In the natural world you're not likely to see a wolf cub and fawn team up. But in the upcoming cooperative adventure Blanc, from developer Casus Ludi and Gearbox Publishing, the unexpected pairing are set to bring players together. First revealed during the Nintendo Direct Mini earlier this year, Blanc follows the journey of the young animals who both find themselves stranded in the snowy wilderness. With only each other to rely on, two players will take control of either the wolf cub or fawn and make use of their unique strengths to explore the landscape and find their families. When I first laid eyes on the trailer for the adventure, I was immediately drawn to its overall concept and adorable protagonists. In the days following its reveal, the positive reception it garnered from newfound fans proves I'm far from the only one.
As a project that began life at a game jam, the union of a cub and fawn captures the spirit of the kind of experience the team want to bring to players early next year. "We wanted to promote cooperation and empathy, what's better than two animals who are usually acting as predator and prey to make the point?" Founder and game designer Florent De Grissac explains. "Plus, as we wanted to have a peaceful and cute game, young animals were a good choice, and fawns and wolf cubs are both very different and very cute."
Taking on the role of a wolf cub and fawn who are brought together by their shared plight is an engaging concept for a co-operative experience. But Blanc's appeal also lies in its beautiful black-and-white hand drawn artstyle, which brings to life a snow-covered wilderness we'll get to explore as the unlikely duo. As Grissac explains, the initial inspiration for the game's distinctive style and its frigid setting began to take shape at a game jam during a spate of heavy snowfall in Quebec. "Part of the inspiration came from the theme of the game jam, 'perfect storm' which we twisted into, 'What story can we tell that starts just after a perfect storm?' The heavy snowfall that Quebec was experiencing at the time of the event was also very influential!"
"For this game jam, we composed a team with people that had experience working together, but we also invited friends that were new to this experience and curious about it. This led us to try something with a specific visual style, as we worked with Raphaël Beuchot, who is a cartoonist and illustrator," Grissac continues. "We knew that we would probably lean on Raphaël’s work for the visual style of the game. When you have a comic illustrator on your team, you want to take advantage of that! Then, as we were preparing for the game jam, Raphaël expressed that he would like to work in black and white, simply drawing with a pencil. Later, with the choice to go for a world covered in snow, we decided to embrace the black and white aesthetic."
The beautiful black-and-white world was hand-drawn on paper in 2D before coming to life in the 3D form we see in the debut trailer. From what I've seen so far, the absence of color really does lend itself perfectly to the cold environment, while also giving it a unique aesthetic as the animal protagonists stand out against the snowy backdrop. As the team began to develop the artstyle and world of Blanc at the game jam, other aspects of the concept came from certain challenges they set themselves and elements they wanted to experiment with, "like making a game for everyone" and a "story without antagonism and without text," according to Grissac.
As an adventure that follows the journey of two animals, the team decided to tell the story without using text. That means the only text we'll see in Blanc are the control tutorials. "We rely on visuals, animations, sounds, and music to communicate the story and the emotions, like in a silent movie," Grissac says. "And we chose to do so to have an experience that everyone can enjoy. Yet, the game is still influenced by our occidental culture, so we can only hope that the experience is as universal as possible."
While Grissac says it has been a challenge to create a narrative without using words, it was also a "very liberating" experience. By instead relying on visuals, animations, music, and sounds to convey emotions and the story, the team knew that all of these aspects would need to be very expressive so players could still follow and connect with the emotional journey Blanc is set to take us on. "For instance, the soundscape that was created by Louis Godart (music) and Pierre-Marie Blind (SFX) is adaptive, which allows the music and sounds to naturally react to the progression of our characters. We also worked on a story that could be told without words, hence the two animals as the main protagonists. All the situations and events had to be clear and understandable from the characters’ perspective and more importantly from the players’ perspective."
With the prospect of getting swept up in a beautiful snowy world as two different animals who have to rely on each other, Blanc could very well deliver one very memorable adventure. And with online and local co-op support, the developers at Casus Ludi hope players everywhere can experience it together on Switch and PC when it releases in February 2023. "What we enjoy about this co-op element of the game is to bring people together," Grissac says. "It is one of the main expectations we have about Blanc, to create an experience that enables people to play together, whatever their differences. We want parents and kids, grandkids and grandparents, lovers, friends, expert players and non-players to enjoy this journey together."