All photos by Christopher Demelo. Screenshots courtesy of Axon Interactive.
“The story is about people.”
It’s one of the first things that Producer and Narrative Designer Tabby Rose tells me when talking about Quench, the debut game from her Toronto-based studio Axon Interactive. It’s also not immediately obvious because most of the characters in Quench are animals. Axon is currently developing Quench for PC and MAC, a small team trying to put something together that will be as impressive as the F-35 jets that Programmer and Game Designer Jeff Rose worked with before joining Axon. Jeff previously did QA for the Joint Strike fighter program, but the need for a more personal experience drove him into indie game development.
“I wanted to be able to have a greater hand in what’s going on,” he said. “The size and scope of the project was so large that at the end of the day you couldn’t see an individual person’s impact. It just wasn’t there. The work I do [now] is there and visual. That matters a lot to me.”
That creative philosophy is reflected in Quench, in which you control an avatar named Shepherd with the ability to manipulate the weather. Your powers include wind, to clear out sandstorms, and water, to add life to the dry climate, and your goal is to move a herd of animals across various biomes. Along the way, you make a friend named Shaman, the new matriarch of the elephants who helps with your objective.
Quench is visually akin to Shelter with mechanics that feel like Lemmings. The art in the game – and on Axon’s walls – is heavily influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s work, particularly films like Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The concept art on Axon’s walls deliberately recalls the Forest spirit in Princess Mononoke. “I definitely was like you know that forest spirit? I want that,” said Tabby.
The animals, meanwhile, are significantly more intelligent than lemmings, but they still have trouble getting along. Wildebeests are distrustful of Lions. Springbok are flighty and impulsive. The Baboons have learned how to control fire. The animals face natural obstacles like brush fires and sandstorms, as well as antagonistic threats like Smokebeasts.
Each animal tribe leader has its own interests and way of doing things, creating a natural tension between the animals that the player has to resolve. For example, Shaman, wants to lead the herd to salvation whereas Flint the Baboon wants to make fire, and your job as the player is to manage those competing interests.
To that end, the developers created many different interactions between the player and the animals. Jeff explained that, “We have the ability to control how closely [the animals] stay together when they are scared. There are a whole bunch of things in the game that can sort of produce fear. You can strike down lightning near them and give them a little bit of a shock.”
When asked why they chose the animals they did, Tabby explained that different animals represent different types of people. “The idea is different groups behave differently, so the springbok for example are really flighty,” she said. “They break apart into more amorphous groups more quickly. Meanwhile the wildebeest, their whole thing is that they are a military unit so will remain together.”
That’s why the developers insist that the game is about people, citing Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra as big inspirations for Quench. The TV show was a hit with children, but an older audience could appreciate it due to its mature themes (Tabby describes it as “Representational without being realistic”). Avatar dealt with imperialism and democracy, as well as technological advancement, spiritualism, nationalism, and altruism. Similarly, the main theme in Quench is the collaboration of different groups, as herbivores and carnivores come together to overcome global barriers.
“We wanted to tell a story about how groups that may have very disparate needs and ideas on how to fix things still ultimately have to come together to solve that problem,” said Tabby. “Even though there are lions and lions don’t particularly want to work with the anybody else in the group.”
If all goes well, Quench will be accessible to kids and adults in much the same way as Axon’s favourite fiction. “We wanted this to be something that parents and children can play together and that they can talk about, but I didn’t want to make it a kids game,” said Tabby. “It’s not. It’s for everyone.”
Quench is currently on Kickstarter and looking to meet their funding goals within the next week.