Hadoque's Pelle Cahndlerby tells us how Ultros' peculiar narrative and premise came about

We caught up with the man behind the narrative of the upcoming psychedelic Metroidvania, to learn more about how this bizarre and creative game came to life.

Audio transcription

"Hello everyone and welcome back to Gamereactor.
Today we have a really exciting interview for you because I'm here with Pele from the developer Haddock who is currently almost ready to put their new title, their upcoming title, Ultros, into the hands of fans."

"Now it's going to be coming to PC, it's going to be coming to PlayStation consoles on February 13th and if you've seen anything about this game you'll know that it really stands out."

"It's quite an unusual looking game.
So with that being the case, Pele, tell us a little bit about Ultros.
Ever since its reveal, what's the fan reception been like?
Are people looking forward to jumping into this title?
Well, since the reveal we've had a lot of very happy and nice reactions, of course."

"I didn't know so many people were enthusiastic about Demon being delivered, but here we are.
And it's been a long journey, an interesting journey with a lot of nooks and crannies, colours, this adventure started many, many years ago and to be here today, so close to the actual birth, well, I'm excited."

"I think we're all excited.
I think you've touched a little bit about the kookiness of this game.
It's a metroidvania, but it's a very unique metroidvania in its premise."

"And we'll get to the art style and all that good stuff in a moment, but let's talk about the metroidvania side of things to start things off.
It's a genre that is quite popular these days."

"We've seen a lot of really impressive metroidvanias make their debut.
But what have you looked at from those other metroidvanias?
What have you taken from them as a product and think, this is how we can make Ultros even better."

"This is what we can do to elevate Ultros as a metroidvania title.
First of all, I think using the metroidvania skeleton is very integral for people to be able to explore the world in the way we intend them to."

"I think it gives players the best possibilities to reach out, look at everything, and become curious.
I think the formula of a metroidvania is the best suit for this."

"And then how we have twisted and turned things to get it to fit our palette, to get it to contain our mystery, so to speak.
Then we have also, of course, looked at some flair from, as you mentioned also earlier, roguelites."

"In the words of our game design director, Morten, we have sort of flirted with the roguelites.
It's not a roguelite, but we have taken the things that we think we could do something interesting with and presented it in a way that would help immerse you into our emotional state, what we want to give you."

"But a metroidvania it is, because that is what we feel is the best way of experiencing it.
Now Pelle, you're part of the narrative team."

"You're part of the writing core that has helped bring Ultros to life.
I am the narrative team.
You are the narrative team, there we go.
But how have you taken the approach of writing a narrative for Ultros?
Because we've seen it sometimes with other metroidvanias that there can be a little bit of a difficulty with balancing narrative and gameplay elements."

"So what have you done with Ultros to make it so that there's a really compelling, interesting story that you want to take fans on?
Difficult to write about a cosmic uterus floating in space with a demon inside and all the fruits of the galaxy."

"I don't know what you're talking about.
It's easy, right?
When you have basically a work of art in front of you, like I really think that you shouldn't like, you shouldn't say that it's just a work of art because you're also playing it."

"It should have nice, smooth mechanics.
You should feel compelled to play it, right?
You shouldn't just want to say, yeah, it was beautiful, but it played like, I don't know, a container in a ski slope."

"You should want to play it for different reasons.
And for me, it was important to look upon it as a work of art, but also as a game, of course.
And when you try to write a narrative for a game, people expect to understand things."

"People expect tutorials that are comprehensible.
People expect to, I don't know, look around and get orientation, right?
Well, you can forget about that."

"I think you should approach things when you write things, when you have something you want to do.
I think you first of all want to think about really hard, what do I want to present?
What do I want people to get out of this?
Do they have to understand everything?
And I mean, I have a love for David Lynch and his work."

"And if you have ever watched a movie or a series of his, how much did you really get?
But how much did you really feel when you watched it?
What did it make you think about?
What did it make you feel in the vibes, the moods, the colors, angles of things?
So writing a game is not like writing a book."

"Writing a game is not like writing most series or movies, right?
You have to think about that the player will make their own choices.
So your job is to help them, to help them be curious.
And when you get to a point, if you feel, yeah, I have a message that I really don't want them to miss here, then you have to see how can I get this across by using more words?
You know, some people really don't like words, right?
Some people don't read text."

"And then as a narrative designer, you look at the environment.
What can we tell with what is around us?
Is it the colors, the objects, the suggestiveness of how did you get into the room?
Does that tell you something?
So you have this palette, not only with colors, but also with tools."

"And sometimes, sadly enough as a writer, you have to take away a lot of what you have written.
It's not about adding stuff.
It's about cutting."

"But that also makes you a better writer because sometimes, like I'm doing right now, I could talk forever, right?
Is it for our pleasure or benefit?
I don't know."

