Cococucumber's Co-Founder Vanessa Chia talked about their recently released game Echo Generation, discussed the game's production and art style, and touched upon gameplay mechanics.
Hello, I am Vanessa Chia, Co-Founder, Producer, and Art Director at Cococucumber. Before joining the game industry, I’ve worked in art direction and motion graphics for commercial clients in Canada, the UK, and Asia. I wanted to expand my creative vision and explore a more immersive medium so I co-founded Cococucumber with Martin Gauvreau in 2014 to develop original games.
The Birth of Echo Generation
Our team brainstormed ideas in 2018 and what really captured our imagination with Echo Generation was to make a game that reflected the nostalgia of growing up in a small town and combining it with a gameplay style that we felt was lacking at that time, inspired by old-school Paper Mario. The game’s vision has stayed true to these core ideas, which is always a good sign.
After we launched our first voxel game, Riverbond, we were not done exploring this 3D pixel art style and wanted to push things further in Echo Generation. In fact, we are creating a Voxel Trilogy with Riverbond, Echo Generation and a new game yet to be announced.
Pixel art is a retro-looking art style; to push that further into the 3D realm means a balance between retaining the blocky look and making sure that it is not too noisy with jagged lines all over the place. Also, it’s important to make sure that our art assets and levels are optimized to perform well in new-gen consoles like the Xbox Series as well as on the Xbox One. It’s really rewarding to play the game and to see it run smoothly at over 60 FPS in 4K resolution on the Xbox Series X and good performance really makes the art in Echo Generation shine.
An example of how we have evolved the Cococucumber voxel style can be seen in the Worm Boss. We were inspired by Tremors and Dune to create our own rainbow-colored worm in Echo Generation. For organic shapes and monsters, modeling using pure voxels would result in a very noisy look, so we modeled it in Maya and textured the boss using pixels to keep the silhouette clean. So while a voxel purist may have created all of the assets using a voxel modeling software, we pushed the technique in a slightly different direction with this 3D pixel look.
Tools and Engine
Echo Generation is developed using Unity and C#, with some of our own custom tools built for voxel assets and optimization. The modeling is done using a blend of the voxel software Qubicle, Photoshop, and Maya. As for animation, the vision is to contrast the blocky voxel look with smooth 60 FPS animation instead of going the more traditional route of frame-by-frame voxel animation, which was too labor-intensive for production. We animated characters in Maya and applied simulation to some of the bosses to give it a little something extra.
For the gameplay in Echo Generation, we wanted to bring a little bit of the JRPG style and mash it with the active turn-based combat in Paper Mario. Players are kept on their toes with minigames so the battles are more intense. With the boss fights, we amped that up even more with a different camera angle, powerful music, and more damaging attacks for a bigger challenge.
Players can find new skills and attacks through Comic Books, and each skill has a unique ability and minigame to play. This keeps combat fresh and the progression more rewarding.
Balancing the game is something that everyone on the team was involved in and we tried to take into account different play styles. For example, if the player wanted to do a Skills-only build, it is technically possible to play through to the end, though doing so would make their life pretty hard. A key challenge for us was to design a JRPG that does not have too much grinding, which we hope makes for a more enjoyable gameplay experience.
Business Side of Things
For Echo Generation, we are fortunate to have investments and grants for production from the Canada Media Fund and Ontario Creates. This has allowed us to retain full control over our artistic vision for the game and IP, which is something that we value.
We are partnered with Microsoft to release Echo Generation exclusively on Xbox on launch and have only great things to say about how they have supported indie games such as ours through the ID@Xbox program. Echo Generation will be releasing on Xbox Game Pass on launch, which we are excited about since our fans from Riverbond will be able to play our next game in our Voxel Trilogy. We are also looking forward to all of the new players who will discover Echo Generation for the first time and hope that they will enjoy the game.
Echo Generation is a turn-based adventure game by Cococucumber, available on Xbox Series, Xbox One, PC, and Xbox Game Pass since October 21st. You can learn more here.
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