“Raining cats and… frogs?”
What do you get when you take the trading elements and open world exploration of a Zelda game, but fill a world full of frogs? The answer, is Time on Frog Island, a toadally awesome, upcoming game from Half Past Yellow and we could not resist the chance to ribbit on about it.
So, please join as strap yourselves in for another Miketendo64 interview, and in this instalment, let us begin by introducing you to Max Wrighton:
Miketendo64: Before we dive right into the probing questions, we always like to begin by asking a couple of easier questions first. Therefore, would you be so kind as to introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Max Wrighton: Of course, my name is Max Wrighton and I am a game developer originally from Scotland, now living in Copenhagen. I attended a Bachelor’s degree in Game Design at Abertay University and was lucky enough to be part of an exchange program with the Danish Film School where I fell in love with Denmark and the city of Copenhagen. I am an avid rock climber and sailor, and my favourite game of all time (so far) is probably Hollow Knight.
Miketendo64: And now to follow-up, what is your role at Half Past Yellow and what is the extent of your involvement with Time on Frog Island?
Interviewee: I am the Game Director at Half Past Yellow, at such a small company that generally means that I take the lead with Game Design and Production, I also program when I can.
As a company we have been working on Time on Frog Island (ToFI) for just over 2 years. In that time, I have been working on the game/world/puzzle design of the title, assisting with gameplay and system programming, and handling the social media for the company.
What the Frog?:
Miketendo64: First and foremost, can you tell us a bit about Time on Frog Island? What is it and how does it play?
Max Wrighton: The best description I have had of ToFI is by our art director. “A point and click adventure for people with ADHD.” The less streamlined delivery is that ToFI is an open world exploration game with platforming features.
Players can go anywhere and tackle quests/puzzles in any order, but the puzzles themselves are more inspired by old school point and click adventure games where the player is tasked with understanding a place, or finding an object.
NPCs and obstacles will block your path and explain their situation, it is up to you to help them and allow them to move or reward you.
Miketendo64: It’s said anything is possible as long as the player is holding the right item. Could you run through a couple of the in-game items and their uses?
Max Wrighton: Sure, the player can glide if they are holding a small canvas or large leaf. They can run faster when using a boost flower. Beehives are interesting because they remove some control from the player (you can’t stop moving), but you move around 10% faster. We have a couple of teleporter orbs that the player can use to quickly move between locations, and, of course, the sailor can hug their pet plant at any time.
Miketendo64: Aside from barking tadpoles and frogs showcasing their artistic flair, what other froggy characters can we expect to meet?
Max Wrighton: Well, we have my favourite character, The Merchant, who is a cunning little frog trying to start up and control an economy of golden coins. The only problem is that most of the frogs on the island aren’t interested in their coins or their goods. I thought it would be funny to have a character who always gave you a coin in trade for goods, and will take a coin for goods, essentially just adding in their own middleman to the exchange.
Another favourite character on the island is The Cartographer, you can find them stuck in various situations across the island and by helping them out you can also learn a little bit about the world and how it works.
Miketendo64: For the players in a hurry, naturally the priority is to help our shipwrecked hero, fix his ship as soon as possible and continue his voyage, but for the players who have nothing but time, what kind of island life offerings does Time on Frog Island have in store for them?
Max Wrighton: In terms of vibe, pace, tone, etc. we took a lot of inspiration from adamgryu’s amazing A Short Hike (although our goal(s) are a bit less clear). I loved how the game let you experience it at your own pace.
We tried to explore a similar space with ToFI, rushing from frog to frog, making trades and getting off the island is one way to consume the game, but we have tried to build in natural distractions and points of interest to make the player want to explore more.
We have quite a few optional quests to complete, time trial races to find (and finish), mushrooms to plant, the player can fish using different items in the world, and brew potions to give them new froggy abilities.
Croak & Dagger:
Miketendo64: When designing a game like Time on Frog Island, how much time and effort went into the creation of the game’s aesthetic and how does the finished product compare to the initial concept imagery?
