Tin Hearts first came onto our radar last year when it was unveiled by its publisher Wired Productions in a 'Direct'-style event. The trailer above set the scene nicely for a Victorian-era setting and, seemingly, gameplay reminiscent of Lemmings or even Mario vs. Donkey Kong. We recently had a slightly longer look in a media event, and it certainly strikes us as a game worth following.
In the new footage there was an extended look at how gameplay is shaping up, and we were immediately struck by a 'Pikmin' effect; the toy soldiers are tiny in the larger space of the real world. The video shows some variations in gameplay, too - in some parts the players was a 'spirit' controlling soldiers and items to get them to safety, which is where the Lemmings comparison comes in, but there were also brief snippets of a third-person perspective right behind an individual trooper. Overall, the scale of the toys and the recreation of the large spaces around them looked impressive.
Also emphasized in the presentation was the focus on storytelling. Within the Victorian-era setting you learn about the family that used to live in the home that makes up the setting, in a tale 'about the struggle of balancing ambition with reality'. The setting and world building was a standout, which may be a result of developer Rogue Sun being founded by veterans of Lionhead Studios, which was renowned for the original Fable in particular prior to its closure by Microsoft.
Tin Hearts due out on Q4 2022 on PC, PlayStation and Xbox, while the Switch version will come 'soon after'. We had the chance to pose some questions to Rogue Sun Managing Director Kostas Zarifis about the game, and of course its route to Nintendo Switch.
Can you give an initial introduction to Tin Hearts for our readers?
Tin Hearts is a narrative-puzzler. We like to describe it as "Lemmings meets Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'", which, yes, I know, is a bit of a mental description!
In Tin Hearts your aim is to help a squad of little toy soldiers navigate a series of beautifully realised rooms filled with cool contraptions. As you embark on this journey you will slowly unravel a personal and emotional tale about the origin of these toys and their inventor.
In the video it was highlighted that there are a number of Lionhead veterans in the studio. Can you expand on the company's formation and talk about how that experience and legacy has influenced the development of Tin Hearts?
For me personally I think the main thing we've carried forth from Lionhead's culture is the desire to do "different" things, things that will surprise and delight players.
Rogue Sun was founded in 2016 by a trio of Lionhead developers. Tin Hearts was the first (public facing) project we tackled as a new venture and of course a lot of our Lionhead "upbringing" is evident in it. One thing people tend to pick up quickly is the visual aesthetic which is rather reminiscent of the original Fable games (it's a style that I think our art team cannot easily leave behind - and a good thing too I think!). For me personally I think the main thing we've carried forth from Lionhead's culture is the desire to do "different" things, things that will surprise and delight players. And that is certainly something we've tried to do with Tin Hearts.
In terms of gameplay we saw both the spirit that influences and controls aspects of the environment, and also some clips of movement in third-person behind a soldier. Can you talk about the different approaches and game styles that we can expect?
Well spotted! As I said before, some of the team's favourite games are experiences that keep surprising the player up until the last minute of gameplay. This is something we wanted to have in Tin Hearts so while you might start the game thinking it is one thing, we wanted to make sure that the game will keep throwing fresh surprises at you, both narratively but also mechanically.
I am the worst person to talk about these things by the way, as I am extremely spoiler averse. But the examples of gameplay you mention are some of the styles of gameplay you can expect indeed. At its core the main gameplay mechanic is very simple: get the soldiers from point A to point B. But the ways (and the reasons why!) tend to vary throughout the entire experience.
As a narrative puzzle game can you tell us a little about the story, and in particular the choice of a Victorian-era location and toys?
As a studio we care deeply about memorable and meaningful stories. We also feel games are in a advantageous position when it comes to telling stories, because, well... we don't tell the stories. Rather the player discovers them. Which is a fantastic way to experience narrative in my opinion. Tin Hearts very much takes this approach when it comes to its story which you unravel layer by layer. The story of Tin Hearts came about very organically as we explored and prototyped the mechanics.
That's another area where games have an advantage over other storytelling mediums I think, as what you do in a game can itself help tell the game's story in a much more immersive way. This is another attribute of games where Tin Hearts leans heavily into. The alternate-Victorian setting is again something that made sense for our mechanics, but actually the story we're trying to tell I believe is very contemporary and something that all of us might relate with. We like to call it "a modern fairy tale".
While you might start the game thinking it is one thing, we wanted to make sure that the game will keep throwing fresh surprises at you, both narratively but also mechanically.
Are there any particular challenges, and also opportunities, in developing this for Switch?
A little known fact is that Tin Hearts actually started out as a VR game! Which is great as it means that, throughout its development, and even as we added more target platforms to support, we've had to ensure it's optimised and runs smoothly on all of these platforms. More than performance however it's been an interesting challenge implementing the content and mechanics across all these platforms in a way that makes perfect sense from all of them. From something you wear on your face, to an awesome portable platform like the Switch, to a high end desktop PC.
Opportunities wise, well, as huge fans of Nintendo and their software and hardware products, we're hugely excited to be releasing a game on the Switch. Tin Hearts is an awesome experience on the platform as our format of doing a few puzzles on the go or going docked and settling in for a long session to lose yourself in the story, works extremely well on the platform.
We'd like to thank Kostas Zarifis for their time, and Wired Productions for arranging the interview.