Published on September 25th, 2015 | by Tom May0
EGX 2015: Theo & Lizzy – Butcherlab Interview
Theo & Lizzy – A Star-Crossed Puzzle Platformer
Theo is a young man whom, like all his friends and family, lives on the ground. However, the one person most important to Theo does not live on the ground. Lizzy a young woman whom, like all her friends and family, lives on the ceiling. The ‘grounders’ live on the ground and the ‘uppers’ live on the ceiling. This is how it has always been. That was until Theo found out he was able to do something very special indeed…
A story of love, prejudice and running on ceilings.
When Lizzy’s mother catches Theo and Lizzy together, it sets off an unimaginable chain of events that might just change the world forever.
Join Theo, as he tries to get past the sneers and distrust of the ‘uppers’ and the anger and frustrations of the ‘grounders’ on a journey through a beautifully illustrated world in pursuit of a romance that will put him in danger from both sides.
We managed to catch up with Butcherlab’s co-creator Peter Harries at the Theo & Lizzy stand to discuss the game:
NTC: So I read that this is your studio’s first game. How did you get to this point? Have you worked on games before coming together, or…?
Peter Harries: Yeah, I mean I’ve worked at a few game studios. I started at Microsoft Studios as QA, then on Forza Horizon. I then moved to Creative Assembly as a tools QA on Alien: Isolation, and then as a games designer at Gameloft on Asphalt 8, a mobile racing game.
So basically me and Ollie, we’re the co-founders of the studio, we met at Game City in Nottingham last year and we were talking about starting our own studio and making our own games. We’ve both been messing about with lots of prototypes for years, and our girlfriends both said “You should do this!” (Laughs) “You should try it. You’re both passionate about it, you’ve got lots of good ideas.”
NTC: Sounds like they were on to something.
Peter Harries: So yeah, we went for it. Or I hope so, we haven’t released a game yet. (Laughs) Recently Adam has joined us as our Unity developer/programmer, and that’s been a great help to our team. We’ve also got James who comes along and helps us with events. It seems to be going well so far!
NTC: You only announced the game earlier this year.
Peter Harries: April!
NTC: Was there anything of the game prior to that?
Peter Harries: We hadn’t done anything prior to that at all. I’d only recently finished my job.
NTC: Wow. Pretty amazing progress for a couple of months. Well, a few months, I shouldn’t say a couple.
Peter Harries: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s been a busy few months.
NTC: Theo & Lizzy has a really distinctive art style. As you’re one of the art/design co-leads could you tell us about any influences that have perhaps gone into it?
Peter Harries: I think, basically, playing with colour palettes is how it came about. It comes from all levels. We look at other work, all different sorts of art, not just games, so anything from concept art from films to classic art. And we come up with a two colour palette. So in the first world, you see that yellow in the background and the sort of turquoise in the foreground. Those are the two colours we started off with and then we build from there and used it as a basis for every other asset we create. Try and keep the palette tight. And we basically do that.
We have seven worlds planned, and we’ve set out a two-colour palette for each world. Any art with a tight colour palette has influenced us. Like Mike Bithell’s Volume. He tweeted a lot of stuff about colour palettes, that was really cool to see. We haven’t used any of the same palettes he was talking about but it’s a similar sort of philosophy. I like to think that they’d agree. (Laughs)
NTC: I’m sure they would! It’s uncommon to see much of a real story in what you could call the more hardcore puzzle platformers. How important is the story to this game? When we played the demo it wasn’t really showcased anywhere, so would you say that it’s more back of the box flavour than anything?
Peter Harries: This is a story we really want to tell. It’s a nice story, from about ten minutes ago when we were coming up with it. (Laughs) We just wanted to make a game with a nice story, so it is important. It’s very important, but at the moment, in the demo build especially, it isn’t tied in as tightly as it’s going to be. Like you said it isn’t evident at the moment, but it needs to be.
