Thomas Was Alone, on paper at least, shouldn't be a hard act to follow. It's a gentle platformer with squares. Lots and lots of squares. And rectangles. It's a very four-sided affair.
However, this is simply not the case, as clever level design, clean aesthetics, and charming writing and narration has turned Mike Bithell's first game into something of a cult classic. Now there's plenty of expectation regarding his next project.
We recently spoke to the prominent indie developer, and asked him whether creating Volume, his next game, was perhaps akin to writing that tricky second album.
"There is absolutely the second album thing," Bithell replied before later adding that "with [Volume] there is that awareness that I'm getting coverage, that people are talking to me about it, I'm seeing it on anticipated game lists, and that's scary because it feels like there's only one way that it can go."
"Hype is a double-edged sword. It can go very well or it can really damage a game because people will come up with their own idea of what the game is. My approach is just to try and be straightforward and honest about the game as I can be, I don't talk in hyperbole. I try not to talk in ways that I think will let people fill in the gaps with a better game than we're making. It's a small, modest game, and hopefully that's how we're presenting."
If you're not aware of the premise, Volume is a modern retelling of the Robin Hood story, told through the broadcasts of a near-future YouTuber who's showing the masses how to steal from a greedy elite. It's got a great cast: Andy Serkis recently joined Charlie McDonnell and the returning vocal talents of Danny Wallace.
Given the Robin Hood foundations of the story, it's no surprise that this is a stealth game, however, there's a few notable differences that should separate it from other titles in the same series.
"Most stealth games, the way you play stealth games, or at least the way I play stealth game because I'm a nerd, is I wander around environments, sneak up behind people, and bop ‘em on the back of the head. Always, bop ‘em on the back of the head, use the instant kill power," Bithell explained when we met with him earlier in the year.
"And that's cool," he continued, "and it's something that works in a lot of games. The problem is it's such an overpoweringly successful technique, so that's just how I play all stealth games. I finish every stealth game with all the gadgets, all the tools, with all the gizmos that the game came with, never having used them, and it kind of seems like a waste."
"So with Volume, by removing that - you can't kill anyone, you can't even knock them out in perpetuity - instantly we kind of make it a game about crowd control and using your environment, and being smart."
We're more than partial to a bit of stealth here at Gamereactor, and as such we can't wait to see what Bithell and his team comes up with in Volume. It's already shaping up nicely, with a nice clean visual style and what sounds like a decent variety of systems and tools that will encourage players to improvise and explore.
We're not exactly sure when, but we'll be seeing the game at some point next year. Finally we asked Bithell about his hopes and aspirations ahead of 2015:
"We're pretty excited about Volume's release next year. It's coming together, finally, into something the team can be really proud of. My hope is that players have nearly as much fun playing it as we've had, intermittently, while making it. Thomas Was Alone opened a lot of doors for me and the guys I work with, here's hoping Volume lets us step through that door. Time will tell."
Volume is heading to PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and will follow thereafter on PC. For more exclusive chatter with Mike Bithell, simply track down the latest issue of Gamereactor Magazine where we talk to the developer about how Shenmue halted a promising career on the stage, and where we find out which classic game the Thomas Was Alone creator looks to for design inspiration.
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