality kinda seep in a bit to these spaces and you can kinda hear a soundscape that tells a bit more about the story than what you see in front of you.
When did you decide that making video games is what you wanted to do? Rather than something people consider a real job, I say that very sarcastically because I would love to be able to play and/or make video games for my life too.
I think the idea of it I had when I was really quite young. I remember telling my parents that I wanted to make video games when I was maybe ten years old.
I remember them telling me, “Well you have to do well in school then, it’s not easy.”
Frustrated by that, school was very hard for me, I had a very creative spark I think.
[And] even at a younger age, I did enjoy designing little games for my friends and peers around me. In particular, when we had physical education classes. Sometimes, we would design our own classes around that and I loved that. I loved designing obstacle courses and things like that for the other kids.
So (making games) definitely was an early thing that I dreamt about, I didn’t know it was going to be this hard.
If i had‘ve known it would be so hard making video games, (laughs) I might have picked something else.
So you just decided to go straight into video games. You didn’t study anything else before that? You just went, “I’m gonna do video games!”
No, because I went to Uni in Queensland and I did do a games course there. But, it was the first year they run this course and the best thing about that course…..because the video game and design classes were quite rubbish. The cool thing is, that this University was at the film school and art college and I got to learn a lot of sound design, cinematography, traditional art – a lot of things that are outside of games. I did study more multimedia when I was in my mid to late teens.
It became games from when I was around 20 years old onwards.
Being that you create games – I’m going to go out on a limb – and say that you’ve been a gamer yourself in your life. So what is your favourite game or game series?
Ooh, that’s hard. I think the biggest inspirational thing would have to be the old Nintendo games like Zelda and Mario. Just because they were so incredibly well designed.
As a designer today, those old Nintendo games were definitely the most influential ones for sure. So it’s a bit of a boring answer but I’m going to say, Zelda.
Zelda? Fair enough, you’ll probably be upset with me. I’ve only ever played Ocarina of Time on the 3-DS.
Yeah, they play really well on the handheld. That was actually another thing, I have some of my best gaming experiences on a handheld that is my favourite device to play games on. So a lot of my favourite games are handheld games. I really liked the old Metroid series when that came to the game boy and I mentioned Ghoststreak before was pretty cool, Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton.
There’s nothing like being able to take it with you somewhere and you know, keep that with you instead of having to sit down. I’m very, very tempted to get a [Nintendo] Switch. Because you can just take it everywhere and it has multiple different formats. (Laughs)
Yea, I wanna get one too (laughs).
Ok, so what was your first job that you ever did? What paved your way through university or if you got a job as a teenager? What gave you your first bit of money?
I’ve done so much labour jobs. I worked at the Swedish poop factory for a couple of summers – that’s where all the refinery essentially happens. A lot of cleaning jobs labor work – I always still enjoy doing that. I would like to go to the fall (autumn) festival and work in the composting there. I really still enjoy the physical labour of cleaning……or (chuckles)
Shovelling Poo. (laughs)
Yeah, yeah, shovelling poo. There’s something quite satisfying about that.
Typical teenage summer labour jobs. At uni, I did a few jobs there as a freelancer and helping with designs. That’s where I learnt photoshop and was able to specialise a bit more. I also spent a year in the Swedish army. I had an interesting one for sure, yeah.
You mentioned that you studied in Queensland. What was the University or College that you studied at for game design?
I studied at the QCA, which is the Queensland College of Art. I really enjoyed the location and having all those other curriculum, designers and filmographers around me. The thing that made it really great was really the things around it.
And the exposure to people of like mindedness.
Any advice you can give for people who are thinking about getting into the gaming industry? Aside from the, “Don’t give up” or things like that – what have you found that has really kept you going? Other than getting to make games I suppose, because I know that it can sometimes be hard…..
They’re kinda two different questions. What I recommend and what keeps me going. What I recommend is, making and testing things. Drawing things out on pen and paper and you can test those little puzzles on other people. If you set down a couple of rules on pen and paper, it’s testable and it’s not that different than when it’s brought into the games in the end. Obviously, there’s a lot of technical hurdles that you need to get over in games. But as far as design goes and becoming a good games designer, pen and paper and board games is really the core to it. Testing and not being afraid to have your ideas destroyed – because you will be destroyed. Part of making good games is testing and making it better. You have a gut (feeling) for what works. You test it and then you see what’s not working. Then you make something work and then you test it and eventually it gets good.
It’s kinda the same with costume design and things like that as well, You try something once and if it doesn’t work then you do it again. Well, it’s the same with life really, you learn from mistakes.
Here’s a bit of a wrap up and something a little bit of fun. What is the most embarrassing song in your music library or is there any music that you’re ashamed to like?
See today, I listened to Kate Bush. She’s kinda cool so I’m not sure if that’s embarrassing. I like….. I think, Kanye West is pretty good. That’s pretty embarrassing I guess.
Oh my gosh you like Kanye West….. wow (laughs).
(laughs) I’m looking in my library here. There’s a lot of pretentious indie music. Oh, Major Lazer, I love that stuff definitely. That’s great, it’s just loud and noisy – if I’m having a tough day, that kinda music works really well.
I do like a bit of heavy metal myself if I’m having a tough day. It just brings out all the hard anger of the day and just gets rid of it.
Any additional information about The Gardens Between? Will you be attending PAX this year?
Yes, I will be flying down to PAX and I will be there at the booth.