Join us for an informative look into the gorgeous world of After Us in our exclusive Q&A with Piccolo Studio, the indie developers behind the game.
Recently we had the pleasure of writing our review for After Us, an insightful post-apocalyptic tale exploring Earth after its destruction by humans. We were lucky enough to sit down Alexis Corominas, the game’s Co-Game Director, Co-Producer and Co-Creative Director and co-founder of developers, Piccolo Studio.
Alexis Corominas, co-founder of Piccolo Studio and one of the minds behind After Us (Source: Alexis Corominas).
So join us for our exclusive Q&A with Piccolo Studio and let’s delve behind the scenes of the poetic and meaningful post-apocalyptic narrative of After Us.
After Us is based on humans destroying the earth and spreads an important environmental message. Was your intent always to try and show that we are treating the earth badly and that we need to change our ways?
In the hypothetical future that we show, it is obvious that humans have wasted all life on the planet. This is a surreal world, a nightmare that could become real if we don’t change our behavior or find better solutions.
It’s us humans who have the power to waste all life, hence the title of the game, and the idea of the legacy that we are leaving behind. But we’re not blaming the individuals. As individuals, we all love nature, we don’t know anyone that enjoys destroying a beautiful environment. We destroy them as a side effect of our collective actions, that go beyond our control.
We represent humans as agents of destruction, but also as victims of themselves that, maybe, deserve redemption, and this is one of the aspects of the game that is more apparent towards the end, through the accumulation of scenes and memories that you can unveil.
Those memories show that not everything is black and white about humans, there are shades of grey, and wanted to explore them.
Gaia is aptly named after the goddess of earth, however the game doesn’t explain much of her backstory. Did she always exist, or did the Mother tree create her to help restore all life?
We call her Gaia, even if her name is not said during the game. Gaia is a universal deity that exists in many cultures and represents life on the planet. It is always portrayed as a female character and we wanted her to look like a small nymph (anthropomorphic, but not entirely human), with a touch of nature (her dress resembles bark) and long, white, glowing hair so she embodies the last beacon of light in the world.
In the game, it is implied that she was created by Mother. That’s why at the beginning she acts like a pawn, almost like a soldier. As the game progresses, she has reactions of her own and starts to develop a view of the world and the Devourers that is different to Mother’s.
There are many open areas that are vast and expansive, but contain very little. Was this an intentional stylistic choice to convey a lifeless world?
To us, the world is the main character of the game. Of course, we want you to empathize with Gaia, but we intentionally put the camera quite far so the huge, bleak, devastated world could speak to you. It hits you constantly with epic, symbolic landscapes in which you are that tiny speckle of hope thriving to progress.
That contrast was central in the development of the look and feel of the game. It is a contrast of light, color, and sizes: the world is huge, and the main character feels small, vulnerable, but determined. Everything was built for the big picture rather than the detail. We wanted to create a “dead museum” feeling in which the main character is the only living/moving entity.
This dead world is full of symbolism, describing our relationship with nature. Mainly, it is a relation of exploitation, we take everything from nature but don’t give back enough. We wanted this to be very obvious in the world of After Us, to show it bluntly to players.
The main animals that Gaia collects spirits from (e.g., fly, dog, whale), were these chosen for a specific reason?
They represented big families of animals; they were universal and the environments they live in are easy to understand and connect in the game. We wanted to have a dog because it represents all domestic animals well, while the shark represents the kind of animal that people see as dangerous but has the same right to exist as any other animal, including us.
The game features many examples of how humans have affected the planet: deforestation, contaminating the ocean. Were there any others that you wanted to include but didn’t get the chance?
Yes, there were a lot more, because we are harming the ecosystem in all possible ways, but we had to choose the ones that reflected more universal topics and connected with the animals and had more artistic and gameplay potential. At one point we had radiation, floods, and fires, but they were not as clear to portray as a side effect of human activity.
For a game so attuned to nature and the environment, what influenced the soundtrack to lean more towards more of a synth style?
The game is very atmospheric, so we wanted the sound to complement the devastated, mysterious and oppressive ambiences without being annoying. It was a challenge of balancing different elements.
Traditionally in videogames sounds are put in layers so you can easily distinguish the main character sounds from the environment, the actions, the music, etc… We came up with this idea of wall of sound, in which SFX and music fuse together like a solid mix to impact you as a whole.
On one hand, Mirella Díez, our Audio Director and SFX Sound Engineer, made everything in the world sound rusty, squeaky, mysterious, and ranging in the low tones. Depending on the intensity of the music, players are allowed to hear more or less of those layers.
On the other hand, we have the music, by Dan Elms. We wanted it to be atmospheric, sometimes dark, sometimes melancholic. We wanted to have electronic noises and layered synths. Dan did an incredible job to bring players into a trance state, sometimes music feels like a mantra.
Music and SFX fuse in that wall of sound, blending everything so the SFX and music feel part of the world that you are exploring. This wall of sound contrasts with the subtle, magical sounds of Gaia, her warming voice singing, giggling when she finds a spirit, pets an animal, or grows a tree.
Finally, do you think humans deserve a second chance?
This is a personal question, so I can’t answer in the name of everyone at Piccolo Studio. Personally, I would prefer that we don’t blow up the first chance that is still in our hands. If we don’t care, if we don’t have any hope, then it will be over.
Answers for our Q&A with Piccolo Studio were kindly provided by Alexis Corominas. Alexis is the Co-Game Director, Co-Producer and Co-Creative Director, with a background in Cinema before working in digital advertising for nearly 20 years. Co-founding Piccolo Studio in 2015, he is responsible for the company’s vision and creative departments. He’s too passionate about way too many things, but please don’t let him start talking about the Roman Empire.
Enjoyed this Q&A? Then tune in for our Q&A with Veronica Taylor (the voice of Ash Ketchum!) and join the Qualbert Discord to chat about our upcoming interviews.