Interview: Toren

Last month indie publisher Versus Evil announced its partnership with Brazilian-based developer Swordtales for the release of Toren, a dark fantasy adventure.

Title overview

Name: Toren
Developer: Swordtales
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release date: To be announced
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: Mac, PC, PlayStation 4
More information: Official website

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Kim says…

Toren is an adventure game with beautiful graphics and immersive gameplay, which leads the player through an introspective and captivating journey to explore deep concepts and existential questions. They will witness the birth and the growth of a lonely girl named Moonchild, guiding her on a dangerous journey of discovery and transformation as she unlocks the mysteries of the tower.

Indie studio Swordtales was formed in 2011 and has headquarters in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Toren is one of the first titles being supported by Brazilian Cultural Incentive Law and has received a great deal of attention and praise in the indie scene in the country, resulting in several nominations at various game festivals. Thank you to Creative Director Alessandro Martinello for kindly taking the time out of his schedule to answer our questions.

How did the Swordtales team meet and what made them decide to start making Toren?

Alessandro: “The team met while doing a digital games graduate degree sponsored by veterans of Brazilian industry, at that time, members of Ubisoft Brazil. If a project was deemed successful by peers and teachers, you could continue to develop it.”

Can you tell us a little about Versus Evil and how the partnership with Swordtales came about?

Alessandro: “We met through a business event organized by our regional association of game developers called the Brazilian Independent Games Festival. We started talking with Steve Escalante who had travelled over to Brazil to meet new talent and we felt a good connection with him and thought that Versus Evil would make a great indie publishing partner for Swordtales.”

Are any of the team gamers themselves? If so, are there any preferred genres or favourite titles?

Alessandro: “All team members are gamers, each with a very different style from the other. I’m the Creative Director and my favorite games are Doom and Shadow of The Colossus; Vitor (Producer) loves Civilization; Conrado (Lead Animator) really likes Bayonetta and Luiz (Lead Programmer) is a fan of Braid. But from the moment the team was formed, we agreed that we had more of a preference for authorial games.”

According to the official website, Toren ‘takes the audience in a torrent of discoveries about the greatest mystery of all: the meaning of life’. Is this a difficult subject to tackle in a video game?

Alessandro: “We don’t think so. We believe that a large part of the gamer audience clamors for more bold and artistic games, and the major studios ignore this audience. Toren is based on philosophical doctrines of the ancient world on which various religions or ways of thinking are based. The game is about a child learning and growing. She has contact only with the legacy that these philosophies left behind. The player can choose to delve deeper into these metaphors or just enjoy a good adventure to defeat a dragon. We are offering both.”

Players will witness the birth and growth of a lonely girl named Moonchild. Are you able to tell us about her and her story?

Alessandro: “The game doesn’t focus on the story of its main character, but rather on what she discovers and how she grows with this knowledge. This means that the player themselves will discover why she is a prisoner of the tower and they will also learn about an ancient culture.”

From what we’ve seen in the trailer, the atmosphere in Toren seems reminiscent of games such as Ico and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Have any particular titles been an influence?

Alessandro: “There are some current games that have this style, Ico and Brothers being two of them, but when we started developing Toren, games like Brothers hadn’t been released yet, so we were very happy to see that there was a demand for this style of game. Our main influences when starting development on this game were some bigger games that made gaming history like Prince of Persia and Out of This World. These games tried to deliver new insights and unique experiences for the player. We believe that there is a greater demand for these types of games nowadays.”

Not much has been revealed about the gameplay so far, but we know it will include innovative puzzles. Can you give us an example of how these will work?

Alessandro: “The great differential of the game is that the character grows literally as the adventure progresses and how she interacts with the world changes in every stage of her life. The tower is a huge ‘dungeon’ with several puzzles and different forms of interaction, such as drawing pictures on the floor with salt or watching the stars. The puzzles themselves help unlock the mysteries of the tower, help the gamer understand the meaning of Moonchild’s existence and why the tower goes up to the sky. This is a great secret that the gamer has to discover through exploration.”

Toren looks stunning so far, with the story taking place in a huge tower overgrown in leafy plants. What made the team decide to go in this visual direction?

Alessandro: “Initially, we got inspired by the ‘Temple of Time’ from The Legend of Zelda and we thought a tree growing along with the main character was a great metaphor for the game. Having said that, we also felt that the story we were telling couldn’t be told with just any look. It had to be artistic is its delivery of the poems, the puzzles, the girl and the tower itself. Going photo-realistic would not have brought about the right mood and going too much in the cartoon aspect would also not deliver the emotions and drama we want to deliver.”

The game isn’t due to be released until next year but has already received several nominations and awards. Which are you the most proud of, and do you feel under any pressure to now deliver?

Alessandro: “There is a great deal of pressure now because of this early recognition and therefore we tested the game with a lot of people here in Brazil and at international festivals. We are most proud of our honorable mention of the game at the IGF, particularly because it was nominated based on a pre-alpha version of the game. We hope to surpass this achievement with the final game.”

Can you tell us which component of Toren is currently being worked on? How is the team feeling about its release?

Alessandro: “In addition to polishing, we are testing the final challenge of the game and also the finishing scenarios that will be instrumental in a great ‘side quest’ that the game will have for those who want to play it again.”

Is there any advice you’d give you someone who’s thinking of making an indie game?

Alessandro: Indie games are generally collective creations. Create a game that your team believes in. Don’t try to impose your own personal view, the game is a part of everyone and this will make it shine.”

What does the future hold for Swordtales and Versus Evil?

Alessandro: “A durable partnership that focuses on making unique games and venture into the unknown with hopes of being duly rewarded. Swordtales represents all the passion and talent that exists in Brazil, which is being helped by a boom in the production of independent games. Versus Evil is helping indies like us reach these goals by giving us the freedom of working on the game we want to make while they help us bring it to market. We of course hope for a mutual success where we can continue to work together on our next title.”

Thank you to Alessandro and the rest of the Swordtales and Versus Evil teams for answering our questions on Toren. We’ll bring you more news as we receive it, and in the meantime check out the official website.

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