Unwind over Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, with Prideful Sloth | Aussie Developer Interview
Meet Brisbane-based indie developers, Prideful Sloth, in this Aussie Developer Q&A, where we talk relaxing gameplay, dad jokes, creature design and collectible cats!
Tell us about your studio, Prideful Sloth, and the team behind Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.
John Northwood: We’re a new company started here in sunny Brisbane. Currently, we’re a tight little group of four people at Prideful Sloth and we’ve all worked together at different studios around the world. We’ve also partnered with some great content providers, so we can really work hard to deliver the game worlds that we want.
The Prideful Sloth logo is almost as kawaii as the wildlife in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Tell us about the creature design process for the game.
Joel Styles: Each creature has a lot of thought behind them! We started creature design from an ecological perspective... What would fit the location? What traits would a creature have to find a niche to fill in each area? And finally, how would the local people live beside and interact with these animals?
This gave us a good starting point to combine traits and physical characteristics from animals in the real world in a way that worked for original creature design. The final step was always making sure each design would appeal to our target audiences, dialling up the cute and cuddly factor, or emphasising a key element to give them a clear personality!
There are so many surprising and handy things to collect across the world of Gemea, and 55 cute cats to find and rescue! Why cats (and not prideful sloths?)
John N.: The reality is that cats have already won the internet, so we’re just giving the people what they want! If you haven’t already guessed, we are fans of animals of all kinds, so while the committed sloth community may have been saddened by their absence, there are plenty more games left to make, and I’m pretty sure you may see some appear in the future…
Joel: I think one of the reasons it became cats to collect is that they’d:
a.) Be adorable, and
b.) Happily sit in a box in your inventory!
Jon Cartwright: Also the miaowing adds a nice audio cue when you’re trying to find them. Not sure it’d be quite the same with sloths.
The characters that players meet during in-game travels are all so varied (and some subtle Aussie references in there too.)
Did you draw any inspiration from people you’ve met during your real-life travels?
John N.: No one lives in a bubble so I’m sure that’s definitely the case! Early on in development we had a character named ‘Albert’ that popped up everywhere, because he was the default character. For laughs, sometimes I wish we still had 10s of Albert clones around the world… however, every time we said goodbye to an Albert, more life was breathed into the game.
I’m glad you noticed the Aussie references too, we hope to do more of that in the future with various cultures and perhaps some more interesting colloquial dialogue and expressions to go with it.
Cheryl Vance: There are a few characters in the game that were taken directly from real-life counterparts. Joss and Vera are two very wonderful people I’d met in the UK and I wanted to include them in the game. Jojo was inspired by one of our writer’s Portuguese heritage. The Wizard Dupples is based off one of my dogs!
There are beautifully aesthetic fine touches sprinkled throughout Gemea for players to find, such as children’s drawings. Tell us about the process of crafting the various biomes in the world of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.
Joel: We work in iterations, doing many passes over each area. It slowly builds up and becomes richer as we keep adding more nuances and history. For instance, we’d start a settlement by placing buildings in order of construction—cutting paths in that would develop over time and adding large infrastructure that would develop over a long-term history.
We’d then go back over all this, tailoring the space to fit how people would live in and occupy this area. Perhaps it’s a sunny region, so they’d add a shade sail to the side the sun hits. Perhaps it’s quite a nice view, so they’d install decking or resting areas to take advantage of that.
Finally, we do a ‘recent history’ pass, adding small details like items that were purchased the day before, or a lantern that was used the previous night, or the drawings of local animals. A lot of this isn’t immediately obvious, or it’s very subtle, but it does help to make a much more homely feel to these spaces.
Do you have a history of playing Nintendo games? What were your feelings about making a game for a Nintendo console, and how have your gaming experiences influenced you as a developer?
John N.: Everyone on the team loves playing Nintendo games (who doesn’t?) and to make a game that runs alongside so many amazing and awe-inspiring games is truly a privilege. These experiences have and still do influence how we create games. We like to bring our own flavour and create a relaxing and joyful experience to all ages, but there is clear evidence of our influences in our art, tone and storytelling.
We’re all excited to see what Nintendo and other developers on the platform are going to reveal as we develop future games!
What makes the experience of exploring Gemea unique when played on Nintendo Switch?
John N.: A big part of Yonder has to be the relaxing atmosphere and low-pressure gameplay we wanted to create. The Nintendo Switch complements this amazingly well, especially with Handheld mode, as this lets you find the most comfortable position… sit down (or stand!) with your favourite bevvy and just soak up the experience!
Testing the game was a dream, which after playing the game for so many hours, I can tell you, is quite unusual. We’ve given the Nintendo Switch players some unique features as well, such as Photo Mode, which gives you the opportunity to craft your own memories to share.
