Sneaking up on me on my Facebook newsfeed earlier this week, I saw something that directly caught my eye amidst the sea of duckfaces and ‘food porn’ pictures. It was a picture of concept art from an upcoming game, Tree of Life, that my friend had shared. I automatically clicked on the page’s link, found here, and was pleasantly surprised at what I saw. Tree of Life is an upcoming 2D platformer that follows a still nameless protagonist on his adventure to rescue Mother Nature from robots that have taken over the world. Below is the interview I had with the team to gain some more insight on this hidden gem of a game.
To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself and the rest of the team? (Different roles, how you know each other, what you do now, etc..)
I’m Abdel Rahman Abla (Abed), I graduated from American University of Beirut with a BS in Computer Science and I’m currently a Software Engineer at Foo Solutions. I’m also planning on going to USC next year. On the side, Im a game designer and Independent game developer. For Tree of Life, I’m the Co-Lead Designer
I’m Khaled Abdel Rahman, currently doing my MS in Computer Science with focus on Games at USC. I’m the Co-Lead Designer and Producer on Tree Of Life. Abed and I have been friends since our bachelor years together, we also lead the design on last year’s award winning game “Turn on the Light”.
The team “Flaming Toast” is a very talented one, students that heard about the game volunteered from universities across the United States. Today, the team includes the following members:
- Khaled Abdel Rahman – Co-Lead Designer, Producer
- Abdel Rahman Abla – Co-Lead Designer
- Peter Turner – Lead Engineer
- Linhui Wang – Concept Artist
- Acacia Soltyshak – Concept Artist
- Max Loh – Composer
- Brandon Lake – Animator
- Ben Kantor – Animator
- Uzair Asif – Usability
Tell us a bit about the game? Where did the idea come from and how? Was it through a long brainstorming session with the team or more of a spontaneous Eureka! moment? How long has it been in development?
Abed: The initial idea of the game’s theme came to me while I was at work, and I directly pitched it to Khaled, who was at the moment having a bad day and destroyed all my hopes at building the game. Few days later we were both worried about what our next project would be, and this game’s theme came up in our conversation. Khaled had a handy notebook on him, and Lebanon’s electricity helped by cutting off for 3 hours (this unique electrical quality was for the first time HELPFUL!). These three hours turned out to be a blast. The idea quickly transformed into a fully developed one, and we found at our hands pages of notes on what is now “Tree Of Life”.
The game description says that the protagonist has to travel across lands to reach the Tree of Life. What types of settings are these lands going to include? Snow, desert, forest…? Any plans for a dynamic climate and day/night system?
Khaled: The game takes place in a post apocalyptic future. Global warming has taken complete effect, and robots have gained control over earth. There will be no forests, snow, or any other form of life on earth to deal with. The game’s main setting will be in the robot cities, and as moving forward we’ll move into the “robot capitol”, where the tree of life stands. Climate change is still a feature in the talks!
Which platforms are you planning on releasing this on? Facebook, Mobile, consoles (PS3, 360), Steam Greenlight maybe?
Abed: We’re shooting for PS Vita, PS3 (PS move). We’re also incorporating Leap Motion controls for the PC and Mac Versions. The game is a 2D platformer, where our main character is controlled using an analog stick, and nature’s powers are controlled with gestures. Btw, who wouldn’t want a Steam Greenlit game!
The art work posted on the FB page looks great. Any certain inspirations? And did you have to go through a lot of concepts before settling on the final design for the protagonist and enemies?
Khaled: The Art is the most important aspect in our game, since the game is aimed to be very visually rich. We wanted the visuals to be the most effective tools at telling our story. For the main character, we’ve always wanted a 3 legged weirdo, but it actually took us 3 weeks and 74 iterations to get to the one we have right now. As for the other pieces of art, they took hours of discussion with each of our amazing artists to get to. One of the pieces, titled “Journey to the Tree of Life” by Linhui Wang took about two weeks to draw, because of it’s very detailed city. Obviously, the art is a very hard aspect in any game, we are just blessed to have two amazing artists on our team.
Your character is said to have the powers of nature. Could you please elaborate a bit more on what these include? Will players have access to them at all times or will the game have more of an upgrade/unlock system?
Abed: Our character is an alien-plant-lifeform. He acts as the only seed that could restore life back to earth. Our character’s body allows for our game’s main mechanic. To walk, our character cartwheelsusing his flower-like feet open up and pollenate the ground as he moves on it. This grass allows the player to use nature’s powers. The most essential ability is grounding vines that help him in defeating enemies, these vines could be interacted with in different ways, such as used as jumping platforms, or used to impale enemy robots. Other nature powers include summoning pollen balls, rain clouds, and controlling wind! As for the upgrade system, that is still in it’s design phase.
Any plans for multiplayer? Whether co-op or versus?
Khaled: Co-op could be an option, but its not in our plans or current scope. As for versus, of course not!
The game follows a similar concept to the team’s previous award-winning game, TOTL? What did you learn from that experience that helped make your current project more efficient?
Khaled: We see this game as a spiritual successor to TOTL. In which in that game, the main protagonist, Jorg, fails at his mission and that leads to the current world’s setting. Our experience with TOTL was priceless, the most important thing we learned is not to trust just anyone with something that is so precious to us! Other than that, we learned how to organize code, design fun levels, and we learned the importance of a pre-production phase in a game’s development cycle. We also gained a lot of self confidence when it comes to working on a big project. As 3 inexperienced developers we came up with TOTL, with a big team we could do something amazing.
Some of you being Lebanese graduates, how hard did you find it to break through into the gaming industry? Any advice for future prospective developers in the region?
Abed: Initially, we would’ve never thought we would be able to pull something off that would be recognized by the gaming world. As Khaled just said, after working hard enough, we realized we could do something special. A very heartfelt moment to me was when Khaled showed TOTL to Richard Lemarchand, who was the Lead Designer on the Uncharted series by Naughty Dog. Richard’s response was that our game looked fantastic, how cool is that?! Oh and Btw, Richard agreed to be the Industry Advisor on Tree Of Life! My advice to anyone wanting to go into the gaming industry is to actually try and work hard enough. Its not easy, but it sure is worth it!
Anything else you’d like to add about the game? If a demo is in the works, could Tech-Ticker get an exclusive preview?
Khaled: A demo is in the works, just help us reach 300 likes on Facebook and you’ll get to see pre-alpha footage! Again, our Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/TreeOfLifeGame . We will also be exclusively sending you the game’s finished demo when we feel it’s ready to be revealed within the next two months. Thanks a lot for having us featured, we really appreciate the time you took for this interview.