Max Wrighton: A lot of our concept art is actually in black and white, Casper likes to work with silhouettes and greyscale values to make sure the characters and objects pop. I think that surprises a lot of people that we show the art too.
The bouncy, toony style was basically a no brainer for us, Remy and Casper work closely together to create the visual style through the 3D work and custom shaders. This particular style was in the making from before we started work on ToFI. Casper had some very specific toon visuals he wanted to create for an earlier prototype and the style carried over from that.
Miketendo64: With regards to the Frogs seen in Time on Frog Island, are the designs of each creature based on real-life species, or more a case of creative freewill exercised to perfection?
Max Wrighton: The High Priest character is based on the Colorado river toad, but the other frogs are mostly just a case of total freewill. We knew we wanted the frogs to have very different colour palettes and silhouettes, beyond that it was concepting, trial, and error.
Miketendo64: From a shipwrecked sailor to an island full of frogs and a “spaghetti network of trades, Time on Frog Island has plenty to get stuck into. From initial conception to creation and implementation, what was the approach when trying to bring all of these elements together?
Max Wrighton: When we were creating early prototypes, we focused on having one trading chain and some fun extra things dotted around the small island. Scaling the title up brought a lot of new challenges, because we didn’t just want to have entirely separate chains, we were hoping that we could have them cross and intersect in order to give the player more minor things to keep track of.
This meant a lot of conceptualising characters, deciding what they could have and what they wanted, then trying to structure environmental puzzles around this.
Miketendo64: Developed as a sandbox game and littered with puzzles throughout, what were some of the more difficult hurdles you had to overcome when developing Time on Frog Island?
Max Wrighton: We knew we wanted to have zero text communication in the game. We felt it made sense from both a design (the frogs and sailor can’t understand each other well) and business (less localisation costs) perspective.
Ultimately this was one of the hardest things to build and test. We are happy with the result, but it always felt hard to give the player the right amount of context for each quest.
Miketendo64: Before teaming up with Merge Games and renaming Trading Time: A Croak Tale to the new and improved, Time on Frog Island, what was the reasoning and inspiration behind the original title?
Max Wrighton: Trading Time had been the working title for the project since the first prototypes of the game. As we built it the name grew on us as it had a childlike and playful feel to it that we really liked.
The initial idea to add the subtitle A Croak Tale was our plan to both keep the working title while improving on SEO, but ultimately it didn’t have the impact we wanted and a full name change seemed like the best idea.
A Sailor went to Sea:
Miketendo64: To better familiarise ourselves with the shipwrecked protagonist, prior finding himself shipwrecked, where did he come from and where was he hoping to sail to?
Max Wrighton: At Half Past Yellow, we aren’t really narrative focused designers. We like to approach games with gameplay and game feel first and then see what types of stories make sense to be told alongside the gameplay experience.
That being said, we have theorised the world to be a large collection of small islands with each island inhabited by a different type of humanoid creature. In The ToFI prologue we have up on Steam, the player explores a dying island that was inhabited by Axolotls, and if we ever make any sequels, they will take place on other islands with other animals.
The Sailor character comes from a land of humans and has taken it on themselves to explore further than just their own shores, they don’t have a destination in mind, they are just a curious character interested in seeing the world.
Miketendo64: Was Toad on Frog Island always intended to be a toadally awesome and froggy affair, or were other animals considered first?
Max Wrighton: That was actually a completely random decision made by our artist. The sailor was made first and was totally human, but we knew we wanted the islanders to be completely different. One of the first concept pieces we got back was an image of the sailor sitting with a large frog by a tree and it just felt so charming and relaxing.
Frogs being popular on the internet was never part of our decision process, but we totally lucked out when we started posting content onto social media.
Miketendo64: What is it about the shipwrecked sailor’s plant that makes it mean so much to him?
Max Wrighton: There isn’t a super explicit story in the game, but every night when the player goes to sleep, they will be treated to a short vignette drawing that outlines a little bit about the sailor’s backstory. Their love of their pet plant is revealed through these dream vignettes.
