The Joystiq Indie Pitch: They Breathe

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, we get a lesson in deep-water ecosystems form Magnus Nystrom of The Working Parts, with its dark, "sunken forest frog adventure" title for XBLIG and PC, They Breathe.

What's your game called and what's it about?

They Breathe is a game about discovery. It's a short indie game where you play as a frog who encounters strange creatures on the way toward the bottom of a flooded forest. In order to survive, you have to connect the dots and figure out how the forest's bizarre ecosystem works.

Do you think They Breathe has something completely different than any other game on XBLIG?

Well, we don't have avatars. It's not about zombies. Our world is not made of blocks. But other than that, we try to do what we believe that most other XBLIG developers also try to do, which is give our players a great experience.

At first glance, we hope that the box art will convey the game's darker mood and that players will be intrigued by the mysteries lurking in the depths.

You mentioned XBLIG sales have been slow -- do you think that's because of the dash, Microsoft's marketing strategies, or just general lack of interest from Xbox players?

We think that XBLIG was slow for a number of reasons. First there was the new dashboard, which we shouldn't blame but it's kind of hard not to. It's way too hard to find and browse indie games using it, so the chance of people stumbling onto our game and saying, "Hey, this looks cool, let's have a look," has been reduced significantly. Also, in retrospect, it's possible that XBLIG wasn't quite the right market for They Breathe. When we look at popular titles on the platform it's quite clear that our kind of slow, story/experience-driven indie games are more successful on other platforms.

How has the PC port been, sales and response wise?

Well, the PC version is just in its first phase, being offered exclusively on IndieCity (which is in beta). We're currently looking at bringing it to many new platforms and also selling it ourselves on our own website. Response has been great from PC players and XBLIG players likewise, but as more and more people get to experience the game, we're looking forward to even more thoughts, reflections and feedback from different players.

What inspired you to make They Breathe?

There's actually a story behind that, but it's absolutely impossible to tell without spoiling the game. We keep trying to phrase it, but there's just no way. We had to hide it in a gallery that you unlock after you've reached the end. Let's just say that we stumbled upon something that we just had to make something out of.

You teased a twist at the end of They Breathe -- care to elaborate?

When we started making They Breathe, it was all about this twist. Now that the game is finished though, the twist is merely our premier example of what the game is about -- learning how the world works and being baffled by the discoveries.

What's the coolest aspect of They Breathe?

We don't hold players by the hand. When playing They Breathe, you're always on your own. There's no interface, no cut scenes, just the rules of the forest. As you begin to understand the relationship between the different creatures, you'll progress through the game and its story. Because of that, everything you do, everything that happens to you and every secret you uncover becomes more personal.

Anything you'd do differently?

It'd be interesting to try a less linear progression. Because we wanted to create a tight experience we removed the ability to go wherever you want, instead restricting the player to the camera's movement. We've also been playing around with different game modes, and maybe we'll add some in the future.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

We have loads of crazy ideas, and want to spend all of our time coming up with ways to realize them. Whether it's about controls, storytelling or game mechanics, we'll keep experimenting in a way that simply wouldn't be possible if working for someone else.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

In regards that we're striving to do what indie games do best -- innovate and experiment in ways that multi-million dollar franchises can't afford to do -- then yes. We're also very lucky to be surrounded and inspired by other talented indie developers in our hometowns of Gothenburg and Skövde, which is kind of a movement in itself.

Sell your game in one sentence:

They Breathe invites you to explore and discover the truth beneath the surface of a bizarre, underwater ecosystem.

What's next?

We have loads of plans for 2012. We just wrapped up the Windows version of They Breathe, which we're very excited about. It's also about time that we finish up the game we originally assembled the studio to make -- a story-heavy platform adventure about the Aral Sea disaster, called Residue. Besides that, our next project is well under way, and it looks to be a much larger game with a black heart. Occasionally we'll also make smaller games, like the free web game Eyes we just released. So you have lots of things to look forward to from The Working Parts.

They Breathe is available now through XBLIG (240 MS Points; $3) and IndieCity ($2). Delve into the dark waters of deep thought and frog legs, if you're up to the challenge.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.