Review Fix Exclusive: Inside ‘Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion’

Review Fix chats with Vincent Levy, Designer and Writer at Rice Cooker Republic, who discusses his upcoming game, Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion, detailing its origin, creative process and goals.

About Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion:

Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion, an open world adventure with a minimalist aesthetic from Rice Cooker Republic, will launch for Windows via Steam on May 17, 2017.

Open your eyes as the messenger of a dark world and go on a journey to awaken its lover, the neighboring light world. Find and solve puzzles to transform the landscape of the light planet into a place of color and shape, and bring the two worlds together.

Review Fix: How was this game born?

Vincent Levy: Originally, the game started as a student project. Five of us – among this Rice Cooker Republic team of eight – were enrolled in the same game design program at the ICAN school in Paris, France back in 2013. Bokida was the graduation project for our bachelor’s degrees, and it looked quite different at the time!

Since the reception had been really good, including winning a Gameplay Award in a French student games’ competition, we decided to submit the prototype to the 2014 IGF Student competition. We were fortunate to receive an Honorable Mention, which motivated us to turn the prototype into a full release game. By then, our team had already grown to the staff of eight that makes up the Rice Cooker Republic of today.

Review Fix: What was the development like?

Levy: The development cycle of Bokida has been rather… unusual. Since Bokida was a graduation project, we knew right from the start that we would have to accommodate our team splitting up all over the place as we completed internships and started on our first jobs.

Fortunately, we had been working really closely with each other up to this point and we had established a strong team dynamic, supported by Arnaud, the team’s lead, who quickly became our “producer.” 

This was crucial, as for most of the development cycle after that point (summer 2013), we never again have all been working full time on the project. We kept a lifeline going with Arnaud and Romain mostly focused on Bokida, but pretty soon we were even scattered across the globe, living, working, or studying across several countries. This meant that we had to find news ways to organize the development if we were to make the game a reality. 

To do so, we relied on several project management tools over the years, but none of them really stuck until the end. The real key to our process, the one thing that has worked for us all throughout development, was our weekly online meeting every Saturday at 2 pm Paris time. Coupled with Arnaud’s task assignment and tracking skills, it has been the beat by which the project has matured over the years. This progress wasn’t always linear: there were bursts when the circumstances demanded it or when we were fortunate to have more of us being able to switch to the project full time; and there were slumps when it was hard to keep the troops motivated because it felt like the game wasn’t moving forward.

Bokida being entirely developed in our “free time,” meaning that we didn’t support the development with any kind of funding, definitely played its role in this long and bumpy ride, but after putting in enough hours we managed to finish the game!

Review Fix: What makes the story of this game special?

Levy: The story of this game is based on a peculiar proposition as the player is called to action by a planet’s request to be reunited with her long-lost lover, itself another planet. So basically the game’s starting point is a story of planetary love.

From then on, the player plays her part in reuniting these two worlds by finding ways to restore links between the two, bringing the two planets closer together until their eventual reunion.

The movement of the personified planets’ reunion is the main story arc that will potentially lead the player to the game’s conclusion, but as the player explores the surface of the two planets in search of links to restore, she will come across another narrative. This secondary narrative is very much subdued, as it is delivered in very small touches that will need to be pieced together to reveal the entirety of their message. It tells the story of entities who inhabited the surface of one of theses two planets long ago and who left behind ruins that the player will discover over the course of their exploration. 

Both the relationship of the two planets and the story of the entities living between the two were developed after being inspired by the Taoist cosmogony. It’s a parallel we were able to draw almost immediately from the few elements that we had in our initial prototype and which lead us to investigate Taoism. During our research, we looked deeper into the Taoist texts of Lao Tsu and Chuang Tsu. As a result, we ended up infusing our narrative with some of the philosophical musings of this literature, making sure to retain the quality of being open to interpretation. This greatly impacted the writing process for the game and inevitably conferred a special identity on the story in Bokida.

Review Fix: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?

