Over the past six months, we’ve been blessed with several stylish puzzlers that focus on shadows: Mørkredd; Shady Part of Me; Iris.Fall, to name a few. Into that fray comes Tandem: A Tale of Two Shadows, the first release from Parisian outfit Monochrome.
But rather than toss it on the same pile, we wanted to pry further and see how Tandem: A Tale of Two Shadows differentiates itself. We had the opportunity to talk to Jean-Bernard, co-founder and producer at Tandem Studios, and he was able to shed some light on this role-switching puzzle platformer.
How would you describe Tandem: A Tale of Shadows?
First, Tandem is our first game for PCs and Consoles! As we are all fans of puzzle and/or platform games, we decided to create our own with quite original gameplay. Through 45 levels, the player will have to face many challenges, including a mix of puzzles and actions by alternately controlling the two heroes of the story, Emma (viewed from above) and Fenton (viewed from the side). Each character has their own characteristics and evolves in its dimension. The strategy is to make Emma and Fenton work together.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows looks spectacular, particularly for a debut game. We see a lot of Tim Burton and steampunk. What were your inspirations, and how did you manage to achieve the environments you have here?
We had two types of influences for the creation of this game:
- In the video game: Little Nightmares, Limbo, Inside, Alice in Wonderland,
- In cinema and literature: Sherlock Holmes, Tim Burton, Disney, Lewis Carroll and Jules Vernes.
And, maybe you’ve noticed, through our professional past, we also have a solid experience in respecting the codes of the luxury industry (watchmaking, architecture, fashion).
What inspired the two overlapping layers of gameplay, as you play both Fenton and Emma?
Summer 2019, we decided we were going to try and come up with platformer concepts. Our lead developer, Gabriel, had had this idea for a while that if you hit pause on a game, let’s say a top-down game, it would be pretty cool to then play the image as a 2D level. Because inherently, if you navigate a level in top-down view, it’s the same thing as playing it as a platformer, just with different physics. Then we added the shadows concept and we built from there!
Did you find it easy to brainstorm different ways for Emma to create shadow for Phantom, or was it a challenge?
It’s in fact very challenging. Something you don’t always realize as a gamer is that it’s easy to make a game beautiful, but it’s really hard to make it beautiful and readable for the player. There’s just a lot of information to convey. So, having essentially two levels combined into one, and since it’s a puzzle game, you have to make sure everything is easy to understand in both dimensions at once. I think that’s the main challenge because it touches on every aspect of the game from level design to prop design and we all had to adapt the way we’re working and thinking about the game.
What made you choose Victorian England for your setting, particularly being a Parisian company?
We have always been fascinated by the end of the 19th century. It is a time of profound changes, political, economic and social. It is also a rich time for art and science.
And, in particular, the London of the Victorian era is the epitome of this era, mixing up opposing classes, mingling the beginnings of technological modernity with strict social archaisms.
You could imagine a version of Tandem – particularly after playing It Takes Two recently – that had a co-operative mode. Was this something you considered?
Tandem is our first PC & console game. We did a VR game three years before, but nothing to compare in term of skills and scope. No one of us has worked in the game industry for 10 years, so we had to learn a lot by ourselves.
We would have loved to develop a multiplayer version but the challenge was already very strong for us in this version. Our next game will probably be multiplayer.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows offers discrete levels rather than a continuous adventure with progressing story. Were you aiming for it to feel more like a puzzle game in that way?
The version you may have played does not include the intro and outro cutscenes, sound design, or music. As you will see in its final version, even if our game is not “War and Peace”, the story does matter and the player understands a lot as the game progresses.
What future do you hope for Tandem: A Tale of Two Shadows?
Taking into account the energy and enthusiasm put into the development of this game by the whole team, of course we hope that it will be a success. Our ambition is to be seen as an independent studio that matters for years to come. More than making a fortune!
It’s your first game as a studio. How is Monochrome Paris feeling about the launch and what’s next for the studio?
When you create your first game you can easily get scared. It is a big investment, both personal and professional. You put all your heart in. The only question is: will the gamers like what we did? We are therefore impatiently awaiting the response! If the answer is positive, we are already dreaming of the next game.
Unusually, a few puzzle adventures have come out in recent months, all revolving around shadows – Shady Part of Me, Mørkredd, Iris.Fall, to name a few. Tandem: A Tale of Shadows has a unique style and a different approach, but did you notice this trend? Did it bother you at all?
We have no explanation for this coincidence. On the other hand, as in art or science, an advance, a discovery, an innovation is always the reflection of an era. Perhaps our unconscious ambition is to show that, to get by in this particularly difficult time, we must find a child’s soul, live in hiding and rely on mutual aid?
And finally… we’ve seen some of the teddy deaths. What have teddies done to you?
Even if the bear in the wild is a very dangerous animal, it is today – no doubt thanks to the animated films of Disney – the confidant of children. He’s cute and his role is to console them.
He seemed to us to be the best possible companion for Emma to create a tandem and reassure her when she loses confidence.
On the other hand, we love to surprise by mixing a cute and a trashy moment!
Huge thanks go out to Jean-Bernard for giving us further insight into the world that Monochrome have created. If you haven’t had an opportunity, watch the story trailer for Tandem: A Tale of Two Souls. It showcases why the artistry and care make this one to watch, even if the puzzling feels initially familiar. We have high hopes for this one.
Tandem: A Tale of Two Shadows is due for release on Xbox in 2021, with no confirmed release date as of yet. It’ll also be available on PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and PC.