We’re fixing to do that through a lot of the background parts that you see. It’s more learning about the world you’ll see going on in the background. We’re figuring out ways of getting it in there more tightly. We definitely want to veer away from being a hardcore puzzle platformer, but the feeling you get when you play it at the moment… I think we want it to be a lot easier, so that you can actually join in with the story and you’re not forced into being super pixel perfect. But that’s… quite the balancing act. (Laughs)
NTC: One of the main mechanics is flipping up and down. Did that ever really cause any problems, possibly through being disorientating to some players in particular? Have you found a way to combat that or has it not really been an issue?
Peter Harries: It’s not been too much of an issue. But when you start the game it is a bit “what am I doing, what am I doing?” But as you start you only have to use one button, so as soon as a person hits A they’re like “oh.” and they’ll usually hit A again straight away. And then as soon as they’ve done that, they’ve got the core mechanic. And then they generally work it out from there.
Admittedly the first level is a bit tough, but after that, once people get to the second level and then the third level which are better designed in sequence. People usually hammer through two, three, and four but the first level takes getting used to. So I think combating that disorientation is based on how we design those first few levels. I think I noticed when you were playing, the demo intro had you bouncing about a bit, then you got to the end and you were bang, bang, bang.
We want to build the tutorial into the game, so I think stringing out those levels more is the key. So maybe the first one should literally just be a massive room with a door in the corner so you can see your surroundings and it’s very easy to get to the door, while you’ve loads of space to figure out what’s going on. And then bumping up the difficulty very slowly from there.
NTC: So you recently got onto Steam Greenlight, I saw. What hopes do you have about that sort of experience? What sort of things are you hoping to get through feedback? Is it going to lead to additional features or mechanics?
Peter Harries: I think it’s very difficult getting feedback from just a trailer. We read it, and we’re looking into it but at the moment it’s very loose. So it’ll be “oh, I don’t like how this bit looks” and that’s certainly something to take on board but we get better feedback from our events. In our announce trailer, we had a problem where people didn’t know that the character is always running.
NTC: To be honest, I didn’t know until a little while ago. (Laughs)
Peter Harries: Exactly. So we put a part in the trailer that says “Theo is always running”. But yeah, that is the main problem. One of the key elements of feedback we’re getting from stuff online is people don’t really pick up what the game consists of. So we’re constantly thinking about ways to present it. A demo might be better, we’re not sure yet. I think all feedback is useful.
NTC: So you recently added multiplayer. As of today, pretty much.
Peter Harries: (Laughs) We haven’t spoken about it at all, so…
NTC: Is there anything else you’re looking to add? Like maybe a level editor?
Peter Harries: A level editor is something where we’re toying with the idea. It would be cool but it depends on how we get it to work, how easy it’d be on the user’s end, and how much that adds on to the development time. As a small studio, we don’t have unlimited resources.
NTC: It’d be quite the undertaking.
Peter Harries: It’s something that we could add in post-launch. So if the game goes well and there’s a community there we can say “okay, tidy up what we have and make it easier for the user.” It’s something in our notebooks, whether we do it is another thing. Judging how well the multiplayer goes down at EGX will depend on how hard we push it, I think. So far everyone seems to be laughing while they play it.
NTC: Yeah, it’s got that sort of party game feel to it.
Peter Harries: Exactly.
NTC: Would it be more like local co-op or will you do an online mode?
Peter Harries: I think local co-op to start with. With online, because of the fast pace of the game, it might be difficult with latency. It’d have to be peer-to-peer. Again, online is in that list of “that’d be nice to do”. How we’d do it, if we could do it is another thing.
Thanks to Peter Harries and the rest of the Butcherlab team for taking some time to talk to us. We’re really looking forward to seeing where Theo & Lizzy goes from here!
If you’d like to know more about our own thoughts on the game, be sure to check out our Day One Report for EGX 2015!
Check out the Steam Greenlight announcement trailer for Theo & Lizzy below: