Lost in Random was one of the game announcements made during EA Play last week, and following its big reveal, EA invited GR to talk with Klaus Lyngeled (creative director) and Olov Redmalm (game director) from Zoink Games to find out more about one of the next titles to launch under the EA Originals label. With striking visuals and an emphasis on dice-rolling action and adventure, there was lots to unpack during our Zoom-interview, so we'll keep the pre-amble to a minimum and dive straight into the Q&A:
For those who didn't see the game unveiled during EA Play, can you tell us what Lost in Random is all about?
Klaus: It's a dark fairytale. It's a story about a girl called Even who lives in a world where the world is kind of strange because everyone is forced to pick up this big black dice when they're twelve years old, and they have to throw the dice and the dice basically decides on who you are, who you have to be, and where you have to live in this strange fairytale. She has a big sister who actually picks this dice up, at twelve-years-old, and throws the dice, and that sends things in motion where she kind of loses her sister and she's very devastated about that. Then she starts a journey to try to find her sister, basically, and on the way, she finds her own little dice, which we call Dicey - the little character you've seen in the trailer - and this one, she finds out she can use this dice to go into these battles, which are kind of like strange, giant board games. So it's a mixture of adventure and action mashed together with a bit of light RPG. What do you think, Olov, did I pitch it well?
Olov: Yeah, pretty well. And also, yeah, this board games aesthetic, and like card games and dice games, everything, it runs through the design and art for the whole game. So each area - there are six different wards or districts of Random, one for each side of a six-sided die - and every area has its own distinct theme and kind of gimmick or weird system put into place by this dark power. So for instance in Two Town, whenever this evil dice is rolled, that decides what personality - there are two personalities to each person in Two Town - and everyone has to swap every time this dice rolls, every day. There's also even this mirrored version of this town being built upside down because there are two mayors with differing opinions. There's also, for instance, Three Town, where there are three triplets - the Baroness, the Duke, and the Count - who are warring with each other over some dispute that you learn more about. And there are these giant warrior colossi that are also commandeered by the roll of this dark dice, every day. So that was all these weird systems put into place in each district and Even finds that she can affect these systems with Dicey, who is this crazy jack-in-a-box of power.
What was it about dice and random luck that inspired you? Was it an affinity with board games or are you making a more subtle point?
Klaus: It started out with us just wanting to explore what we are inspired by, like fairytales, like The Brothers Grimm fairytales for instance, or Alice in Wonderland, and all these stop motion claymation movies that we love and just drawing what we love together with our art director, Victor Becker. And we just kept exploring this world. And we're also inspired by Shaun Tan, for instance, an Australian artist who draws these beautiful late-afternoon paintings, long shadows and very imaginative. And we always wanted to be about a girl exploring this dark fairytale, and it wasn't until someone painted a dice together with the girl that things really were set in motion and we started asking ourselves, like it was an explanation for ourselves too like, what does it mean to have a world revolve around a dice, both gameplay-wise and story-wise? So it very much revolves around these two dice, and the history about why there are no other dice left besides these two.
Olov: And as you said, what is randomness in-game and what's good about randomness in a game, and what's not good about it, and how can you use that? Like you say, board games rely a lot on randomness and it's a really cool way to get gameplay interesting. We're trying to apply that into video games. There's obviously a lot of randomness already in any kind of game today, but it's just acknowledging it and also using it as a theme for the whole story. And also exploring in the story and in the gameplay itself, if you have randomness how do you deal with it in life and in gameplay, how do you roll with the punches and make the best of a situation?
You've mentioned some sources of inspiration already, but what was it that really started you on the path to where you are now?
Klaus: I mean obviously I've always been a big fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, as you can see. And you know we've done quite a lot of indie games before, like Stick it to the Man! and Flipping Death, and Fe was our first game that was really 3D. And I know that 3D is really, as a developer, if I wanted to make a triple-A game, or something that felt triple-A, if I can make something look realistic, why would I make it look like realistic humans, you know? Why can't we make it look realistic like it's actually a miniature set. I think that's where I dived into it. Like, if I can actually make it look like a real miniature set, I thought that was really cool. And before that, we'd just done Ghost Giant, which Olov was game director on, and Ghost Giant is also like you're stuck in a puppet set, in a way, but it's in VR. But we already had that thought in our head and I think we all really like that kinda... I like to do a lot of things in Sculpey and clay and build things for real when I'm not at a computer, and Olov is the same, and we all think it's really fun. So we kind of wanted to imitate that in a way in our game. We even tried to put in thumbnails in some of the buildings and stuff like that.
How do the game's diverse cast of fairytale-inspired characters coexist in the world that you've built?
Olov: We kind of went crazy and we had a lot of freedom working with fun designs first, then figured out the story, and we wanted to give a sense that this is a fairytale where all these weird kinds of forgotten (maybe?) fairytale creatures that used to have this fable around them, but now they're just regular citizens in this oppressed kingdom. Again, Victor Becker our art director did most of the sketches for these creatures and we pushed each other to keep exploring those weird designs. And some of them you'll immerse yourself more into their background stories. Like there's this huge old frog which has been in hiding for a long time; what she's up to has been forbidden by this evil force in the kingdom.
Klaus: We like stuff like, for example, Over the Garden Wall. Do you know that TV series? If not, you should really watch it. It's amazing. We just really like the fable idea, that you can mix things, with humans and weird creatures living together in the same world. I guess it's quite Star Wars in a way, just the idea that they have different languages maybe - we actually have a couple of different languages in the game that the different creatures speak, and with normal English. But it's just nice to mix those together and just let it be like: that's how it is, this is the way it ended, you know?
Olov: We also have a pretty fun system that randomises little phrases into this gibberish language and it becomes quite organic... well, for some of the NPCs. There are a lot of fully-voiced characters with English, so there's a mix, much like Star Wars.
When recapping the game's various elements I mentioned puzzle-platforming, although I was quickly corrected as this is not a focus at all.
Klaus: We're waiting a little bit to tell exactly what the gameplay is, but it's kind of like light RPG exploration mixed with battles, basically. And the action part of the game, when you end up in the battles, we're doing something quite unique where you can throw the dice and it turns into a sort of board game thing, and it becomes a bit of a tactics game in how you play the battles, and it goes back to this whole action that is like a board game where you take turns.
Olov: A big part of it is live-action combat so it's like this dance between tactics and full-on-crazy and everything's blowing up and you have to roll with the punches.
How much luck do you bring into the combat, seeing as we're talking about a six-sided dice here?
Klaus: It's fully working as a dice - just like in a board game you really have to act on what kind of roll you get and react to that, basically.
Olov: It was fun to play with, rather than the player rolling the dice for the character, the character has the dice in the universe and rolls it. It feels like an organic, nice new take on tactical gameplay.
So is this purely a solo adventure or is there any co-op element?
Klaus: It's purely solo, yeah.
And when will we be able to play and on which platforms will you release the game?
Klaus: So we confirmed PS4, Xbox One, PC Origin and Steam, of course, and Switch. So those are the confirmed ones. And right now we're just saying "next year" because we're still in development. We're going to narrow it down a bit later, the exact release date.
Is there anything noteworthy that we've missed?
Klaus: The main thing to take away is that it's not a puzzle-platformer. There might be a few small puzzles here and there, but the focus is really on battles; board game-inspired battles. We're definitely going to talk more later about how exactly that works; it's a really unique system and I'm going to be really happy to explain everything. It's a really cool system. I can promise you that you haven't seen this before.
Consider us intrigued...