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GameStart 2014: – An Interview With SUTD Game Lab, the Team Behind One Upon Light

October 27, 2014 Written by Gerard Cueto

From SUTD Game Lab, Tan Chee Ming (Business Development),

From SUTD Game Lab, Tan Chee Ming (Business Development), Chuah Chong Yunn (Lead Programmer), and Teo Chor Guan (Programme Director).

The first ever original game developed in Singapore for the PlayStation 4 comes to us in the form of One Upon Light. Developed by the Singapore University Technology and Design (SUTD) Game Lab and published by SUTD, the game is a monochromatic hybrid of the stealth and puzzle genre. While the game’s look is quite reminiscent of 2010’s Limbo, its top-down perspective and “photophobic” gameplay does a good job of making the title stand out.

Prior to its commercial release, One Upon Light has already won several awards which include “best game” from the 2013 Independent Games Festival in China, Famitsu’s indie award and 4Gamer.net’s rookie prize, with the last two won during Tokyo Game Show (TGS) 2014.

PlayStation LifeStyle had a chance to interview Teo Chor Guan and Chuah Chong Yunn, program director and lead programmer respectively from SUTD Game Lab, after the pre-GameStart 2014 press conference held in St. Games Café in Bugis+ Singapore. They gladly answered a series of questions about their games, their team, and the game development scene in the Southeast Asian Region:

PlayStation LifeStyle: Can you describe One Upon Light in terms of genre and the basic gameplay mechanics?

Chuah Chong Yunn: So One Upon Light is something like a puzzle-adventure game. You need to get from point A to point B and you solve puzzles to make your way through a level. So we have 20 levels, there’s an overall narrative tying the whole game together. At the end of every level, you find a piece of information; it can be a journal page, a newspaper cutting, or some official documents. Once you read all that, we hope the player will be able to piece together the background story of the game and why this character is afraid of the light.

One Upon Light

PSLS: Why the PS4? Wouldn’t releasing on multiple platforms be a better decision from a financial point of view?

Chuah Chong Yunn: PS4 yes, it’s because we have an exclusive deal.

Teo Chor Guan: We developed the game on Unity which is definitely cross platform, but I think one of the main considerations was who is the best partner for us to actually get this game out. And Sony is definitely a good partner and when we won the best game award in the Indie Game Festival last year, I guess that got Sony’s attention. Ultimately, our intent was to get the game to the platform it was most suited for. So definitely, after talking to Sony, we thought it was a good relationship and we started an exclusivity deal with them.

PSLS: I was going to ask how Sony came to approach your team, so the IGF victory answers that question. Now, since you already have a target release date for One Upon Light

Teo Chor Guan: Yes, on the (October) 28th which is next Tuesday.

PSLS: Okay, so would it be out on all regions or Asia initially?

Chuah Chong Yunn: Asia first.

Teo Chor Guan: Asia first, yes, that’s right.

PSLS: Do you guys know when it would be released in the US or in Europe?

Teo Chor Guan: We are still talking with Sony to see how we can go to other regions but I guess our first focus is to get the game released in Asia.

PSLS: In terms of support, you said that Sony was a good partner and it was a very good relationship, how did Sony specifically help your team in developing One Upon Light?

Teo Chor Guan: I think by giving us advice on the platform, the platform support, and the marketing support. So it was really a lot of support from Sony.

PSLS: Since the game is releasing next week, does your team already have plans about your next game?

Teo Chor Guan: I think the answer to that is that we’re so focused on getting One Upon Light out. This is our first console game on a Sony platform so I think the intent is to see if the game does well, and then we can plan our next steps.

PSLS:  Okay. Well, since you mentioned that this is your first game on a Sony platform, what other platforms has your team worked on in the past?

Teo Chor Guan: In our phase 1, when we were still known as Singapore MIT – Gambit Game Lab, we released games on Windows, on mobile…

Chua Chong Yunn: We had games for iPhone, iPad, we have one game on Windows Phone 7. We did prototyping for Kinect but we never really launched it. We made one game for PC too.

PSLS:  So your team has released quite a few games already, from mobile to PC.

Teo Chor Guan: I guess we’re not really a “new studio” because we’ve been around for eight years.

PSLS: Really? So how big is the One Upon Light team right now?

Chuah Chong Yunn: For One Upon Light, there are seven developers. We have three programmers, two artists, one designer, and one game tester.

PSLS: Bringing the discussion back to the game, what other games had an influence on One Upon Light?

Chua Chong Yunn: Our inspiration game design wise is Braid. You know Braid? The time reversal game?

PSLS: Yes, Braid by Jonathan Blow.

Chuah Chong Yunn: Yes, Braid and Portal. Those are the influences on our game in terms of puzzles and narrative. In terms of Art, it’s more of Limbo, I think everyone will draw Limbo’s influence, and Kentucky Route Zero. So those are the four games I can think of.

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PSLS: So I guess we could wrap it after this last question. Looking at game development in the region, do you think that in the next couple of years, we can expect more games developed in the Southeast Asian region to be released for mainstream consoles such as the PS4 and Xbox One?

Chuah Chong Yunn: Definitely. With the availability of tools like Unity, it helps people who are just starting out. It helps them a lot. It’s a good thing and it could bloom. We actually ran an internship program wherein we trained students on pipeline development and we’re hoping it would contribute to the rising of young developers from universities and local schools.

And with that, we ended our fruitful discussion.  As previously stated, One Upon Light will be released on the Asian PlayStation Store on October 28, 2014. To help the game proliferate the region further, subtitles for English, Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Traditional Chinese, and Korean, will be included. Watch the game’s trailer here.