Though inspired by Machinarium and Limbo, Taxi Journey isn’t following after the norm. Lexis Numérique clued us in on the risks they’re taking with Taxi Journey and how the game will hinge on story and character development above all else.
“Unique” and “original” are the buzz words of choice for Lexis Numérique’s upcoming project, Taxi Journey, as the first line of their Kickstarter campaign establishes.
“Taxi Journey is an original adventure game with unique graphics and (an) original gameplay,” it reads, with later statements using the words interchangeably. Hammering this point segued to skepticism for me, but after speaking with Djamil Kemal, Marketing & Business Development Director at Lexis Numérique, my initial doubt has been replaced with admiration.
“Basically, we see two different trends,” Kemal said, speaking on modern puzzle-platformers. “The first one is back-to-the-roots, retro-gaming approach (8-bit music, etc…) and the other is to bring a deep atmosphere and a story background. We’re obviously closer to the latter and we want to go way beyond with a really strong effort on the scenario, the characters and the narration.”
That drive for story and a universe with a tangible pull can be seen in the roles served by Taxi Journey’s star characters, Gino and Zoey, and the influences they are said to have on the game world. ”Gino can capture anything by its reflection,” Kemal explained, while “[Zoey] can use sounds, but also create silent zones.”
Elaborating on how such interactions could be worked into the game’s design, he continued: “An obvious situation described in the trailer would be to turn off a light by capturing its reflection in the water, but you can go much further by placing a mirror at a strategic spot, or, for instance, by letting a creature spit its slobber at you and use it as a reflector.”
Kemal pointed out that the backbone of the game’s design will intersect meaningfully with the story for a compelling development – which will ultimately take precedence over puzzle-solving. “Contrary to a game like Limbo for instance, the focus is not on dexterity but rather on original puzzles and, more importantly, on the characters you meet and interact with.” He added: “It’s not just a background but a real story with twists and (we hope) very emotional scenes.”
Early examples of storyboards and concept art sell the prospects suggested by his last point, as do his comments on how sensitive Lexis Numérique has been when it comes to creating atmosphere through art direction. “The game is 100% pen-drawn and even the animations are handmade. We’ve been doing 3D for years and we want to go back to the old-fashioned hand-and-pen in order to bring a more human approach.”
Among the platforms proposed for Taxi Journey to make an appearance on is Wii U, and if the standard funding goal is met, this will mark the studio’s return to Nintendo platforms since 2011. If there’s one thing they learned from prior experience with these digital services, it’s that visibility was “really hard.” Kemal says, though, that the campaign will help compensate for such concerns, being that it has a wider scope than working within a confined ecosystem.
“We see Kickstarter as not only a fundraising platform, but also as a social platform and a way to get visibility before the launch,” Kemal said. “We’re doing our best to involve the community at all the key stages and we do believe this a major difference than with our previous titles – both in terms marketing and from a production standpoint.”
Order of business also differs – Taxi Journey is destined to be a self-published affair, with no outside supervision from publishing partners to get in the way of their vision. Had the team not gone down this route of independence, Taxi Journey would’ve been a lesser game in concept. “When your game is 100% financed by a publisher, you need to belong to a very clear and existing segment,” Kemal said. “Trying to do things differently is almost impossible (too risky). Taxi Journey could have been an classic adventure game or a classic platformer. What we try to do here is to bring depth to side-scrollers with a strong emphasis on characters and storytelling.”
Before I catch myself using the word “unique” too, early indications point to this blend and the integral bond between the two characters lending to clever puzzle design. I’m definitely intrigued to learn where they go with this.