Castles in the Sky took me by surprise, not because of stunning graphics, hardcore gameplay or amazing physics. No, what took me by surprise was innocence, a sense of whimsy I’d long since forgotten after becoming a ‘proper grown-up’.
Produced by a small indie team of two, Castles in the Sky comes across as a delightful blend of simplistic platforming and heartfelt narrative, presented as a spread of colourful pixel-based art. The game is equal parts story book and platforming, where the goal is to scale upwards towards the sky, bouncing from cloud to cloud as a rhyming narrative unfolds.
Because of the nature of the game, it would be difficult to reveal much else about its features without spoiling the overall experience, so I caught up with Dan Pearce (@gamedesigndan) and Jack de Quidt (@notquitereal) to ask them a few questions regarding Castles in the Sky, and what the future holds for The Tall Trees.
Dan: I started the project on my own one night. We’d started a few projects (which are still going) that were going to be in production for a while longer, and I felt like playing something like Castles. I was struggling to find anything, so I decided to toy around with a small prototype. This resulted in me staying up until 6AM making this little thing with a kid jumping in clouds, the art for which is what you see in the game. I became pretty attached to it and pitched it to Jack the following day as an introductory piece to showcase what The Tall Trees is.
Jack: Dan pitched it to me as similar in terms of gameplay to Doodle Jump, and while those games are great, I always felt they were lacking something normatively. Ha! I mean, story isn’t really what they’re for, but that sort of gameplay where you’re inexorably moving upwards could lend itself really nicely to discovery and narrative.
I’m not entirely sure where the decision to make it rhyme came from, but as soon as that appeared, it was pretty much set as a picture-book. There was something so playfully naive about writing in that style, and I don’t think another story would have worked. From then on, I tried as best I could to emulate the style and feel of the picture books I had read to me as a kid. I didn’t want to push the story anywhere too radical – just keep it gentle and playful. And as is the way of all these stories, they end with the kid going to bed. So that’s where we had to go.
The Indie Mine: So the style is very innocent and childlike, like you said to emulate those old memories of a children’s bedtime story. Would you say this was aimed at a younger audience? I can see this being very popular as a shared activity between young kids and their parents.
Jack: I think from my perspective I’m always taken with the stance that Pixar take, which is “we just make films. Hopefully, both adults and kids will like it”. It’s true that there aren’t really enough games for parents and children to play together, but I wouldn’t say it was designed in mind for a single demographic. That said, introducing younger generations to indie games in a way in which their parents are an active part of the game is a really admirable goal, and if we can do that even a bit, I’ll be happy.
Dan: Yeah, I had someone ask me this earlier actually and I think the answer I gave was something like “it’s not for kids, so much as adults who wish they were kids”.
The Indie Mine: Since you chose to publish this as your first game under The Tall Trees brand, do you see yourself making more of this style of interactive story book gameplay in the future? Is there a particular style of game you’d really like to explore?
Dan: I think it’s definitely something we’re thinking about when looking at future projects. As I said, we started a couple of our projects before Castles, and those are definitely in a similar vein. I’m not amazing with words (which is why Jack’s so good to work with), so I’d have trouble defining what The Tall Trees is all about. Jack and I have agreed that Castles is a very “Tall Treesy” game, though, so hopefully the game says what that means better than I can.
Jack: We’d like to make games about discovering beautiful things frequently and surprisingly. I don’t know if we’re likely to make more rhyming, jumping games, but the sensibility at the heart of Castles (“you’re going on a journey, here are some lovely things”) is one that I think is central to our designs.
Dan: I think that’s our core really. The main thing that will change around that will be the control schemes and tones of each game.
It’s important to note that Castles in the Sky isn’t your typical game experience. The game will take approximately 10-15 minutes to finish, and in many ways it is more story than platformer, which is reflected in the games very affordable $1.50 price tag. Those wanting to pre-order the game can do so at the official site here. Pre-ordering will net you the game (on PC & Mac), soundtrack and wallpapers when the game launches on the 18th of this month.
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