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

When Hardcore Gamer went hands-on with Forgotton Anne at EGX Rezzed last month, we said that ThroughLine Games’ latest outing is “sure to bowl many over with its visual design alone.” It’s not difficult to understand why the Danish studio’s indie platformer is an instant head-turner, considering its visual presentation draws on the strength of its breathtakingly beautiful hand-drawn animation. In most cases, it’s not unheard of when a title that utilizes an anime aesthetic receives widespread praise from critics. For Forgotton Anne, however, it’s even more flattering when its artwork and presentation is compared with the high-quality work of Studio Ghibli. It speaks volumes about the incredible attention to detail that ThroughLine applied to Forgotton Anne through its distinct artwork, especially when its visuals are as striking as they were when the title was first announced two years ago.

Alfred Nguyen

Alfred Nguyen. Credit: ThroughLine Games

ThroughLine’s storytelling is reinforced through its decision to use a cinematic experience for Forgotton Anne. Players take on the role of Anne, whose responsibility as the Enforcer is to maintain peace and order in the Forgotten Lands. When a rebellion breaks out, though, Anne must rise to the occasion and put an end to the uprising that could prevent her and her master, Bonku, from returning to the human world. It’s an experience that’s both compelling and poignant, grabbing the attention of players from the early stages of Forgotton Anne.

Hardcore Gamer recently had the privilege to catch up with ThroughLine CEO and Forgotton Anne creative director Alfred Nguyen for an exclusive interview. We chatted to Mr. Nguyen about Forgotton Anne’s comparison to Studio Ghibli’s works, ThroughLine’s partnership with Square Enix Collective, collaborating with the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra on the soundtrack and whether a physical release or Nintendo Switch version could happen at some point in the near future.

[Hardcore Gamer] Something that’s immediately noticeable about Forgotton Anne is the name of the actual game. Considering that it’s not an obvious mistake, why did ThroughLine choose ‘Forgotton’ over ‘Forgotten?’

I’m glad you brought that up — already we see the right way of spelling forgotten as the wrong way, if you like. Ha ha. I swear, however, we didn’t intend to frustrate anyone. We did actually have several long discussions about whether to go with the ‘o’ instead of the ‘e,’ and in the end we stuck with our gut feeling: forgotton it was.

There’s both an aesthetic and a thematic reason behind the move, however. It started as an aim to help the game stand out and to be playful given the game takes place in an imaginary world. What’s more [is] language tends to shift and change, and in this way we like to imagine ‘forgotton’ as a forgotten way of spelling the word — a nice tie in with the Forgotten Lands in the game.

Finally, the ‘o’ in Forgotton is a circle, which is something also emphasized in the logo itself and has strong connections to both a theme in the game and the aesthetics. You’ll notice Anne is sleeping in a round bed and the magical Arca she is wearing is round and so on — it all ties together.

Forgotton Anne

Anne sleeping on top of a round bed.

How did the concept for Forgotton Anne’s story come about? And what were the main themes that you wanted to explore in the story?

The very first synopsis I wrote back in 2014 focused on a young orphan girl who accepted an old witch’s offer to become a princess in the Forgotten Lands, but only if she gave up something important in return. 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.

We are all born into this life with little understanding of how the world works and so we cling to the things we learn early on. It’s only once you reach out of your comfort zone and pick up knowledge from many different sources that you start to become free to make your own choices and your journey towards authenticity can begin. Players don’t need to think of these things while enjoying Forgotton Anne because they should be immersed in the world and the specifics of the situations they find themselves in. But I do hope that after putting the controller down, the player’s mind can continue to be stimulated.

Forgotton Anne

ThroughLine Games’ Forgotton Anne.

Were there any major changes that took place in the project over time and how did they affect the development of Forgotton Anne?

Oh, yes, indeed. Ha ha. I’m fairly sure all game developers experience it, whether it’s a discovery of a technical nature or things clicking into place allowing you to see more clearly the contours of the work you are creating. For us, one of the things that had a big impact production-wise was the realization that we shouldn’t think of the world of Forgotton Anne as being 2D. Our aspirations towards a cinematic presentation required more depth to be worked into the world, both gameplay-wise and aesthetics-wise, and so a third of the way into production we totally redesigned our tools to allow for the setup of a 3D world that made it much easier to implement the levels and features of the game.

Of course, on the surface, you’d still call it a 2D or 2.5D game, but just this shift in our own mindset from 2D to 3D changed a lot. A whole new set of tools were now available to us that, on the visual side, we could utilize depth of field more and things like fog. Gameplay-wise we could implement level-design systems that allowed for traveling into the Z-depth and easier [to] distinguish between geographical layers of interaction. All in all, it made it possible to create a more beautiful, dynamic and cinematic experience, but [it] pushed back production a few months.

Finally, the ‘o’ in Forgotton is a circle, which is something also emphasized in the logo itself and has strong connections to both a theme in the game and the aesthetics. You’ll notice Anne is sleeping in a round bed and the magical Arca she is wearing is round and so on — it all ties together. –Alfred Nguyen

It’s not surprising to see people draw comparisons between Forgotton Anne’s cinematic art direction and Studio Ghibli’s works. With that said, was there any Japanese inspiration for the anime-style visuals used in Forgotton Anne?

I have a background in animation films and my own drawing style had always been inspired by the naturalistic ‘anime’ style employed by Studio Ghibli amongst others. Once our lead animator, Debbie Ekberg, who is from Sweden, came onboard [for] the project, it was just a happy coincidence that she had actually lived in Japan and studied under former Ghibli animators and directors. To be honest, a lot of games are being made with an anime aesthetic, but I think part of what makes Forgotton Anne stand out is how we do not entirely strive to emulate a specific anime style: we let the strengths of our artists combine to form something that has echoes of many inspirational sources and becomes its own thing.

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.

This interview continues on page two, as Alfred Nguyen talks about Forgotton Anne being part of Square Enix Collective, ThroughLine’s collaboration with the Philharmonic Orchestra and how local architecture in Copenhagen impacted the title’s art direction and development.

Continue to Page 2 →