Furi was a breakout hit for The Game Bakers, mixing the expressive design of Afro Samurai with a thumping soundtrack and challenging enemies to form a boss rush extraordinaire. So you might be wondering why their next game isn't Furi 2, but instead a romantic pseudo-co-op RPG.
Well, the answer is simple: It's what they want to do.
Haven is the upcoming game from Furi's developer, where two protagonists work together as star-crossed lovers who escaped to a lost planet. It's an adventure role-playing game, taking influence from a number of games and other media, but it is most certainly not Furi 2, a notion creative director Emeric Thoa stressed to me on a Discord call.
"Furi is demanding to the players, but it was also very demanding to me as developer," says Thoa. Haven is something of a passion project, one he's been wanting to do for a while—and one that took the studio a while to put together.
"It was not difficult for me to imagine making this kind of game, but it actually took like a year to know what the game was," Thoa says. "We spent a year searching and a bit, like, making pretty crappy prototypes."
At one point, the game was essentially a point-and-click adventure, one which Thoa says was "really bad." The team decided to re-implement a scrapped concept: gliding. As it turns out, that began to make all the difference. Thoa tells me that having the main characters glide, rather than walk, is key to the feel of Haven.
"It's because it feels like something very relaxing and thrilling at the same time," Thoa says. "And it's something that you want to do with someone, exactly like when you go skiing and you are with a friend or your partner. You go down the track, you are alone in the mountains with the snow all over your face, and you're [gliding noises]. So this is really linked to this to these two characters being in love, because they do that together in a very smooth way."
Thoa wants you to fall in love with Yu and Kay, the couple at the core of Haven, though he's reticent to say it. "If I tell them, they won't; they'll be too self-conscious," he tells me. But every mechanic, visual and audio cue, every portion of the game seems aimed at developing that connection between Yu and Kay. And the connection is important; this isn't a game about the early, blossoming stages of awkward romance. These are two lovers who have been through the "seduction phase," and are past that. This is a partnership, and Haven aims to reflect as much.
Even the combat, which is decidedly JRPG in style, emphasizes the unity. You control two characters at the same time, issuing commands as one. In dialogue, you have to take sides, and sometimes that might cause either character to disagree, but they're still a party. Thoa draws comparisons to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, though most of his inspiration in terms of art and style come from games like the Persona series and Phantasy Star Online.
The spirit of Furi is still alive within Haven, in an odd way. Haven was originally intended to be single-player, and co-op only came about later. Controller input is still extremely important. Thoa describes his method of nailing down the control scheme by pressing buttons on a gamepad hooked up to a blank television screen, imagining what each motion should feel like.
It's an ambitious project we still know little about—though it sounds like we'll hear more at some upcoming gaming conventions, ahead of its 2020 release date—but Haven is already sounding like a departure from Furi. It's reflective of the studio, which developed a variety of games prior to Furi. It's also reflective of Thoa, who describes his taste as eclectic, citing both Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Gris as games he's fond of playing.
But really, it's not even that the team doesn't want to make action games or Furi anymore. It's more that they want to pursue where their desires can take them. "Furi's a game about freedom," Thoa says. "I don't want the players to put handcuffs on me and force me to do Furi 2 and 3 until I die from it."
For indie developers, they have to contend with not just AAA studios pumping out giant blockbusters, but the rising prominence of other indies as well. The Game Bakers are David to these Goliaths, and so standing out is important. Haven is the type of game Thoa thinks can stand out. "I can't make a good game if I don't want to make a good game," Thoa says. "If I don't want to make that game, it cannot be good. It's as simple as that."