June 3, 2019
Unbound: Worlds Apart is puzzles, multidimensional portals, and stunning hand-painted graphics
With initial development starting back in August of 2016, Unbound: Worlds Apart is currently wrapping up its Kickstarter. Having achieved their funding goal, Alien Pixel is now looking to finish the second half of the game. Using portals to different dimensions as a clever mechanic to introduce new player abilities, Unbound is a dark fairy tale that is rife with unique puzzles and the boost of support from enthusiastic backers opens up the opportunity for even more possibilities.
We had a chance to connect with lead designer Sergiu Craitoiu as he talks about quitting his day job to commit to Unbound full-time, why Alien Pixel chose to go with crowdfunding, and what it was like learning Unreal Engine 4 while jumping into development. Thanks for chatting with us! Can you please tell us a bit about how Alien Pixel came to life? Why did you decide to jump into indie game development?
Thanks for having me. I’ve honestly had a strong passion for games from a young age. Back in 2005 while I was still in high school, I started to take programming seriously and was curious about how other people develop their games. My first project was a snake game. It was fun times!
Back then, I didn't know anything about the Romanian gaming industry. So, in university, I made a shift to other domains (web, automotive) because it was much easier to find a job. My fortunes changed in 2014 when a friend asked me to go with him to a Ubisoft game jam, and without a second thought, I joined him. I immediately loved the atmosphere! The people and the passion they had for developing ideas was inspiring. That's the moment when Alien Pixel came to life. After two years and a few prototypes, we launched our first game, Polandball: Can into Space, in 2016.
Alien Pixel became my main hobby. I wanted to develop games in my free time outside of my job. After Polandball was released, we started prototyping new ideas, which eventually became Unbound: Worlds Apart, the game we are currently working on.
I've played a little bit of the Unbound: Worlds Apart demo, and it was delightful. What is the game all about and what can players expect when they jump in?
Thank you very much! Unbound: Worlds Apart invites players to take on the role of Soli, conjuring magic portals to travel between different realities in order to learn more about the catastrophe that ravaged his world. As Soli discovers more about the fate that befell his world, players will explore stunning hand-crafted environments and explore a dark fairy tale that begs to be unraveled. Inside certain portals, the laws of physics and abilities of the character can change, opening up new and inventive ways to progress.
I couldn't help but notice some likenesses to great games like Limbo and the Trine series. Can you talk about any of the game’s influences?
We started Unbound as a 3D first-person horror game where you can change the environments with a magic torch. We realized that we didn't have the resources to finish that type of game and we decided to keep the idea, but move it to 2D.
The changing of environments can be a difficult game design issue because you don't always know what to expect in that second environment. Changing the whole screen at once can create confusion for players, so a different solution was required.
Inspiration hit me in an odd way when I came up with the solution we decided to go with. I was listening to a UK metal band called Architects, and they have a music video featuring a huge bubble behind them making a contrast between black and white, and from that moment, I knew that I should apply some sphere/portals like that in the game. So, that's how we came up with the mechanics.
Visually, our artist Olga Ciob is inspired by games like Ori and the Blind Forest, Limbo, and Hollow Knight. I, on the other hand, am inspired by games like Braid, The Swapper, Portal, and Diablo II.
Did you have any experience with Unreal Engine 4 coming into the project? How has the journey of creating Unbound helped you better understand how to work with the engine?
Before Unbound, I had absolutely zero experience with Unreal Engine. When we started working in Unreal, I was a C++ software developer and I also had some experience with OpenGL and DirectX. I wanted to use C++ for our next game and that's the reason why we chose Unreal Engine over other engines. During the development of Unbound, I discovered that Unreal is a very powerful engine with lots of features that can help you prototype really fast and increase productivity. To this day, I still discover new awesome stuff that can be used to develop the game.
Unbound: Worlds Apart is currently on Kickstarter. Why did you choose to crowdfund the game and what do you hope to deliver to your dedicated backers?
Yes, our Kickstarter campaign is currently winding down and we’ve successfully reached our goal! There are a few reasons why we decided to create a crowdfunding campaign.
The first reason is simply to validate our idea. We want to see if people are interested in the game. We are grateful for every piece of feedback we receive, and we are working hard to deliver a great experience to our players.
The second reason is to create a community around the game. It’s a wonderful feeling when you see that people are getting involved with the game, and they want to help you with everything from feedback to bringing new ideas to life.
Finally, and perhaps the most obvious of the reasons are the resources, of course. We still need to add more content to the game and to polish it even more. We don't want to rush the game because we lack funds. We’re only a two-person team of developers who have been working full-time for a year now across art, programming, and game design. Still, there are also areas that we cannot cover like sound design, music, or animations, which require additional resources.
What's been your favorite tool in the Unreal Engine 4 suite during development so far?
I’ve actually got three tools that I love, and without them, development wouldn't be the same. The material editor is amazing because you can create shaders very easily and preview the results in real time. The particle editor is a wonderful tool as well. Without too much experience, you can achieve great results in a really short time. The third one is Blueprints, which allows me to quickly prototype actors and see what kind of behavior I want for them.
There are a lot of 2D puzzle platformers. What do you think sets Unbound apart and how are you keeping gameplay fresh for players?
I think Unbound stands out with its beautiful hand-crafted graphics and a large number of portals that affect the game mechanics, making players consistently check what abilities they will have with the next portal. The level design is built in a Metroidvania style to allow free exploration of the beautiful worlds at any pace. The story is meant to immerse players even deeper into Unbound’s fairy tale atmosphere. Oh, and there are a lot of tricky puzzles along the way!
Everything from the gorgeous backgrounds to the characters in the game are stunningly hand-painted. Did UE4 help with this in any way?
Thank you so much! We’re using Paper2D to create Unbound, which is an Unreal plugin that deals with sprites and 2D animations, but for everything else, we use Unreal’s standard features. The workflow is similar to one that is used for 3D games, but instead of meshes, we use sprites. We also use the fog system provided by Unreal and the post-processing to enhance the visuals, making the colors pop and creating that sense of depth.
What were your favorite resources when you were learning about Unreal Engine 4?
There are lots of sources to learn from. What helped me when I started with Unreal was Zak Parrish's tutorials. The live training videos are also a great source to learn. I'm also studying other projects from the learning section. For me, the greatest challenges are the particles effects, and since I'm not an artist, I need to check what other people have done to achieve certain types of effects. For this, I look on YouTube to see what other people have created or reverse engineer some particles from the UE4 Marketplace. If I have questions, I go on the forums or on Reddit.
Where are all the places people can go to learn more about Alien Pixel and Unbound: Worlds Apart?
You can find us on Twitter at @UnboundTheGame, learn more about Unbound: Worlds Apart on our Kickstarter page, wishlist the game over on Steam, and chat with us on our Discord channel!