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Interview: The UnderGarden developed by Vitamin-G

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theundergard

Late last week we had the opportunity to interview Antonio Santamario, Head of Engineering, from Vitamin-G. For those of you unaware, Vitamin-G is the talented developer behind the upcoming PlayStation Network title, The UnderGarden. While there hasn’t been much revealed on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, I can safely say that it does include exclusive content content and fruit that you can’t find on any of the other platforms (PC/360).

We’d like to thank Vitamin-G for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to their upcoming title.

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The UnderGarden has received average reviews across the board for its PC and 360 formats; can PS3 gamers expect to see improvements upon what the critics have taken issue with for the PSN version?

The UnderGarden was developed concurrently on PC, PS3 and 360, so the
levels, music and gameplay remain intact across all versions. On the PS3
version, we did create 2 new levels which make use of a new fruit type
introduced at the end of the main game. We also made some additional
improvements to address some minor issues that came up late in development.
Although these are not drastic changes by any measure, we think the PS3
version does benefit from having come out a bit later.

One of our goals with this game was to deliver the same gaming experience
regardless of the platform people choose to play it on, and so in that
aspect the PS3 version is not substantially different. The new levels do
add a little more to the package for PS3 owners however, so if you enjoy the
overall game there are 2 more levels to make it last a little longer.

What does The UnderGarden bring to the gaming world that previous titles have not?

The UnderGarden is often compared to games like Flower or Flow: relaxing
experiences that push the boundaries of what some people might call a game.
The UnderGarden adds to this genre by mixing in some gameplay standards,
such us soft puzzle elements, that would perhaps be at home in something a
little more traditional. It also places a heavy emphasis on the music, and
in particular we allow the player to dynamically change the music as they
play by pulling around the musicians, or re-blooming flora. This comes
together to make it a bit different from what is out there, or even what is
often called a “Zen” game: it takes a synesthetic experience and adds in
some traditional gameplay elements so that it can stand on its own as an
actual game. This is not to say it is somehow better than great works like
Flower: but it is definitely different.

Can gamers expect to see additional content for the game in the future? If so, what kind of content can gamers expect to see?

The PSN version includes 2 additional levels over the previous versions, one
of which uses a special fruit that is only briefly used in the main game.
As for the future, we’ve talked of adding Move support and perhaps some
additional levels, but there is nothing confirmed yet.

What is the basic level or puzzle in The UnderGarden like? Though gamers
interested in this title have the general idea of what it’s all about, the
actual mechanics of the game remain unclear.

The UnderGarden is really a game about exploration, which focuses more on
the journey than simply the end goals. In any level, you are free to float
around and explore the caverns and collect pollen, which you absorb as you
pass through it. The pollen is used to bloom colorful plants, some of which
produce fruit which you then use to solve the puzzles you run into along the
way. When a plant grows fruit, you can pull it off, and it will be tethered
to you so you can use it in various different ways. Sometimes, you need to
drop it on a switch, or charge it up to turn a giant gear. There are even
places where you can “feed” it to other plants in order to activate
different things.

You little character’s abilities can probably be summarized as “touching”
things and “gathering” things. You absorb pollen and grow plants by
touching or floating near them, and you can gather fruit, some stone blocks,
or even the other little musicians and pull them along through a level.
Almost everything you touch is accompanied by some pleasant visuals and
makes some musical sounds, so the gameplay is as much about the visuals and
the music, as it is about solving the puzzles and progressing through a
level.

Granted the average reviews of The UnderGarden, what do you, as developers,
think you could have done better?

After any game, there are always things we think we could have done better.
For The UnderGarden, we had grander plans for the musicians for starters.
We also wanted to make the character’s movement a little bit smoother, and
would have liked to spend more time tuning the camera system to better
support co-op play. In the end, the realities of making a game within a
budget and a schedule means there are sometimes some difficult decisions,
and some compromises to be made. We are still quite happy with the end
result, and hopefully some of our planned additions will find their way into
a sequel.

Since we’ve gotten through what could be improved within the game, what do
you think that’s already in the game that makes it definitely worth the
admission price?

For starters, The UnderGarden is definitely something different. We’ve
tried to offer something that has appeal, both as a synesthetic experience,
and as a game in its own right. The game offers soft puzzles which are
satisfying to work through, various collectables for completionists, and the
trophies, like all areas of the game itself, are all attainable with some
effort for those willing to jump into it. The addition of the different
unlockable hats and costumes is definitely something that people seem to be
enjoying, so we are very happy about that.

We’ve received a lot of feedback from people also telling us how happy they
are to see something other than another first person shooter, and for making
a game they can enjoy with their significant others. We think the game
offers a unique take on visuals and music, and blends them together into
something that, in the right frame of mind, can really be enjoyed by both
the player and the spectator. The co-op play offers a way for people to
play together at a relaxing pace, even if the second player is not a gamer.
Overall, we think there is really not a lot out there that feels and plays
like The UnderGarden, and hope that players are willing to give it a try and
will hopefully find something that they enjoy.

Some have compared The UnderGarden to other hit titles like LittleBigPlanet
and flOw. Were either of those titles influences on the basic idea for your
game?

When we designed the game, we were aiming for a slower paced experience
that was as much about the gameplay as it was about the visual and auditory
experience. We think the game’s pace certainly has some similarities to
Flow in that regard. Gameplay wise, Little Big Planet also provided
inspiration with its creative use of physics, along with some other titles.
We tried to add more focus to the dynamic music in The UnderGarden, and
there were perhaps other influences that came into play there. So both of
these titles provided some inspiration in different ways, along with some
other games, but ultimately it would be difficult to point to any particular
game and say that is where most of the inspiration came from.

Based on reviews, many seem to think the game is quite the variety; being
both an adventure and puzzle-based title. Is that a strength for The
UnderGarden, and something we can expect to see in future Atari-made games?

We think this is definitely a strength; there is no reason why a game can’t
try to expand beyond simply one genre. Exploration was something we wanted
to emphasize, so we are happy to see people pick up on that. As for the
puzzle-based elements, we think adding in these parts added more depth, and
provides something a little more tangible to people used to more traditional
games, who might not be inclined to jump into it otherwise. Some of the
recent Atari titles have been based on original ideas or IP’s, and have
blended some different genres together, so we are very happy to see them
willing to take those risks where a lot of people often don’t. Hopefully,
this is something they will continue to do in the future.

The UnderGarden has been bashed for its multi-player, mainly due to issues
concerning the camera. Will this be resolved in the PSN version? If not,
will we see a fix in the future?

Overall we are happy with the co-op gameplay in The UnderGarden, but there
were definitely some improvements we could have made with the camera in
places, especially as it relates to co-op play. For the PS3 version, we
were able to make some fixes and some tweaks to some of the levels and
gameplay, along with adding in the 2 new levels, although the camera won’t
be drastically different. Once the game is released, we will have to see
the feedback and if there are any further improvements we can make through
an update, that will be something we would look at in the future.

Posted in Editorials, Featured |

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