Developer Interview: Toy Box Lab

Time to tune in, Age of Empires and Civilization enthusiasts: indie developer Toy Box Lab is in the process of crafting the latest evolution in the historical strategic genre. Fusing real-world data with complex Greek mythology, Toy Box Lab’s Anthropomarchy promises a fascinating concept combined with staff-oriented execution. We spoke to Gabrielle Damas Alvarez about the development process and the structural ideas and concepts behind the laudable Toy  Box Lab, a studio that truly values its people and its product.

Toy Box Lab Logo

|| Where and why was Toy Box Lab, the studio, conceived? You were an idea since 2016, but 2017 saw your debut. What caused the launch forward?

Actually there were a couple of years of dreaming and planning for what today is Toy Box Lab. By 2016 we knew exactly what we would pursue and how we would do it. The thing that caused this “delay” is what worries every single indie dev: financial stability. So we started saving all money we could until we were in a position that was favorable to making that jump. But of course that day never came and eventually there was this moment where you just realize that the perfect opportunity won’t show up and you have to take some chances. After that mini-epiphany we quit our jobs and have been working on Toy Box Lab full-time. We’re still pursuing financial stability but at least we’re doing it while having fun.

|| How has the focus on team flexibility affected Toy Box Lab’s game development process? You’ve mentioned taking a stand against “long hours” and “aggressive deadlines.” Why, and how, have you implemented this in your own studio?

We’ve both worked in companies that were brutal on its employees and saw (and felt) firsthand how damaging that can be to one’s health and to the work environment. It has been scientifically proven than after 8 hours of work your brain cannot properly focus anymore (and even those 8 hours need several breaks in between). So if you’re looking to release a polished product and maintain a healthy work environment it is really a no-brainer. Profit shouldn’t come before everything else and we hope to show our customers that yes, maybe a specific game will be delayed a couple of months but that this doesn’t mean that we’re not working hard on it, it just means that we respect them (and won’t release a half-finished product to patch later) and our employees (and won’t destroy their personal lives and mental health). At the end of the day we want to be a company that people want to come work for and that people want to support because they know that their entertainment is not coming from other people’s suffering.

|| What should gamers know about your first upcoming title, Anthropomachy? Give us the elevator pitch for your PC title.

Anthropomachy is an RTS that tells the story of how Greek gods, relegated to mere myth in modern times, come back to reclaim Earth. The player then personifies this god in his quest for world domination, evolving his traits and acquiring powers to convert territories throughout the world. While each god has his own specific motivation and skills, it is up to the player to choose if his conversion will come through benevolent or cruel methods.

The game encourages the player to understand real-life political and social aspects as countries attributes were measured by real data. So, for instance if a player casts a wealth-inducing power on a very poor nation it will have a much bigger impact than on an already wealthy country.

|| How do real-world politics and systems of economy play into Anthropomachy’s gameplay? Are there data-driven mechanics at work? What do you want players to take away from these, if so?

Every country is modeled based on its real-life situation. Its attributes come from UN and other NGO reports and its events from real-life possibilities (although we got a little creative with some of them). The game won’t show you these attributes (only an icon if one is extremely high or low) so a basic knowledge of that country’s political situation gives that player an edge. This is one of our main concerns because we want the player to experience what would really happen if something like an Anthropomachy came true. But of course this is not a game for diplomats and we don’t expect every player to have a knowledge of every country’s policies. A game like DotA would use something like player distance and angle to calculate damage and by playing you can pick up how to maximize your impact even without knowing how the calculations are made. We do the same but use UN data, lol. Hopefully this will also help the player learn about these different countries and their struggles.

|| Where is Anthropomachy in its process of development? We hear the plan was for a second-quarter release in 2018.

We’re looking for a Q4 release now. That happened mainly due to issues we faced with the art. Some of the people we hired had personal problems and missed deadlines or left the company altogether and since we’re a small operation we didn’t have a backup available immediately. So there was some weeks of interviewing and hiring new people that were not part of the original plan. And we also were a bit too optimistic, lol.

|| What was the main force of inspiration behind Anthropomachy? Were there any other games, real-world events, or sources of media that gave rise to what the entry will be?

I’ve been a huge fan of Greek mythology since I was 10 years old. So while we were in pre-production for a different game Ivan came up with (which is still part of our plans for 2019) I had a weird dream where Greek Gods were trying to reconquer Earth and I realized I was incarnated as one of them! So when I woke up from this dream I just knew it should be our first game and started writing everything down right away. I wrote up to 10 pages of mechanics and powers and everything else I had in mind and showed it to Ivan. He agreed it really looked like a great game and a bit easier to develop with a small team than his idea – which fits our current scenario perfectly.

|| Which god characters were your favorite to develop? We know you’re not supposed to play favorites, but, if you did…

Even though I have a favorite goddess in the Greek Mythology (which is Persephone) she wasn’t my favorite developing. Hades was for sure the most fun, since he’s a God most people see as evil and violent. So creating powers like Second Chance or Divine Crystals was really cool. According to the Greek mythology, Hades is actually a very just God and didn’t harm people as much as Zeus or Poseidon. But of course, in Anthropomachy the player can choose to develop only the cruel traits for Hades if he wants to.

|| Fans of what games should be looking forward to Anthropomachy’s release? Is there a particular segment of enthusiasts that should be especially excited for Anthropomachy?

Anthropomachy will please everyone who enjoys playing strategy games like Age of Empires and Mythology, Plague Inc, the Civilization series and even Paradox games like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis. But besides that, we have some fans of ancient Greece and Greek mythology that are not even gamers following the development process and they look very excited!