Axiom Verge surprised even its creator when it garnered critical acclaim in 2015. An indie metroidvania in the age of indie metroidvanias, developer Thomas Happ took a refreshingly formulaic approach that captured the same sense of wonder and mystery as classic Metroid. With a welcome dash of H.R. Giger-inspired art and a creepy, pulsating soundtrack, Axiom Verge was a breakout.
"I just try to make something that's interesting to me and hopefully other people like it as well," Happ tells USgamer today via email about the success of the first game. Happ closed out Nintendo's Indie World presentation today with the announcement of Axiom Verge 2, a sequel to the first that's been four years in development.
Axiom Verge 2 looks to explore new worlds and eras, supposedly delving into the origins of the Axiom Verge universe. We're fans of Axiom Verge 'round these parts, so we reached out to Happ with some of our most burning questions about the sequel.
USgamer: Axiom Verge was a solid success, but metroidvanias have really flooded the market since then. What do you think it takes to stay ahead of the pack?
Thomas Happ: I have no idea. Honestly I don't know if I could even tell you how Axiom Verge was so successful when even at the time it came out, there was already an indie metroidvania push going on. I just try to make something that's interesting to me and hopefully other people like it as well.
The core of movement looks to be a little different, almost Prince of Persia/Flashback in style. What are your thoughts?
There is definitely a bit more of that kind of movement in there. I play a lot of [triple-A] open-world games and I especially like how climbing becomes a puzzle/exploration element much like jumping does in platformers. So I wanted to inject a bit of that.
The press release says its going back to the origins of the universe. How does that tie into the timeline stuff from the first game?
The timeline is hard to explain without spoiling the overarching story, but, depending on how you view things, Axiom Verge 2 is both in the future of Axiom Verge and in the past, but probably more of the latter.
It looks quite a bit less H.R. Giger-esque. Can you tell us a little more about the art direction?
The art direction stems more from the location and time period than from a decision to include less biomech. That stuff is still there, but this game will elucidate a bit on how it got there.
There's a reference to an ansible in one of the press kits. Can you talk about the influences of author Ursula K. Le Guin and other sci-fi in the worldbuilding?
If it wasn't directly invented by Le Guin, the notion of faster the light communication, and what we call it, was popularized by her, and other sci-fi authors just went along with the name. If someone ever gets these devices working on the mass market, they're probably going to call them ansibles... so I just went with that.
I think it's interesting you're leading with Switch. What has the platform meant for you and the series at large?
The Switch was kind of a natural platform to start with this time around. It seems as though every few years platforms shift in terms of popularity of indies and at the moment the Switch is really the best place for it. Axiom Verge's sales on Switch are still doing pretty well, whereas it's slowed down on the other platforms. It also helps that the Switch is the lowest spec of them all so I can be guaranteed that if I develop on Switch, the same thing will run elsewhere without making sacrifices.
I'd sort of decided on this internally when the Switch was first announced. I was scrambling trying to get the specs from Nintendo so I could make sure the game resolution was compatible with the handheld screen resolution without having to blur or stretch it.
Can we expect Axiom Verge 2 on a similar spread of consoles, including next-gen?
I can't really talk about where you'll see Axiom Verge 2 other than the Switch. That said, it took several years before Axiom Verge reached every platform, and that worked out pretty well since each time I could devote all my energy to whatever platform it was currently releasing on.
Axiom Verge 2's soundtrack seems to be on point once again. Anything in particular you've added for the sequel?
The main thing is there is a lot more "acoustic" (read: sampler synth) instrumentation. Since it's taking place in a world with lots of ancient Mesopotamian influences, I tried to include hints of the sort of instruments they might have had (though of course nobody really knows for sure what it sounded like). Of course there is also a ton of synth music. It overall has more music than Axiom Verge did.
This interview has been edited for clarity.