Bird Alone: An Interview with Developer George Batchelor

Bird Alone is the newest game from George Batchelor, a video game developer for BAFTA award winning company State of Play. Best known for his previous games Far from Noise and Hot Date, Batchelor's newest game Bird Alone lets you become best friends with the loneliest bird in the world. KeenGamer talked with George Batchelor to find out all about Bird Alone and what players can expect!

Bird Alone: An Interview with Developer George Batchelor

K: Hi George – could you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

GB: I’m 26 and I grew up in a desolate town called Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester in the UK but I’m currently based in Montreal, Canada. I’ve been making games for about five or six years now and, for the last four, I’ve been a developer at State of Play. I simultaneously fiddle around with my own sad animal experiments whenever I find the time.

K: What is your new game ‘Bird Alone‘? What is it about and what are the mechanics?

GB: Bird Alone is about becoming best friends with a lonely bird. It’s a mobile game that’s played slowly, for a few minutes a day, as the bird grows older and faces the thoughts and emotions that come with growing up.

Every day the bird will have something new to do with you. You can have conversations with the bird, draw pictures to answer questions, write poems together, play music in the waterfall, and plant flowers in the garden which slowly grows into a kind of interactive orchestra. All the while, the world and the bird are ageing and changing.

Your best friend understands you when no one else will

Your best friend understands you when no one else will

K: What was your inspiration for making the game?

GB: I was looking for a place to put my feelings after losing a close family member and also just around growing older in general. I was after something that was about growth, change and loss, but in a way that celebrates life and all the things that give it meaning. 

Reading Irvin D Yalom, Jean-Paul Sartre, Miranda July & Victor Frankl’s books helped provide me with some of those answers I was looking for; ways that people find meaning and fulfilment in their lives. A lot of those ideas ended up in Bird Alone either as actual conversations with the bird or in the game’s design.

I also moved house seven or eight times while making this over two years, between London, Berlin and Montreal, so the feeling of constant change and impermanence was always lurking.
K: How did you come up with the idea of Bird Alone
GB: I always try to iterate on the ideas of my older work when starting something new (I guess everyone does). To give some context, my first game was a dog speed-dating game called Hot Date which was short and ridiculous, but it made me realise I like working with dialogue and character and experimenting with generative text. After that, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the mechanics of a conversation and create more of a free-flowing narrative experience, so I made Far from Noise, which is one long conversation that takes place in a car balanced on the edge of a cliff.
Far from Noise is a conversation set on a cliff's edge where two characters discuss what it means to balance between life and death

Far from Noise is a conversation set on a cliff’s edge where two characters discuss what it means to balance between life and death

Bird Alone came from wanting to make something more engaging than one long conversation, not just by adding more mechanics like the drawing, music and poetry, but by distilling the parts of a conversation that contain the ideas into short daily experiences. Something that takes real life weeks to play. It had to be on mobile so the bird could reach out to the player whenever it had a new idea, and then the micro daily exchange could stick with the player all day. It’s kind of designed more like a wellness app than a game.
K: Were there any other animal designs you had in mind?
It was always a bird. I never thought of anything else, sometimes you just know. With all my games, I usually have an image in my head of what it is and stick with that, feels more authentic. There were other birds briefly entertained, but it was never not a bird. The idea of talking to a bird seems more fun to me than talking to a human. We can talk to humans whenever we want. How often do you get to tell a bird your deepest secrets?

After drawing a tiny terrible sketch, I reached out to Allissa Chan who then created all the concept art for the game and defined the entire visual style, which shaped a lot of the mechanics after that.

Bird Alone lets you have conversations with your best friend

Bird Alone lets you have conversations with your best friend

KG: What would be the one thing you’d hope gamers would take away from Bird Alone?

GB: Be nice to birds. You don’t know what they’re going through.
KG: Is there anything else you’d like to add? 
GB: Just that I feel very lucky to have been able to work with such talented people bringing this thing to life. 

With Eli Rainsberry, who created all the audio. Because of Eli’s ideas and input we turned Bird Alone into a full on musical playground. Sound has become such an integral part of Bird Alone’s identity.

With Allissa Chan, who created all the concept art which I tried to replicate as closely as possible in the 3D art, a lot of the game mechanics came from thinking of ways to make Allissa’s art interactive.

And with Daisy Fernandez, who wrote all the bird’s poetry and added this extra layer of heart to the bird that feels authentic.

So much of what everyone contributed shaped the design and direction of Bird Alone, so I’m grateful to have worked with them.

Bird Alone is available for pre-order on the app store and will be released on July the 9th. So don’t miss it!

Bird Alone - Trailer
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