In space, nobody can hear you press the left and right bumpers to move your knees.
Melbourne-based studio Two-Point Interactive is bringing the complexities of physical movement in space to your home with Heavenly Bodies, a physics-focused game about cosmonauts, the body, and the absence of gravity. The game, with the help of Film Victoria, has already gained favour with critics, with the team racking up prizes from awards bodies such as Freeplay and Gamescom.
Prior to the game’s release, I decided to have a chat with the guys behind the game, Alexander Perrin and Joshua Tatangelo, and learn a bit more about how it came to be.
What’s Heavenly Bodies all about?
Alexander: It’s essentially like a zero-gravity body simulator, in the simplest terms. So you are tasked to manipulate the hands and arms and legs of a weightless cosmonaut or two, if you’re playing local co-op, and you essentially operate a puppet-like sort of body to try and perform seemingly trivial tasks. But in the zero-gravity context, they’re almost impossible. They’re very challenging. So it’s actually about coming to grips with what it means to have a body in a zero-gravity context and understanding how to move around the space without gravity to hold you down.
What do you think were some of the inspirations and influences when developing the game?
Joshua: Design-wise, I think the inspiration for us is always trying to create something that feels good in its basic movement. I think that’s kind of where the fundamentals of it came from, it was all about capturing that: the zero-gravity, physical movement. Then it was just an obvious move to marry it with the visuals that we had. We’ve always had interesting, older kind of sci-fi themes, like 50s/60s/70s romantic space travel kind of stuff, as opposed to future sci-fi. So yeah, keeping it very kind of analog informed by very physical mediums, like manual illustrations and old movie posters, very graphical things as opposed to crisp hi-fi stuff.
Were there any challenges that you faced during development?
Alexander: What wasn’t the challenge?
Joshua: I mean, the difficulty has always been a big one. Just the difficulty of the game because you’re not only trying to come to grips with controlling your character, you’re also stumbling into these scenarios where you’re trying to visually decipher what the puzzle is or what technically needs to be constructed or put together. So it’s just been a lot of testing and adding too much and seeing how it goes, and then removing it to get that balance of not overwhelming people too much.
Alexander: Yeah. Then on top of that, it’s a game which has been made more so in lockdown than less so. Having to manage multiple people and manage ourselves all working from home, we’ve never done that before. You know how battered Melbourne has been with all the lockdown stuff, so it’s been nearly impossible to get anything done. That’s obviously been really tricky but it’s such a delight to now actually be able to launch it in person and do all that physically. It’s an absolute dream now.
Kudos to you guys for getting through it!
Joshua: Thank you!
Alexander: In another sense, it’s been good to have a project to keep ourselves occupied. There’s literally nothing else to do, except go into mental hibernation. It’s also been a dream having this partnership with PlayStation, so now they’ve brought us on to get this thing on their platforms and it’s been delightful working with them. But at the same time, we’re two people who have never launched a game close to this scale before, so suddenly having to work with an enterprise-level organisation and deliver the game onto the previous generation and next generation console and then PC as well, and all under pretty… Not like strict deadlines but you know, you gotta deliver.
Joshua: Yeah, it’s been good in that regard, just kept us really focused.
So I know you can play either single-player or co-op, what would you say is the preferred way to play? Is there a preferred way?
Joshua: Not really? I mean, it depends on what kind of mood you’re in. I think maybe if you’re keen to nail it and master it and really get into it, single-player’s the way to go. But if you’re up for having a bit of a laugh and just not really worrying too much about how it goes, I think co-op is probably… Not better, but it’s like hanging out with a friend versus reading a book. Two very different things.
Alexander: It’s often been remarked upon just how wildly different the game is when you play it single-player or local multiplayer. When you’re alone with it, it’s a fairly concentrated experience, like you have to really focus on it. It seems like they require a lot of mental energy. It’s quite a stoic experience in many senses. But as soon as a second player jumps in, it becomes just mayhem so quickly. The tone of the entire game just flips on its head as soon as there are two people, two bodies in the space. Lots of tugging and wrestling and very playful interactivity, which is really nice, so it’s good to be able to have that.
How exactly did Two-Point Interactive come to be?
Joshua: So we met back in uni around 2011. We both went to RMIT in Melbourne and we studied games and we were in separate year levels. One of our lecturers Jen, she’s really cool, kind of set us up.
Alexander: Like a play date.
Joshua: It was for one of her friends making a film project and she hooked us both up to make the soundtrack for it. Sorry, it’s a bit sideways but yeah, Alex played the violin and so we made this soundtrack together. Then at the same time, we knew of each other’s work, we got along, and we liked each other’s work and it just felt really good. So we kept kind of tinkering with stuff on the side.
And then it was in 2015, something like that, that we were both like, ‘Let’s try and make a thing of this, let’s start a studio’. That’s when we fully formed and started taking client work. Yeah. And then a few years ago, we were like, ‘Let’s try doing something for ourselves, and that’s kind of how Heavenly Bodies came to be. That was our final like, ‘You know what? Let’s do our own thing instead of doing everybody else’s projects. And now we’re here.
Alexander: We have to thank Film Victoria as well, they’re really how the whole thing could happen. We were barely scraping by trying to do client work for various people. We’re not good salespeople, so eventually we had a tiny bit of savings to then make a full-on big application, and praise be, they gave us enough to then make a prototype for Heavenly Bodies.
Heavenly Bodies will be available on Playstation 4, Playstation 5, and PC from December 7, 2021.
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