Tunic PS5 — cute fox game dev talks secrets, theme parks, and DOOM

By Lee Brady and Sean Lawson,

Tunic developer Andrew Shouldice spoke with TrueTrophies at Gamescom 2022 about game design, Tunic's legacy, and memories of the game's initial release. Read our interview ahead of the game's PS5 and PS4 launch.

The impending PS5 and PS4 release of Tunic has us thinking about the game's secret trophies and its PS5-exclusive Game Hub features, but that only scratches the surface of what we covered in our conversation with the game's developer Andrew Shouldice at Gamescom 2022. In our Tunic interview, we discussed the game's release date, game design, language, and what the future holds for our favourite foxy adventurer.

TunicDreaming of more Tunic.

Discussing Tunic and Game Design

Following on from our chat about Tunic's use of the PS5's Game Hub system, we asked Shouldice: Is the option to nudge a player, rather than feed them information, something you feel is missing from game design today?

Shouldice: "All games are different, right? If it's a game about engaging with systems that are expertly crafted to make you feel like a badass — like Doom for example — and Doom wants to show you: 'this is how the mechanics work. This is the item that you use and this is how power-ups work, and this here's our gameplay loop.' That's all great and perfect and I love that. However, there are other games that are more about discovery and really uncovering what feels like a complete artefact; that is sort of player agnostic. You are exploring, poking, and discovering as you go — I really like that experience as well. That's really where my heart lies and I wanted to make something in that vein.

"The gentle nudge and poke is core to the experience; for example, if someone is in a maze and they're not sure what to do, there could be a point where they discover what they're supposed to do and that's like a really solid push in one direction. I much prefer lots and lots of very tiny little pushes that help nudge you towards your goal.

When it comes to little nudges, we definitely prefer a 'couch friend'.When it comes to little nudges, we definitely prefer a 'couch friend'.

"[An example] would be the glyph language in Tunic. There's maybe one or two spots that give you a little bit more of a solid push, but every instance of the glyph language is just a tiny nudge; no big nudges here. So, when you encounter the tiny nudge that pushes you over the edge, you feel like you really discovered it, because it wasn't a shove, it was just a tap. It was something that barely feels like game design, and then you feel like a genius at that point. It's that little step, the fact that it's simply a gentle nudge in the right direction, that helps 'you,' the player, feel like [you] are the ones who discovered how to progress."

Tunic, language, and trusting the player

Since Shouldice had brought it up, we then asked about Tunic's glyph language — how difficult was it to create and then manage for the player, to obfuscate a language just enough to prevent players from easily picking it apart, but translatable enough to make players want to discover it?

TunicHow cute is this manual art by the way?

Shouldice: "Well, I've only done one, so I don't have a lot to compare to. But this language, in particular, is a little bit of a special case because at no point do you really have to uncover it. That's really an example of a million tiny pushes, because you don't need to push hard enough that anyone truly discovers it. That means that the people who really like doing the linguistic frequency analysis can feel like they're having a true archaeological experience, as opposed to being told straight up. We chose not to worry about it a lot — just build the language. Have it be as is and occasionally use some weird language so [players] don't get a Rosetta Stone too early. Then we just let people roll with it and discover what they discover."

Following on from that answer, we asked Shouldice whether he believed it took bravery on behalf of the game developer to say, "let's let the player do whatever, let's just let them go?"

Shouldice: I don't know. I don't think "I'm very brave." I think there is a strong urge as a game developer to round off the rough spots. That's an analogy that's been used many times before, but the idea is: you shovel a bunch of game testers on something and any edge that they bump up against you like sand down a little bit. And that can be tricky because sometimes you want something to bruise you a little bit. You want to have a little bit of friction, because the smoother something is — the more it has conformed to you as a player — the more that feels like it was designed for you.

That purple fox has definitely checked out the weird dark tunnel.That purple fox has definitely checked out the weird dark tunnel.

"I think part of discovery is that transgressive feeling of exploring something that wasn't built for your amusement. Exploring a theme park is fun and cool, but peeking into a doorway that says 'employees only' and finding a weird dark tunnel — that's more exciting, right? Making it feel like it wasn't meant for you is sort of a core thing, [and] that extends to a lot of things, like the language and the manual [in Tunic]."

Tunic's developer reflects on the game's launch

We asked: what surprised you most about the initial release? In a game full of secrets and mysteries, what surprised you most when people finally got their hands on it?

