BitSummit 10 Developer Q&A: Grapple with deforestation in Gibbon: Beyond the Trees
For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, Japan's longest-running independent game dev festival, BitSummit, reconvened this August in Kyoto. A special deputized deployment of VGG staff attended the weekend-long event and reported back with exclusive Q&As with developers in Japan's pioneering indie game dev scene. Check back in with us to explore an exciting batch of upcoming games in VGG's BitSummit 10 coverage.
Take a swing through the trees with us as we spend some time talking with the team behind the visually stunning Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, newly released on Switch and Steam.
Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is a runner game where players take the role of one of the titular apes to run, swing, and flip through the jungle. The premise is simple but is elevated by smooth controls and a vibrant art style. The movement itself is addictive and flying through the jungle can be a joy. There is a somber side to the game, however, as the narrative centers around the gibbon’s place on the endangered species list due to deforestation and tourism.
Previously a mobile-exclusive title, the game has recently released on both Steam and Switch. It was featured at Bitsummit, as well, in part to promote a major content patch that was recently added to the game. There, it took home the International Award, presented to an international developer whose game exemplifies overall excellence. It was also nominated for the event's most prestigious category, the Vermilion Gate Award.
We managed to speak with one of the developers from Broken Rules — the developer and publisher of the game — about Gibbon and its themes.
VGG: “Please go ahead and introduce yourself and the game.”
Schreiber: “My name is Vivien Schreiber, and I’m here as part of the Broken Rules development team. We’re a small company based in Austria, but the people who worked on this game are based … in Europe and Northern America. The game we’re exhibiting today is called Gibbon: Beyond the Trees. It’s kind of an endless runner, very story based game. It’s been released initially on Apple Arcade but … we have it on Switch and on Steam. (These) versions came out in May. We recently released a big content update for it, so there are some new game modes you can play after you finish the story … We are working on another (content update) that will come out next year. “
VGG: “What would be your favorite part of the game?”
Schreiber: “(In) the games that we make, we try to tell emotional stories that are accessible to many people. For this game, we started off with a very positive game that is about gibbon apes. They are local in Southeast Asia and they are amazing creatures. They have this brilliant way of moving through the trees called brachiation where they swing around only with their arms and they can reach speeds of 50-60 kilometers per hour.
“But there is a dark side to this story, and that is that they are endangered animals. They are in a region where globalization has led to drastic changes. One part of it is the global palm oil industry, which led to logging and burning down the forest in order to plant (for) palm oil … which is very much consumed in the western world. The other part is tourism…We want to use our game to point players to these issues and make them aware of this stuff.
“You start off with this positive and beautiful jungle and you learn to move through it freely. Then, after about fifteen to twenty minutes of gameplay, you start to notice that you’re not the only ones there. You encounter several different types of people, first with the native people of the area. Gradually, you notice that there is something going on. You encounter, first sporadically and then much more, the destruction of the forest…While you move through the jungle, once you get into areas that are more dangerous because humans are present and poachers are present, you start to get hunted…You have to react to changes in your habitat. As this gibbon, you have to explore past the borders of the jungle, and as the player, you get to move through different regions. We tried to base this as much in fact as possible.”
“As far as I understand the development of the game — I am a programmer so I was not involved from the very beginning. I started the project when the conception phase was more or less done — My understanding of the concept is that it started off with the movement of the gibbon. The idea was that looking at these animals and the amazing way that they are moving, you immediately get the desire to make a game out of it. Then you start to research what’s going on (with their surroundings), where (they are) living, and everything around them. You encounter these issues pretty much immediately.
“When you move through these lush jungles, it is almost like a zen focus game. You can just move around very freely and enjoy the movement ... The same mechanic in a different level and in a different environment gets really stressful. This is something that we did on (purpose), because this is the power of games.”
VGG: “Is there anything else that people can do to help support the game — along with buying it, since it's already out?”
Schreiber: “Yes, like our games when you come across them, try them out, read about them, and try to work together with NGOs. Look at their pages; they’re in the game as well as our website. Since these issues are very complex and we didn’t want to misrepresent them, we sought the cooperation of NGOs in Southeast Asia … If you want to make a game like that, it’s your responsibility.”