Interviews PS Vita

Severed Interview with DrinkBox Studios’ Graham Smith

Following our in-depth interview with Guacamelee! creators DrinkBox Studios on their latest title, Severed, as well as the state of touch-based gaming in general, I had a few more questions that I wished to pose about their upcoming PS Vita exclusive. I was recently able to sit down with the co-founder of the company, Graham Smith, in a follow-up chat to discuss some of the more in-depth elements of the title. We discussed the game’s combat, story and the lack of chickens, amongst many other topics.

Scott Russell: How would you describe the game in a nutshell? It’s a little strange.

Graham Smith: Well, it’s like a hybrid of a first person dungeon crawler, mixed with Zelda, mixed with Infinity Blade, mixed with multi-enemy combat.

SR: The combat obviously involves swiping the Vita screen, to sever of the enemies of course, but what are some other interesting combat moves that the player can do?

GS: So there’s the severing charge, which we call Focus. The camera pulls in, the background darkens and things move a little bit slower, and so this will be a more intense mode in the battle, that then leads to the Severed phase in which you can cut off their [the enemies’] parts. You saw that you were cutting off parts and then using those parts to upgrade yourself. Different enemies will drop different parts and each piece of equipment you get from the bosses unlocks a new skill tree that you can use to make that ability more powerful. So that’s the combat side of things. You’ll find yourself fighting enemies alone and then every time you fight them it’ll be adding [difficulty] to the enemies you find around you. So if you go to a different dungeon you’ll fight different variations of the enemies with more segments [to cut off].

Severed Mode
Severed Mode.

SR: So, what is the next side to the game? Puzzle elements within the dungeons appear to be a big part of it, from what I’ve played.

GS: The dungeons are quite large, and they have puzzle mechanics to them. For example, in one dungeon, you have these doors; there are blue doors and yellow doors, and at first you don’t know what you have to do with these doors: “I can’t seem to open them.” About half way through the dungeon, you gain the ability to change the world from daytime to nighttime. Certain rooms have like a gong in them that has a moon on one side, a sun on the other side and when you hit it, it flips over and you can see the background change from day to night. The yellow doors are only open during the day and the blue doors only open during the night. So this is kind of a high level navigation puzzle. But there are also keys and gates that you can open; small, isolated navigation puzzles, but also the dungeon-wide navigation puzzles. Every dungeon has a unique one-high level navigation puzzle. It’s very much a Legend of Zelda style [puzzle] where you enter the dungeon and then about halfway through you gain this ability that allows you to progress. And some of those abilities are not just useful in the dungeon but they’re also useful in combat. For example, one of the abilities is the charge attack which, if you hold down your finger, you can then swipe, which will break through certain walls or in combat it does more damage.

SR: Okay, cool. So navigation is a big focus overall then?

GS: Yeah. So a few months ago, when we were doing playtesting, people were really getting lost in the space. And so now we have rooms with murals so when you come back into a room you’ll be like “Okay, I recognise that mural.” You can now place yourself more easily in the world; you can keep track of where you are without always looking at the map, which is really useful – especially when we added the multiple floors, because it was really easy to get lost and you’d basically be staring at the map half the time.

A locked dungeon door.
A locked dungeon door.

SR: Are there any secrets throughout areas of the map?

GS: Yeah, we have a lot of collectibles in the world. There are heart pieces and mana pieces that you can find and collect and upgrade your health and your mana. There are also story elements that are hidden behind some doors.

SR: I was wondering a little about inspiration. Guacamelee! is obviously focused on Mexican lore, and Severed seems to follow a similar pattern of mythological influence, but where does its inspiration come from?

GS: Yeah, well the inspiration came from our concept artist who pitched Guacamelee!; he also pitched this game. He’s from Mexico, and we’re from Canada. So the game’s initial idea came from his feelings of missing his family, and so the story of the game is about this girl who wakes up and doesn’t know what’s happened to her family; something tragic has happened. It’s exploring feelings of loneliness and loss and death. It’s very different from our previous games. But at the same time it’s using a very bright and colourful art style so we have a contrast between the dark tone and light visuals.

The missing family in question.
The missing family in question.

SR: Awesome. I really like the brightness and vibrancy, and I also like the false 3D effect of the world.

GS: Yeah, well, everything here is 2D. It’s really faking the 3D. Behind the scenes, there are basically three cylinders wrapped around the player, and the art is warped in a way that makes it look like it’s 3D. The reason we did it like that is because we have a 2D engine that we used for Mutant Blobs and Guacamelee! and we didn’t want to rewrite everything into a 3D engine [for Severed]. At the beginning of the project we experimented with a lot of different ways of trying to simulate that feeling [of 3D] and this is the way we got it.

SR: I noticed that at the end of the demo, where you rescue the girl’s brother. Is that her brother?

GS: Maybe. *laughs*

SR: *laughs* Well, the boy was kind of stuck in a tree [with his face becoming transfixed to the branches] and the first thing I thought was, ‘Is this The Last of Us?’

GS: *laughs* It’s not The Last of Us, but I do love that game. We don’t want to be too flippant about what’s happening in the story because we want people to piece it together themselves, but as she’s [the protagonist] searching for her family members maybe she finds some, and they’re not exactly how she expected, but she’s always holding onto this hope that she can bring them back together.

The boy (Not from The Last of Us).
The boy (Not from The Last of Us).

SR: Okay, so The Last of Us is not in the game, but are there other references to pop culture like Guacalamee! used?

GS: Not so much. We’re still going to try and have some humour, but it’s a different kind of game and we’re trying to do it a little bit differently this time around.

SR: So no chickens?

GS: No chickens, but there is a talking bird that has two heads.

SR: So there you have it. Severed still includes a bird, but this time of the two-headed variety. A necessary purchase if ever there was one.

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