The Design of Awakening: The Redleaf Forest – Developer Interview

We were happy to talk to All About Casual Game about the final installment of the Awakening series. Here’s an interview with the game designers, Sam and Cara.

The Design of Awakening: The Redleaf Forest – Developer Interview
by All About Casual Game on June 14, 2014
Princess Sophia’s journey to find and awaken her parents has finally came to the end. We definitely recall felling in love with the Awakening series from the very first game. To celebrate the release of The Redleaf Forest, the conclusion to the ever so popular HOPA franchise – we have interviewed Samantha Racho and Cara Uymatiao, the design team at Boomzap about this particular game.
Hello, please introduce yourself! 
Sam: Hello, I’m Samantha Racho, a designer from Boomzap. I started around May 2012 as a scripter for Otherworld. I have also worked on Otherworld: Omens of Summer, Awakening: The Skyward Castle, and Awakening: The Sunhook Spire.
Cara: Hello, my name is Cara and I’m from the Philippines. I started making games when I joined Boomzap in late 2012. I used to be in the production team but I migrated to the design team for Awakening: The Redleaf Forest. I’ve worked on a lot of our HOPA titles over the past 2 years since I was in charge of porting them over to iOS – titles like Awakening: The Skyward Castle, Awakening: The Sunhook Spire, Otherworld: Omens of Summer, Dana Knightstone: Death Upon an Austrian Sonata, Botanica: Into the Unknown, as well as some of the older titles for localization.

The Awakening series is all about Sophia’s journey to find her people and save her parents, while dealing with some enemies along the way. What happens in Awakening: The Redleaf Forest, and how does the story progress from the previous game, The Sunhook Spire?

Sam: Sophia meets the Enchantress in the Sunhook Spire to find out how to save her parents from the timeless sphere. She learns that she needs the Blade of Courage to put an end to Dreadmyre. This blade is so special that it can only be created by a centaur blacksmith in the dwarven forges. Unfortunately, the dwarves and centaurs are in an age-old feud, rooting from a mysterious castle in the Redleaf Forest. Awakening: The Redleaf Forest is about Sophia’s journey to get this special blade, and defeat Dreadmyre once and for all.

It’s been years since you launched the first Boomzap HOPA and Awakening title, The Dreamless Castle. How is The Redleaf Forest different from the previous Awakening games?

Cara: As much as possible, we’ve tried to keep everything bright and beautiful which is the style Boomzap is known for. However, this is the epic finale to Sophia’s journey and she will finally face off against her greatest enemy, Dreadmyre, once and for all. It is inevitable for the story to be slightly darker and heavier this time around.

Sam: Yes, the first impactful change that the players will notice is that the game has a darker atmosphere which is very different from the earlier Awakening games. It was expressed in this manner so that the obstacles and antagonists can be taken seriously for the finale.

Cara: Also, unlike before where we would plan a sneak peek on the Sophia’s next adventure, this time we had to wrap up her story and leave a wonderful memory for the players.

Will we find any new types of gameplay and mechanics in Redleaf Forest?

Cara: As the years (or even just months) progress, our technology, skills, and experiences also progress and develop. With every new game we release there is always something new added to the mix. We learn from the players of our past games and try to direct our game design towards the ideal of what our players enjoy the most in HOPA games.

Sam: We introduced a new bonus garden system where the player can cross seeds to collect laughing lilies. It’s the first time the Awakening series had a way to spend collectibles. The bonus puzzle that comes with the Collector’s Edition was also moved to the garden.

You will also notice that there is a new traveler companion panel on the left side, where the goals used to belong. This panel is important to the storyline because it shows the characters that the player is traveling with. Another big notable change is in the dialog system. Awakening games, even up to the Sunhook Spire, used square-styled dialog panels, mandatory for the players to click to find information. The Redleaf Forest introduced an immersive system that follows the trend of latest hidden object games. It also introduced panels that the players would not need to click through to have a more fluid play.

A large improvement from the past games would be the hint system as well. Now the players will have an easier time using hints because it takes them to the scene that they have to get to. The hint system also highlights the inventory item that they need to use.

We have new types of puzzles found in the game as well. A lot of the hidden object scenes of this game in particular have extra mechanics in their play apart from just finding objects.

