Two years ago, The Voxel Agents released The Gardens Between on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It was widely praised by both critics and gamers for its gorgeous visuals and soundtrack. In May of 2019, the game is ported for iOS devices to even bigger acclaim. By the end of 2019, it took the third spot out of more than 150 titles in our iOS Games of the Year Award, receiving a playscore of 9.01.
The Gardens Between is a puzzle centered around Arina and Frendt reminiscing about their whimsical childhood memories. What makes it unique from other puzzle games is that you control time instead of the characters. You go forward or backward in time to moments when you can interact with the items to solve puzzles. While the story is a bit vague and largely only serves as the backdrop of the game, it can definitely make the player nostalgic about their own childhoon memories. At least, it did for me.
Today, we're talking with Simon Joslin, the Executive Producer and Level Designer behind the The Gardens Between to tell us more about the development and inspiration behind this beautiful game.
The Gardens Between is praised for its visual and clever puzzle mechanics. What games, films, music, or experiences inspired you to create the game?
We wanted to involve fantastical elements in the story and looked at the the Voyage and Return narrative archetype (Alice In Wonderland, Pan’s Labyrinth, Coraline) for inspiration.
It all started from asking how we could turn the timeline interface Tom Cruise uses in Minority Report into a game.
The gardens themselves take inspiration from contemporary illustration and Japanese gardens called karesansui. The gardens contribute a lot in creating relaxing, peaceful spaces because of their gentle, calming compositions. The formations of each garden are carefully balanced in harmonic asymmetrical silhouettes, and that's where much of their beauty comes from. Also, the negative space surrounding the central spire enhances the calming peaceful experience by balancing the noise in the centre. These ideas came directly from looking at the Japanese rock gardens.
For the music we wanted something beautifully melancholic: We listened to a lot of Icelandic composers and ambient music, especially with a Swedish game designer at the helm ;)
You took a novel approach with the controls -- giving players command over the passage of time instead of the characters. How did you decide on the mechanics? Was this decision made early on the development?
It all started from asking how we could turn the timeline interface Tom Cruise uses in Minority Report into a game. The experience of using a timeline to review and inspect scenarios felt fascinating, and embryonic of intricate, quizzical experiences. It opened some interesting avenues for us to explore and, admittedly, took us a long time to know where we were going with it.
Your previous titles (Train Conductor series and Puzzle Retreat) were mobile exclusives. The Gardens Between, on the other hand, was first released on PC and console, later on iOS. Is this a new direction that you guys are taking? What challenges did you encounter during the game’s development?
No we just took the route to launch that felt right for the game. Releasing first as a console and desktop game changes your relationship with the game, and set expectations around it that matched our goals.
After the experience of shipping across platforms I feel reassured that the differences between platforms is something we can surpass. Developers across platforms are employing similar techniques, using similar tools, and have similar approaches. The scope and scale changes, but frankly the platforms are not that far apart. I will happily move between them according to the design of our next title, and see no reason to stick to one platform, or business model for that matter.
The Voxel Agents has been making quality puzzle games for years now. What is it that you love about puzzle games the most? And, in your opinion, what makes a good puzzle game good?
I love new ideas. I love being surprised. I love falling into a world, learning its rules and exploring its limits. I love wrapping my head around a concept and working within its constraints to explore its possibilities. I love crafting my own goals and executing my own plans. Good puzzle design can take many forms.
Are there plans to release The Gardens Between on Android? What can fans of puzzle games look forward to this year from The Voxel Agents??
We have no new games or platforms to announce at the moment. But I can talk plenty about Train Conductor World updates! There’s still 30,000 people playing it every day, which is awesome, and after returning to working on the game again I can see why. It is really fun and fits into your daily life nicely. A big skill curve to master and an appropriately deep metagame to explore on your phone. It’s still a great game on mobile. So we’re significantly expanding the world to give players bigger goals to strive for and adding plenty of activities along the way. We feel we owe it to the community of players out there who love it and are spreading the word about the game. We’ll continue to grow it for them and for the new players entering the fray!