Sometimes a smaller project will show up that may have a simple concept, but also has an impressive workmanship behind it. Beneath, the sidescrolling platformer currently in production by Bard (not affiliated with the now-defunct board game company), falls under that category, and if the current pace holds, it has the makings of a breakout debut for the developers. I had a chance to play the pre-Alpha at SUPER! Bit Con and chat with the devs, learning a bit about who they are and what they hope to achieve with Beneath.
A man named John keeps having a nightmare – the time is 3am, and a little boy is in a room, calling for help. After several cries, the boy gasps and leaves through a window. John wakes up in a sweat, wondering what this could mean, and why these dreams would go on for a month straight. Believing it to be a childhood repression, he visits the place where he grew up to see if he can jog his own memory. What comes to him is a vision of himself as a little boy, sleepwalking through a fantastic world, guided by a mysterious stranger. Towards what purpose, this guidance is not known. This is where the player comes in – they are the stranger, they are the guide; but what, exactly, is the point of all of this?
The build at SUPER! BitCon was very early, and contained little in the way of bulk, but was playable and ready for demo by curious attendees. In the game, the only ability John has is teleportation – in point of fact, it’s not even his ability, it’s the player’s. By placing a portal in one spot, the player can sort of “capture” John, placing another portal to let him out and continue on his way. John merely walks, unaware of his surroundings due to his somnambulism. Obstacles must be cleared by placement of these portals, with timing being crucial to keep the small child from falling, or being attacked by actual nightmare demons.
While the pre-Alpha currently contains no such monsters, and resets when John falls too far (or, as is the case currently, accidentally teleports inside a rock, which I did enough times for it to be almost a trademark playing style), the framework is very much there. Despite only two months of work with Unreal 4, Substance Designer, and GI Lighting (among other programs – Bard was very detailed about their process), the team is crafting a new world…even if that world happens to be a nightmare cave located underneath a tree. Bard is the result of collaboration between seven individuals, all hailing from Texas. The person I spent the most time speaking with was John Villapando, who joined the team created by his brother, Arvin, to help with organizational tasks. Arvin is the team’s creative and art director, Matt Leslie is a visual artist, Mustafa Alobaidi takes care of special effects, Zoey Christianson is a concept artist, Derran Viss is the art lead, and the crew is rounded out by Micah Strube, who is the code lead.
Plans for the future of Beneath include getting a Beta build together that includes more puzzle elements – players should be able to use portals not only to control John, but to manipulate the world around him through projectile control, among other things: Achievements based on player choice and skill, bosses that require even quicker thinking than standard gameplay, and even competitive multiplayer games (capture the flag, for example) are on the to-do list. By the end of Summer 2015, Bard plans have three playable levels to demo, as well as a Kickstarter to help them bring the final parts of Beneath together. A final version of the game (possibly early access, given the timing) should be ready by September 2015.
For any questions regarding Beneath or Bard’s other projects, those interested can contact them via Twitter or even shoot them an email. Look for more information in the coming months as Beneath continues to take shape.
Keep your eyes on IGM for more coverage of SUPER! BitCon 2015’s excellent indie game presence!