Flying Cafe for Semianimals is a relatively new studio based in Kiev, Ukraine that’s currently working up to the release of its debut title, Cradle. The studio was founded by three people, all of whom were laid off from the Ukraine-based developer GSC Game World as it shut down in 2011. While there, they worked on projects including S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, Heroes of Might and Magic 5, and Allods Online.
For their first independent outing, the three founders at Flying Cafe for Semianimals drew from their experience working on first-person games, as with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, but took out all the violent elements in favor of exploration, environmental detail, and a focus on story telling.
Cradle is set to come out on July 25th, and as that date is so close, Siliconera talked to two of Flying Cafe’s founders, Ilya Tolmachev and Eugene Litvinov, about the game’s development and the decisions they made over that time, particularly in terms of storytelling.
For those who don’t know, could you give an overview of what Cradle is all about?
Ilya Tolmachev and Eugene Litvinov, developers: Cradle is a surreal first-person quest filled with symbols and philosophic implications. In terms of story, Cradle will offer the player an atmospheric sci-fi experience based on developing relations of the protagonist and a robotic girl who, by quirk of fate, find themselves together in a yurt amidst the Mongolian desert. Both try to find out the reasons for their memory loss.
Is there any specific sci-fi that influenced you when coming up with Cradle’s future world? And how do these inform the game’s fiction?
Cradle offers a bunch of impressions. We were inspired by literature (A. Camus, V. Sorokin, A. Platonov, Strugatsky brothers), Andrew Wyeth’s art, sci-fi movies of the 1980s-1990s (Cherry-2000, Terminator, Urga – Close to Eden etc.), games like Myst, Another World, Half-Life 2. The sci-fi aspect of the Cradle story isn’t its basis. It serves merely as attractive environment for the philosophic idea.
Why did you decide to base the game in Mongolian culture? Was there an aspect of it that made it work for the game in particular, perhaps?
Mongolia was chosen for several reasons. First of all, we wanted to place the player in an exotic place which would add to the feeling of peeping into someone else’s foreign life, the unknown way of life. Secondly, Mongolian hills possess a quality which adds technical value – vast open spaces with minimum of trees are easier to integrate. That allowed us to focus on details.
How faithful to Mongolian culture have you been in Cradle? Did you have to do a lot of research? Have you visited the country at all? Do you feel responsibility to be faithful to the culture or do you feel you can be creative with your depiction of it?
The world of Cradle is an alternative reality with a mix of surrealism. We did not intend to reproduce the Mongolian environment in its every detail. The spirit of Mongolian steppe makes only one of the ingredients adding flavor to the game world. We never visited Mongolia—we believe our subjective vision of Mongolia has as much aesthetic value as the real image of it.
A lot of the background story in Cradle is found in the notes scattered around the yurt that are completely optional to read. Why did you decide on this hands-off method to deliver the story rather than a more direct approach?
Cradle is a graphic novel with a detailed story. About one third of the story is given through dialogue with the characters – that would give you the basic storyline. The rest of the information is designed for those who value the experience of exploration. Players who go into mindful consideration to put together the puzzle of Cradle’s sense will be rewarded – the story would reveal a radically different angle.
It seems a lot of the work in Cradle has gone into smaller interactions with household objects. Is that fair to say? Why did you put so much effort into this aspect of Cradle and what do you hope it brings to the experience for players?
Yes, in Cradle much of the attention is paid toward the details, which includes everything: the storyline, artistic impression and the game mechanics. We want the player to believe in what’s happening around them: behind every object there stands a part of the story or a functional role. From our perspective, there is a special strange fun in unhurried cooking of fruit and roots soup while surrounded by hi-tech devices yet to be explained. The more fuzz with the trivial day-to-day stuff—the stronger is the sweet feeling of expectancy.
There are dark swirls that appear as if anomalies in Cradle’s world. And parts of the world have been made uninhabitable due to toxin outbreaks. Was this a deliberate parallel with the nuclear accidents and the after effects in parts of Ukraine?
Shadows and unpopulated territory make part of the Cradle story which has no comparison to real world and to Ukraine in particular. The restricted territory is designed to give the player a child’s boyish fun of ‘getting into the place where they are are not allowed to be’.
The mini-game puzzles included in the game are very different to the rest of the game, almost feeling out-of-place at first. Why did you decide to include this more traditional puzzle play in Cradle – did you worry it needed some more variation perhaps or that it wasn’t ‘gamey’ enough?
Pavilions with the glowing cubes is an integral part of our thought of immersing the player into a complex and specific state of a dream where you peep after someone else’s life. They are linked to the story as closely as the rest, so the inquisitive player will find the amusement park a source of valuable answers. At the same time the mini-game puzzles are designed to give the player a more dynamic entertaining experience compared to the thoughtful and slow-paced yurt playthrough. Those two big chunks of the game world are designed to neatly add up to each other.