HomeTheXboxHub FeaturesOpinionsAn interview within an interview with Hanford Lemoore, maker...

An interview within an interview with Hanford Lemoore, maker of Maquette

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If you’ve been refreshing the Recently Added tab of Game Pass, you will have seen a game called Maquette. From developers Graceful Decay and publishers Annapurna Interactive, Maquette is made for the service. It’s a short slice of intense story and puzzling built on a rather fabulous idea: what if you had access to a smaller version of where you are, right now, and anything you did to that smaller version happened in the larger version – and vice versa.

It’s a bit of a clever clogs. So, when we were given the opportunity to meet the Smart Alec behind it all, well, we jumped at the chance. 

maquette keyart
The keyart for Maquette

Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on Maquette?

I’m Hanford Lemoore, the director of Maquette and the founder of Graceful Decay. Maquette was my “baby” and I led the team of people who helped bring it to life.

Could you give us a quick overview of the game?

Maquette is a first person puzzle game set inside of a recursive world – that is, a world that is nested inside of itself. Imagine being in a normal-sized  world, and in the center of that world is a smaller model version of the world, and whatever you do in one world, happens in the other.  As you play the game, you follow along with an unfolding love story between our two characters, Kenize and Michael.

But also, because there’s a small world inside of the normal sized world, it also means there’s a larger world outside of the normal sized one. And an even larger world outside of that. The game will take you quite a bit beyond just the normal and small scales.

Maquette’s journey to Xbox is a reasonably winding one, having first come out on PC and PlayStation in 2021. What is the story behind the slightly later arrival on Xbox? And are there any differences between this release and the one that came out on the other systems?

There’s no one answer to this, but a big factor was we did the Xbox and Switch port at the same time, using the same studio. The Switch version was not an easy port to do, and the work between them was marginally intertwined, so the entire process took longer.  

But another big factor is Game Pass timing. In that case we’re not just dealing with our schedule, but with Microsoft’s as well and when they want it. Release schedules are always a balancing act with a dozen different factors to consider.

maquette gardens
Maquette looks rather delightful

You’re also making the most of Game Pass with the Xbox release. Was that always the plan?

For us, it wasn’t a plan as much as a hope! 

Maquette’s publisher Annapurna Interactive were the ones who arranged that. But I’m a huge Xbox guy and have had Game Pass for years and I’d scroll through and see other Annapurna titles, some by friends of mine, and I’d feel so envious. I’m really excited Maquette’s coming to Game Pass.

The recursive puzzle design looks absolutely brilliant. Where does the idea for that come from? Was there a particular moment when it snapped into place?

I had thought about the “world within itself” idea for a long time, but it wasn’t until I started playing with physics engines that I really took the idea seriously. I wanted to see if I could take the chaotic, complex movement of an object and copy it to another. Like, when we go bowling and we knock pins over, no two pins fall the same way, so I wanted to see if I could copy the unique movement of one pin over onto another.

Seeing two objects fall the exact same way got me thinking about the idea again and within a weekend I had a demo of it working.

The recursive puzzles look like a nightmare to code. Were there moments that you thought, no, it can’t be done?

Yes, ha. It starts simple enough, but as you get into it, it gets pretty complicated.

No spoilers here, but the final level of the game was a thing that for many years I thought was just impossible to program. Once I decided to tackle it, it took me an entire year of thought in my spare time to figure out how it would work and come up with a strategy to program it.  

Another thing a lot of people overlook is recursive audio. It’s easy to scale a 3d object larger or smaller, but the same can’t be said for audio. And when an elevator whirs, or when an object you drop bangs on the ground, there’s also smaller and larger versions of those things making completely different sounds in different parts of the world.  You can actually start an elevator moving in the normal sized world and then run over to the small version and hear it whir. It’s a fun detail.

When it comes to the sounds of things dropping, we actually calculate the speed of sound so there’s a realistic delay, and if you listen closely you can hear really large objects booming in the distance if you’re standing in the right spot.

So there’s a whole lot of little details like that, things we had to take care of, and it’s much more than just scaling the world up and down.

maquette puzzles
And then the puzzles hit…

From the trailers, it looks like you are leaving the player a huge amount of room to tinker and try ideas out. How do you stop them from reaching places you’d rather they didn’t reach? How do you effectively hem them in?

Walls. LOL.  

Actually that’s not that far off the mark. It’s just a lot of trial and error in the design of the geometry, and a lot of playtesting and re-adjusting objects in the world. This is one of those games where almost every piece of geometry, even stuff that seemingly has no function other than to look pretty, was designed with very rigid specifications, because tall spires and roofs become accessible in the small version of the world, and are oftentimes key to a solution.

