Creaks is out on PlayStation 4 today and it's the best indie title of 2020 so far. If you happened to miss the recent Push Square review, in which we awarded the latest game from Amanita Design a 9/10, we recommend you double back and check it out first. Last week, we said: "With a stunning art style to boot as well as a narrative which reveals itself in all the right ways, Creaks offers an unforgettable ride that can be considered truly special."
If you're interested in this special 2D puzzling experience, this interview serves as the perfect introduction before you start your own playthrough. We caught up with lead designer and artist Radim Jurda to discuss its eight-year development, the story behind its art style, and what's hidden underneath the protagonist's bedroom.
For those who missed the announcement of Creaks, could you please introduce the game? What sort of title is it?
Radim Jurda: Creaks is a puzzle adventure game set in a mysterious hand-drawn world. You control a young man who discovers a secret world full of puzzles right under his room, and he’s about to explore it. The setting of Creaks is a strange and a bit surreal place, but the puzzles are logic-based, and some of them can be really challenging, even though the rules are simple. Our goal was to create a story-driven atmospheric puzzle game in an original setting, rich in visuals and audio.
For us, at least, the aspect which immediately jumps out to us is the art style of Creaks. What was the inspiration behind it?
The art style of Creaks doesn’t have a direct inspiration but is influenced by the things we like. We grew up surrounded by traditional Czech animation and illustration, both as kids and during studies. This book illustration aesthetic is something we love. It also seems to remind people of Tim Burton movies, Edward Gorey books, or Amanita’s previous game Machinarium, and we like all these things. Also, pen drawing is my favorite technique and combined with watercolor, it seemed to be a good fit for the theme of our project, so I wanted to see it in the game.
What sort of mechanics will puzzles consist of?
Imagine you are in a dark room and see a strange lurking creature in the corner, you get a bit scared, but once you turn the light on, you realize its a just a coat sand with some clothes on it or some other harmless piece of furniture. That’s where the main idea for Creaks comes from. In our game, though, these imaginary dark creatures do come to life and can even kill the hero if he gets too close. We call these shape-shifting creatures “creaks.” There’s a bunch of different creaks, and each of them has a different set of behavior. You need to use both of their forms to your advantage, along with various trapdoors, levers, and, most importantly, light sources to get them where you need them to pass the level and continue in your adventure.
It was mentioned that Creaks has been in development for eight years. How has the concept evolved in that time? Have you managed to achieve that initial vision or has the game and what the team feels is possible grown with time?
We spent a long time preparing the vision and framework of the entire game. During the first two years, we were working on core game functionality and puzzle prototypes to see if the game plays well, as well as developing the world and narrative. From the beginning, we wanted the game’s story to be easily understandable for anybody, telling the entire story through animation instead of using a language. To test this, we created a massive 1000 pictures long storyboard. We decided to split the mansion into several parts - each of these parts would introduce a new creak and focus on one of the avian characters. We held onto this framework and storyboard for the entire development while creating specific puzzles, animations, graphics, sounds, and music.
Also, as we were creating the game pretty much chronologically from the intro start to the ending, I believe it gets better and better as you play, as our team got more and more experienced throughout the development.
Can you explain the importance of the interactive paintings? What was the thought process behind them?
The paintings and interactive paintings have multiple roles in the game. They are metaphorical windows into sceneries outside of the underground mansion that shows us bits of history and mythology of its inhabitants. These paintings also offer the player a bit of relief, a break from the head-scratching puzzles.
In the beginning, there was just a set of oil sketches. We thought that these would make for great collectibles. At this point, the paintings were lacking interaction in comparison to the rest of the game, so we needed to come up with an idea to turn them into music boxes.
Later, during one of our meetings, we decided to try and make our paintings even more interactive, something to play with, more like toys. We wanted to maintain the mechanical feel of an old toy. The design of each of these mini-games was adjusted accordingly, not to break the illusion. We also wanted to sort of make fun of ourselves and different game genres. We turned these interactive paintings into something like you could describe as ancient arcade boxes - we have an endless runner here, a shooting game there, or a rhythm-based dancing game.
What’s happening underneath the hero’s room?
That’s for the players to find out! With a hefty dose of curiosity and a bit of clumsiness, our hero discovers a secret door and finds himself in a vast cave world with a towering mansion in it. With no other way to go, he descends the ladder, and the house itself navigates him deeper and deeper. At first, he is just lost but slowly becomes involved with the story of its avian inhabitants and becomes a key piece in solving their “little” problem.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of Push Square? Why should they be excited about Creaks?
A substantial part of the mood and atmosphere is the sound design. Our sound wizard Matouš Godík created lots of creaking sounds to live up to the game’s title. One of the challenges was to develop the “voices” for different creaks; for example, the dog’s barking was made using a cello. The music was composed and recorded by the brilliant Brighton-based composer Joe Acheson AKA Hidden Orchestra. As the game introduces new mechanics and the mansion’s various districts, his music reflects that - adding new instruments to great variety from pianos, zithers, synthesizers, to saws and egg-slicers. The soundtrack is adaptive - it changes based on what’s going on in the game, guides you through the puzzles, and rewards you for their completion.
I believe Creaks can be an immersive experience with a strong atmosphere. The world of Creaks is gloomy and has many dark corners, but it’s quite whimsical, too - we like to mix a dark atmosphere with soft humor. We approached each puzzle with extra care to always be able to introduce a new idea, and we hope you will enjoy exploring this universe we created and cracking and creaking its puzzles and mysteries!
We would like to thank Radim Jurda for taking the time to answer our questions and Lukas Kunce for making this interview possible. Creaks is out today on PS4. Will you be buying this excellent 2D puzzler? Crack the solution in the comments below.