Developer Interview: Florian Veltman & Baptiste Portefaix

Creative powerhouses Florian Veltman and Baptiste Portefaix are the maestros behind the upcoming The Other Side, a fiercely beautiful puzzler that delves fearlessly into sorrow and loss. Illustrated with a nostalgic storybook aesthetic and armed with haunting, inescapable truths, The Other Side promises a thought-provoking experience for both the naive and the mature. Florian Veltman developed the enchanting Lieve Oma and worked on Monument Valley 2 and Assemble with Care with ustwo games, while Baptiste Portefaix is a composer and author extraordinaire. Together, the two make a team uniquely suited for a warm, yet ghostly project like The Other Side. We spoke with Veltman and Portefaix about their upcoming title and the inspirations behind crafting something simultaneously so chilling and so charming.

The Other Side Logo

|| How did you first meet, and what brought you together for the unique project that is The Other Side? We hear you might be located in France and Taiwan—how does a game developer and an author-composer find themselves collaborating on something like The Other Side?

Florian Veltman: We used to be students together in Strasbourg, France! We’ve worked together on various projects over the course of our friendship, and we’ve always been very much on the same wavelength, so it only felt natural to end up working together again on this project.

Baptiste Portefaix: We figured out at around the same time that we wanted to work on more personal projects going forward, and having followed Florian’s work enthusiastically for the last few years, I was looking forward to set out on a new adventure together.

|| What prompted you to fuse the idea of a storybook aesthetic with the typically grim theme of death? Elsewhere you’ve described the game as being family friendly, but also as one about dealing with loss. What inspired you to combine these elements and make them into something playable for everyone?

Florian: There are quite a few family friendly works that deal with the subject of loss and mourning, ranging from cult children’s books like Tove Janssen’s “Moominvalley in November,” to massively popular films like Disney’s “Coco.” It’s a subject we all deal with at some point in time, so it’s universally recognisable. In western culture it’s something that’s often regarded as sad and negative, but I hope we can convey the idea that it’s something that’s intrinsically part of life, and part of things we all have to come to terms with.

Baptiste: The storybook aesthetic was already set when I joined the project, but Florian and I have a shared fondness for beautiful visual storytelling and the craftsmanship of illustrators. It’s refreshing to take inspiration from another form of storytelling and try out new ways to tell stories in games. Most of the children’s literature we enjoy, like “The Moomins” or “The Little Prince,” are as fun to read, filled with colourful characters and adventures, as they are meant to help their readers dealing with life’s hardships.

|| How does Florian Veltman’s work with ustwo games and solo titles like Lieve Oma help inform the gameplay we can expect from The Other Side? Were there things learned from those previous titles that will be reflected in this latest one?

Florian: Before working at ustwo games, I was pursuing making games for people who don’t necessarily play games that often, and aren’t necessarily familiar with how games are played. I didn’t really do such a good job at that, as even Lieve Oma, a top-down walking-sim, required controlling both the character and the camera at the same time. That’s something I’ve seen lots of people struggle with, and would probably handle differently if I made that game today.

I’ve learned a lot of things with regards to making the game more accessible, from the interaction design being as “pick-up-and-playable” as possible, to the kinds of puzzles the game will have. The fact the game has any obstacles to overcome at all is kinda new to how I make games too actually.

This is all with the intention of making the game more accessible to people who don’t see themselves as gamers, and aren’t used to interacting with them.

Baptiste: What struck me the most when playing Lieve Oma was how personal and moving the story felt. I hope we can achieve that same level of emotional depth in The Other Side, a game which, as a puzzle game, has more complex gameplay.

|| What about mobile gaming made you decide to focus on this platform for The Other Side? The Other Side is currently slated for a mobile and tvOS launch only. Why mobile, and are there any potential plans for console releases later?

Florian: We’re hoping to get the game on other platforms too, but since it’s just Baptiste and I working on it, we’re currently focusing on mobile. It’s such an interesting platform at the moment, as there are lots of people who don’t see themselves as gamers, or who don’t necessarily post about games they like on social media etc., who are looking for interesting, accessible, fun experiences.

Baptiste: We both have experience working on mobile games, so it was the best fit for a first indie project together.

|| How did books and illustrations like “Where the Wilds Things Are” impact you when you first read them? Stories like “The Moomins” and “The Three Robbers” have been stated as sources of inspiration for The Other Side. What about these books interested you when you initially encountered them?

Florian: Something we love about those classic children’s books are how they all seem to contain deeper messages between the lines. At the very least, the emotions they provoke aren’t as clear-cut, there are lots of layers to them. I encountered most of those books when I was studying illustration, and was really surprised by the different facets those seemingly simple books could have. As a kid you don’t really see all those aspects of the story, and as an adult you see so much more.

Baptiste: “The Moomins,” for example, doesn’t enforce a specific moral on children, but rather focuses on broadening their views and senses; teaching them that there are many different kinds of people, encouraging them to make their own choices and to go off the beaten path.

|| If a family were to play The Other Side together, what, ideally, would you want them to take away from the game? Does The Other Side focus primarily on being a source of fun for children and adults, or is there an emotionally resonant message that you want families to experience and remember even more than the gameplay?

Florian: For children, I hope they find a fun and interesting story they’ll remember for a long time, and that maybe gives them some sort of entry point to start thinking about what it means to mourn. For parents, I hope that it will help them talk about grief with their children, or help them come to terms with the process themselves. If anything, I hope people will be able to come away from the game with a sense of hope and warmth.

|| You have a ticket for a two-day train ride and only three games on your phone to keep you entertained. Which games do you download, and why?

Florian: I remember going on big cross-Europe bus rides as a student to see my family, and I used to play Super Hexagon all the way through the journey. Somehow that game puts me in some sort of meditative flow state or something. I still haven’t beaten the game, and I’m not sure I ever will, but I’ll continue trying. I’d probably take A Dark Room with me too, as I’ve never finished it either, as well as Threes. Can I have access to ebooks and podcasts too?

Baptiste: Wow that’s a long train ride! I can replay Reigns: Her Majesty indefinitely without getting bored, so that would be my first pick. I saw that Minit is on the App Store, and I would love to see how they translated such a wonderfully energetic game to mobile platforms. Finally I’ve had Donut County in my backlog since it released and as a Katamari Damacy fan, something tells me that I will enjoy the tone of this game very much.

The three of them have amazing soundtracks and I would probably spend more time just listening to it while gazing at the landscape than actually playing.