Interview: Barnyard Intelligence Games On High Strangeness, Their Unique 12-Bit Adventure
Welcome to another exclusive eGamer interview where we’ll be looking at Barnyard Intelligence Games and Crystal Labs’ upcoming unique indie game High Strangeness. We spoke to developers Steve Jenkins and his partner Ben Shostak, and they were kind enough to answer our host of questions. The game is advertised as a hybrid of 8-bit and 16-bit adventure games to create a new, 12-bit adventure. You’ll have to read the interview to find out exactly what that entails though! I hope it suits your tastes and peaks your interest in the game, but I’d advise you to check out the trailer up above to see if you like the concept, otherwise take a look at the full interview below. You may want to get a snack.
eGamer: Thank you, Barnyard Intelligence Games, for taking the time to do this interview with us. We love getting to know our indie developers, so to start off with, tell us a little about yourselves.
BS: Thank you for reaching out to us, we’re glad to share some glimpses into our development process with you and your readers. I’m Ben Shostak of Barnyard Intelligence Games, a studio I started after developing the XBOX Live Indie Game Agent MOO: Maximum Overdeath (http://agentmoo.com/AMMO). Steve originally created High Strangeness and brought me in to help develop it into a full title.
SJ: My name is Steve Jenkins, I operate under the moniker Crystal Labs and I have been collaborating with Ben on High Strangeness for several years. I do the art while Ben does the development. We have three other members on our team: Sam Bennett, who does cutscene illustration; Dino Lionetti, who composes music; and Rich Vreeland, who has also contributed music. Physically, we’re located all around the United States.
eGamer: What is High Strangeness all about?
SJ: High Strangeness is a game inspired by my favorite SNES and NES games. I’ve always loved action adventure games, in addition to sci-fi, fringe science, and the paranormal. High Strangeness incorporates elements from each.
eGamer: As always, my trademark question is: what is the biggest reason to play High Strangeness?
SJ: I think people who love games like Secret of Evermore, A Link to the Past, Star Tropics, etc., will really enjoy playing a game that harkens back to that era. We’re doing a bit more than a straightforward action/adventure game, as we’ve built a system in which the player has the ability to switch between 8-bit and 16-bit worlds on the fly. It creates a really unique experience for the player to be able to control how they approach certain in-game situations.
eGamer: Tell us, how did this project come to life? What was your vision for High Strangeness?
SJ: I started working on High Strangeness about 5 years ago as an individual. I wanted to learn more about pixel art, music composition, game programming, and everything else that goes into developing a game. With time, I realized that the scope of the project was just too big — too overwhelming — so I started to reach out to friends for help. We’re now a team of 5 people.
BS: In developing the game and seeing the script and gameplay elements come to life we have come up with new ideas along the way. It’s been a great experience to show the game to fans at conventions and see them enjoy to the story and action.
eGamer: Can you give us an overview of the gameplay?
SJ: High Strangeness is a top-down action/adventure game that plays like many SNES and NES classics. The player is given various combat tools, and special abilities that can be used both as weapons and tools to solve puzzles. The player is also given the ability to change the world between two dimensions, one styled after 16-bit era game, and the other after 8-bit era games.
eGamer: The game’s core ability is to switch back and forth from 16-bit to 8-bit. Tell us, how does this work in the game? Will you be able to do it at any given moment in the game, or only at certain points?
SJ: The switching mechanic is learned part way through the game after acquiring a certain item, and which is then usable at the player’s will. The concept of switching back and forth kind of came from an idea of representing a “light” and “dark” world, similar to those of A Link to the Past. We just took it several steps further, and made each world unique beyond a visual sense.
eGamer: What changes in the gameplay and world from 16-bit to 8-bit, besides the visuals of course?
SJ: Aside from the visuals, there are numerous things that differ between worlds. Most noticeable is the player’s abilities. In 16-bit mode, the combat is more fast paced, offering combos, full movement, and sprinting, while the 8-bit mode has simpler but stronger attacks and movement in four directions.
BS: These two worlds are separated by a whole console generation, which affects the enemies as well as the level around you. This gives you the ability to do things like knock down an advanced foe to a simpler 8 bit version of itself.
eGamer: The trailer didn’t show a whole lot by means of combat. Tell us, will you level up in the game and/or unlock more abilities and such?
SJ: The trailer includes footage from earlier portions of the game, but the player will indeed acquire new attack items and special skills throughout the game, gradually giving them a larger toolset to complete the quest.
BS: We’ve shown Boyd as he learns how to move from one world to the other, but he will learn more as he finds more crystal skulls hidden in these two dimensions.
eGamer: Tell us a little about the puzzles in the game. What can we expect?
SJ: Players can expect an array of puzzles. Some of which might be recognizable if they’ve played classic games in the genre. They will also experience a lot more unique and in-depth puzzles that utilize the 8 and 16-bit switching mechanic. A simple puzzle that utilizes the switching mechanic is for example, paths that aren’t visible in the 16-bit dimension are in the 8-bit dimension. I won’t go into too much detail, as we’d like to keep specifics a surprise.
eGamer: What can you tell us about the story of the game?