Levy: There is one anecdote about Bokida’s development that we like to talk about. It ran for a full 12 months, between the fall of 2014 and the end of the summer of 2015. At the time, I was getting my master’s degree from UCSC, in California, whereas on the other side of the globe Arnaud had moved to South Korea. This geographical fact meant that, for an entire year, the development team was spanning 17 different time zones from California to Europe and all the way to South Korea!

Like I told you before, as a small indie team we’ve relied on weekly online meetings every Saturday to coordinate development. Since we couldn’t afford to just split the team in two, we had to run our meetings at the only time that could accommodate all of us. This meant that every Saturday morning I was getting up at 6 am PST (or sometimes not going to bed at all) to be ready for the meeting that would start at 11 pm for Arnaud in South Korea! Let’s just say that every once in awhile someone didn’t make it through the entire meeting without falling asleep!

Review Fix: Who will enjoy this game the most?

Levy: Obviously it’s hard to provide a sure answer to this question, but we created our game with the idea in mind that it would provide a slow-paced experience of exploration where there are multiple ways to go depending on a given player’s motivations. 

It’s a game designed to appeal to players who enjoyed a breadth of other games spanning from Journey, to Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture, or maybe also Proteus. As you can already perceive from this short list, these games do different things with exploration and don’t always overlap but they have been clear inspirations which fueled our work on Bokida.

The idea is that Bokida offers a closed, soothing experience that one can go through in a couple of hours, and also at the same time another realm of content for players who would venture below the surface of things and try either to hunt down the story that lies below or exploit the playful potentialities allowed by the game’s mechanics.

Consequently, it’s a game that will appeal more immediately to players who enjoy relatively slow-paced experiences, relying heavily on exploration and on trying to decipher the signs that allow a player to know more and delve deeper into the game world. But it’s also a very playful game.

Review Fix: What are your goals for the game?

Levy: We’d like the game to find at least some resonance with the audience I tried to describe above. We’re very happy to have had the chance to carry out this project to fruition, from a modest student prototype to a released game, and especially on terms that were our own to set. 

This freedom allowed us to pursue this unusual line of a game that is very open-ended while potentially supporting a variety of playstyles: it is built around a set of mechanics rich with possibilities and akin to a digital toy placed in the hands of the players. 

We were set on crafting a game experience that is calm, soothing and that won’t necessarily open itself up to the player entirely. Getting to the bottom of what Bokida has to offer requires some sort of dedication from the player that can only be grounded in that player’s own motivation. This means that one can reach the “end” of the main arc without ever straying away from the “main path”, and we’re ok with that.

Time will tell if the game reaches any audience. Getting to make the game we truly wanted to make and to see it out in the world is already its own reward. We’re quite lucky to have had this opportunity!

Review Fix: What’s next?

Levy: For the moment, very practical things! We’re hoping to have more localizations added to the game. We would also like to publish a vinyl of Bokida’s OST so we’re looking into ways to do just that. With the team still being split up across various countries, the eight of us are not currently considering a possible next game. We are rather looking forward to showcasing the game even more after it is released, submitting Bokida to various events and travelling to meet new prospective audiences. 

All in all, we still have quite a few things on our plates to keep us busy with the release of Bokida!

Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?

Levy: Naturally we’d like to thank you for your interest in our work and for letting us rave on about Bokida! This is also a good opportunity for us to thank our small community of followers who have displayed a great deal of patience over the years to see the prototype finally turn into a full-fledged game… It sure took us long enough, but all along our motivation was fueled both by this community of followers online and also by the wonderful experiences we’ve had showcasing the game around the world. Big thanks to all of you.

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Patrick Hickey Jr.

Editor-in-Chief, Founder at Review Fix
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com and is the author of the upcoming book, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers," from leading academic and non-fiction publisher McFarland and Company. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College and is a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and a National Video Games Writer at the late Examiner.com. He has also had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Complex and The Syracuse Post-Standard. Love him. Read him.
About Patrick Hickey Jr. 6430 Articles
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com and is the author of the upcoming book, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers," from leading academic and non-fiction publisher McFarland and Company. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College and is a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and a National Video Games Writer at the late Examiner.com. He has also had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Complex and The Syracuse Post-Standard. Love him. Read him.

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