"We'll see in the end.
But when you make it in a game, it's like you have always got to think about this has to land somewhere.
I know what I'm looking at when I look at the game, hopefully."

"But how will the people playing it look at it?
Who knows?
And you mentioned a moment ago there that, you know, there's certain different themes that you want to try and encourage the player to explore and sort of follow down."

"And some of the terms that have been thrown around for Ultros is mental health, life, death, and karmic cycles.
So how have you looked to sort of approach this theme with Ultros?
What can players sort of expect to experience in a narrative sense in these islands?
I think by playing the game, moving around in this environment, facing these alien shapes and combinations, I think it will make you think whether you like it or not."

"And as I have said many times before, what is wrong?
What reaction is really wrong in a player, in a spectator?
If I want to tell you something, if I want you to feel something, and you walk out after the play or the game and say, yeah, I'm really starting to think about all these things, then I can't run after you and say, up, up, up, up, up."

"That was wrong.
That was not what I wanted to say at all.
So the same thing here is if we want people to think about the environment or our relationship to nature, is the best way really to spell it out for them with neon signs, neon letters in the sky?
Or is it to present to them an environment where they can explore and see what happens when they interact with it?
So there are a lot of subjects that has been very important for us."

"But sometimes talking about the mystery also ends the mystery, right?
So I'm certain that people will feel things.
And whatever they feel, it will make me happy.
As a fellow terrestrial, as a writer, and as someone that also sees this world as something that we are experiencing together, we can't put ourselves beside things and think that nature has nothing to do with us, right?
We are nature."

"And you and I are also the same.
I mean, I look at you and I see connection.
I don't see, like, alienation, right?
So if I want you to feel something, maybe the best way for me to make you feel something is just to present you with something and see what happens."

"It might sound strange, but try it.
And we talked about it a moment ago that there are sort of roguelike elements in Ultros.
There's a sort of looping mechanic in play in certain situations as well."

"So how do you, as a writer, go about that?
Does a looping system, a roguelike system, does that put strains on you in the way that you want to convey narrative?
Or does that open new narrative threads in ways that you can explore storytelling?
Well, we like to see the loop as karmic cycles."

"So just as in life, you go through things and you learn something, right?
And then it's up to you if you want to break free from the things you think you have mislearned or things that you're ready to re-evaluate."

"You get experience.
And the looping system that we have, the things that we have learned from the roguelikes is the chance for you to elevate from your previous decisions and also to see how nature is reacting to what you have done with it, of course."

"So when you say loop, I think karmic cycles, if that makes sense.
Now let's move on then from the narrative a little bit because we've got to talk about it."

"The art style of Ultros is so unique and so different to many of the things, many of the games you'll ever see.
Obviously, you're part of the writing team.
You are the writing team, as we talked about earlier."

"But tell me, how did this art style come about?
Surely there's some crazy stories to how this art style was founded and the decision to came around to base Ultros around this sort of really psychedelic sort of style to it."

"Well, if you're asking me to talk about the evolution of El Cuervo of Niklas Åkerblad, I think that's another book.
But as long as we've known each other, he has had his very vibrant style, you know, influenced from so many things."

"And when presented, it kind of rubs all the colors of the universe in your eyes, right?
So as I was saying, when you know someone, when you work with someone that you have a close relationship to, of course, you get to know each other's cultural backgrounds, the styles, and your vibes, right?
And sometimes that's very good because you know all of a sudden like, okay, if I come with a suggestion, I know this is going to bounce off him in this way."

"Sometimes it's good to not know people to get a different vibe, to get something to work with a bit of resistance like, yeah, okay, now I have to think more, now I have to like get more into why I want to do these things."

"But in Niklas' art style with all the colors and all the symbolisms and everything, it was always going to be rich.
It could never be something like pedestrian or dull.
And when you work with something like that, you have to also be prepared for it will give you ideas, ideas you never thought you would have."

"So even if I as a writer had a certain plan of, okay, I want to infuse this with my poetry, my words, I think it will lift up really nicely.
And then all of a sudden you sit in front of this like, I don't know, all the fruits of space, and you're like, yeah, but how should I also elevate this?
What is the best approach to like go into this side of it?
And his inspiration, of course, also comes from that teamwork."

"Listening to the music of Oscar, he gets influences or he gets impulses from reading something that I wrote.
All of a sudden come and say, yeah, this line was beautiful.
I want to make somewhere where we can put this in the world so people can really read it or get into it."

"Or from the motions, from Morten's delicate mechanical system, the feel for the character.
It's like, yes, this I can use.
So you never know where it will come from, right?
And I think you just have to be open, stay open."

"And sometimes that's hard, I think, as a writer or an artist, because you have your vision.
But you have to also be prepared for getting invaded.
Be open and curious."

