*Featured image courtesy of Michelle Yee
“Capy is made up of a collection of people with diverse backgrounds and a significant passion for making stuff who came together to learn how to make that stuff,” says Nathan Vella, co-founder and President of Capybara Games.
Capy’s repertoire includes Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery, Super Time Force and the upcoming Below. Vella’s only experience making games has been with Capy, and it all started at film school. “I wasn’t technical and had no desire to go into computer science, and ended up at a prestigious film school in Toronto,” Vella begins. “I lived on the same floor as this guy named Tony and soon met this guy names Kris, and the three of us became inseparable, hanging out, drinking beers and playing Dreamcast.” After getting jobs in the film industry and discovering it wasn’t for them, the three decided to make a game. “We rented a car and drove from Toronto to the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California,” he recalls. “We were blown away by the type of people making games; their desire to hear about what we wanted to create and to foster our growth as game developers.” The year was 2003, and there were no game studios in Toronto, so they decided to start making games with a few people they met through IGDA. Together, they founded CAPY games in 2005.
Over ten years later, Capy is a household name when it comes to independent game developers, and Vella remains driven to create games. “I do it just for the money,” he jokes. “Honestly, a huge part of it is the people I work with. These people joined the team in the most challenging times under the most challenging circumstances when we had the least experience and the least to offer, and they still believe in what we are doing and have helped build what we are today.”
“Many of these people have been around long enough that I’ve spent as much time with them as I have my own family,” Vella continues. “The ability to create with these people, with whom I hold the highest respect, is hugely motivating!”
Vella’s day-to-day responsibilities at Capy varies with each passing day. He says his title of President is perhaps a misnomer; he does everything from production work to networking, interfacing, and working with external partners. “I spend a lot of my time trying to forge opportunities for our studio to ensure that the games we create get the attention I humbly believe they deserve,” he explains.
“One of the interesting things about game development in general is that, although it’s super creative, it looks more creative than it is. A lot of it is the grind of doing the actual work necessary to launch games. We’re close to finishing Super Time Force Ultra for PS4 and Vita, and with that comes QA and mobilization and getting the game onto the PlayStation Network and working with Sony to pick the right release date. Fortunately, I don’t have to do any of the accounting, but many indie studios do and it’s not easy.”
Vella is a firm supporter of collaboration, which roots from his time at film school. “I spent a lot of my formal university years collaborating with Kris and Tony,” he says. “Although we were never a team, we worked together here and there, and worked together quite well.”
As Capy developed as a studio, they were presented with the opportunity to work with Superbrothers on Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery. “Collaborating with Superbrothers, an external creator who was interested in artistic storytelling, and Jim Guthrie, one of the most talented musicians we’ve ever encountered, has cemented this idea that there’s something special about taking the strengths of our studio and bringing in external creators to provide a different field of view.”
Vella explains, “It’s become more and more difficult to stand out, because there’s so much awesome stuff being created by developers from all walks of life. We found that one way we could stand out is through working with composers or artists who haven’t worked in games before. That fresh perspective injects uniqueness into our titles.”
“Games are this full on collision between creative and technical, two completely different ways of creating – and the only way that can work is if people understand each other. No game would ever be made with people working in a vacuum; with artists and programmers who can’t communicate. Collaboration with others has led to better collaboration amongst ourselves, which is imperative as a studio to constantly figure out how to work together better.”
Capy was founded as an independent studio in 2003, and has since seen the independent games industry grow by magnitudes never predicted. “I think we’re on a trajectory where there are more opportunities for more people to make more games,” Vella says of the indie industry. “However, we still fall into some of the same traps, we still have to worry about ‘how long is your game?’, we have to think about business models – these are challenges we must face creatively and solve our own way.”
Below is a game about exploration, survival and discovery. It’s a game inspired by rogue-likes about a lone character exploring the depths of an unknown dungeon and trying to discover everything along the way. “There’s not real text, tutorials, or dialogue; the player is dropped into the world and their skills, abilities and learnings drive the narrative and drive success,” Vella says.
One of the game’s unique features is that it isn’t the same life being played over and over again; it’s a sequence of lives. With each time you die, and you WILL die, a new character arrives at the island. A certain item will add a marker showing the location of your past corpse for so you can loot it. “Part of the discovery comes from building on your past lives and making all of those lives meaningful enough to solve a larger challenge,” Vella explains.
Although Capy is typically known for lighter games, the original pitch and prototype for Below was in 2008, proving they’ve always had a dark side. Vella says, “It has these elements of darkness and overbearing creepiness, which is something we’ve always wanted to try but never felt quite ready to make.” He continues, “Below is the largest, most challenging and darkest game we’ve ever made. Exploring Capy’s non-humorous, non-cartoony side has been refreshing, and quite different from everything we’ve done.”
While we’ve seen plenty of Below’s gameplay, we’ve largely been kept in the dark with regards to it’s story and narrative. “There is a story in the game and a lore to the world,” Vella assures, “but our goal is to let the player figure it out. We wan to give the player the opportunity to discover that narrative and to decipher some of the lore for themselves without us having to hold their hands.”
“We won’t discuss the narrative until players have started to put it together for themselves – and are either very close to fully discovering it or miles away in their own interpretation. All we say is that you play as a lone wanderer arriving at an island and exploring its depths. Your purpose for being there, why you’re going downward, what you’re searching for, if you’re searching for anything, all of that is for the player to discover, if they want to.”
Progression in Below is entirely based on how far you are able to get within a life, and what you are able to achieve in that life that will resonate for the rest of your journey down the depths. There are no RPG elements in terms of experience or levels, although there are RPG-ish elements such as finding better weapons or learning how to craft potions that will help you live longer, keep you full, or stop you from dying of thirst.
The use of procedural generation and procedural elements seems to have taken the gaming world by storm. Massive titles such as Minecraft and No Man’s Sky and smaller titles such as CounterSpy and Rogue Legacy all make use of procedural generation. Below’s world is mostly procedurally generated, and that’s largely where the inspired-by rogue-likes tag comes in.
“When you play through a world, it is generated for you. When you die and start a new life, the world presented to you will be different,” Vella explains. “The goal here is to be explorative – you can’t just memorize a path and follow it. This method begs for exploration; of the terrain, of the combat, and of the mechanics, in order to survive. Good memory or YouTube will not help you here.”
From the gameplay videos we have seen, there seems to be a variety of enemies lurking in the depths. Each enemy has a reason for being there and a backstory. There are natural flora and fauna, some of which is dangerous. If you start to murder dogs, they will attack you. There are even enemies that shoot something similar to laser-beams. Vella says, “It’s all over the map, but all over the map with a distinct purpose.”
Capy is once again working with composer Jim Guthrie on Below’s score, and are quite excited for players to get their ears on it. “We have a very symbiotic relationship with Jim on Below,” Vella begins, “our scenes have an influence on his music, and his music has an influence on our scenes.
“We’re aiming to create a particular mood and aesthetic, and that relies on both visual and audio,” he says. “Jim has an incredible ability to create, as well as to connect with the project and the people working on it. Our creative director, Kris, will quite often go over to Jim’s house, where he has a backyard studio, and sit in the shed and play the game while Jim plays some stuff that he’s working on. They’ll have a back and forth, a creative collaboration; even though Jim isn’t building gameplay, the music that he creates helps us figure out how to play with the mood, tone, and aesthetic of the game, which is just as important.
Below is set to release at some point in late 2015 or early 2016 on Xbox One and PC. For more information on the game, follow Capy Games on Twitter and stay tuned to TheWayfaringDreamer.