Never Alone developer interview: Jonathan Gregoire

Never Alone developer interview: Jonathan Gregoire

At PAX Australia 2014 Microsoft were demoing some of their upcoming ID@Xbox titles. The ID@Xbox programme allows independent developers to self-publish their games on the Xbox One platform.

I caught up with Jonathan Gregoire to chat about Upper One Games’ beautiful-looking indie title Never Alone, a game created in collaboration with the indigenous people of Alaska.

Never Alone developer interview: Jonathan Gregoire

Hello Jonathan. What’s your role in Never Alone?

I’m one of the game designers on this project.

Can you tell me what the game is about?

Yeah, sure. Never Alone is a 2.5D atmospheric puzzle platformer. If you think of a game like Limbo, Braid, Journey or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons– they give you a general sense of what this game is trying to accomplish and feel like.

But as far as what the story is about, it’s about this young girl and her pet fox who go out against a blizzard to try and figure out where it is coming from, as her people are starting to starve because they can’t hunt any more. The story actually comes from and old Iñupiaq legend that that they have been passing on for generations upon generations called Kunuuksaayuka which is, about a young person that goes out against a blizzard to save their people. That’s the overall narrative of this game.

Never Alone developer interview: Jonathan Gregoire

Never Alone is quite a different sort of game, because of its cultural significance, isn’t it?

Yes, absolutely. The origin of how this game came about was that the Iñupiats and the tribal council living up in Alaska – they are a collection of Inuits and Iñupiat and a bunch of other communities of indigenous people – realised that all their money was coming in from through the government. So they started venturing out and trying to build up coffee shops and a few other places to try and bring in some money. This way they could be self-reliant.

Another thing that they noticed was that they weren’t really connecting with their youth any more. Their children weren’t really learning the language they weren’t bothering to listen to stories anymore, because their kids didn’t really feel it was appropriate for them.

Never Alone developer interview: Jonathan Gregoire

They realised that their culture was dying. So they contacted our game studio and said, “Hey we want to make a video game about who we are as a people”.

Once we started talking to them we realised how serious they were and actually how interesting these stories they had were. So we started thinking about how all over the world there’s these people who still exist and they have these stories that are very stereotyped, very cartoonish and very characterised, but not really true to who those people are.

How did you ensure that Never Alone stayed true to the indigenous people’s original stories?

Well, we decided to work with them very, very closely to make a game that was 100% them. Whenever we put something in the game they could look at it and tell us no that doesn’t work, that it doesn’t feel like them as a people. And that happened multiple times as we works on this project. Where they had us re-write part of the script because it wasn’t going along with their cultural values.

It’s quite interesting. I’d imagine that this is a problem common across many indigenous communities all over the world. Have you thought about re-telling stories from other indigenous cultures?

We’ve been contacted by many different indigenous groups since we announced Never Alone and we started to show that we are making not only a game about this culture, but we are also making a really, really good game about this culture.

Never Alone developer interview: Jonathan Gregoire

The most important part here is we are not just making an education game, there’s educational elements and you can learn more about the Iñupiaq and the other indigenous Alaskan people- you can experience who they are, but at the same time it’s just a really, really good fun game.

So, yes, we’ve been getting lots of contact from all over the world with from people saying, “Hey, can you do this for us”.

There’s a lot of different stories being told so we are excited to see how much further we can go with this.

That’s great. So when does the game come out?

The game comes out on November 18th

Not long then.

Not long at all. It’ll be out on Xbox One, PS4 and PC via Steam.

Excellent. Best of luck with your game and thanks for taking the time out for a chat.

Check out Never Alone’s trailer below.