When working with our concept artist Eddie Hinestroza, we’d often brainstorm how to take functional geometry, like a slope with a very specific angle and groove in it, and dress it up so it looks like a building with a normal roof. Stuff like that.

We want to give players a lot of freedom but also steer them towards our intended solution, but whenever I see someone solve the puzzle in a different way, it always makes me happy. To me that’s not cheesing the solution, but instead really thinking beyond what we even imagined, and so that always makes me smile.

How do you manage the difficulty of a game like Maquette? It could easily get so mind-bending that people get stuck. How do you find the sweet-spot?

Well every puzzle is about teaching the player the unexpected consequences of the recursion mechanic. So we start with the most simple one: an object too big to pick up in one scale of the world can be picked up in the smaller one. Then we teach them the second rule: moving an object from one size world to another and dropping it will allow you to go back to the original world and access it at a different size.

And so what we try to do with the puzzles in Maquette is have each puzzle build on the knowledge of the previous puzzles, but in non-obvious ways. I decided to err on the side of making the puzzles harder, rather than giving out softball puzzles. The art team helped a lot in giving subtle hints within the world, whether it was scratches in a wall, or plants growing out of cracks, to give players confirmation that they might be on the right track; while at the same time not making those details just give you the solution outright.

maquette forest
The mindbending Maquette

It’s not clear from trailers how the two layers of Maquette – the recursive puzzling and the tale of two lovers – integrate together. How does one compliment the other?

The spoiler-free answer is that it’s part of the mystery of the game. When you start playing, you might feel there’s a disconnect between what you’re doing in the game, and what you’re experiencing story-wise. But as you play through it, you’ll start to draw the parallels. It’s definitely not a one-to-one connection, it’s more indirect, and I love that everyone has a slightly different interpretation, or different takeaways, from the puzzles.

The two main characters are voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel, which is quite the coup! How did they get involved? They’re married in real life, aren’t they, so was it a case of once you get one, you might get the other?

This is one where having your publisher also make films with A-list actors and directors really helps out! Our producer at Annapurna Interactive, James Masi, had connections and was able to get us in touch. 

Even though it was recorded during Covid lockdown, the idea of getting a husband/wife couple had nothing to do with that. It came out of wanting a real connection between the two actors in some way; I thought it would bring something to the performance. And I asked Annapurna if it was possible to find actors that had a real life relationship. James coming back to me with Bryce and Seth was quite a shock. Annapurna asked them, and less than an hour later they had both said yes, and the next thing I knew we were on a video call, discussing specifics about the project.

And getting a real life couple really helped. In between takes, they gave each other notes and talked out things, and they were of course just completely in sync. They would improv and banter in some takes, and I’d work that back into the script. Working with them was fantastic. 

What’s next for Grateful Decay? It’s been a couple of years since Maquette’s first release, so is another game on the way?

Yeah, I’m happy to say we have another game that just moved out of my research phase and into production. There’s not much I can say about it at this point, but I will say it’s not a sequel to Maquette, and while it’s guaranteed to have puzzles in it, and maybe a few mind bending moments, it’s shaping up to be a very different game than Maquette. 

I’ll leave it at that 🙂

maquette overview
Visually – stunning!

What is it like working with Annapurna Interactive? They’ve got such a great reputation for producing fantastic games. Did their experience help you on Maquette?

I really enjoyed working with Annapurna Interactive on Maquette. They really just wanted to help me make the game I wanted to make, and not get in the way of that. Even though Annapurna had many hits under their belt when we shipped Maquette, it was actually one of the first games they signed – along with Gorogoa, Wattam, What Remains Of Edith Finch – and so I was able to watch them grow into the publisher they are today.   

They really bring a lot to the table in a variety of different ways, some obvious, like getting Bryce and Seth on the game, but others not so much, like how they handle deadlines slipping or budget adjustments. I never felt like the cliche developer/publisher “us vs. them” mentality you often read about with some publishers.

And finally, if you had a mini version of our world that you could manipulate in the same way as Maquette, what would you do with it?

I think the most I could do was have my massive eyeball scare an entire continent, lol. The difference between a God sim and a game like Maquette is the world the God has control over is also the world they exist in, so I’d have to be very careful. I think at that scale if I touched or even breathed on the earth I’d cause an extinction event – but that would also wipe out the world I’m in as well!  

Wait a minute, you just gave me an idea. I’m gonna start coding …


You don’t have to wait to get lost in the concentric rings of Maquette’s genius. It’s out now on Game Pass, and our review is in the offing. Be prepared to start thinking in miniature.

Huge thanks go out to Hanford for giving us some time in the lead-up to launch of Maquette on Xbox. And thanks to Annapurna for putting us in touch!

You’ll find Maquette on the Xbox Store, playable on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It’s priced at £16.74 or you can play via Game Pass.

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