Ever Forward Interview – The Art of Designing Narrative-Driven Puzzles

Ever Forward Interview – The Art of Designing Narrative-Driven Puzzles

I’m a huge fan of puzzle adventures, but if I were tasked with creating one, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. The idea of constructing intricate designs that are both challenging and solvable is beyond my simple gamer mind. However, there are far more capable people out there who are creating wonderful puzzles for us to solve.

Developer and publisher Pathea Games, who recently released My Time at Portia, is busy developing their newest title, Ever Forward. A puzzle adventure that builds a narrative through the eyes of a young girl exploring a mysterious world. We had the chance to speak with Ever Forward producer Bin Yang to learn more about the game and the team’s approach to designing a unique puzzle experience.

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Azario Lopez: Ever Forward stars a character named Maya, what can you tell us about this girl and her motivation for getting through these puzzles?

Bin Yang: Well, the nature of Maya’s journey is intended to be a mystery to players as they begin… Let’s just say that Maya has a destination that she feels compelled to arrive at; the puzzles and all the machinations and moving parts within them, they seem to want to stop her, but they will only serve to slow her down.

AL: Ever Forward is influenced by some popular titles in the puzzle genre, such as The Witness and Portal. How did you draw from those influences, but still keep your puzzles unique during development?

BY: The mechanics in Portal were groundbreaking and innovative; The Witness, to me, represented what was possible through pure ingenuity. I love those games, and no doubt, our influences from those titles will shine through for observant players of Ever Forward. I think the philosophy of trying to create a game full of “ah-hah!” moments is something common to all three, but mechanically, Ever Forward stands alone with its stealth audio/visual/spatial components, plus a near-constant threat of harm for the fragile Maya as she traverses the many puzzle worlds in search of resolution.

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AL: I guess the bigger question here is, how does your team approach designing a puzzle for the game

BY: Things were rough in the beginning. Despite being a fan of the genre, I’d never really designed a puzzle myself. It took probably two months of banging my head against the wall before finally coming up with even one puzzle I could feel decent about. I soon learned to stop believing that I’d just be struck with some epiphany and come up with a brilliant puzzle; the good ones I design were all the result of hours and hours of trial and error, making long lists of all the mechanics we had available and everything that could possibly be done with them.

Once a few basic designs were down, we started developing mechanics to accentuate what we’d already found was working; from here, things got a bit smoother. For those still reading, those mechanics, not featured in the Prologue, include teleportation devices, moving roundy-bots, gravity shifting switches… and more!

AL: Maya has a companion that helps her out in the puzzle portion of the game, what can you tell us about this robot character and the role that it plays in the narrative?

BY: We call it the Care Package Cube, or CPQ (Q is for Qbe). The cube’s goals are unknown, but it does seem very eager to help Maya. Perceptive players will notice a very similar looking box in Maya’s memories… There could be some correlation there…

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AL: How do you find a balance with developing a game like this and determining if a puzzle is too hard or too easy? Ever Forward seems like its geared towards fans of the genre, but I can’t imagine you’d want to frustrate them to the point that they just give up.

BY: Luckily, we have a lot of lovely and patient friends in our studio who were, with some cajoling, willing to punish themselves on some of our harder puzzles. We consider our colleagues to be pretty clever and very experienced gamers, so if no one was able to solve a puzzle within 45 min to an hour, we could be pretty certain that iteration of the puzzle would not be making it into the game.

The most satisfying result of these tests was when we managed to make a puzzle that gave trouble to even our most puzzle-savvy friends, but through determination and wit, were able to solve them and then be happy that they did. Players will be experiencing some of those puzzles in the full version of the game.

AL: Are there plans to support the game post-launch with additional puzzles or other content.

BY: Piggybacking off the last question, we do still have quite a few puzzles lying around that were deemed too difficult to put into the game; we have considered releasing them as DLC at some point for our truly masochistic players. Mwahaha!

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AL: After developing Maya’s character and piecing together her narrative for the past four years, is it surreal for you and the team for it to almost be over? Do you think you’ll miss working on her adventure

BY: Yes, definitely. Anything that you spend four years on will stick with you for life. There will always be things that bring me back to this time and make me think of Ever forward and Maya.

AL: It seems like your studio can’t really be put in a box as each of your releases has been a different genre. What’s next for your team? Is there a particular genre that you’d like to develop a game for?

BY: Next for our team? Well, porting Ever Forward to console, first and foremost. After that, who knows? Off the cuff, I would expect that the next game I work on will be very different from Ever Forward; working within a single genre is too limiting for me, I think.

AL: Is there anything you’d like to say to those hearing about Ever Forward for the first time and those looking forward to its release?

BY: The response from players has been humbling and has greatly encouraged us. We appreciate all feedback and suggestions which we are taking into consideration and even applying to the release version of the game. We hope that we will be able to meet expectations and that players will have fun helping Maya complete her journey and discover her past.

In case you want to see more of Ever Forward, you can check out the Steam page as well as our preview of the free demo available now.

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