Courtesy of WildArts Studio Inc.

Born of Bread is a Paper Mario-inspired RPG made entirely with Blueprints

Brian Crecente
WildArts Studio is a French Canadian studio that aims to bring fantastical worlds, memorable characters, and fun gameplay to players through the remarkable and unique medium of video games. Our first project was Helltown, a small retro horror game we made as a team of two during our studies. We're now a team of four and, thanks to our publisher Dear Villagers and many other talented individuals, we're working on a far more ambitious game: a light-hearted RPG inspired by the Paper Mario franchise titled Born of Bread.
Inspired by Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Born of Bread aims to be a quirky role-playing game that evolves Intelligent Systems’ successful paper cutout take on Nintendo’s world of Mario.

To deliver on their premise, the small team at WildArts focused on key aspects of the MegaGrant recipient that focused on open-ended gameplay and delivering player immersion through a visually stunning and atmospheric aesthetic.

We spoke with the team about lessons learned on their first game—Helltown—and how they were applied to Born of Bread. We also chatted about how the team used Unreal Engine to create the game’s defining 2D meets 3D look, the power of Blueprints, and whether you can pet the dog in their game.

What did you learn working on your first published game—Helltown—and the work you did as a team of just two at the time?

Gabriel B. Dufour, Art Director and founder:
Our biggest takeaway from Helltown is to never neglect planning and project management! Back then, we were both students and fairly inexperienced in game development. We had a couple of art assets done before we even knew what the core gameplay loop would be and we even added new levels and features well into development. It was pretty chaotic! For Born of Bread, we tried our best to plan the whole game well in advance and avoid feature creep. It allowed us to get a solid grasp of the game's scope and keep coherency between all the game's aspects from the very beginning of development.

How did you come up with the idea for Born of Bread?

After Helltown, we knew we wanted to make a quirky RPG. We started replaying a couple of classic games and ended up getting really inspired by Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. We brainstormed a few ideas on how we could evolve the "paper-RPG formula" and put our own twist on some of those mechanics. I started doodling silly characters and one of them eventually became Loaf, then everything grew around that!

WildArts Studio was formed around the premise that video game interactivity can allow players to organically create their own stories through gameplay. How did you apply that to your development of Born of Bread?

Nicolas Lamarche, Lead Designer and founder:
To achieve this, we focused on several key aspects during the development process: first and foremost, we designed a somewhat open-ended gameplay structure that allowed players to explore a world filled with details and fun characters. Secondly, we emphasized player immersion by delivering a visually stunning and atmospheric experience. The art direction, sound design, and narrative elements were carefully woven together to create levels players would want to explore and spend time in. Lastly, we tied the overworld exploration to our combat system as a way to foster a dynamic and interconnected gameplay experience. Players can find a variety of weapons, boons, items, and other secrets that allow for interesting and diverse ways to "shape" their Loaf (pun not intended) to their preferred way of approaching combat.
Courtesy of WildArts Studio Inc.
You have a team of four working on Born of Bread (five if you count the moral support of Chi-Chi the dachshund). How is Unreal Engine helping such a small team tackle such a seemingly complex genre?

In several ways! We wanted to make Born of Bread playable on as many machines as possible and knew we'd eventually want to port it to the Nintendo Switch, so I cared a lot about optimization. With the help of UE's profiling tools, visualizers, online resources, and time savers like auto-generated lightmaps, we were able to achieve great performance while having very pleasing visuals. Our project is also 100 percent built through Blueprints, so I could help Nicolas with a couple of gameplay elements despite not being a programmer myself and build procedural assets for the art pipeline. Nic didn't know C++ when we started the project, so having a visual scripting language enabled us to make the game you see today.
Courtesy of WildArts Studio Inc.
How is WildArts rethinking turn-based encounter tropes for Born of Bread?

Actions in combat are performed via button prompts which require specific timing and, if done perfectly, dish out some extra damage to your foes. This way, players are always on their toes, trying to perform well and not just pressing the "A" button all the time. In addition, we have a very cool mechanic called the Battle Broadcast. Your fights are live-streamed to the NPCs you've met along your way and they react to your performance in funny and colorful ways. Also, by having lots of viewers and doing well in combat, you'll receive helpful bonuses from the Battle Broadcast that will help you out in a pinch.

You mention the Paper Mario games as inspiration for this role-playing game. How has that franchise influenced Born of Bread and how are you making the approach found in those games your own with this title?

We loved how these games approached turn-based combat and how they allowed players to customize their tactics thanks to badges, all the while featuring a fun narrative and beautiful worlds to jump through. For Born of Bread, we decided to put more emphasis on characters by constantly keeping your buddies relevant mechanically and narratively. Exploration also plays a much bigger part in our game, as you'll find that many gameplay systems are directly tied to exploring the game's levels. As for combat, we're introducing weaknesses and resistance for enemies and making our resource points more flexible. We also tried to modernize Paper Mario's crowd system with the Battle Broadcast, and we hope players will have as much fun reading the chat's comments as we did writing them!
Courtesy of WildArts Studio Inc.
How did you use Unreal Engine to achieve the game’s defining 2D meets 3D look?

We're using the plugin Paper2D for our characters and collectibles, which lets us use custom materials on our sprites. I apply a normal map on them to allow a bit of light to interact with the characters and it gives them some volume. It's very easy for me to create shaders without knowing how to code in HLSL. Each character also has a soft shadow decal at their feet to better ground them into the world. That, along with hand-drawn textures on the 3D objects, creates the game's cartoony aesthetic!

What impact did receiving an Epic MegaGrant have on the studio and Born of Bread?

Our Epic MegaGrant allowed us to kickstart the project after releasing the 2021 standalone demo and pitch it to publishers. At the time, I had a full-time job while Nic worked solely on Born of Bread, so having these extra funds really helped us focus on getting our game noticed!

You showcased the game at PAX East earlier this year. What lessons, if any, did you get out of the experience?

That people really enjoyed playing Born of Bread! We're so head-deep in development that it's often difficult to take a step back and look at our game. Being at PAX East and seeing people play in front of us was super refreshing and really exciting. We can't wait to see people play the full game and hear the voices they give to our characters!
Courtesy of WildArts Studio Inc.
What advice would you give to other indie developers hoping to create a 2.5D game using Unreal Engine?

Aim to create coherency between your 2D elements and 3D meshes by making them share design elements. In our case, characters have soft normal maps to evoke volume, while our meshes have soft features and hand-drawn textures. We also tried to keep the line width in textures as consistent as possible. I'd also suggest looking at the Unreal Engine Marketplace, since there are a bunch of really cool plug-ins there that can help with sprites.

Can you pet the dog in Born of Bread?

Ha ha ha, yes. In fact, you can pet all sorts of animals! Loaf can interact with cats, rats, and even more exotic species like pandas and reindeer!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. How can people find out more about Born of Bread and WildArts Studio?

Thanks a lot for giving us this opportunity to talk a bit about our project! The best way to keep up with development is by following us and our publisher on Twitter (@wildartsdevs and @dearvillagers), or by wishlisting Born of Bread on Steam!

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