Taking a walk on the wild side with Alba: A Wildlife Adventure developer ustwo games
We talk to the development team behind one of year's most therapeutic indies.
Launching late last week alongside CD Projekt RED's magnum opus was Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, a self-proclaimed 'chillectathon' that sees you explore a gorgeous Mediterranean island as you do good deeds for its townsfolk. It wonderfully encapsulates those cherished childhood summers, and I found it to be one of the most therapeutic games I have played all year. Recently, I got the chance to speak to Lead Designer Emily Brown and Studio Art Director David Fernández Huerta and got to hear more about the game and its many inspirations.
Gamereactor: For those who may be unaware, what is Alba: A Wildlife Adventure?
David: Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is a small open world game about having fun in a Mediterranean summer island, where suddenly things go wrong and you need to save the day. It's kind of like a nature-friendly, family-friendly child activist extravaganza. So yeah, you go around the island, you take pictures of animals, you do favours for people, you fix things that are broken, and you bring back life to this place that is not in the best of times.
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Emily: I feel like it's really about doing things at your own pace and getting to enjoy this place, but also this experience of bringing people together to do something really positive.
Gamereactor: The game has just launched on PC and Apple Arcade. Why were these two platforms chosen in particular?
David: We are a mobile studio originally, all our games have been for mobile platforms. Originally when we were prototyping for new ideas, we thought that mobile is the environment that we know the best and we can be best at. It was very clear from the beginning that this game had the potential to be more than just a mobile game and that it could reach platforms other than mobile. PC is something that we have done in the past as well with Assemble with Care, but this is the first time that we are doing a console release, so that's very exciting for us.
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Gamereactor: It has been described as a 'chillectathon' on Steam. What is meant by that exactly?
David: So the first piece of concept art I ever did on this project was like a top-down view, kind of like a poster treatment for the game. It was like a solitary beach in the winter with some birds and a character that was pretty much dressed the way Alba does. It had a title and a subtitle, and the subtitle was "an ustwo games chillectathon." I love the idea of collecting things in games. I think it's a very natural human impulse in games in particular. You can collect lots of things and I'm the kind of person who looks behind every stone to find the one collectible I have missing. And I like this idea of collecting is the main thing you do, but you are not in a rush. You are not doing it for the points, you are doing it because it's an enticing world and bit by bit you can make your collection in an organic way.
Gamereactor: Looking at the gameplay, it looks a lot like Pokémon Snap when taking photos and cataloguing the different animals. Was this an inspiration?
David: Not particularly early on. After a few weeks of prototyping, we did say "look, we need to play Pokémon Snap to see what is going on in there," but Kirsty and I hadn't played it before. It was interesting to see, but for us, the important part was the freedom and the walking around. This is based on our experience in nature. I take pictures of animals in real life as a hobby, so it's coming more from the real life experience and trying to bring that to players. Pokémon Snap is an excellent game that lots of people love, but it wasn't necessarily the inspiration.
Gamereactor: The game is set on a beautiful Mediterranean island. What were its real world inspirations?
David: So, Kirsty and I, who started the prototype, we had both a similar childhood experience. I grew up in Spain in Valencia, which is the Mediterranean coast and Kirsty is from Scotland, but grew up in Ibiza, which is also in the Mediterranean coast of Spain. So, we had lots of very similar memories of landscapes, of the vibe of the place, the kind of architecture you will find, the people you'll find, and the activities that you'll do in a place like that. It kind of just naturally evolved into being that because we found a world that you haven't really seen in any games. It has bits of Ibiza, it has bits of Valencia and the surrounding towns.
Gamereactor: What can you tell us about Alba, the protagonist. Is she based on a particular person?
Emily: For me, she always represented that kind of youthful curiosity.
David: I wanted a character that was visually iconic. Something that had a nice silhouette, a big head, a small body, the red hat, the pig tails - it was really easy to draw. I wanted her to feel like she wasn't quite the same kind of person you find in the rest of the game. Like, she is not a local, so she looks slightly different to everyone else. You know, it's a story about making a place your own and you have to feel a bit like an outsider. So she's half British half Spanish, and I guess in that sense, she is based on that experience with my son who is 100% Spanish, but he has grown up here in London. I found that a little bit heart breaking and empowering in a way, and I found that a really cool idea for a character.
Gamereactor: What can you tell us about some of the characters we will have a chance to meet on the island?
Emily: I think that we have a wonderful array of characters, all with their different personalities. I think my favourite bit about the characters is that they are all different to each other. They all have their own different takes on what's happening and different senses of humour. Of course, there's Inés, the partner in crime, I guess. She's bubbly and energetic and always full of great ideas.
David: A favourite amongst the team is Melina, the dog walking lady (laughs). I think at some point the place looked a bit empty and we started towards the end of the game adding a lot more characters to the background. We could have made these random characters, but we ended up giving them a lot of personality and that really brought to life the place. It's really hard to pick a favourite as they all have something going on for them. They are not just like "a character."
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is out now on Apple Arcade and PC.