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Content Type: Gaming News
Date: January 30, 2023

EIP recently had the pleasure of interviewing Naraven Games, the studio that made the newly-released Backfirewall_. They are a women-led team based in Switzerland; after our review of Backfirewall_, we had quite a few questions for them regarding their tragicomedy game, and what their plans are now that it’s out.

EIP: The game takes place inside a smartphone, and we visit a lot of the phone’s different parts in the game. Was it difficult deciding on what parts would make it into the game?

Naraven: It was. We overscoped like crazy and had to cut some of the phone’s hardware components that we had originally planned to include (for example, the CPU, which looked like a beautiful cathedral). We had ten times too many ideas for our own good.

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EIP: Is there a part that you think is the most successful or effective?

Naraven: The speakers’ nightclub (throwing a silent disco because its sound system is busted) will always be my personal favorite.

EIP: Now that your first major game is done, what advice might you give other studios that are just starting out?

Naraven: Backfirewall_ is our second game; we previously developed and released a very tiny 30-minute game called Answer Knot that we made available for free on Steam. And that’s precisely the advice I’d give to anyone: make something short first. It gave us a preview of the entire pipeline of the game dev life, showed us how to handle our community (good and bad), and critically, it gave our studio the credibility to secure a publishing deal.

EIP: What advice would you give other women trying to succeed in what has historically been a male-dominated industry?

Naraven: I’ve (fortunately, but unfortunately, for answering this question) never personally experienced any bad treatment related to being a girl in the industry. I very much understand it is not the norm, and I’ve been very fortunate in the people I’ve worked with. I feel like we’re in a moment where there is so much help available for diverse teams in the form of funding and programs, and I would absolutely suggest aiming for those.

EIP: This game’s narrative is described as a tragicomedy. What was the inspiration for choosing this narrative style?

Naraven: I’m going to loosely quote Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) on that and say “if people are laughing they’re giving you their hearts a bit, and asking you to break it in some way”. Comedy is at the core of Naraven’s (and my) writing DNA, and tragedy is just the natural way of adding depth to it.

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EIP: Were there any personal or fictitious stories that you leaned on for ideas?

Naraven: I’d say Fleabag is the masterpiece of all tragicomedy. Aside from the genre itself, humoristic works like Calvin & Hobbes, Tomska’s youtube channel, everything Davey Wreden makes, and movies like Edgar Wrights’ are our main sources of inspiration.

EIP: The game’s characters are different programs, apps, and software. Some of them are used more than others by the “user” in the story. Is this discrepancy of usage representative of the team’s actual cell phones and how much they use certain apps?

Naraven: Not so much the dev team as phone users in general. Those characters are simply a portrayal of what it feels like to get out-of-fashion (especially apparent in the social media apps), or never being used in the first place and feeling like your life has no purpose. In the story, the one App that the user never opened once is the Health App (Fitness, on some phones), and it’s kind of a sardonic commentary of how young people are not doing enough exercise.

EIP: The studio said that its main inspiration for the story was the Pixar movie Toy Story. We’re curious what (if any) video games might have inspired the game?

Naraven: Game design wise, I’d say Magic Circle.

EIP: In one part of the game, the character must deal with the phone’s bureaucracy. It reminded me a lot of the beginning of the film, L’Auberge Espagnole. It’s a relatable part of the game because everyone has to go through similar things throughout their life. Did you run into any bureaucratic hurdles while making the game?

Naraven: This part is actually just one big reference to The Twelve Tasks of Asterix: “The place that sends you mad.” Which itself is a reference to France’s bureaucratic nightmares, I think.

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EIP: Will Naraven Games continue working on narrative-driven titles (it’s in the name, after all), or do you hope to branch out to different genres?

Naraven: As you very well noticed, we’re pretty bound to narrative titles forever. We for sure won’t branch out to anything non-narrative, but we’re going to take a break from first-person puzzle games – that’s for sure. Our next game is going to be horror!

EIP: We’re sure there were many, but what would you say was the biggest challenge during development?

Naraven: Remote work. The project was born during Covid and at first it was a blessing to be able to work despite the pandemic, but it quickly grew heavy on some of the team members’ shoulders. We’ve all been practically living on Discord for the past two and a half years.

EIP: Anything you’d like to share with our readers?

Naraven: Use your Health or Fitness App! The poor fellow might grow horribly lonely and start looking for a way out of your phone if you don’t. Also, it’s good for your health – literally.

You heard them, make sure you dust off that health app and touch some grass! In all seriousness, we can’t wait to see what this team has in store for their upcoming horror game. Thanks again to Naraven Games for answering our questions, and if you want to try out their first game before buying Backfirewall_, go play Answer Knot it’s free. Additionally, Backfirewall_ also has a demo, which we highly encourage you to check out.

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