INTERVIEW - 2TonStudios (Unto The End)

  • I've started a blog, mostly as a way to get reacquainted with writing in my native (Portuguese) language. I'll probably migrate the content to a site if I keep doing this.

    Anyway... I reached out to the developer of one of my favourite games from 2020 and to my surprise they accepted doing a small interview. I'm not actually trying to promote my blog, as it's in Portuguese, but I would like to share the interview with the people around here as an incentive to - maybe - some try the game but also for those who make content to not shy from trying to reach out to creators.

    Unto the End was one of the most interesting games from 2020, came a bit out of nowhere and ended up on my top 10 for the year. So first of all, thanks for agreeing to this interview and congratulations for your work.

    First things first. Who is 2TonStudios, and while we're at it, why the name choice?

    2 Ton is me and Sara, we’re a husband and wife dev team. A few years ago we started teaching ourselves how to make games while traveling. It was a personal challenge to see if we could make things we were excited about while on the road and not shackled to an office desk.

    2 Ton Studios is for the two of us.

    What's your prior experience within the videogame's industry?

    Not much. I made a few mobile games for fun while I worked at Microsoft, but Unto is our debut game.

    I’ve always wanted to make games, and as I got older spent more and more time studying game design and storytelling through games. I also worked at Microsoft as a User Experience Designer for 12 years, which gave me experience understanding how software is built, how to scope a project, how to ship things, etc.

    What kind of games influenced you to become a game developer? And other than games what influences the team?

    We both grew up in the era of Sega and Nintendo, so there are lots of games that we’ve really enjoyed along the way. The games that really made me want to make games: Mario, Zelda - Link to the Past, Zillion, Punch-Out!!, Phantasy Star and then more recently, Dark Souls, BELOW, and Rain World.

    Outside of games, we’re often inspired by our travels and adventures. Unto was largely inspired by time we spent hiking through Scotland and Iceland, as well as treks we did through extremely dark lava tubes in Hawaii.

    Unto the End has a very distinct character, what was your main vision behind it, what did you wanted to communicate through it?

    We wanted players to feel the struggle, frustration, loneliness and triumph of an average warrior (a father and husband), in unfamiliar lands, trying to get back home to his family.

    For us, that meant very little story, guidance or hand holding. Your actions have consequences, and you’re never entirely sure if you’ve made the right decision.

    When you’re lost in the real world you have to make tough decisions with incomplete information. If you come across a bear in the woods you have to decide in that moment how to act. That was what we tried to capture throughout the experience of Unto.

    It seems to me that being a very unique game, with some very particular design decisions, the team must have known a commercial risk was being taken. How did that affect the creative process? Was there a line you weren't willing to cross in terms of sacrificing the original vision?

    Unto breaks a lot of conventions and expectations, and we made those design decisions very consciously. Whether it was risky or not is hard to say. We made Unto for players that are observant, thoughtful and enjoy something different. Those are the players that most enjoy Unto and we’re very proud of that.

    We trust players with our mechanics and did not want to hold their hand. It was super important that players had a chance to learn on their own, try different things, and have genuine, well-earned “ah ha” moments.

    And now with the game being released, how will that affect your creative process moving forward? What lessons did you took from the experience?

    We’ve learned a lot. Lessons about the industry, the people in it, the way to talk about a game, and the process of shipping a game. It’s really exciting to think about putting all of that to use in our next project. Mostly, we look forward to pushing ourselves in new ways.

    Without wanting to go into financial details do you want to share some thoughts regarding services like Game Pass from a developer's perspective?

    We really enjoyed working with Xbox -- Game Pass is great! Their interest and support of Unto The End gave Sara and me a lot of confidence, especially since it was our first game.

    What's next? Is the team already working on the next project? Care to shed some light on what's coming?

    Not sure yet. Mostly we’re taking a break, but we’ve definitely got ideas that we are very excited about.

    Now, just as an hypothetical, given unlimited budget what would your dream game be? What game design concepts would you like to expand upon, what collaborations would you like to make (even from outside the gaming space)?

    Every time we make something we see it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become wiser. So first and foremost I’d love to work with and learn from creators whose work I really admire. People like Ueda, Miyamoto, Miyazaki, Raph Koster, Edmund McMillen, Joar Jakobsson, Kris Piotrowski, Arnt Jensen, and Jonathan Blow.

    Outside of games, I think it would be interesting to work with the Cohen brothers, Christopher Nolan, and Denis Villeneuve.

    I’m not sure that we really have a dream game, although doing something in the Star Wars universe would be fun.

    Again, thanks for agreeing with the interview. Any last thoughts you wanna share?

    Thanks for taking the time to chat, I really enjoyed it.

    Last thought - support indie games. Look for indie titles, tell your friends about them, and reach out to the devs that make them. Hearing from fans means the world to small dev teams - it definitely has for Sara and me <3

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