Treasures of the Aegean is one of those indies that immediately grabs you. It’s slathered in stylish comic book art, with a slick animation style that would make Jordan Mechner of Prince of Persia fame weak at the knees. There’s no denying that it’s one of November’s ‘ones to watch’, so when we were given the opportunity to interview the founder of Undercoders, the development studio behind Treasures of the Aegean, we did a full-screen jump at the chance.
Find out what inspired this sumptuous game in our exclusive interview, and then pop over to watch the trailer to see what’s got us drooling.
You can read our full review of Treasures of Aegean on Xbox Series X too.
Q – Could you please introduce yourself and your role on Treasures of the Aegean?
A – I’m David Jaumandreu, one of the founders of indie development studio Undercoders. Here I basically work as a game designer and producer
Q – Could you give us a quick synopsis?
A – Treasures of the Aegean is a historical time loop action adventure game, in which a treasure hunter has to find the lost tomb of King Minos on a sinking island… before time runs out! The game is presented in a unique European comic style and takes place in a hand drawn 2D open world full of treasures and mysteries from a forgotten civilization.
Q – The volcanic destruction of Thera, the Minoan civilisation and King Minas all feature heavily here, and are all drawn from history. How much research had to go into Treasures of the Aegean to get it right?
A – We actually did a lot of research! The history of the Minoan civilization is really exciting, as the destruction of Thera practically wiped out their existence and there are still a lot of unanswered questions about them. We basically based the story on the known facts of their existence and also introduced some historical characters, such as King Minos or the princess Pasiphae. In the mix we also added some Greek Mythology which, even though it’s obviously not historically accurate, has some interesting myths about the Minoan which are well known to this day.
For the backgrounds and areas, we also did a lot of research and took inspiration in real-life locations, such as the ruins of the palace of Knossos or the village of Akrotiri.
Q – Did it mean you got to personally spend a lot of time in the Aegean?
A – Yes, the idea for the story actually came up during a trip through the Cyclades islands. I was really impressed visiting Santorini’s caldera and getting to know the Minoan history through several of the ruins that they left behind was really inspiring. There’s also this sense of mystery surrounding their disappearance and their technological advances for their time which is fascinating.
Q – There’s a lot of comic book influences in Treasures of the Aegean, from the comic book interludes to the written sound effects. Why such a heavy comic book theme?
A – We grew up reading adventure comics which were popular around Europe, such as The Adventures of Tintin, Àsterix or Spirou, and we felt their atmosphere and aesthetic was a very good match for this type of game.
The clear-line drawing style, which is so characteristic of these comics, and the combination of cartoonish style characters with semi realistic backgrounds, worked perfectly for a 2D action game, with a big narrative component and environments that contain a lot of information about the story.
Q – There’s so much colour and vibrancy, when most tomb raiding games tend to be dark and brown. Was that an aim: to bring a dash of colour?
A – Yes, definitely! Having a wide array of color variations enabled us to create very different landscapes, which makes the island interesting to explore and helps players clearly differentiate the areas that they visit. Also, all the game’s graphics have been hand-drawn in 4K and we wanted them to stand out as much as possible.
Q – From trailers, it feels like combat isn’t a priority of Treasures of the Aegean, and might not feature at all. Is that the case? What was the thinking behind that decision?
A – Yes, there’s no combat at all in the game, as we designed the experience to be fully centered around exploration and discovery. There are enemy encounters in the game, but these have to be approached strategically in order to learn their patterns and access all areas without engaging.
Q – How does the time loop mechanic work?
A – Due to its volcanic nature, the island only lasts for a few minutes on the surface before Thera explodes again and causes the time loop to reset. During this time, players can explore the island, make discoveries, solve puzzles and write down their progress in a persistent map and a prophecy image. When the loop is reset, the island is exactly as it was the loop before, but (for reasons we won’t disclose to avoid spoilers 😉 ) the information on the map and prophecy are kept from the previous loop. This means that players have to make progress little by little in different loops, in order to gather all the data needed to perform all the necessary actions in a final run to stop the loop and end the game.
Between loops, players will also enjoy some playable flashbacks and scenes, which add information on the backstory of characters, enemies and the minoan.
Q – Marie is ridiculously nimble, and parkour is at the centre of Treasures of the Aegean. It feels like you wanted to put as much control as possible in the player’s hands. If they want to reach a platform, they probably can. Was that the intention?
A – Yes! The idea is that we wanted players to be able to “fly their way from one point to another of the island” while enjoying the ride. We gave Marie all the abilities she needed to open her way through any kind of terrain, without having to slow down or waste time at any obstacle.
This way, we wanted to make the exploration enjoyable and, at the same time, give players all the necessary tools to move very fast between important areas once they know what they’re aiming for.
Q – It’s fantastic to see a bold heroine at the front of Treasures of the Aegean. Was that always a determination – to see a strong female character fronting the game?
A – When we designed the game we decided we wanted to have two main characters, one who was mainly centered in the action and another supporting one who was in charge of the intel and historical part. After several initial designs, we found that a strong leading female character as Marie was exactly what we were looking for!
Q – The soundtrack involves a lot of authentic, sung pieces. How hard was it getting the soundtrack right?
A – It was quite an iterative task. There are segments, such as the ottoman sunken fleet which were quicker to compose, as we have ottoman music references that have survived to date. But… how did Minoan music sound? That was quite a challenge and took several approaches, until we found melodies that felt classic, mysterious and somewhat new at the same time. The voices also had to seem Minoan in a way, but nobody knows how they talked, so there was a lot of imagination and trial and error involved.
Q – How does it feel to release a game like Treasures of the Aegean? Does it still make you nervous?
A – Yes it does! We’ve been making games for quite some years now, but every project has been more complex than the previous one and new challenges arise every time. For Treasures of the Aegean it’s the first time we publish on next-gen consoles and work completely in 4K, so we’re nervous and excited to see how the game is received!
A – We always try to deliver concepts that can surprise players in some way, either being the theme or mechanics, and, at the same time, be pure fun to play. There are lots of incredibly good games released every month and we aim to make something that feels different and makes the player feel it’s worth investing their time in and feel rewarded with an entertaining experience. We also love to try new concepts and I guess that shows in our catalogue 🙂
Q – And finally, who’s got the edge: Marie, Lara Croft, Nathan Drake or Indiana Jones?
A – That’s a really tough call! Marie just landed her first adventure, so I guess she still has a lot to show off compared to the other classic heroes… but, at the same time, right now she’s our favorite adventurer!
If you’re taken with the idea of some tomb raiding mixed with Prince of Persia-style parkour then pick up Treasures of the Aegean. It launches today on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC. You can find out whether it meets expectations in our upcoming review, too.
In the meantime, huge thanks go out to David at Undercoders for giving us some time.