There has been much debate on whether or not games can be considered art. I’m pretty sure anyone reading this would already agree that there are many games that can be considered art, but I have had more than a few conversations with some who say they are into “art” and gaming isn’t included in that category for them. For those of us that have these conversations (or maybe it’s just me), we now have yet another game to help our cause: The Undergarden. One day I was doing my normal browsing, checking out my normal sites and saw The Undergarden. Just the appearance of the screenshot I saw caught my eye, so I checked out the trailer which really made me interested. The trailer actually left me curious as to what the game was about so I contacted the developer (Vitamin-G/Artech Studios) and Antonio Santamaria was kind enough to get back to me.
Vitamin-G is part of Artech Studios, an indie game developer that was founded back in 1982. You may have seen some games from Artech such as Boogie Bunnies and the VERY awesome Aces of the Galaxy. Vitamin-G was started as a vehicle to develop independent and experimental projects, one of which sprouted The Undergarden. It was an entry in the Independent Game Festival in 2009 and was picked up by Atari shortly after. I asked where they came up with the concept and here is his response:
The original idea started with the goal of making a relaxing game experience…something accessible that literally anyone could pick up and play and enjoy, even if they were not hard-core gamers. We had been experimenting with a few different ideas, and in the process had created prototypes where the player could move around an area playing with physics, knocking about various objects in a world. There was something appealing about that, so we further gave the game a floaty feel resulting in a more “zen”-like game style that seemed to flow really nicely. Our artists came up with the look of having colourful flora that bloomed and stood out in contrast to the otherwise dark surroundings, and having the music and sounds react to that came naturally.
We found that the more we steered our game in this calm, relaxing direction, the more we had something different that just felt like it hasn’t been done in enough games. Ultimately, that led to a short demo which we later submitted to the IGF in 2009.
So, what is The Undergarden about? It’s really about exploration. You will be able to explore caverns, collect pollen, grow plants, find companions, and use and collect fruit as you move about the world. Beyond getting to the exit, there is no set of required goals or predefined story. Who you are and what you are doing there is left up to your imagination for the most part. Antonio says, “It is more about the overall experience and the environment rather than a specific goal or premise.”
While the core experience is about exploration, you will need to use what you find to solve puzzles throughout the levels to progress. The puzzles revolve around using special fruit and rock contraptions in the environment. You will need to collect pollen, bloom plants to obtain fruit, and then figure out how to use the fruit to manipulate the contraptions (weight down, buoy up, rotate, turn on and off, or explode) in a way that allows you to pass through to the next area. There will be some special fruits to collect as well as strange creatures and environmental hazards. You can even have a second player join in to help you out. According to Antonio, the puzzles are going to be mild; nothing too difficult or frustrating so it should be a nice relaxing experience, which is what the developer is really going for.
For those that are completionists, you will be able to unlock different colors, horns, and hats that you can use to customize your character. There will be 12 achievements to earn as you make your way through The Undergarden. Each level will have hidden crystals and special flowers that will be used from some of these achievements.
The Undergarden will be available on XBLA on November 10th and is expected to be released on PC and PSN in the future. I would like to thank Antonio for taking the time to answer our questions and giving us some insight into The Undergarden. I’m quite interested to see how the game actually plays and looking forward to seeing how things unfold. You can expect to see a review soon from us.