"It’s an adventure game with some platforming about a college dropout who comes home to her dead-end town to try to figure out what to do with her life and it doesn’t go very well," animator Scott Benson said when asked to give an elevator pitch for the upcoming adventure game Night in the Woods.
The character design is one of the most striking aspect of the game, as the town you explore is filled with cleverly animated anthropomorphic animals. That wasn’t an accident.
"We had originally started prototyping a game that was kind of a standard thing you would expect from a small indie developer," Benson said. "It was a humanoid woman alone in the woods, very solitary, very haunting type of thing. And then we were like screw it, let’s do something where there are lots of friends around and it’s a big town and it’s more about people rubbing against each other, not literally… but sometimes literally."
"I think working with animal characters, which is something I’ve done in animation work for years, you can identify with it a bit better. If we had made Mae a really specific person with a specific ethnicity and weight, and all this different stuff…" he trailed off for a moment.
"I think a lot of people can see themselves in Mae. If we were hyper-specific with our humanoid characters, it becomes more and more exclusive," he explained. "There is something really inclusive about more abstracted humans "
"When people draw fan art of Mae, everyone makes her look different. They make her look like themselves. That’s exactly what we want."
It’s an interesting way to approach a character in a game that does a good job of handling feelings of regret, longing and adding a good amount of humor. Night in the Woods isn’t a nostalgia piece though, and it’s not meant to be a downer.
"People die, things change, you have to laugh. You have to go with it. There’s no shame in these things happening and hard times. You have to make a joke and go get donuts with your friends," Benson said. "You have to find a way to get through, and imbue it with meaning."
"The beautiful thing with life in general is we have all this space to fill, and when we realize there is almost so much space left, you become more aware of what you’re filling that space with," he continued. "I guess that’s a lot of the underpinnings of the game, what are you going to do with the time you have left?"