Unbound: Worlds Apart Post-Kickstarter Interview

We continue our series of interviews with another indie gem – Unbound: Worlds Apart. Find out more about this charming platformer from one of its lead developers: Sergiu Craitoiu.

September 16, 2019

Unbound: Worlds Apart is a gorgeous indie platformer developed by Alien Pixel Studios. The game uses portal mechanics, hand-painted environments, and clever puzzles to tell the tale of Soli, a young wizard, on his quest to save his world.

After a widely successful Kickstarter campaign, the game is scheduled for release on May 2020. Most of the mechanics are complete, including ten types of interdimensional portals with unique properties and an alternate ending (but more on this later). You can get a feel of the game, including three of the ten portal mechanisms (alternate reality, reverse gravity, and night vision) by downloading the free Steam demo.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Sergiu, one of the game’s lead developers, to talk more about the game, the team’s crowdfunding experience, and their tips for successfully kickstarting a game.

Unbound: Worlds Apart

Explore beautiful, hand-crafted worlds using portals. Solve puzzles by using the enemies to your advantage, and progress through your adventure at their expense!

Baabuska: Hey Sergiu, thank you for chatting with us today. We’re excited to find out more about Unbound: Worlds Apart. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your team, and the game?

Unbound Worlds Apart - Soli

SERGIU: Hello, Thanks a lot for the interview. I’m super excited to talk about Unbound today with you. About me, I’m an avid gamer, I have been playing games since I was young. I was that guy who couldn’t wait to play Diablo 2 or Heroes 3 after school up ’till late into the night. My interest in programming started in high school because I wanted to create my games, and I was very curious to see how I could recreate mechanics and different programming techniques used in game development. 

In 2017 I met Olga Ciob, our amazing and talented artist. She has more than ten years of experience in the industry, and we started working together on Unbound: Worlds Apart. She set the art direction of the game and made all necessary assets for the demo and Kickstarter campaign.

Now, our team has grown a little, and we are super happy to welcome Andrei Simion. He will be helping us with the technical side so I can shift my focus on game design. 

The game is a beautiful puzzle platformer with an interesting story where you have to use different magic portals to outsmart monsters and find out more about the catastrophe that ravaged the Soli’s world.

Unbound Worlds Apart - world

B: I found it easy to get immersed in the game’s fairy tale world while playing the demo. Will you be adding any secondary characters and lore elements that will impact Soli’s journey?  

S: There are going to be several characters that will contribute to Soli’s journey and character development. Soli will receive quests from them and in return, they will be revealing important parts of the story. The NPCs are a significant part of the lore of the game, and they play an essential role in exposing the plot of the story.

Unbound Worlds Apart Characters

Unbound: Worlds Apart – characters

B: Can you tell us a bit about the game’s influences? I can see some similarities between Unbound and games like Ori, Limbo, Hollow Knight, and… oddly… Portal.

S: We all have different influences that will shape Unbound in a pretty unique way. To me, the biggest inspiration comes from games like Portal, Limbo, Braid and The Swapper and oddly enough – Diablo 2. I absolutely love those games, and players will notice some similarities here and there. These games have a great level design and some pretty interesting mechanics that are unique for each one of them. If you wonder why Diablo 2, well, I love its lore and the way the story is told and how the quests are designed.

On the other hand, Olga loves Ori and Limbo, and these are the games she is looking up to for inspiration. Also, she is always on Pinterest, that is her main “go-to” place to search for new ideas for all the monsters and environments for Unbound.

Andrei loves action-based games and he has a huge crush on platformers. He draws inspiration from games like Hollow Knight, Super Meat Boy, and Celeste

Unbound_ScreenShot_Cave-1240x698

Unbound: Worlds Apart art

B: Soli looks like an adorable red-capped Jawa. What’s his background story? Is there any darkness hiding between those cute eyes?

S: Well, there is some darkness hidden behind any cute eyes 😊, so probably there is some in Soli’s eyes too. We’ll have to see, no more spoilers, please.

B: Haha, OK! Last Soli-related question, I promise. You mentioned he is the only character in the game who can open portals between realities. Will we be seeing any pew-pew action from him in the full game, or will traversing the world be more focused on puzzle-solving and skillful platforming between realities?

S: There will be a combination of skillful platforming and puzzle solving using the portal. We tried some variations of combat in, but it didn’t fit well with the portals. It felt like a bit too much and quite overwhelming at some point, so we decided on a “no go” for combat.

However, there will be monsters in the game as they bring a lot to the overall atmosphere. Instead of fighting, you’ll have to find clever solutions to kill them. Also, there are some tough boss fights throughout the game to keep you on your toes.

B: The portal mechanism is brilliant. Hoping between the colorful world of Vaiya and the hostile land of Umbera can be nerve-wracking, especially with those giant monsters stalking about. How did you come up with this mechanic, and can you also talk about the unique physical properties of the different dimensions?

S: The idea for the portal mechanism came somewhere in 2016. I was already thinking about a game with multiple dimensions but didn’t know how to implement  that in a game in a way that would make sense. One day, I was surfing on Youtube, and a video from a metal band called Architects came up. They had a big and luminous sphere behind them, displaying various shapes and colors.

That was my “Aha” moment, and I decided to test how can I integrate that mechanism in a 2D game.  However, changing the world isn’t very interesting and just to spice things up we decided that the portal should affect the character or the enemies in various ways. For example, in one portal the gravity is inverted, in another portal you have the power to move mountains, or you can shapeshift in a rock.

