Alfred Nguyen: ‘I Always Felt Forgotton Anne Wasn’t the Right Project to Present on Kickstarter’

Forgotton Anne is one of the latest titles to be published under Square Enix Collective. What was it like to use the platform and also the opportunity to work with Square Enix?

As a project, Forgotton Anne was never presented to the public as a crowdfunding initiative. So we’ve not had a very public relationship with SEC, but behind the scenes, the team at SEC have been incredibly supportive and shown a degree of trust in us I wouldn’t have imagined with my prior knowledge of independent studios working with publishers. It’s always a roller coaster ride with game development and we are happy we took it with SEC.

Obviously, four years on [and] a lot has changed since then, but the core themes I wanted the game to explore — themes that stemmed from my own personal struggles with identity when growing up — and observations regarding a negative spiral of neglect that it can be very hard to break free of all remain. –Alfred Nguyen

Considering ThroughLine’s position as an independent developer, did the studio ever consider Kickstarter as an alternative means to fund Forgotton Anne?

It was brought up as an alternative way of getting financed, but despite my own supportive views about crowdfunding, I always felt Forgotton Anne wasn’t the right project to present on Kickstarter. The storytelling aspects of the game were important and the truth is I wanted a creative process that was organic and personal for the team with minimal distractions.

Again, it’s part of a strive towards authenticity and I’ve seen how often a project involving the public from an early stage never gets to evolve naturally — there is always the responsibility to address supporters’ concerns and feedback. I think the internal, creative collaborative process is incredibly important and it takes a lot of time and energy to imbue a project with heart, and so I just deemed it unnecessary to burden the development with a public spotlight while the project is still growing and figuring out its identity.

Forgotton Anne

ThroughLine Games’ Forgotton Anne.

From watching trailers for Forgotton Anne, the cinematic experience is reinforced by the voice-acting performances that ThroughLine brought in for its characters. What was the experience like to work with the different actors recruited for the title?

Yes, we haven’t highlighted this aspect a lot yet, but [we] will be doing that very soon with a series of behind-the-scenes look into our wonderful collaboration with the actors we had the honor of working with on our dev blog. It’s always an amazing moment when you see drawings come to life with the help of voice acting, and it was no different when we first heard chunks of the game voice acted midway through production.

I still feel this bond with Rachael Messer, who is the voice behind Anne, even though we’ve never actually met in person. Ha ha. It’s due to the time differences with Rachael living in the U.S. and ThroughLine in Denmark — we’d often have Skype recording sessions that were evenings for me, sometimes stretching until almost midnight. In the beginning, we hoped to work with an agency that’d cast and record the voice actors for us to free up time, but it didn’t work out due to scheduling conflicts and the agile nature of our development. So we went about it ourselves, taking up suggestions and searching online databases to find suitable voices for the roles and did some casting ourselves.

Actors on the game include Daniel Pierce playing Fig, whose voice you’ll fall in love with; Christopher Tester, who is mainly a theater actor playing a Forgotling named Bulb amongst others; Brandon Fague, who is the voice behind some of the nuttier Forgotlings in the game and who are amongst the team’s faves; and the incredibly versatile Amelia Tyler and Jay Britton, who are in such high command of their voices [to] bring to life a very large and diverse cast of Forgotlings. Last but definitely not least, I want to mention Lou Lambert, who brings authenticity to the character of Master Bonku.

Forgotton Anne

Master Bonku in Forgotton Anne.

Speaking of trailers, the music was fairly powerful and moving when it was combined with Forgotton Anne’s cinematic experience. What was it like to collaborate with the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra and how does the music change the experience of Forgotton Anne?

From the very beginning, our composer, Peter Due, was involved in the project composing themes for the game based on the earliest sketches. But we never planned to work with Copenhagen Phil, as starting out we wouldn’t know if we would ever have a budget for working with any orchestra. Peter has orchestrated for film scores before and is also classically trained as a musician, so we pulled on his connections and pitched the idea to the head of the Orchestra, who liked the project and it was at a time when there were lots of innovative initiatives being worked on in terms of subverting expectations of classical music concerts.

The main challenge was to find a suitable day for recording, as we needed to have enough material to record and the Orchestra schedules activities years in advance! It certainly didn’t hurt that we received financial support from many different sources as well. The Orchestra performs at a very high-quality level and the concert hall we recorded in is just beautiful and has world-class acoustics. We hope all this subconsciously affects the player and helps with immersion.

By the way, the soundtrack is out now, which includes tracks performed by Copenhagen Phil and tracks that aren’t, so you could take a listen and judge for yourself.

You have previously said that your art director took inspiration from the local architecture in Copenhagen for Forgotton Anne. How important was it to retain a certain affinity with a city that is the home of ThroughLine?

It was not a planned thing. Although, as a developer, focusing primarily on story-driven experiences is important for us that everything we do stems from a personal core. It’s the only way we can tell stories with some authenticity, being able to relate to it and increasing the chances of gamers responding to it. Part of this is accepting who we are and where we come from. And in this case, Anders Hald, our art director on the game, was tasked with something enormous [by] giving the world of Forgotton Anne a visual language. So taking inspiration from our surroundings seemed like a way for him to manage this task and, at the same time, give it believability.

The architecture of old Copenhagen is shared amongst many European countries and the characteristic red brick and copper green tiles weathered by time seemed to suit the city and the premise of the game very well. Another inclusion that we’re really proud to have in the game is a collection of animated shorts made in the 1920s by Denmark’s grandfather of animation, Storm P. There is a location in the game where, should you wish, you are able to watch these movies alongside a crowd of Forgotlings. The style of those shorts somehow oddly, perfectly matches the absurd and magical world of Forgotlings you find yourself in.

Personally, I admire many different styles of animation from creators in Japan, from the absolute wonderful kinetic works of Masaaki Yuasa of recent times to the masterful works by Ghibli, Studio 4°C and the late Satoshi Kon. For me, it all comes down to the storytelling and these studios and creators manage to create a synergy between their style of animation and the stories they tell. —Alfred Nguyen

This interview continues on page three, as Alfred Nguyen talks about the concept behind Anne, if ThroughLine has any plans for a retail release, whether a Nintendo Switch port could happen and if the studio will revisit Forgotton Anne for a sequel.

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