"It's not only for the players.
It's also for us as creators.
So the art style, where does it come from?
What part of his atoms did give birth to the colors or shapes, or where did these things come from?
Who knows?
I mean, Oscar had a lot of recording from Peru, from the jungles, with musicians down there."

"What came first?
Was it the egg or was it the sarcophagus?
Sometimes you just have to roll with it, I think, and see, okay, this is a direction we all like."

"Will it help us make this comprehensible?
No, never.
Will it help us give you emotions?
Should we say yes or no to that?
The answer is simple, right?
I want you to feel things."

"That's my biggest dream.
And, you know, you talked about it there, what came first, the egg or the sarcophagus.
But who ultimately came up with the idea of basing and setting Ultras inside of a giant cosmic uterus?
That is a very unique premise."

"Well, sometimes I'm starting to believe that it was the demon's decision, right?
Because it's with me when I sleep.
It's with me when I brush my teeth, when I'm sitting on the tram."

"It's beside me all the time.
But it's also about parallel universes where seeds were grown at the same time.
Me talking to Niklas many years ago about philosophical rantings or demons, Oscar learning about self-sustainability and having a whole year when he was growing things, talking to Niklas about it, or Niklas and Morten wanting to do stuff together after having gone to school together and wanting to explore things from another angle."

"All of a sudden, here we are.
And who could say what came first?
But we can say that everything has affected everything.
So, sorry."

"And, you know, this is a unique game in many ways, but it's also an original IP, right?
Ultras is the first game in, I don't want to say a series, but potentially a series."

"Have you put any thought into what's next for Ultras?
Is this a one-off experience or are you looking to potentially in the future expand it further with, you know, maybe a sequel, maybe a spin-off, anything, you know, just a different way to expand the lore that you've created with this title?
The most important thing is that I want it to be an experience."

"I want it to land with people.
I want people to look at this and feel something.
And I want also for myself to be able to land after this because, you know, I wouldn't say that you're in the grasps of the demon, but you also have to get some air between yourself and the sarcophagus when this is done, right?
And for me, writing stuff, moulding characters or creating worlds, it's perfect if you fall in love with them."

"I mean, is it possible not to fall in love with things you create?
Maybe, but it also gives you an opportunity to, like, expand your mind and you always have to know more than what you show to the players, right, or to the audience."

"It's like building a character or building a world.
You have all the answers. They have none.
And if this will lead to further works of art, further games, right now, really, I want it to lead to this work of art, this game."

"I have to have that before me because it's what I love right now.
It's what I breathe. I eat. I am a demon.
It's here. It's now. And will it lead to something?
Will it lead to a book? Will it lead to a song?
Who can tell? But the seed is there to do anything."

"And hopefully, first of all, the seed will grow into people's hearts as it arrives in February.
And now let's talk a little bit about the release that's coming up.
So, well, Ultros is going to make its debut, as we say, on PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 on February 13th."

"But a week before, there's actually going to be a demo of the game as part of the Steam Next Fest.
So I would assume that a large proportion of players are going to get an early taste of Ultros before it even technically launches."

"So with people getting into Ultros soon, what's something that you, you know, what's a tip that you would give players who are just beginning their journey in this really surreal psychedelic adventure?
Open your minds and enjoy."

"If you haven't seen all these colors before, be prepared to be amazed and just be open.
I mean, sometimes, you know, people play a certain style of games or they're just into one genre or something."

"So I would just, like, compel them to be curious.
Look upon this as something you have never seen before and treat it as something like someone wants to give you something, an experience to widen, to broaden your horizons."

"I mean, if you like Metroidvanias, of course, let that be your path into this.
If you like psychedelic stuff, I mean, who knows?
Get into this through that hole.
Or if you just want to, yeah, think of it, use parts of your brains that have perhaps been dormant for a long time instead of going on a hike in the mountains."

"Take a hike into our game.
Open your mind, free your mind.
Embrace the cosmic psychedelic reality that is Ultros.
In the words of En Vogue, free your mind and the rest will follow."

"Exactly. Fantastic.
But that is a really interesting way to frame it because Ultros is a game that, again, it's psychedelic, it's unusual, it's completely unique in a whole manner of different ways of speaking."

"So you can all check it out soon.
There's going to be a demo probably around the same time that you actually get the chance to watch this interview itself.
And then Ultros itself will make its debut on PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 consoles on February 13."

"So a lot to look forward to.
Maybe, as we talked about a moment ago, it will sow the seeds of future projects.
Maybe this will be a one-off experience."

"Who knows? Stay tuned.
Until then, though, Pelle, thank you for joining me today and telling me more about the game.
I'm looking forward to playing it."

"I'm sure everyone else is looking forward to playing it as well.
And until then, thank you for watching the latest Game Retro interview.
Take care, everyone."





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