We are planning to have 10 portals with different mechanics by the time the game will launch.

Unbound_ScreenShot_SpiderDen-1240x698

B: I also wanted to congratulate you on your successful Kickstarter campaign! You did an incredible job with the rewards and updates. How does it feel to have blasted through your initial $25K goal and bring together a loyal community?

S: Oh, thanks a lot. The Kickstarter campaign was an absolute blast. We poured a lot of effort into planning and creating the campaign, and we are delighted with how it turned out. Of course, we couldn’t achieve that without our community.

The community was crucial in raising awareness about Unbound, and they gave us the much-needed boost in the first hours of the campaign. One of the goals of the campaign was the product validation. We needed to check if there is a real interest in Unbound. We are really happy that people liked, backed the game and joined our community, it got us the validation we were hoping for.

Unbound_ScreenShot_Cave2-1240x698

B: How demanding was the crowdfunding campaign on your team, and what advice would you offer to other developers who are looking to Kickstart their game?

S: Creating a crowdfunding campaign in 2019 is incredibly demanding. For example, we planned the campaign for EIGHT months before the launch. You have to take into consideration lots of things like building a community, PR & marketing, make a professional video trailer, polish the demo, create all rewards and how the page will look. It’s stressful because you don’t know the response, and the outcome of the campaign and everything has to be perfect. There is no room for major mistakes.

Olga and I prepared this campaign, but we also have a tone of help from our friends on areas that we couldn’t cover. We are incredibly grateful to all of them.

We had Roczo and Taranasus, helping us manage the Discord server. Aurelian Ioan helped us contact the influencers. Then we had Alex Parlea on video editing and Cosmin Mirza on music. They helped us make the trailer. Andrei Matei & Alex Pelea did a fantastic job with the cutscenes from the game. Liviu Boar (from Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure) also helped us with Kickstarter mentoring before and during the campaign. We also worked with a PR company to help us with press releases.

I think three things are mandatory for a successful Kickstarter campaign:

  • Have a polished demo. People need to see what you are about. They need to trust you to back your project. With all the failed projects that got funded through crowdfunding, it is increasingly difficult these days to get that trust.
  • Build a community beforehand. These are the people you will rely on at the most critical first few hours of the campaign.
  • Do your research on campaigns with games in your genre and see they do’s and don’ts. There are a lot of very helpful articles with post-mortems of the failed and successful crowdfunding campaigns, read them all. 🙂

B: Excellent advice. Communities can make or break a campaign. Speaking of which, I am intrigued by Soli’s upcoming adventure into the real world! Can you tell us more about the plushie’s world tour?

S: Soli’s real-life adventure is an amazing idea which came to life during our Kickstarter, on our community’s Discord.  The initial idea was to write Unbound on a piece of paper, take a picture with it and share it on social media. It’s supposed to help with marketing. But to make things more exciting, the community decided to send something related to Unbound from person to person and take an interesting picture with it.

Two girls from Hawaii stepped up to create a plushie of Soli and to send it over. We really loved this idea, and we decided to make this event public and write about it in the Kickstarter updates. So our backers started to join this event. The plushie has already started its world tour in Hawaii. It will travel to other US states. Then it will be off to Australia, Brazil, and some European countries. The final destination will be Bucharest, Romania, at our Studio. We are super excited by the event and equally worried about Soli’s safe arrival.

B: How stressful was it to create a game like this from scratch? What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in these last three years?

S: It depends on how complex the game is. Creating a complex game is super demanding. It’s time-consuming, requires lots of resources, and it’s incredibly difficult to keep the team motivation high through the development. 

I think the most important thing to do is to show people what you are working on, to see their reactions. Attend game conferences and test the game in real life with real players. Don’t be afraid to show your work.  We shared Unbound’s first mechanics on Facebook and the reactions were pretty good. That gave us the confidence to continue development in that direction.

Another important thing, I think, is to start with small projects and go through the whole process of developing and launching a game, before you jump on a huge game.  Beware, if the project is too big, you might not have enough experience in managing it and the team will eventually lose motivation and drop out of the project.

B: We’re always on the lookout for awesome indies. Can you share your favorite three upcoming indie games?
S: Oh, there are lots of titles I’m looking forward to playing. If I had to choose three, they would be:
  • Hollow Knight Silksong. Team Cherry are amazing designers, and I think the sequel for Hollow Knight will be awesome.
  • Blasphemous is another 2D game in the style of Dark Souls, which will come out on the 10th of September. I backed this game on Kickstarter a few years ago, and I cannot wait to play it. There are some gruesome scenes that I never thought you can show through just pixel art.
  • Manifold Garden is another game that I have been waiting for more than 7 years now. In the beginning, it was made by one developer. It has an interesting mechanic and a unique art style. I hope it will be available soon.

B: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add anything else?

S: If you like Unbound, don’t forget to follow our progress on Twitter or Facebook and Wishlist/ Follow on Steam.

Unbound: Worlds Apart

Explore beautiful, hand-crafted worlds using portals. Solve puzzles by using the enemies to your advantage, and progress through your adventure at their expense!

Baabuska

Baabuska

Founder

PC gamer since I was 7. Back then, the only way to install games was from floppy disks (if you were lucky enough to have friends) or Level Magazines. Avid lover of RPGs and Soulsborne. Streamer on twitch.tv/baabuska and amateur cosplayer. 

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