It was on January 29th that Outriders & RP Studios, in the 5th edition of the Playstation Talents Awards in Portugal, won the prizes for Best Game of 2019 and Special Games for Good with the game Back Then. We’re talking about a game with a focus on severe Alzheimer’s disease and that can lead players to experience something quite different within video games.
Before we start, I want to thank the studio for taking the time to answer these questions, especially on such a busy day as you’ve been after your victory in the competition. I sincerely hope that development of the game will run as smoothly as possible and that it will be quite successful when the time comes.
– I would like to congratulate you for the two awards received recently in the 5th edition of Playstation Talents in Portugal. How does it feel to see your work recognized?
Ruben: In a word? Conflicting. It’s been such an explosion of attention, comments, contacts and more than me and the others we don’t even believe this has happened yet. I’m simply riding the wave and, along with the rest of the Outriders, don’t let the boat sink now.
Having family watching us live on TV is a feeling that is hard to describe in words, it is terrifying in one sense, but immensely rewarding in another.
– For those of you who don’t know, can you explain what Back Then is?
Ruben: Back Then is a game with a strong emphasis on narrative that explores what a teacher with Alzheimer’s goes through in his day-to-day life. Giving special focus not only to the disease itself, but also to the family, showing examples, the worsening and consequences over time, and how it all culminates.
This is done in a style similar to games like “That Dragon, Cancer”, “What Remains of Edith Finch”, “Firewatch”, among others, but with puzzles, riddles and collectibles in between, giving players rewards for exploring everything and linking all the loose ends of the narrative.
– How did the idea for this project come about, with the focus on a disease as troubling as Alzheimer’s?
Ruben: It was January 2019, Global Game Jam had just started, and a team was organized for that event, which eventually became Outriders, our studio.
Caleb: The first day we all gathered around a table and started writing down ideas based on the theme of Jam: Home. We had several ideas and cards played on the table and, eventually, Achilles (our artist), gave us an interesting idea. “What if it’s in a nursing home, where we play like an old man in a wheelchair?”
Ruben: From then on, we wanted to have a more personal message in the game, but we didn’t know what in specific until we found out that everyone on the team has/have family with Alzheimer’s. It made perfect sense for us to have that as a basis for the game.
– From what I understand, you “worked” directly with people who live closely with this disease. How was that experience?
Caleb: We don’t work with these people, we live with them. They are and were members of our families, because unfortunately some are no longer with us. For Ruben it was great grandmother Laurinda. For me it was my grandmother. For Carlos it was Grandpa, and for Achilles it was Aunt. We accompanied them from the beginning until their final moments. In my case, I was still in Brazil when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Both she and my grandfather ended up in a nursing home, and we all accompanied her to the end. Seeing my grandmother slowly lose consciousness, lose the ability to walk, to talk and even to eat, was not easy, quite the contrary. But I remember moments when she… came back. Without knowing how to speak, she would look at us and her eyes would shine! Somehow, she remembered us in those moments and that changed my perspective on the disease. As much as she may not have recognized us in a few days, when her eyes wandered and had no reaction when we called her name, she was still there. She was still my grandmother.
– Video games are often seen as something less positive. However, more and more games are seen capable of helping in various aspects, like yours. What is your opinion about the influence and precious help video games can have in the field of mental and physical health?
Ruben: Like other entertainment routes, games have an incredible potential to tell and teach society values. We have the example of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which explores the perspective of a character with schizophrenia; Celeste, whose entire game is a metaphor for dealing with depression, and many others. Games for me have always been the junction of everything artistic, but with one point in favour: the player controls the main character – and that little detail alone is worth a lot. Joining personal experiences and a strong message behind, we have something that can teach people something new.
I think games are merely starting to explore this territory because up until now, there has always been a lack of technology or information to make an experiment based on mental illness. But just as society as a whole is becoming more apologetic for this, so the games have followed the same path.
– How long has the game been going on and how many people are involved?
Ruben: We’ve been playing the game since June last year, but the idea was born in January at GGJ.
There are 4 of us on the team at the moment: Me (Ruben), who is responsible for Game Design, Public Relations and Programming; Caleb, responsible for Narrative, Sound and Music; Carlos, responsible for 3D; and Achilles, responsible for art and artistic concepts.
– Are there plans to release a demo?
Ruben: Yes, we have high ambitions that we will have a demo shortly before or after the game itself. Until then, the only way to test the game is through a form from us available at the game discord.
– And what about a release date?
Ruben: It’s hard to give a certain date, because new things are constantly happening that need our attention. If all goes well, we’ll launch the game at the end of 2020, beginning of 2021.
– Finally, what are some of your favourite games and also, if you are looking forward to some title that will be released in 2020.
Ruben: Favorite games, Dead Space 2, Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, Witcher 3, Bioshock, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Resident Evil 7, and a shoutout to WoW that I play since 2006.
This year I’m desperate to try Cyberpunk 2077, Doom: Eternal, the sequel to VTM:Bloodlines, Moons of Madness, Resident Evil 3 Remake, and Wasteland 3.
Carlos: Favorite game ever, Road Trip Adventure PS2 for the memories it brings me from playing with my father.
One game I anticipate to 2020 is clearly Cyberpunk 2077 but, at the same time, I’m curious about F1 2020 because they bought Slighty Mad Studios and I think they got their Engine and NETCode too, which can really change everything… Or it can just be another game where you change the colors of the cars and nothing else…
Caleb: My all-time favorite games are Super Smash Bros. Melee, the Dark Souls trilogy, NMRiH, Mount & Blade: Warband, Total War: Rome II, and as incredible as it sounds, Minecraft.
Games I’m looking forward to playing this year are Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, Cyberpunk 2077, The Last of Us II, and one game that has no release date yet: Elden Ring.
Achilles: My all-time favorite games are The Isle, Dark Souls 3 and FFVIII. In terms of games coming out this year, the Resident Evil 3 remake can’t come early.