E3 2015: Alone With You: Hands-On Plus an Interview

e3-15-benjamin-rivers-coverage-banner

The creator of Alone With You, Benjamin Rivers, is probably best known for Home. No, not that Home, that Home, the 8-bit styled adventure for PS4 and Vita late last year. That was his unique take on the horror game genre and he’s hard at work on his own take on the romance-adventure style of game.

AWY_Logo_ReversedAlone With You takes a small leap forward and fancies up the graphics a bit, but not too much (think mid 16-bit era). You take the role of an astronaut on a doomed colony somewhere in space. A catastrophe has occurred leaving you and the colony’s AI as the only survivors. All the while the planet itself is becoming uninhabitable.

The AI has put together a bold plan to help you two escape but it’ll require some searching for components around the colony and the knowledge of your former friends and colleagues. Searching is your standard point-and-click adventure game affair but without the tricks of items hidden to the point of frustration.

I found pages of a journal scattered around an outpost I was searching and decided to read them. The AI was keen on analyzing the story and was often asking my take on it. It was a fascinating way to get me to really think about what I was reading and how I felt about it rather than just passively drifting through the story.

Speaking to your (now dead) colleagues is where things really get interesting. To do this you’ll enter a sort-of holodeck where the memories of your crewmates are used to recreate them in a physical space. You’ll spend time with them speaking about the past, their current situation, the information you need to survive, and more. Each question presents you with a series of choices and each choice branches the narrative slightly off in another direction. Much like Home, playing the game multiple times with different responses will yield different results.

 

Benjamin Rivers himself was on hand during my time with the demo and I spoke to him about the experience afterward.

Q: Where did the idea for Alone With You come from in terms of story and the unique look of it?

Benjamin Rivers: Well, after I finished Home I knew I didn’t want to make another horror game. I wanted to sort of take some of the elements I did with that, and I guess some of the ideas of narrative-focused gaming, and then see where I could apply them.

So if Home was a way to take a horror game and remove all the elements that I didn’t like as much and focus on the stuff that I did like, the world building, the story, then Alone With You is a way to take what I love about science fiction games, adventure games, and oddly, the romance games and get rid of all the other stuff that I didn’t feel was as interesting to me. Which is like, say, grinding, leveling up, hunting and pecking, you know that kind of pixel hunting, and make a seamless experience where you still feel like you’re building a story but the way you do it is different.

Because Home you know is, you’re literally telling a story in the past tense and recreating a series of events. This one, it’s all present. So Home is a monologue, Alone With You is a conversation. So you’re always talking to the AI or you’re talking to one of the colonists in the holodeck there, but despite the title, it’s never just you.

So I want to see if you can get through a game like this and at the end really feel like you were in a place with a bunch of fake people and the connections you have. Because for me, when I play games like Persona, I love Persona 4 a ton, and it was like the saddest game to finish because I didn’t want to leave all these people I’d spent all this time with, and a good book is like that too, and a good movie I guess, and I wanted to make a game where everyone mattered and it wasn’t just like a bunch of throwaway characters and that when you had a conversation you were always really, really invested.

So again, despite the title, you’re always having conversations with other people.

Alone With You - GDC Demo_20150225150425

Q: Do you know yet, will the length change depending on your choices or is it roughly the same length no matter what you do?

Rivers: Oh, that’s a really good question, no one’s ever asked that before. The game is structured on a day by day basis kind of like a Persona game is, where in the morning you wake up, there’ll be a series of missions you’ll be able to choose at a certain point and then you’ll go through them. Once that batch is done you kind of move on. So I think the length will probably be fairly similar, probably, I’m thinking it’s gonna be about three hours, maybe? And that might change, so no one get mad at me if that changes (laughs). But depending on what you do during the days and what you find when you’re on a mission, certain options may not become available, so that might change how quickly you get through certain scenes.

Q: It was interesting, because when I got in the little shuttlepod and I was cruising across there, it felt like, and not necessarily looked like, but it felt like and old Apple ][ game. In terms of the way the scenes fit together and the flashes.

