Indie Dev Interview: Ustwo’s Danny Gray talks Desta: The Memories Between

Desta: The Memories Between navigates some poignant themes in a way in which only a video game can do – exploring how a non-binary protagonist can repair broken relationships, whilst transitioning through dreamlike worlds and all via a turn-based dodge ball gaming mechanic. Monument Valley created a pivotal moment for gamers when it landed in 2014 and Desta: The Memories Between shares similar ambitions, the game is part of a collaboration with Netflix and lands on mobile 27th of September 2022. Ustwo’s CCO Danny Gray told us more about the game’s journey, navigating its sensitive subject matter and opened up about some of his personal experiences that are reflected in the game. Firstly, please could introduce yourself? Hi mates, I’m Danny Gray: Chief Creative Officer at ustwo games, and Game Director on Desta: The Memories Between. Can you tell us about your experience creating Desta, and the game’s journey so far?  Desta: The Memories Between began life as a dodgeball prototype we made all the way back in 2018… The idea began as a thought exercise asking ourselves: “What would a sports game made by ustwo games be like?,” so we started to pursue the concept of teammates and the relationships that could be made through sport. We prototyped basic throwing, movement and got something really fun and memorable, but we had to put it down to get Assemble With Care ready for launch. Since 2020, when we learned to make games remotely in a new COVID world, and really evolved the idea into a game about confessions and words left unsaid. The world of dreams acts as the perfect backdrop to have these important conversations, without the real world consequence of confronting people yet. As of right now we’re… three days away from launch with a finished game and are incredibly excited to finally be showing it to the world. It’s been a ton of effort and love to get here! Desta: The Memories Between How did you approach the merging of dreams with reality, it seems creating worlds where people can escape reality comes naturally to UsTwo? You’re right that generally, we like to create worlds you can escape to, slices of joy in a world that can sometimes be difficult to live within. Whether that be the abstract world of Monument Valley where you can achieve the impossible, or the sunny shores of Pinar del Mar in Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. We’re always looking for new places to transport our players to, and it’s no different this time with a dreamy encapsulation of East Manchester being the backdrop to our latest game. In regards to how we ended up blending dreams with reality this time, it really came down to themes of introspection, reflection and creating a safe space for players to explore difficult conversations. That combined with the loop like nature of the game made, the surreal dreamlike setting a great fit. You cover sensitive topics through the game, how useful is a game to create discussion around these types of issues? I think games are an excellent form in which to pursue sensitive topics. The number one aspect is being able to have player agency through mechanics when exploring these themes. Playing Desta and knowing your next throw is going to confess something heavy makes you REALLY not want to let go of that interaction. Desta: The Memories Between Are some of the topics that the game raises close to the team personally? Did you reflect on your own experiences? Definitely. For myself personally I lost my mother when I was younger, which left my father and me with a fractured relationship. Being very similar people we were too stubborn to be honest with each other at times and without that candidness or the bravery to make difficult confessions, we drifted apart. I just couldn’t find the words to say to express myself and was too worried about the consequences. Secondly to that, the idea of throwing balls as a metaphorical conversation was borrowed from a conversation I’d had with my brother whilst he was a youth worker with young boys with behavioural difficulties. He mentioned that in order to have them open up and speak more candidly he’d get a lot better results engaging in a physical activity with them. Especially throwing a ball back and forth. Noel Williams joining the team as writer really enabled us to pursue some of the non-binary aspects of Desta’s identity with a real sense of genuineness. Beyond that there’s little nuggets from the wider teams lives including Memoria items as references and scenarios that occur during level up moments. Words left unsaid, what a great turn of phrase, what does that mean to you? And how do you hope it lands with audiences? We hope so! To us, it simply means words that we wished we’d said to somebody, but for whatever reason we’ve not managed to yet. The game of Desta explores these different ways in which the words were left behind. How was it working with a character undefined by gender? How do you hope audiences will respond? We always try to broaden the types of characters that can be protagonists in games, as the wider industry is so homogenous in that regard. We started with a huge collection of varied character concepts and settled on the initial visual design for Desta as it was getting the most traction internally. From there we simply asked the question “How many non-binary leads are there in games?” and from that moment forwards it was settled. We then took the added time to find a writer with first hand lived experience on the topic to help advise us on the game. It’s been incredibly interesting to explore some of these themes in game, even to the extent that one of the confessions in game is coming out to a friend. It simply doesn’t happen enough in games and we’re incredibly proud of being able to do it. We imagine there’ll be a few people who complain about us putting pronouns on dialogue boxes or exploring gender identity, but we think they’ll be drowned out by the number of people who really resonate with the themes and are appreciative of us being direct on these parts of Desta’s identity. Desta: The Memories Between What has it been like working with Netflix on the project, a positive experience?  It’s been a great experience so far, they’ve given us total creative freedom to pursue our vision. As a group of creatives you can’t ask for more than that.They’ve given us valuable feedback on how the game’s been going, but have never enforced any changes on us. We’re really hoping that as Netflix Games gets bigger and bigger we’re going to be able to reach a huge audience of people excited for these kinds of stories. What do you hope that people feel walking away from the game, apart from just the enjoyment of playing? We really hope that players walk away with a better appreciation of conflict and difficult conversations being a key part of maintaining healthy relationships. We hope that this leads to players maybe picking up the phone to someone they’ve not seen in a while. Find out more about UsTwo’s titles through its website and stay up to date on Desta: The Memories Between through its Steam page. Thanks for reading our Indie Dev Interview: Ustwo’s Danny Gray talks Desta: The Memories Between, for more interesting articles on the indie games industry, check out the links below.  INTO INDIE GAMES WALKTHROUGHS INDIE DEV INTERVIEW: SIR IAN LIVINGSTONE WHAT ARE THE BEST INDIE GAMES TO PLAY ON XBOX GAME PASS? GROWBOT WALKTHROUGH – LIVING QUARTERS PART 1 (SOLAR BERRY JAM) VIRTUAVERSE – REVIEW

This Article was written by: Harry Cole

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