Jon C.: We’ve had a lot of people contact us since Yonder released on Nintendo Switch, who say how they’ve loved being able to chill out and play it while waiting at the airport or on the bus home.
A few folks even said it’d been something that helped them deal with time in hospital through hard times. So Handheld mode is certainly a big draw for people.
The gameplay experience has been described as ‘delightful’, ‘peaceful’, ‘welcoming’, ‘adorable’, ‘gentle’, ‘laid-back’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘playful’, to name a few adjectives.
What do think people find so relaxing about explorative adventure games like Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles?
Cheryl: The heart of Yonder has always been about giving players a welcoming experience from the moment they set foot on Gemea. Our intent with Yonder was to create a game—create a world—that felt like somewhere you had been before; a home you had long yearned to see again.
I believe it’s that somewhat intangible harmony between the design, art style and colour palette of the world that creates the relaxing experience in Yonder.
Aside from the looming presence of the Murk, there are no enemies to combat in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Talk us through this decision.
John N.: The choice to avoid combat was really a no-brainer for us. It wasn’t really a decision we needed to make, since the choice was preceded by what kind of tone and environment we wanted the player to experience. Once we’d decided on a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere, the discussions on what the player can and can’t do became obvious, and combat simply did not fit the game tone.
Prideful Sloth was founded in Australia in 2015 by Joel Styles and Cheryl Vance, after working in the UK for several years. How have you found the experience of developing games in Brisbane different from over yonder in the UK?
John N.: Everyone in the team has been lucky enough to work on some great games in the UK. It’s got an amazing industry and some great large and small studios with huge IPs.
Brisbane, on the other hand, has a smaller but much more tight-knit industry, and is a very different pace to London! The weather is amazing, the people are chirpy, and it’s where we all want to live and work. We want to make games about the ‘good life’, so Brisbane, in my mind, is as close to that as we can get. If you’re going to start your own games company, why not do it in a place that makes you truly happy!
The art style of the game is whimsical and bright, featuring an aesthetically enchanting ecosystem, seasonal day and night cycles and a natural soundscape.
Tell us about the production of the visual art, story, development, audio, and how it all came together.
Joel: Early on, we defined some basic intents for the game’s mood and tone… simple things that we wanted the player to experience, see, feel, or hear. We knew it should be bright and idealistic, homely feeling and whimsical, easy to read but rich… having this target so early on helped us develop the style and production methods rapidly, so we could focus solely on producing content with a cohesive feel. At the time, since we were only three people attempting an open-world game, this was a really important factor!
There’s a wealth of playful puns and dad jokes to be found in the game… how do you think (if at all) Aussie and Kiwi humour has shaped your storytelling style?
John N.: I can’t speak for everyone, but I grew up in a house where the dad jokes were thick and fast. The worse they are, the better! It just seemed a natural fit that the Aussie/Kiwi family humour melded well with our intended audience.
Joel: I feel like the puns and dad jokes are a big part of what makes the world feel friendly and inviting. The player has a lot of free reign to express themselves and be whoever they want to be in the game, so it seemed fitting that the characters would also freely express themselves without a worry for formalities!
The game’s inhabitants are warm and generous folk, sending players on quests that call for resourcefulness, in return for helpful advice and items.
Is the notion of people (and Sprites) working together to overcome adversity core to the message behind Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles?
Cheryl: Looking back on it, there are a lot of thematic tones in Yonder that we hadn’t set out to have. Yet as we developed the world, they started to become important messages, and every one of them reinforced the tone we had designed for the game.
Working together as a community, tackling issues openly instead of being overwhelmed by them, looking after the environment, every individual matters... these are all themes that are important and central to the game.
Players can find celestial constellations during their adventure. Any plans to add a Southern Cross or Aurora Australis in the skies of Gemea?
John N.: It’s definitely an interesting idea to ponder! However, Gemea as we understand it, is an oasis and an escape of the stresses of daily life, so we take care not to pin it down to a real location. That said, we’re all about fun little Easter eggs, so this definitely fits that category!
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a relaxing, open-world adventure set in the lush and natural paradise of Gemea.
A mysterious Murk has taken hold of the land, and it’s up to you to explore, mingle with the locals and wildlife, and seek out the whimsical Sprites, whose power can restore nature’s beauty…
Photo Mode - chronicle your adventure with 360-degree views
Traversing Gemea is as much a visual discovery experience as it is an adventure, and the game even features a “Photo Mode”, accessible from the pause screen, allowing players to chronicle their journey in 360-degree views, and using the Nintendo Switch system’s in-built “Capture” button.
Snap screenshots of the farms you build, the sunsets you marvel over… and even wildlife you meet!
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is out now, both on Nintendo Switch eShop and in stores!
Learn more at the gamepage:
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