Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.

The Plucky Squire blends 2D and 3D visuals in aesthetically pleasing and mechanically interesting ways

Brian Crecente
All Possible Futures was formed in 2019 by two games industry veterans, with the mission statement of making amazing, outstanding, beautiful original games—the type of games that cause a stir when the world gets to see and play them.

Having gained experience working on titles such as the mainline Pokémon series, The Swords of Ditto, Fluidity/Hydroventure, and Stealth Inc, All Possible Futures are now poised to create oh-so-special videogames that turn your head and melt your heart.
After spending time working on original Nintendo games for different developers, Jonathan Biddle and James Turner decided it was time to try something new.

And it turns out a book was the perfect vehicle for their next game.

In The Plucky Squire, players adventure through the colorful pages of a storybook. Each page offers the opportunity to present players with different styles of gameplay designed to surprise and delight the player.

But the adventures don’t end at the edge of the page, you can also leap from the book into the realistic world that surrounds it. Exploring the room and its contents, like coffee cups, plastic toys, and wooden dioramas.

The team at All Possible Futures hopes the end result is an eye-catching game that will melt your heart.

We chatted with the co-founders about their start on this new game at this new studio, how they used Unreal Engine to build out the details of their little world, and the impact being awarded an Epic MegaGrant had on the team.

What made you decide to form All Possible Futures?

Jonathan Biddle, Co-Founder and Co-Director:
Jamie and I met over twenty years ago while working at a company called Blue52. We shared a lot of the same sensibilities in design and taste in video games, with a special fondness for Nintendo.

After Jamie moved to Japan, we kept in touch, building our careers from opposite sides of the world—Jamie at Game Freak and myself at Curve Studios—with both of us directing original games for Nintendo along the way.

When Jamie decided that it was time to try something new, I had just finished The Swords of Ditto for Devolver, so the timing was perfect for us to finally strike out together.

Where did the idea for The Plucky Squire come from and how did it evolve?

James Turner, Co-Founder and Co-Director:
I have a particular illustration style that is quite minimalist and colourful, and I wanted to make a game using those visuals. An idea came to mind; a game set in a storybook where you control the main character, adventuring through its pages.
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.
I thought the format of a book could be interesting because you could continually change up the gameplay; on one page you could play a top-down adventure section, the next page you could be playing a potion-stirring minigame or a choose-your-own-adventure style game—the player could be constantly encountering fun surprises. I also thought it’d be interesting if the game explored the physical format of the book—maybe there would be secrets hidden on the back of pages that you needed to lift up, for example.

I showed the idea to Jonathan, who liked it, and we started to brainstorm. What if the player character could actually jump out of the page and adventure around the room in which the book was placed? What if they could also jump into other illustrations in the room:printed art on the side of mugs, for example, or sketches on bits of paper? A whole world of possibilities opened up.
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.
If we were going to explore the room outside of the book, we’d want it to look as realistic and beautifully lit as possible for maximum contrast with the simple illustrations of the book—and maximum surprise for the player when they encountered that moment.

The game idea excited both of us, and we started work on a prototype a couple of days later. When the prototype was in good shape, we showed it to Devolver, who liked what they saw and that kicked the project off properly.
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.
Were there particular games, shows, or comics that influenced the look of the game and its characters?

This game is a little unusual in that it contains a variety of visual styles, and each of those styles has its own influences.

The visuals inside the book are based on my illustration style, and many of the characters are actually versions of characters that I’d previously drawn. The lead character Jot and his mentor wizard Moonbeard, for example, are similar to characters from a comic called “Cosmic” that I had drawn for fun.
When translating this style to the pages of the book I had in mind kids’ story books that feature simple, colourful illustrations, such as the Mr. Men series, Meg and Mog, or Miffy.

The room outside of the book is a realistic environment, and so we looked at lots of photographic references to hone the kind of look that we were after. Another influence was the inviting feel of classic Pixar movies such as Toy Story.

For the various illustrations that Jot can jump into, we’ve taken inspiration from a number of sources, from Saturday morning sci-fi cartoons, to kid’s drawings, to richly drawn fantasy art.
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.
The studio's mission statement says that you want to make the sort of games that cause a stir when the world gets to see and play them. What did it feel like to achieve that goal with the announcement of The Plucky Squire?

It’s wonderful that the game seems to have resonated with so many people, but it did surprise us just how well it was received.

For us, the original announcement trailer was only intended as a teaser to show what we were working on. With so many games in development these days, we were actually concerned that someone else might be working on a similar idea.

That would have really sunk the game before it got started, so we wanted to make sure we were first. But… people really got it. They saw the love that is being poured into it and the fun we’re having making it, and they seemed to want to come along for the ride.

The last few years have been hard for many of us around the world, so it felt like people responded well to our announcement simply because it made them smile. That is exactly where we want to be as a studio.

The announcement trailer shows a lot of different sorts of gameplay inside the book. What can you tell us about how all of that fits together and how much of the game happens in a 2D world?

We wanted to feature lots of different styles of gameplay inside the book as a way to continually surprise and delight the player. The format of the book allows for this because each of its pages can present something completely different to the next.

We don’t want these different gameplay experiences to feel random or haphazard, however. It’s important to us that they fit naturally into the flow of the adventure, and so each gameplay section is incorporated into the story in a way that makes sense.

The 2D world of the book is the anchor of the game; it’s the homeworld of all of our main characters, and so a lot of the story and the drama is generated there.

