Haven, the next game from French developer The Game Bakers, caught our eye the moment it was announced. We enjoyed Furi, the team's previous title, quite a bit, but Haven is a curious departure from driving beats and sweat-inducing action. As such, we wanted to know more — and so we set out to ask creative director Emeric Thoa some questions about Haven and the inspirations behind it.
Push Square: For starters, can you tell us what kind of game Haven is?
Emeric Thoa: Haven is an adventure RPG where you play a young couple in love who had to escape to a mysterious and deserted planet to stay together. When I want to pitch the game quickly I often say that it’s a bit like “Journey meets Persona”, because it has a chill “gliding together” gameplay for exploring the planet, and a story driven gameplay with a modern touch, a bit like Persona games.
But of course, Haven ends up being a unique game of its own.
There aren't many games that attempt to tell a romantic story — but the relationship between the two main characters in Haven seems so important. Why did you want to tell a romantic story?
Like you said... Because there is none. I’m a sucker for romcoms, and I’m also a sucker for JRPGs. But 99 per cent of the time, these stories lack maturity. It’s a boy-meets-girl story where they end up kissing, at best. I was really interested to look at what is a relationship, what is love after the first weeks or months. And how I could put that concept at the center of the gameplay.
Do you think games in general could do a better job at portraying love and romance?
I absolutely do. I think that because we grew up with games “made for kids”, we got used to a very naive way of portraying romance in games. Especially with Japanese games, there is very often a sexy representation of the characters, but these visually adult characters behave like kids when it comes to love.
They look in their 20s but it feels like it’s the first time they ever have feelings or flirt with someone, like if they were 14. The game Catherine was interesting though. I’d love to see that kind of maturity in a JRPG.
Haven has a turn based battle system. Did you take inspiration from any specific RPGs?
Well, I understand why you say that, but I really don’t see it as turn based. Time is never stopped, and timing and reflex can be very important in combat, depending on the fight. I see it more like a rhythm game, where you synchronise inputs to trigger your orders.
But there was an inspiration indeed: the original Phantasy Star games (1 to 4). I wanted to go back to a very simple combat system, where you don’t have tons of weapons, spells, items, targets... In these games, you mostly manage your HP, potions, basic attack and three to four spells. In some versions you don’t even choose which enemy you target.
What I liked in that was the relaxing feeling. It’s not very deep, but also not intellectually exhausting. That’s why I wanted that “rhythm game feeling” input-wise, so that it feels pleasant and a bit action-y.
Can you tell us anything else about the inspiration behind Haven?
I actually did a picture that summarises the inspirations:
I already mentioned Persona, Journey, Phantasy Star, Catherine... So let me add a weird one in the mix: the first Toe Jam & Earl. It’s a very interesting game as it’s for me the first roguelite game without actual combat. It’s a solo or coop game where you explore a planet, find stuff, it’s full of surprises, it’s fun, it’s got super cool funk music. I think I missed that kind of recipe and wanted to try my own.
Also, out of the video game references, Romeo and Juliet of course. I also pitch Haven as “Romeo and Juliet but instead of dying they escaped in space”.
Has the coronavirus pandemic had an impact on Haven's development? Do you have any development stories you can share?
Unfortunately, like probably everyone on the planet, it had an impact. We were lucky to be able to keep working, as we were already set up for remote work. But our partners were not. So, for instance, the voice recording became a bit complex! The actors had to turn their home into a recording studio to finish the huge amount of recording the game has (contrarily to a game like Persona, we dubbed all the dialogues of the game in English). It was a lot of work to make up for the quality difference, but it ended up unnoticeable!
It's been over four years since your previous game, Furi, was released. Did you ever think about making a sequel or a similar kind of action game, or did you always want to try something new?
We always wanted to make something new. We knew we wouldn’t make a sequel to Furi, but we thought about making another action game for a while. But Furi was as exhausting to make as it is to play. So we needed a break after such a game, and Haven was that break.
It’s a bit wild to do such a stretch, it took courage to say to our fan base: that’s our new game. But judging by Furi’s players’ reception, they did see that it shares a common DNA.
Much like Furi, Haven has a distinct and colourful visual style. Was it difficult to create such a unique looking game?
It’s always a struggle to stay unique. But there’s a strong opinion at The Game Bakers that we want to stay stylised, simple (textures, materials), and super colourful. It’s there since our first game, Squids. We want to take the player to a different world that shines.
You've teamed up with electronic musician Danger for Haven's soundtrack — Furi also featured a number of existing artists, and the result was, in our opinion, an amazing musical score. Are you aiming for similar heights with Haven? (We already have the track '4:42 Still Free' on our Spotify playlist!)
We had already worked with Danger on Furi, and after Furi he released a new album called Taiko 太 鼓 that was really inspiring while making Haven. We share a lot of common values with Danger and I knew it would be a perfect fit for this game. The end result is fantastic, it sounds like an album but has a lot of variety. It’s organised as the moment of a full day, with the different moods you can feel.
Lastly, if you had to sum Haven up with a single word, what would it be?
Ha ha, that kind of impossible question... I’d go for “intime” in French. It means “intimate”, but in French it doesn’t necessarily relate to sexuality. It means “something deeply personal”.
Huge thanks to Emeric Thoa for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to Cheryl Wassenaar for making this interview possible.
Haven releases on PS4 later this year. It's also coming to PS5. Are you looking forward to it? Feel the love and glide into the comments section below.