SJ: The story, again, is inspired by the classics of the genre both plot-wise and thematically. If you want to get slightly philosophical about it, High Strangeness is the traditional story that follows a Jungian “Hero” on his quest to do what is right, and whose quest makes him wonder how “right” and “wrong” should be defined. To put it more simply, it’s a game about a kid getting sucked into a crazy world where he has to fight the evil and foreboding “Shadow Men” with the assistance of a cat. The story was written with the goals of having a classic story that pay homage to my favorite games… a story with a mix of drama, cheesiness, and humor.
BS: As the story begins you wake up to find your cat is missing and some weird shadowy dudes have appeared in your house. After beating them into another dimension with your flashlight, they leave behind a crystal skull in your kitchen. As you track down your cat you discover that not only he can talk, but he seems to know something about this mysterious skull…
eGamer: You’ve described High Strangeness as a “12-bit” game. What does this mean?
BS: We consulted with taxonomists and quantum physicists and they determined this was the optimal way to classify the collusion of 8 and 16-bit worlds.
SJ: Well, actually, we first came up with the idea of switching between 8-bit and 16-bit, and found “12-bit” to be a funny middle ground when describing it to friends. It’s nothing more than a number between 8 and 16, but really felt like a term some marketing guy in the 90’s would use to promote a game, similar to “Blast Processing”.
eGamer: In your description you’ve said that throughout the game your “pixel art perspective of the world” will be interrupted by “visions of watercolor illustrations” that shed some light on your surroundings. Can you elaborate on this? How does this work?
SJ: When taking the initial steps in the game’s design process, I knew that I wanted to incorporate varied art styles throughout the game. One really clear way to do that was to introduce a radically different art style compared to my pixel art, and since we aren’t necessarily limited by NES or SNES technical specifications, we had room to experiment. I talked to Sam Bennett, who is an amazing illustrator, and he came up with a really great hand-painted style for the cut scenes that are able to show important plot points in a really interesting way. Players might also experience some surprises in terms of art styles, down the road.
BS: The watercolor scenes are a part of the vision aspect of the game; somewhat like the high detail illustrations you would see in Ren and Stimpy for a gross out bit. Except in a pixel world where another reality is shining through instead of boogers.
eGamer: How long will High Strangeness be?
SJ: We’re aiming for High Strangeness to be three to four hours long. Not quite the epic 20 hours playthrough times of the classics, but still what we feel to be a considerable amount of time.
eGamer: Tell us, what were your sources of inspiration for High Strangeness?
SJ: Game-wise, a lot of inspiration is taken from various generations of Zelda games; SNES games like Secret of Evermore, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma, and Chrono Trigger; and NES games like Star Tropics and Final Fantasy. Beyond games, a lot of inspiration comes from reading a ton of science fiction like Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick, and non-fiction science books from people like Michio Kaku. I also really love bizarre, paranormal, and fringe science, too.
eGamer: What are you most proud of with High Strangeness? Which aspect of the game are you most excited for gamers to experience?
SJ: It’s hard to recall a single part of the game that I am most proud of so far, so I’ll say the game as a whole. We’ve been working on the title for a long time, and is actually the first game I ever started working on. We’ve had our struggles in terms of development time, but I think the wait will be worth it. I think players who are excited about these kinds of games will love the experience of switching between worlds, and getting sucked into the story.
eGamer: Can you tell us what’s happening in development right now?
SJ: After demoing the game at MAGFest and PAX East this year, we’ve got most of the core mechanics in place. We’re currently finishing up the level design, and creating lots and lots of sprites, both 8-bit and 16-bit, which brings up the point that a lot of people don’t realize; the fact that we’re essentially creating two games that run side by side.
eGamer: When will the game be released? And how much will it cost?
SJ: We’re shooting for a release date near the end of the year for PC, Mac and Linux. The game will cost around $5 USD, but you can preorder it now for a discounted rate, via Asobogo. (https://www.asobogo.com/
eGamer: As a point of interest, how did you come up with the name “High Strangeness?”
SJ: The term “High Strangeness” was popularized by Laura Knight-Jadczyk’s book, “High Strangeness – Hyperdimensions and the Process of Alien Abduction” although the term has been around for a long time to describe the strange occurrences that surround paranormal events.
That concludes our interview with Barnyard Intelligence Games and Crystal Labs on High Strangeness. I hope you enjoyed reading, and hopefully it has proved worthwhile in getting you interested. If not, there’s always the next game we cover! We’d like to extend our gratitude to Barnyard and Crystal Labs for taking the time to do this interview with us, and we’d like to wish them all the best with the rest of development! Look out for the next exclusive indie coverage, or have a look at our newly established Let’s Play section through the new eGamer YouTube channel. See you next time.