The 3D world of the room is more like an exotic, unknown land into which our hero must venture, and we feature gameplay there in focused but impactful missions.

What made you decide to create a game that leaps from 2D to 3D?

The idea of jumping from 2D to 3D was one that naturally occurred as we brainstormed the idea of a game set inside the book. An important theme for the game was one of “surprise,” and what bigger surprise than to have the main character jump out of the 2D pages of a book and into a 3D world? Once the idea occurred we couldn’t wait to get it up and running in a prototype.

There’s something compelling about the idea of a character realizing that there is an entirely different world beyond their own. It’s one of the core features of the archetypal hero’s journey—the idea of travelling from the known world to the unknown world. That moment is in works like The Wizard Of Oz, The Matrix, or Spirited Away.

The transition from 2D to 3D is a fun way to illustrate that concept; it visualizes the leap from one world to another in a really clear way.
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.

We wanted to make the two worlds as different looking as possible. You could imagine a 2D illustration style that is more richly shaded and complex or a 3D world that is more stylized and simple looking, but we thought that the maximum contrast would be between a 2D illustration style that is simple and minimalistic and a 3D environment that is realistic and beautifully lit.

How did Unreal Engine help you achieve the distinct look of the game in both its 2D and 3D worlds?

Unreal Engine was crucial in helping us realize the look that we were after, allowing for the creation of the realistic, beautifully lit environment of the room, as well as the tactile look of the book’s pages on which the 2D gameplay takes place. There’s something quite compelling about seeing 2D illustrations moving around on a page with a realistic paper quality to it.
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.
It has been a pleasure to work in the engine and has been continually exciting to see the elements that it allows—such as materials, lighting, and particle effects—all contributing to the verisimilitude of our little world.

I started working in the industry as a 3D artist, and remember a time when the creation of realistic and beautiful scenes required long render times and complex lighting setups. Working in Unreal was quite mind blowing at first—I can achieve this level of realism and beauty this easily? In real time?

The leap into the world of Unreal has been an exciting one, and I’m looking forward to using the engine as it evolves.

In the trailer, the 3D world seems to be blending your colorful, cartoon animation style with a realistic setting. How did you achieve that?

A key ingredient of that blend between colourful animations and the realistic world is the skin between those two worlds; the surfaces on which the illustrations are printed.

In the book, that’s the surface of the page, which has a paper quality, but we also feature gameplay on the ceramic surfaces of mugs, the plastic surface of a toy tub, and the rough, painted surface of a wooden diorama.
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.
The colourful and cartoony 2D gameplay is viewed on a medium which looks compellingly realistic, and that’s the thing that ties it to the surrounding world.

What challenges did you encounter when designing gameplay mechanics for 2D and 3D and how did Unreal Engine help you overcome those challenges?

The greatest challenge for us has definitely been integrating the 2D and 3D worlds. On a technical level, both types of worlds need to exist at the same time, with each having a knowledge of the other, both spatially and logically. Objects and characters need to be passed between those two worlds, with the 3D objects that display the 2D games moving and animating in real-time.

The camera also has to be translated from a traditional 2D game camera into one that frames and follows the action correctly in the 3D world. All of these elements then also need to be transitioned between seamlessly to make those two worlds appear as one. That all has to happen before we even get started on the gameplay!

In game design terms, one of the things that we’ve had to adapt to is the player being able to break what would traditionally be hard boundaries. 2D space is not necessarily linear when you can enter it via an encompassing 3D world, and layouts are not static if you can turn the page and change what you’re interacting with. Players are able to physically interact with the object that contains their gameplay, which often demands unique game design solutions, but also creates fascinating gameplay opportunities.
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.
Because what we’re doing is so challenging, having Unreal’s mature featureset at our fingertips means that we can concentrate on implementing our more unique features rather than constantly coming up against roadblocks. I’ve found that whenever I need something, Unreal’s developers have already got there first. You can tell that it has been developed by a team of people who have used it themselves to ship games. It really helps to ensure that the core process stays frictionless.

The Plucky Squire looks like it will be an action-adventure and platform game. What sort of advice would you give to other developers hoping to create that distinct blend of game using Unreal Engine?

I would say not to be afraid of using the built-in systems, such as character controllers, physics, or AI. Game development has so many curveballs to throw at you that it pays to focus on the actual game part of your project: what makes your game special, why people should care about it.

Unreal Engine has a lot of features though; pick the ones that matter most to your game and get stuck in!
Courtesy of All Possible Futures Ltd.
What impact did receiving an Epic MegaGrant have on the team and the game?

It was really gratifying to receive the MegaGrant. We love what Epic are doing to support development by smaller teams and it’s wonderful to be recognized as part of that.

Knowing that Epic believes in us is a great motivator! In practical terms, the MegaGrant has allowed us to bolster our Unreal Engine capability and help us focus on areas of development that we’re not as strong in, but it’s also just great to be a part of such a supportive community.

The reaction to the trailers for The Plucky Squire have been overwhelmingly positive. What has it been like for the team to see these as they work to finish the game?

The reaction to the game has been lovely to see. It has been encouraging that the game resonates with people in the way that we hoped. Many people have commented that the game reminds them of something that they played or enjoyed in childhood, which is the kind of feeling that we were aiming for.

We appreciate all the kind words!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Where can people find out more about The Plucky Squire and All Possible Futures?

You can catch us on Twitter and via our official website.

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