Pan-Pan developer Might And Delight will be bringing animal adventure Shelter Generations to Nintendo Switch on 12th April. Combining a rich, emotional story focusing on themes of survival and family with artistic, natural environments, the collection - which includes Shelter 2 - is centered around a mother lynx looking after her cubs, and is packaged with stand-alone expansion, Paws. With its release only a few days away, Nintendo Life chatted to lead designer Jens Berlinger about environmental storytelling, a family-driven narrative and developing for Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo Life: Congratulations on bringing Shelter Generations to the Switch.
Jens Berlinger: Thank you! It’s really exciting to get to bring these titles to a console.
Your previous (and first) Switch release was Pan-Pan. What was the critical and commercial reception like?
The commercial reception has gone well - we’ve sold more than what we expected. And the fan reception that we’ve gotten has been strongly positive. We’ve had a few nice reviews, for example the one in Nintendo Life.
You've released other titles in the Shelter series. Are there themes or gameplay elements that cross over between games?
There are definitely themes that go through the titles. Family, vulnerability, and loss goes through most of the Shelter titles. Which makes sense as the first Shelter game was about motherhood, and we have kept building on that legacy with different takes since then.
The latest addition to the Shelter series though, Meadow, is more lighthearted. Rather than loss, it explores wordless connection and cooperation between players who meet in the online playground that it is.
In regards to gameplay, what’s keeping the titles together is that we’ve aimed to have a low bar of entry to play them. We’re always working to simplify the gameplay to keep it accessible. Otherwise, the basis is quite regular third-person action gameplay, and the unique part is what we’re expressing with that.
How would you describe the Shelter' series and , more specifically, the titles coming to Switch?
The Shelter series are atmospheric games about family, with an emphasis on visual storytelling. The game titles that comes to Switch in Generations, Shelter 2 and Paws, are adventure games both following a family of lynxes.
In Shelter 2 you play as a mother lynx who’s working to raise her litter of cubs to adulthood. While in Paws, you play out a story as one of the cubs in a similar family of lynxes. It can be seen as a form of prequel, an origin story of the lynx mother you play in Shelter 2. And besides the two games, Generations also contains two interactive books and two soundtracks. So there’s extra goodies that come together with the games!
What can players expect from Shelter Generations and the Paws prequel gameplay-wise?
In Shelter 2, there’s quite a bit of hunting gameplay. You’ll need to explore the world around you and hunt for your cub's survival. It starts with searching for prey, sneaking up behind unknowing critters, and then sprinting after the different prey animals that can be found in the world, all who have different types of behaviors to try to escape from you. Paws has a little bit of the hunting of Shelter 2, but it mostly offers lightweight puzzles and platforming in terms of gameplay.
There seems to be a running theme of family - how is that explored?
For the first two Shelter games, you play as a mother caring for her children. And there are really no other measurement of your success besides how the children fare - there’s no points, kill streaks, high scores or similar reward systems. The only things that you can do is to feed your children and try to protect them from different dangers.
We did go with a bit more in terms of gameplay features in Shelter 2, so there is a collectibles system and a stamina system, but the focus is kept on taking care of the cubs. We first went with that the mother could die from starvation, but keeping yourself alive was too much in focus then. So we settled for that you can feed yourself to get more stamina, which makes it easier for you to catch larger prey. It becomes a trade-off; do you feed your cubs now, or do you invest in taking care of yourself to potentially be able to feed your cubs more later on?
Then in Paws, we wanted to explore the child's role more, with their dependence on their mother, and the relationship to their siblings. We thought it would be interesting to at first give the player a sense of security by growing up and be taught different skills by the mother, and playing with their siblings in a care-free manner. And then see how the dynamic changes when the child gets separated from their family, and starts a path to reunite with them again.
Paws also touches a bit on chosen family with the bear cub that you meet for a while after you get separated from your lynx family. That part is explored with the depiction of how you both are in a vulnerable position - and how you connect and support each other to move forward together.
