Playing The Messenger with Creative Director Thierry Boulanger – PAX West 2018
“The idea was always for it to be a retro game” said Thierry Boulanger, the creative director behind the latest indie success The Messenger, as he excitedly described his team’s new game to me at PAX West.
The Messenger released in late August, just a few days before Boulanger sat down to play the game with us and share some of the ideas behind its development. The Messenger is one of those games that embodies just about all of what an indie game can be. It’s filled with ideas and mechanics that were formed by classic inspirations but are skillfully implemented with a modern mindset. The game begins as a linear 8-bit platformer and eventually transitions into a 16-bit bit experience akin to a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo title. Even later down the line, The Messenger evolves into more of a Metroidvania title as backtracking becomes more necessary.
When asked about where the inspiration came from for pursuing this style of game, which seems to be an amalgamation of a lot of the retro games we all love, Thierry was not at all hesitant in naming games such as Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania as influences. He took it even a step further and mentioned Monkey Island as one of the big influences – which initially caught me off guard. As he laughed my response, I started to pay close attention to the text box on screen and really understood the humor he was referencing. The Messenger has the fluid, action-driven gameplay of old Nintendo games, however it places an equal weight on story and dialogue to further its referential homage to our favorite retro games. The writing is funny, engaging, and provides the player with context for nearly everything. In The Messenger, even death is explained via a flying buddy that saves you as your run out of health. They wanted to put care in every facet of the game that they could.
I asked Thierry about the some of the mechanics as I noticed that one of the first things that The Messenger introduces the player to is the concept of Cloud Stepping. Cloud Stepping is a mechanic that allows you to use an air jump after landing a strike, and it’s clear that its meant to help the player navigate through the levels with purpose. He mentioned loving the idea that speed-runners would play this game and utilize the mechanics at their disposal. When I handed over the controller to him to play for a few minutes, it was easily noticeable that someone who knew what they were doing could flow through the game in a ballet-like fashion. Seeing Thierry maneuver around enemies as they shot projectiles his way and dash his way across the level was a sight to behold, and I can’t wait to see what the speed-running community accomplishes with the game.
The Messenger shares a common thread with other games that are releasing around the same time. Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, Guacamelee 2, and others are all Metroidvania experiences with the intent to pay homage to the classics, however The Messenger stands unique in its style and dedication to maintaining a retro feel. “I finally feel like a game designer,” Thierry confidently mentioned as he recalled memories from his childhood that eventually served as the inspirations behind The Messenger, and in that moment, it was clear that the game’s recent success is a dream come true for Sabotage Studio.
Follow all of OK Beast’s PAX West 2018 coverage here.