Andrew Crawshaw, the lead designer responsible for all the eye-candy in ‘Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture’, has embarked on a solo adventure, so I got on the blower to this fine Yorkshire lad to find out all about it.
Thunkd is Andrew’s new, independent studio and The Magnificent Truffle Pigs – a metal detecting narrative game – is its first offering to the game gods. As a fan of Rapture, I was wildly excited to meet the man behind all that beauty to find out more about Thunkd, Trufflepigs, and why hard work doesn’t always guarantee happiness.
(Caution: Trufflepigs spoilers ahead)
So, what does ‘Thunkd’ actually mean?
The name “Thunkd” is just a play on the incorrect past tense of “thought”, I thunkd. I just liked the sound of it, it’s short, and it was something I had used in my past freelancer life so it’s kind of followed me around. But more importantly, the url was available.
What made you decide to take the plunge and start your own studio?
I’ve been making games for around 25 years, but it’s only in the last 10 years or so that things like Unreal and Unity engines have become freely available. My background is in art and design, but the availability of these engines means that people like me, who don’t have a programming background, can actually make a lot of game content without the need for a programmer.
Don’t get me wrong, I did use a programmer on Trufflepigs, but I made the whole thing in prototype form first and then the programmer came in to fix all the bugs, improve the performance and polish it up.
Before I went out on my own, I was really enjoying what I was doing, but I also felt that if I didn’t take the leap now then I never would, and so far I’m enjoying it. It’s really hard work though, being your own boss definitely doesn’t mean things are any less stressful.
Thunkd’s tagline is “Makers of Evening-Sized Games.” Why did you choose to focus on shorter games?
As I’ve gotten older, my taste in games has changed, and I’ve also got a very busy job making games, which ironically means that I don’t have much time to play them. I think as the games industry has grown up, so has a significant chunk of its audience; evening-sized games allow players to enjoy their passion without being expected to commit the amount of time and effort that longer games often demand. But short games appeal to players of all ages, it’s not just a mature gamer thing. It’s like TV, you get many different genres of programmes that manage to cater for all types of people.
I also think it’s important for a company to set out what it wants to do from the beginning so that people understand what to expect. One of the problems that short games have is that sometimes people don’t realise they’re short so they buy it thinking they’re getting 20 hours out of it and then get disappointed. With Thunkd I’m laying it out on the table; this is what we make, evening-sized games, take it or leave it.
As Thunkd’s first ever game, were there any surprises while making Trufflepigs?
We actually got stunned at the very beginning! The project was signed really quickly, and off the back of a pitch document which is kind of unheard of, but we ended up parting ways with that publisher and finding another, so that was a bit of a roller coaster.
The whole thing about running a company has been a steep learning curve. I’m a reluctant businessman, I’d rather be making games than running a business, but it’s what I need to go through to get where I want to be.
There are echoes of that in Trufflepigs, where Beth feels that she needs to work her way up to be the big boss of a company, but when she’s being honest with herself, she’s realising that that’s not making her happy and that she should focus on the things that do make her happy. It’s easy to do this when you’re writing a story and you can make those outcomes happen fairly easy, but in real life it can be tricky.
You’ve touched on Trufflepigs being slightly autobiographical. In what way did your own experiences influence the story?
So, Beth has got a number of things on her plate, and we’re looking into what’s going on in her life. Some of those things echo experiences I’ve gone through; others are things I’ve seen people I know experience. But the way she approaches her problems is mostly where the commonalities lie, as opposed to the problems themselves.
The way Beth sorts through her issues is basically by talking about them, and I do that myself. I’m not always comfortable talking to people though, so with me I’ll go for a walk and have these sorts of conversations with myself. It’s something that has definitely helped me over the years; if I notice myself going through those patches we all go through where things are kind of building up, then I go for walks and talk through all my options in my head. I’ll then choose one that’s not too terrible and it usually works out.
Was the metal detecting part autobiographical?
No. Confession time, I metal detected as a kid and I can barely remember how that all worked, but there were two different things I was looking at when I started working on this game; one thing was the story I wanted to tell, and the other were the game mechanics I wanted to use.
I felt that metal detecting was a great metaphor for success; you can spend your whole life metal detecting and only find junk, or you might do it for the first time tomorrow and find a gold hoard. There isn’t always that trade-off between hard work and the end result.
I think that’s one of the things that a lot of people overlook when they’re playing the game; recognising that when something good happens in life it can be a result of luck and not always hard work. Or that sometimes you can work your fingers to the bone and never get that reward you feel you deserve. I think if you don’t recognise that, it can cloud your appreciation of how other people get along in life, or don’t get along in life.
A few people have said that Beth is annoying, did that sting?
Well, it’s kind of true to life in the sense that as I get older, I’ve realised that some people like you more than others. Beth has unlikeable moments because we’re seeing the worst of her, and we’re with her on a journey where, in order to resolve her issues, she’s got to look at all the ugly stuff in her life. I like Beth, but that’s because I know what she’s going through.
Where do you think Beth is now?
I like to think that she’s driving around meeting her friends in her crappy van, spending a lot of time outdoors, and maybe doing a bit of metal detecting. But that’s the fairy-tale ending.
What inspired the beautiful Trufflepigs landscape?
I live in Yorkshire, I’ve lived here pretty much all my life and so does Laura, our artist, she’s surrounded by beautiful countryside. Trufflepigs was always going to be set in the Yorkshire countryside but Laura goes dog walking out in the hills every day and so we tried to capture a bit of that. It’s not based on a specific place, it’s more of a vibe; all these places that I drive through near where I live, we just combined them into a place that worked with the structure of the game.
Would you say that the leafy, countryside vibe is a Thunkd trademark?
No, it’s not. I actually had some reservations about Trufflepigs because it was set in the countryside and Rapture was out in the countryside too. I knew there would be that kind of comparison, but the story I needed to tell needed that kind of environment, so I went with it.
Our next game is completely different, it’s more about internal spaces and where people live. I guess for me, stories are always about the people so the setting is secondary. I’m sure I’ll make something that’s outdoors again, but for now it’s characters first with their situations informing the kind of environment the game is set in.
Speaking of your next game, what does Thunkd have in store for us in the future?
We’re in a position now where we’re bringing together what we’ll do next, building prototypes for projects and things. We’ve soft announced one of them, working title Personasmith, which is a game about a character who counterfeits documents and forges paperwork as a favour, but then ends up being so good at it that they get dragged into a criminal world. It’s still early in the process, but our new games will still be evening-sized, that’s a definite.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs is a short, scenic narrative game that explores the surprising similarities between life and rural treasure hunting – so if you think you’re going to uncover a ring with a severed finger still attached that leads you into a dark and complex underworld, then this game will probably not scratch your slightly weird itch. However, if you’re looking for a chilled out, reflective game to cosy down with, then you’ll be more than happy dedicating an evening to unravelling Beth’s story. For me, when I finished it, I just felt better. And who doesn’t want that?