Nature also plays a big role throughout your games. Why is that?
The nature theme is something that’s going through the Shelter series, but it’s not the only setting we’ve gone for as a studio. Amongst our other titles are whimsical space settings (Pid, Pan-Pan), stop-motion industrialism (Blue Flamingo), and an ethereal spirit world (Tiny Echo).
In the Shelter series, however, we have made the conscious decision to only incorporate elements of nature. There are no human elements such as cave paintings, hunters, or human-influenced areas (buildings, farm lands, or forestry). We’ve wanted to go for this road because we want the focus to be on the starring animals, their family bonds, and their struggles. And there is so much beauty and dramaturgy to be inspired by when you just look at nature itself. We’re not making simulation games though - so there’s certainly a portion of mysticism that accompanies the realism-inspired gameplay.
What influenced the setting and art style?
The patchwork art-style was originally inspired by Japanese patterns and family emblems. We wanted to create a unique look with high detail but also with high repetition. Repeating textures is usually something that is considered bad craftsmanship in games, but we made it our goal to use the repeating patterns proudly and not try to hide it.
Many see the style of the series as a coherent expression, but for us the differences between the Shelter titles is rather big. In Shelter 1, the contrasts were intentionally low. We tried to create a very flat almost symbolic visual language that didn't really look like 3D does conventionally. What many people misinterpreted as badly executed, we actually worked hard on creating with that specific goal in mind. And since the game is not your conventional title, we didn't want the art style to give that impression. In needed to look like a different creation all together.
The art of Shelter 2 is very sober and founded in reality, with natural colors and depth in the imagery. Paws has an art treatment that brings the thoughts closer to fairy tale rather than realism. Because of the perspective of the cub, the art of Paws focuses more on small details than huge open landscapes.
Is there an explicit story or is it more 'environmental' storytelling?
It’s definitely more on the environmental side of storytelling. In Shelter 2, it’s a much more open-world with different events that can happen, so each playthrough can be quite different. It does have a few key elements in the story that always happen and sew together the story.
Paws has more of an A to B route, but in both the games few things are explicitly told, and there is a lot of interpretation that the player can bring into what’s happening. They have a few text prompts, but we have worked to keep them in a poetic manner, and as open to different readings as we can. And then we have the two digital books in the Generations package as well, where the story of course is more text-based and explicit, but we’d like to think that they have room for interpretation as well.
The world of Shelter is growing both physically and in terms of population. What was the process behind choosing the different species in the games, and going forward, are there any ideas (animals or gameplay aspects) you'd like to experiment with in the future?
To be honest the choice of a Badger was in part an economical choice in regards to animation - it would go faster to animate, and would need fewer animations than several other choices would. It also felt like an intriguing animal to approach since its role in the animal kingdom isn't as defined in pop-culture as let’s say the cat or the wolf.
For Shelter 2, we were drawn to the choice of the Lynx as the protagonist because of its dynamic of being in the middle of the food chain. It’s more of a predator than the Badger, which we could build some more substantial hunting gameplay around. But there’s still more dangerous animals out there, so we could design threats around that.
The other animals in Shelter 2, the prey and the dangers, are mostly taken from what lynxes actually encounter. We looked at what they eat, and we generally looked at flora and fauna in the Eurasian region where Lynxes live to get inspiration for what could reside in the world. We have talked loosely about possibilities to explore gameplay around flying, swimming, or semi-aquatic animals. And about the possibility to explore other family forms than a single mother. But there’s a lot of different animals that could be interesting to explore, and we have no shortage of suggestions incoming from fans.
When can we expect to see Shelter Generations on Switch?
Shelter Generations will be released on April 12th.
Can you tell us if you have any future release plans on Switch?
There’s nothing set in stone for the moment, but we will see about the future depending on how well we do with the release of Generations!
We would like to thank Jens and the team for their time. Let us know your thoughts on Shelter Generations in the comments section below...