How The Voxel Agents harvests nostalgia in The Gardens Between

Brodie Fogg 28 October 2017

the-gardens-between

We chat with creative director Henrik Pettersson about how childhood memories inspire the game's world and sound design.

With their latest game The Gardens Between, Melbourne's The Voxel Agents is leaning on childhood memories and nostalgia to sculpt its amalgamated garden worlds. The serene puzzler sends two childhood friends on a tranquil adventure through garden's littered with significant memories from their past. In place of typical left to right movement, players guide the characters around the carousel-esque gardens by shifting time forwards and backwards, an idea that has clung on throughout the game's various iterations. A mechanic is tied directly to the game's themes of growing up. Interestingly enough, a mechanic that was influenced by the Minority Report's precog-fuelled crime detector (so I suppose we can thank Tom Cruise for The Gardens Between?).

Henrik: This game has gone through quite a few iterations. But it was initially born from a scene in The Minority Report where Tom Cruise is scanning through the memories. From the start, it's always been about moving time.

Each garden is littered with typical household items. Televisions, video game consoles and Jenga jut from the landscape, all representative of milestones from the primary character's shared life experiences. The team at The Voxel Agents mines the joy of days gone by, by discussing their own childhood memories and what made them significant.

Henrik: Our narrative designer Brooke Maggs and the team would often sit down in a meeting room and just share our childhood experiences together. Experiences we felt were strong. Particularly around the age of our protagonists. We tried to figure out, what is it about these moments that was important, what they looked like at the time. They look a little different as you grow older.

And it's not just the items that litter the world with fond recollections of SNES all-nighters. The team at Voxel have gone above and beyond in evoking the smaller, somewhat forgettable aspects of youth. In on particularly clever sequence, the game tasks you with plugging in a television and playing a retro console (a game that looks eerily similar to a brick-busting platformer. In this sequence, the game's soundscape is infused with audio from terribly 90s TV commercials. These thoughtful touches really sell The Gardens Betweens crusade for digging up old memories. Placing the player belly-down on the carpet, soaking in the blue glow of a CRT television set. Each level is themed in a way that evokes a very specific memory, playing video games with friends, or kicking about in the backyard.

Henrik: You go through a level that's akin to a backyard. There's one with a treehouse theme. All these gardens come from shared experiences between the characters. You learn more about who they are as you go through these environments. When we go about designing the gardens, we consider the theme and puzzles that will fit into each garden as well as milestone's in the characters' relationships. Those milestones define the sequence of the gardens.

Understandably, Henrik didn't want to give too much away about the story itself ahead of the Q1 2018 launch, but judging by our short time with the game, we can almost guarantee the game will take you through a labyrinth of emotions.

The Gardens Between releases for PC, MAC and PS4 in Q3 next year.

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