How did you come up with the puzzles and minigames? 

Sam: I’m not sure if people will be surprised, but anything creative normally ends well with a good amount of research. The team sifted through a lot of games then figured out how to improve them and make it our own. The challenge with the hidden object puzzle adventure genre is that entirely new and innovative puzzles are often really hard to grasp for players. The team was very careful in making sure the new mechanics were understandable and that the subgames had a strong, working base by researching puzzles that already worked and spoke for themselves.

Any challenges in incorporating the fantasy theme?

Sam: I think incorporating a fantasy theme is more of an advantage. For example, if we need a subgame to be more understandable, we can create a magical item to solve it (like a visual sphere). It’s also easier to incorporate strange, fresher ideas with a fantasy theme, because it has a higher threshold for breaking the player’s suspension of disbelief. That said, the biggest challenge for the fantasy genre would be to create intuitive but unusual fantasy objects. The team solved this issue by making sure most items have a resemblance to real-world object, so that the player can guess its functionality easily.

We meet many fantasy characters here. Can you describe them and the roles they play in the story?

Sam: For enemies, we have a notably gigantic ogre, a mining golem, and of course, the main antagonists, Grimble and Dreadmyre. The inhabitants of the Redleaf Forest aren’t exactly peacefully living among each other either, so Sophia has to work her way around this. She meets a myriad of centaurs and dwarves. The centaurs are a natural and magic-oriented race. The dwarves are an industrious and wealthy race.  Sophia needs the help of both races to defeat Dreadmyre.

From a princess to a queen, how has Sophia’s character developed in the series?

Cara: I especially enjoyed watching her growth as seen by the way she interacted with the world we made for her. In the Dreamless Castle, her world was so small and she only had to look out for herself; but as she moved forward, her world grew larger until she was not only moving forward for her own intentions and the sake of her people, but for the sake of other races as well. The obstacles she had to face at the beginning were mostly locked doors. Later on, Sophia has faced many enemies head on. Sophia had a lot of help from her friends before and although she still has companions in the latest game, she may need to put even her own life on the line – like a true queen.

Who is your favorite character in the Awakening world?

Sam: Princess Andreia!

Cara: Need that be asked? It’s Sophia, of course! I also love Andreia! She’s too adorable!

How about in terms of sceneries? The Redleaf Forest also featured countless beautiful locations. Which one is your favorite?

Sam: Without a doubt, the entrance to the dwarven village is my favorite scene.

Cara: That’s a really hard question. I honestly like all of the scenes in all of the Awakening games and am always admiring the artworks done by my fellow teammates. But forcefully choosing one, perhaps I would choose the rose garden scene in the bonus chapter because I like scenes with skies. It’s also near the final scene so there’s a sentimental value to it too.

What was your inspiration for the ending?

Sam: The team really wanted a happy ending suitable for fairytales, which is the primary inspiration for the Awakening series. On a personal level, I supported this direction because I’m a sucker for happy endings and I’d feel pretty bad if Sophia’s story ended tragically after all she’s been through.

Does the release of this game mean that there would be no more Awakening games in the future?

Sam: It’s the end of Sophia’s adventures though we’d love to continue working on this series. Right now, you can get a glimpse of Sophia in Awakening Kingdoms, an endless free-to-play game, but the Awakening world is vast and we might create another game if the fans are craving for more!

What do you think is the best part of the game that players should look forward to? 

Sam: Apart from the last hour of this game being the conclusion and the revealing the story of Dreadmyre himself, I’m really fond of the bonus chapter.

Cara: I agree! I think the best part of the game is the bonus chapter wherein we get a lovely recap of our adventures in the Awakening series. We especially designed the bonus chapter that way as a parting gift from Sophia to our players who had walked the same road as we have.

What is your message for these players?

Sam: I can’t express my gratitude enough to the fans. Thanks for playing this far! I hope that you love this latest release.

Cara: Thank you to our players for giving life to Sophia – without you, she wouldn’t have gotten this far. She would probably have been stuck in the Dreamless Castle forever! It is sad that we have to part with her, but I think we’ve made a lot of good memories. We, the developers, hope you enjoyed our joint adventure in Sophia’s world and hope that you continue to grace us with your patronage in our next endeavors.