‘A new surprise on every page’ – How children helped shape ‘The Plucky Squire’

Since Jot existed before the game, albeit in a lesser capacity, we wanted to know if James felt good about ‘reusing’ the character. “I think when you haven’t done anything that’s really super established yet, other than Pokemon or the official projects you’ve worked on, no one really cares that much. Some people read my comic online, [if] I can transfer them to the game… they might be happy to see it!”

Moving Jot – and other characters like Moonbeard (the side character in the game) – from a cute web comic to a video game, everything about a children’s book felt completely natural. It was a “very early idea” to frame The Plucky Squire around a storybook you could jump in and out of, all borne out of its art style.

“I have this simple, minimalist style of illustration and I wanted to make a game with that style. So I was thinking about what it could be, and the idea that came to mind was a children’s book.” His early art was partly inspired by a storybook – Helen Nicoll and illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski’s Meg and Mog, a British staple – because of the “boldness of those illustrations”.

Discussions with his co-director Bidds quickly evolved, with Turner soon thinking not only outside the box, but also book. To do this, the duo wanted to expand on an element that is key to the game. “The idea of ​​surprise was interesting to us. It turns the page and there’s a new surprise on every page [when you read a book]. And then we were thinking, ‘What could be the last surprise? What if you could jump out of the book and run around?’”

It was a surprise every time it happened while we were playing. Even switching between the left and right pages of the book, Jot switches from 2D to 3D as he flies through the air and then back to 2D as he lands on the opposite page. That element of the unexpected is something the team found “somewhat difficult.” There are gameplay tweaks, secrets, and gameplay mechanics that have been hinted at or teased, but there are plenty more surprises to come.

The Plucky Squire punches out!
Just one of the many gameplay changes we’ll see in The Plucky Squire – Image: Devolver Digital

“There’s always a push and a pull,” Turner said. “Marketing wants to show more of the game, but at the same time they fully understand that you don’t want to give away too much, but you want to put something nice and stand out in the trailer…. But you don’t want to spoil the experience.”

Right at the start of our time with the game, we were greeted with a charmingly narrated section that felt like it was ripped straight from a BBC children’s show. When we asked him about it, Turner – who is from the UK – shook his head with a smile. “The narrator is Philip Bretherton. He was actually an actor in a BBC series, so he has that experience. He is great. I love working with him and recording the whole narrative. There’s a website for an agency called Damn Good Voices full of actors with some clips of their work, so we just went through them, trying to find the kind of voice we liked.” The team knew when they found the right person because Bretherton wasn’t just the type of voice, this one IS Noise.”

The Plucky Squire Narrative
Image: Devolver Digital

This is exactly the kind of attention to detail that stood out to us when playing The Plucky Squire. The translation of Turner’s “minimalist” art style to 3D is something that works really well, and we couldn’t help but wonder about the process behind making Jot look amazing in 3D.

“We were a bit too literal in the beginning, actually. We shaded Jot’s cells when he was out of the book to make him look more like him [in the book]but for some reason he was removed from feeling the weight of the outside world… [Because Jot is] the center of your focus, [it] it almost defines how the whole scene feels to you.” The team switched to a “properly 3D-shaded” style, and Turner says he immediately “grounded” the hero more. “We kept his face very simple… we didn’t give him the whites of his eyes, we kept those two marks.”

The Plucky Squire leaves the book and goes 3D
Image: Devolver Digital

While the book and the element of surprise are two parts of The Plucky Squire, it’s also a game about nurturing creativity and letting kids express themselves. We saw this much of this throughout our time with the game, and Sam – the boy at the center of the story who loves the book The Plucky Squire – has an ever-present presence thanks to the doodles on the table, the stickers lying around and who does just about everything the mess on these tables. We didn’t see Sam himself, but we feel like we already know who he is.

The stickers, in particular, caught our eye – the level we played was space-themed, so we saw aliens, planets and strange colors all stuck to the wooden table. Those stickers were actually hand drawn by Turner’s friends. A particularly important contributor was Geralt’s designer from Witcher; we didn’t get a chance to ask who else might have contributed, but these are the kind of Easter Eggs that will have us digging around the game like excited kids.

The Plucky Squire Humgrump
Humgrump, Jot’s adversary and Squire Plucky’s evil son – Image: Devolver Digital

If it’s not already obvious, children and childlike wonder are at the heart of the game. Turner explained the ramifications of the game’s story. “If Humgrump [the villain who is trying to end creativity] take over the book, this will be bad for their world, but it will also be bad for Sam because it is his favorite book and he will lose inspiration. You’re fighting for your world, but you’re also fighting to keep Sam inspired.” And the outfit really gives off a sense of childlike curiosity that we want to preserve.

Plucky Squire is “a topic of conversation” in the Turner household. “My son calls it ‘Plucky Square,'” he told us. Turner’s children have helped inspire several choices for the game, from their level display and testing to the character models: “I’ll show my son a design and get his approval for it – which of theirs is the cutest or who looks the cutest – and he’ll pick the models and then he’ll know which one is the best.” It’s certainly a factor in how the experience feels as authentic as it is.

Of course, this leads to a LOT of characters being cut. “I think we played two games, actually. Half is on the cutting room floor and half is in the game.” One such character who almost won was Jelly King, an NPC present in Chapter 6. At first, he was present in “a completely different form” and instead of helping out in return, “Jelly King would follow you out on the table and you would jump over it to get across the high platforms.” However, the team felt that the higher jump limit felt too restrictive, so the jetpack ended up replacing the King.Luckily, they managed to bring it back to the mug.

Plucky Squire Space Table
Image: Devolver Digital

All the while, we were walking around the table, spotting stickers, drawings, paper clips and the like, and reliving the magic of childhood discovery. Finding some of these items – and even one of the candles needed to unlock the rocket on the table – inspired a question about playing with perspective and hiding things behind the “mess” on the table. “We discovered the same thing when we were doing it [the levels], and so we’ve created a few things that will reward the player for that. We’ve got some stuff around for you to find.”

We noticed other things that might be considered normal, but were important to the argument of the story, such as UK power sockets (for “plug knowledge”, Turner laughed) and the levels that were set during the day or night. And while the time period is intentionally left “a little vague,” the goal was to create a world that had “a nostalgic feel.” Basically, like a child’s bedroom that any of us might have had. We don’t get excited about power plugs in real life, yet there we were, wide-eyed and looking at those specific things. When we were rewarded with a piece of junk – part of a rocket ship – for completing a mini-game, it captured the essence of our feelings perfectly. Children find the treasure in everything, and can be fascinated by small little things; paper clips, scribbles, torn paper and plain old pencils. It felt like being shown a picture of our bedroom floor or our old desk.

Plucky Squire Table
Image: Devolver Digital

When we shared our feelings with Turner, he nodded. “If [playing The Plucky Squire] makes people nostalgic, or makes them think of their childhood, that’s always a nice thing to hear.” It’s a game to relive your childhood, re-read your favorite book, and retain that childlike creativity we’ve all been missing. “We want [The Plucky Squire] be a truly beautiful experience for anyone who plays. Forget the world for a bit. Enjoy.”

And we did.

Plucky Squire launches on Switch in 2024. Let us know how excited you are in the comments below.

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