Shouldice: "Well, moment zero was sitting down, team on the call — it's going live on Xbox Game Pass. At that moment, the embargo is up and I have to press the submit button to release it on Steam. All of that was happening, so I wasn't ready for my partner — who was gonna act as like a buffer between the press and myself — she was just stunned. She [read the review scores], "98," "9.5," — it was one of the most emotionally concentrated moments in my life, in seven years, to be on this one click, and then hearing that; that was amazing.
"I was astounded at how quickly people tore the game apart and found — [well] not all of the stuff — but a lot of the things. I knew it was gonna happen, but within 24 to 48 hours people had found a lot of cool stuff. Before the game was even out, some people had figured out some of the secrets just from the demos and the press stuff that we had done. But to see all the people working on it together and coming up with that was really worth it.

"Also, like I mentioned before, people like when they give hints to one another and the community that forms around it. [People] offering secrets to one another and speculating, and the Discord that Finji set up has the Tunic channel where people can go in and talk about stuff. And then it's got the spoilers channel, where people use spoiler tags and talk about the deeper stuff. And then underneath that is the Tunic deepest-secret third tier of hidden stuff — to go in and see people having a great time on something that you worked on is really wonderful."

TunicIs this another Tunic?

The Legacy of Tunic — what's next for Finji's furriest adventurer?

Looking forward, we asked Shouldice: let's say you're in the future, discussing a future project you're working on — what do you think that you'll look back on that about Tunic and want to carry forward?

Shouldice: "Right now, all I can think about is taking a break and working on tiny little projects that aren't sprawling adventures full of secrets — or I just wanna do some recreational programming, just for funsies. But, I want to work on something that has characters in it and dialogue, and stories that get told, as opposed to [the dilemma that unfurls] if you want to add a story element to Tunic — it's not a matter of just writing a line of dialogue, right? So, that's something very appealing about having actual characters, that would be something that I'd love to do one day.

"[Following on from Tunic] I don't think I'm going to be able to live the rest of my life without making a game that has secrets in it. I just love that feeling of discovery so much — I think whatever I work on in the future will at least have a little bit of that there. And knowing that a game like Tunic can reach so many people and touch them and have them be like 'yes, I love not knowing. I love the joy of speculating'. The fact that I'm not alone in appreciating those things is wonderful and will probably reinforce my decision to make something that capitalizes on that later."

Totally real image of me getting the blue gem on level 1, guys.Totally real image of me getting the blue gem on level 1, guys.

We cast our sights a little wider then, thinking about Tunic as an adventure game that fits into a long line of adventure games, from The Legend of Zelda to Fez and beyond. After framing this genealogical exercise to Shouldice, we asked: "In the future, what is it that you want people to take from Tunic when they look back at it as part of this library of adventure games?"

Shouldice: "Selfishly, I think what I want is for someone to make a game like Tunic that I can play, because people come in and they talk about the stories of playing the game, and it fuels my soul because I will never have that experience. [We] made a whole game about this one feeling of discovery and wonder that we as the people making the game can never actually feel. So I want someone just to go and make another game like that. [Though,] Outer Wilds is on my list [to play]. I haven't played it because I knew if I played it, I would be heartbroken over how exquisitely beautiful it was [while designing Tunic]. Now that Tunic is out I can sort of relax and be like, okay, I think this Christmas I'm gonna play Outer Wilds."

Outer Wilds has made a number of our lists here at TrueTrophies — the best PS4 games, the most underrated PS Plus Extra and Premium games to platinum. Shouldice shared our enthusiasm, and so decided to expound on his thoughts regarding what makes that game, and Tunic, so appealing.

TunicPure adventuring spirit.

Shouldice: "I think that it is okay not to tell people things because not knowing, and then understanding is — well, we can get poetic about it. Not knowing and then understanding is wonderful and great, but the ultimate thing is the not knowing itself, right? Letting your imagination run wild and filling in all the gaps. The analogy has been made before, but imagine playing [the first] Zelda and not knowing about explodable walls, like the idea of a wall that you can blow up is just not in your video game vocabulary.

"[So], you're playing the game and you discovered that [the explodable walls are] there. That is the ultimate gift: realizing not only that, oh, there's a fun treasure on the other side of this — whatever. The real treasure is: now every wall in the world is a question. [That's not exciting to us] because it's exciting to get rupees again; it's not knowing where [the walls] are and what they might contain. Once they contain something, you can forget about it, right? 'I did it, I blew it up, it was whatever, some treasure, I don't care' — not knowing; that's the exciting part. I am looking forward to playing more games about not knowing."

Let us know in the comments below if you've enjoyed this interview, and make sure to check out the rest of our Gamescom coverage: our Hyenas preview, our System Shock gameplay impressions, our Wanted Dead preview, and three stories on The Callisto Protocol's DLC, PS5 audio and its aversion to PS Plus.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee keeps one eye on the future (Shadow x Sonic Generations), one eye on the past (PS Plus Premium games), and his secret third eye on junk he really likes (Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games). Then he uses his big mouth to blurt out long-winded opinions about video games.
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