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Bloodborne paved the way for Tunic, one of 2022's indie hits

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2022 has been a strange time for video games. I’ve already taken to calling it “the chaotic Happy New Year” of outings. (It has yet to take.) With only a handful of hit tent poles, the door was open for several ongoing games to finally capture our attention; for seemingly redundant sequels to easily win our hearts; and for indie games of all shapes and sizes to get noticed. And some examples that last camp like Tunican adventure game about a lonely fox in a strange, vibrant and dangerous world.

Tunic It wears its Legend of Zelda influences on its green sleeves. As in the 1986 game that launched one of the medium’s most recognizable franchises, Tunic plunges its protagonist into a world awash with puzzles and secrets, with a host of tools to help the adventurer get out of it. There is a shield covered in primary colors. There’s a grappling hook tool that pulls you to distant locations. There’s even an in-game manual, designed along the same lines that came to game boxes in the 80s, 90s, and early years.

The Tunic world map, viewed from an isometric perspective.  It's colorful and blocky with a highly stylized, cel-shaded aesthetic.

Image: Andrew Shouldice/Finji

But, beneath its endearing trappings, the adventure game owes its mechanical vanities to a much more disturbing catalog: the work of developer FromSoftware. And although TunicThe wild fantasy setting is reminiscent of the worlds of Dark Souls and Demon’s Soulsthe breakout shot actually walks away bloodborneFrom’s 2015 gothic horror masterpiece.

“I really like the sword and sorcery of Souls games – a real classic adventure vibe”, Andrew Shouldice, Tunic‘s creator, says Polygon. “I have not played Demon’s Soulsbut dark souls hit me right in the heart with the “Let’s go on an impossible fantasy quest” thing à la Dungeons & Dragons. I think the same kind of adventurous quest is what makes the first Zelda sing – here’s a big world, you’re gonna die, I bet you can’t find the sacred treasure, etc.

However, the combat design of Tunic was developing to be much more vivid than the battle of souls. I love me a zweihander (I have mine up to +16 in elderberry ring), but that kind of combat pacing wouldn’t work with a game where you’re supposed to feel like a nimble little fox. I felt so much better when the attacks came out quickly.

A hunter faces off against a werewolf in a screenshot from Bloodborne

Image: FromSoftware/Sony Interactive Entertainment

To enter: bloodborne, a propulsive game that consists of shooting before retreating to escape an enemy’s counterattack. It also forces you to continually adapt your strategy as you level up your character and find new tools scattered throughout its Bram Stoker-esque world.

TunicCombat is also fast, responsive, and malleable. What begins as a process of dragging a wooden staff at enemies becomes a deft exercise in balancing sword strikes, shield blocks, and dodging. The more tools the fox collects, the more options there are when things heat up.

“Zelda meets Dark Souls is the most mundane, ‘white’ kind of thing that makes an indie game,” Shouldice says. But that’s kind of what happened. I was trying to rig the combat of a Soulslike. I started working on it, then I played bloodborne. I was like, ‘That’s the ticket. This is where the inspiration should come from. This showed me that it was possible to have technical, challenging soul fights with the speed increased a bit.

The protagonist fox looks through a telescope in Tunic

Image: Andrew Shouldice/Finji via Polygon

Tunic does not lift wholesale bloodborne‘s fight, however. As Shouldice says, an earlier incarnation of the indie game forbade attacking when the player’s stamina bar was empty. In its final version, Tunic Allows the player to continue attacking when their stamina is depleted, and the bar only depletes when performing defensive maneuvers like shield blocks or dodges. Like an animal backed into a corner, Tunicthe fox can still go wild, even when exhausted.

Similar, an earlier version of Tunic mimics From Software’s brutal habit of dropping all player resources upon death. In bloodborneplayers could return to where they died to collect the Blood Echoes they had lost, provided they did not die again before collecting them. dark souls did the same with his eponymous souls, and last year elderberry ring followed suit with his runes.

But a bit like bloodbornestamina system, that kind of economy just didn’t make sense in Tunic, which – without spoiling anything – wraps its leveling mechanism in its own layer of mystery. Adding FromSoft’s risk/reward dynamic to an already compelling progression system would blur one of Tunicsignature vanities.

The hunter looks up at the full moon in Bloodborne

Image: FromSoftware/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Still, Shouldice found it hard not to be impressed by it bloodborneholistic approach to world building. Like many From games, it doesn’t direct the player on every critical path or highlight every point of interest. Most players’ first foray into the back streets of Yharnam is an act of tense exploration and timid wandering. But as they explore the terrain, players come across a vast array of shortcuts, nooks, and secrets. The same rings true in Tunicwho Houses one of the most baffling meta-puzzles in recent memory.

“I really like bloodbornethe slow introduction of otherworldly horror,” Shouldice said via a separate email. I think that probably contributed a bit to the story of Tunic, in fact: ancient scholars discovering an unknowable power deep within the Earth, using it for their own gain, building a religion around it, introducing horrific corruption of planes beyond comprehension. There’s a fair amount of overlap, honestly.

But the things I always cherish in FromSoftware’s games – and I hope it has persisted in Tunic – is that you explore this ambivalent artifact for gamers. You are an archaeologist moving through space. And the game does its best not to care about you. You are tiny and insignificant and you are simply immersed in this world and invited to explore it.

Despite these influences, Tunic uses From’s strengths without transmuting them wholesale. bloodborne is less of a foundation, and more of the “design scaffolding” that once surrounded the project, says Shouldice. re-examining Tunic throughout the development process and reassessing the means bloodborne had seeped into its design, Shouldice came away with something quite unique. And as with many buildings that have been covered in scaffolding for years, it is a joy to see the structure under the facade once it falls.

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