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Ustwo Games is already known for creating games with a heartfelt message at the center, but perhaps the studio’s most personal project has been Alba: A Wildlife Adventure.
Released in 2020, the BAFTA-nominated title tackled the subject of animal conservation while still engaging players in a story of childhood adventure.
Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, lead designer Emily Brown — who was last week named as part of the BAFTA Breakthrough 2022 cohort — shared the inspirations behind the adventure game.
“At the very start of the project, it was creative director David Fernández Huerta and programmer Kirsty Keach who had a shared history growing up in Spain and Valencia and both are passionate bird watchers,” she explains.
Huerta and Keach are credited for creating the title’s inital concept.
“When I joined the team, we all had this shared experience of going out in the wild and seeing something, such as you’re walking along and suddenly there’s a deer on a path,” she said.
She adds, “The story was about being in nature and as it grew, we didn’t feel it couldn’t be about nature unless it spoke about conservation. We worked hard to balance that, we don’t want to preach, we wanted to share the joy of exploring nature to the player and convey that to players. The real hope is that maybe they can take that into their lives somehow.”
Since Alba is presenting players with a real-world subject, Brown highlighted that there was a balance to strike when creating the game. There’s a fine line to conveying a message and it being a joyful experience. She explained it was one of the major points of focus for the team throughout development.
“I think because we knew that we wanted it to be joyful, moments of calm, a sense of Spain, and the freedom of childhood, and care for nature; these were our pillars,” she said.
“I think when you’re trying to be playful and joyful sometimes the level of detail has to be low. So, there’s a level of omission in the game. But they are consciously done to connect people with nature.”
When speaking about these omissions, Brown explains that the game was successful because it was smaller in scope. In the early planning stages of the title it had what she described as a larger ecosystem.
This would involve Alba interacting with city life, insects, and plants for example. However, these extra details would have been a lot for players to process so the decision was made to scale it down in order to convey a much more focused experience overall.
Among the other conscious choices in the game is that Alba is a very young girl. We ask if this decision was reflective of real-world youth being more involved with environmental issues, such as the care of animals, the ocean, and climate change.
“I think it was a mix of an idea that even the smallest person can make a difference”
“It was deliberate and [Alba] was always a child,” she replies. “I think it was a mix of an idea that even the smallest person can make a difference. Alba and her adventure shows the grown-ups things they are blanking out such as picking up trash and other people picking up on those things.”
The decision to put players in the role of a child and not an adult was again to inspire anyone who chooses to be more involved with their local environment.
Now a part of the BAFTA Breakthrough intiative supported by Netflix, Brown reflected on what that means for her career in games.
“[When] Alba was nominated, that [was] really exciting. With the BAFTA Breakthrough, I’ve been in the industry for a long time. Everything I’ve done has been a collaboration, it hasn’t always been me on my own.”
Beyond Alba, Brown has had UX stints at Mrs. Wordsmith and Rovio, and previously worked at Microsoft and Sony on projects including Kinect Sesame Street TV, EyeToy: Play 3, and PlayStation Home.
“I think the BAFTA recognition is encouragement that you’re on the right track. To keep going and this amazing opportunity to be a part of this community of creators and not just games. To meet other members of the cohort.”
“The real hope is that maybe they can take that into their lives somehow”
When reflecting further on the BAFTA recognition she and the studio have received, she notes that it feels like more support for what she does.
Brown explains, “I think what’s interesting about that is that they have recognized games from both small and large teams that have meaning in very different ways from big blockbuster games to loads of games that are innovative like AAA but also are heartfelt experiences.
“It’s nice to sort of feel supported and part of this gaming community and encouraged to continue to explore meaningful themes and stuff for creativity.”