Rivers: Oh interesting, sure. That’s awesome. Really the thing that I joke about is that it’s my huge love letter to the Sega CD because that’s like my favorite thing ever, because it’s such an oddball console.

So when you think about those games they just crammed in all that bitchin’ music and cutscenes because they could and a lot of them are really limited, like the animation’s really simple, but just because they were big cutscenes everyone was so excited, or at least whoever bought a Sega CD. So that’s kind of the main inspiration. None of the cutscenes are really elaborate. They’re not super Disney animation, they’re just, I want them to just have all these cool little vignettes and giant pops of color and motion and stuff like that.

Because you think about, and like you say, any older game, like PC or whatever, whenever they would show you something that wasn’t just full of all sprites, you were like “Oh man! Look at that!” and they only had enough memory to do these two things but those things look awesome.

Q: That’s awesome. Now I noticed the helmet, how every time we see the character you’re playing they’ve always got a helmet on.

Rivers: Mmm hmm

Q: Does that helmet ever come off? Or is that part of…

Rivers: No, you will never see your face and the main reason is that it’s a dating game but your character is genderless so that it’s completely accessible to everybody. That was one of the main design decisions I made at the beginning because I wanted to make a dating game and my wife was like, “Oh that’s gonna be awesome”. And then she said “Wait a minute, can I play? Is there a girl’s mode?” and I said, okay, I could do that.

So I’m gonna have to make a guy, then I’m gonna have to make a girl. Oh, it’s gonna have to be more animation. Okay it’s gonna make things more difficult and I thought, okay, what am I gonna do with the different characters, the ones you date? And then I thought okay, this is stupid, I’m adding more work. I’m just gonna put you in a helmet and then it doesn’t matter. Then I only have to draw one avatar and then the player can just be that character and it’s great. So, I try to do design by reduction to make the game more accessible and to solve a problem that you would almost think more games would do to make things easier, but I guess they don’t.

Q: Yeah, that’s cool. So, there’s not a lot of hidden stuff around, it seems all straightforward. Is that where you’re going with that?

Rivers: For the most part. I didn’t get to see exactly what you did on your playthrough but depending on things you find or don’t find in your missions, like I said, you’ll have other options when you’re on dates and during other conversations. So, kinda like with Home, it’s not like you’re unlocking a costume or a level but dialogue options and depth of conversation will be kinda what you get.

The approach I’m trying to take is, when you’re talking to people I want it to feel real. Like I don’t want to feel long and really drawn out, but, you know, imagine you’re going on a first date. You’re only going to have so many things you can talk about because you’re getting to know each other. Then as you go through there’ll be other things you learn about each other and hopefully that’ll lead to more interesting dialogue choices. But then, you know, you find some other things that you can talk about and bring that to the conversation. So I’m trying to use that metaphor as a way to find goodies in the environment and let you do more stuff.

So again, I didn’t see the choices you made when you played but depending on what you choose, the dates can be longer or they can be shorter because you might get on a branch and that just might lead to a couple other things.

Q: That’s really cool. Do you have a release window?

Rivers: I’m saying 2015, but I’m saying 2015’s probably not gonna happen. I feel like there’s a lotta stuff I gotta get done first. Because this is a longer game and I wanna make sure that, I just, I feel like just bug testing the dialogue is gonna be a nightmare, so… (laughs)

Q: So it’s gonna be PS4 and Vita right?

Rivers: That’s right. A so the plan is that hopefully it’ll be a simultaneous launch, I mean, man I hope that happens, but we’ll kinda see how things go. And what I’m hoping to do, since the structure is a day by day structure, so that playstyle supports both playing the whole thing in one sitting if you wanted, or you could just finish a mission and put your Vita to sleep and pick it up the next time and you’ll know what you have to do next. So I really didn’t want a game that felt like you’d get lost in the middle when you pick it up again.

Q: It saves every time your character goes to sleep I assume?

Rivers: Yeah, it’ll be saving after each mission and all that kind of stuff so you can absolutely power through things. It’s good for Bus gaming… as I cry alone in the Bus playing my sad sci-fi game.

Q: Ha! That’s awesome, thanks.

Rivers: Thanks for stopping by.

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook