EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Gregg Creator Yann Berthier

In many games, you’re a good person. You’re the superhero stopping the supervillian; you’re the human solider saving the Earth from invading aliens; you’re the cop fighting crime on the mean streets. But in the game Gregg — which Namco Bandai have released for both iOS and Android devices — you’re not the good guy, but an outside force trying to protect the good guy. Or the good bird as the case may be. Though as its creator, Play Fripp’s Yann Berthier, would like to point out, this isn’t like that other bird game you might know.

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I always like to start at the beginning: What is Gregg and how do you play it?

A year ago, I had just finished working on my previous game, Wacoon Jump. It was a kind of old-school heroic platformer, and I really wanted to make a game that would be very different from that one. I started to write down some ideas about my next project, and what came out was the opposite of the kind of games I had made before. It would be a game where you are not a hero, not the guy in charge. A game where you fight against danger because you feel guilty about a mistake you made, and where you do the best you can to influence events you do not truly control.

The result is a puzzle game were you mostly play as a platform. The rules are simple: A sleepwalking chicken continuously walks towards danger, and you have to create a safe path for him. Each level is an enigma you have to solve. You can use different objects — such as boxes, magic dice, geysers, and so on — along with Gregg’s head, to help the bird avoid pitfalls and the deadly collapsing planks. To move Gregg, you just swipe your finger across the screen and he will follow it.

What were some of the games that inspired Gregg?

To be honest, I don’t know. I played so many different games in the last twenty years that I can’t tell which ones have been a source of inspiration.

The funny thing is that since Gregg’s release, a lot of people who wrote about it said it was clearly inspired by the Lemmings games. I never thought about it, but it might be an unconscious influence because I totally agree with them. I pulled out my old NES cartridge to play the game again, and I think the players were right. Gregg has a lot of ideas that come from that classic game.

What about the art style, what were some of the inspirations for the game’s visuals?

I am a big fan of the monsters from Studio Ghibli. They look beautiful and are easy to recognize. There is a precision in the shapes that makes their animation feel unique. I don’t have the talent of Ghibli’s artists, but I try to be as close as possible to the feeling I get from their drawings.

Aside from that, I generally create characters who do not have too many different parts, because it makes the animation way more complicated. I’m working alone on my games, so I need to be as efficient as possible with the small amount of time I have.

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Some have compared the game to Angry Birds. Do you think this is a fair comparison?

No, not really. I think that the graphic style is close to it, but that’s the only thing they have in common. Oh and yes, there are birds in Gregg. Ever since 2009, you just can’t have colored birds in a mobile game without being classified as an Angry Birds-like game. But then, there was a time when all shooters were called Doom-like and we now all just call them first-person shooters.

So what games do you think would be better games to compare it to and why?

As I said before, I think that Lemmings has the same approach. There is also a Mario Vs Donkey Kong game on Nintendo DS that I played a few weeks ago where you have to create paths for little Mario-bots. It’s really close to my game, but doesn’t include the same platform mechanics that Gregg has.

In the game, the objective is to save some birds who are sleepwalking. Why sleepwalking birds instead of birds who were just, say, late to work or determined to get somewhere on time?

That’s a good idea! I should have talked with you before I chose this stupid plot.

The truth is that I have a friend who is a sleepwalker. And when he wakes up, there are always bruises on his legs. For years, it makes me laugh whenever I think of him walking in the dark without worrying about the unavoidable aching doom ahead.

The game is decidedly aimed at an all-ages audience. Why did you decide to make something family friendly as opposed to something just for adults or just for kids or just for 45-year-old Metallica fans who quote The Simpsons incessantly?

My previous game was really aimed at retro-platforming lovers, and I feel like it worked. But I saw that some young people were not interested in this, and they just skipped it because they thought it was not a game for them. It was quite sad for me to see that.

For Gregg, the all-ages target was a core concept because I really wanted to see a whole family play and then share their feelings about the game. I think that a game can really add a link between different generations, with different cultures and points of view. Ultimately, it’s just about having fun together and escaping reality for a couple of hours.

Devices

Gregg is available for both smart phones and tablets, and for both iOS and Android devices. Are there any differences between them?

The iOS and Android players will have almost the same experience. The only difference is that the iOS version includes iCloud’s automatic synchronization which is, I think, a super cool feature.

Gregg seems like it would do well on Facebook. Are there any plans to do a Facebook version?

Right now, Namco Bandai and I are concentrating on the next steps for the mobile versions of Gregg. We want to give as much as possible to our current players. But Facebook is one of the things we’re looking at, though there are no plans at the moment.

What about a version for consoles or PCs? Do you even think this game would, ahem, fly on those systems?

We have no plans for consoles at this time. Gregg needs a sort of pointer to be playable, and a gamepad isn’t adapted to this because we need to be able to pinch Gregg away in some levels.

But the game would work well with a mouse.

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Last but not least, clearly this game is only being made for people named Gregg. Is there a reason you didn’t go with a more common name, like John or Jennifer or, and call me crazy, Greg with one “G”?

Yes, it’s made only for them. I should have named it Yann like myself. Maybe, that’s why I’m so inefficient when I play my game. Though I’m always bad when I play games. Maybe someday I’ll make one I can play.

 

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