Miketendo64: Hypothetically, were you to try to develop a sequel, carrying on the story of our intrepid sailor, should he end up being shipwrecked again, what kind of animalia could you see occupying the next island?
Max Wrighton: We wouldn’t want the sailor to be shipwrecked again, although that could be a charming “here we go again” premise. The basic need for a Time on ___ Island game is a leaving blocker to get the player to begin exploring. That could be bad weather, the sailor being kidnapped and waking up on the other side of the island (unable to easily get back), or a friend going missing in the night.
Miketendo64: Where did the inspiration for Time on Frog Island first come from?
Max Wrighton: I’ve always loved the trading quests in the Zelda games, like the Big Goron sword in Ocarina of Time and for a while I have had this concept in my mind of a small character running around trying to make sense of multiple trading quests at once. This has always been the driving force of ToFI.
Miketendo64: With it said that crucial trades are open to different ways to accomplish them, could you give us an example on a couple of them?
Max Wrighton: I don’t really want to spoil any puzzles from the game, but something you can already see on our social media is the ability to fix the farmer’s scarecrows with any type of ‘head shaped object’.
Getting Physical with Half Past Yellow:
Miketendo64: As a dev team comprised of four best friends, it’s amazing to see what you have all achieved with Time on Frog Island. What’s it like for you, working with a close circle of friends every day?
Max Wrighton: I think it can definitely be hard to work with friends, starting a company is a stressful experience and there is a possibility for your relationships to suffer. For us it was important to keep work and life separate, if we have a stressful day at work, or if we disagree about something, we should still be able to have a drink together after.
This is also something we have kept alive while we scale up. We are now a team of 8 people and we have made it our mission to keep the team close, both in and out of the office. Going on trips together and learning about each other’s hobbies has been a really rewarding experience that can also be fed back into the company culture and the games we design.
Miketendo64: Depending on the success of Time on Frog Island, are there any plans to try and bring Tiny Tomb to other platforms?
Max Wrighton: We don’t currently have any plans to work more on Tiny Tomb, but we have spoken internally about possibilities in the past. We never say never, but we won’t be looking at doing it any time soon.
Miketendo64: With Merge Games on hand, what lead to the partnership in the first place and how excited are you about the upcoming physical release?
Max Wrighton: We are a young studio with only 1 game under our belt so far (ToFI makes 2), so the process of finding a publishing partner can be difficult. We were actually put in touch with Merge Games through another publisher we pitched too, and we were happy to hear how excited they were and how well they understood the concept of the game. It was a very exciting opportunity for us to partner with them on the game.
The physical release is very cool. Nowadays it isn’t so normal for indie titles to launch physically straight away. I definitely didn’t think I would have one of my own games sitting on my shelf so early on in my career.
Dreaming the “N” Possible:
Miketendo64: Being the Nintendo site that we are, with the likes of WayForward working on Advanced Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp and Brace Yourself Games having developed Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda, if you had the chance to work on ANY Nintendo IP, which one would be your dream come true and, if you were in charge of the entire project, what kind of game would you like to make?
Max Wrighton: Well, I guess we could make a merchant gathering/selling game where you play as Beadle in the Zelda universe. Maybe you need to make sure you are in the right place at the right time to help Link achieve his goals.
Miketendo64: At this point in the interview, we like to give our interviewee the chance to talk about or recommend other games they have worked on, or games they love in general. With that said, are there any games you’d like to give a mention?
Max Wrighton: Our only other released title is an iOS and Android game called Tiny Tomb, which I highly recommend you check out if you like old school dungeon crawlers. Other than that, I can always recommend A Short Hike, which we took inspiration from for ToFI. I can also recommend Outer Wilds, a fantastic adventure/exploration/puzzle game that is so well made and coming to the Nintendo Switch.
Miketendo64: After all is said and done with Time on Frog Island, what comes next for Half Past Yellow? Do you have anything else lined up in the pipeline for 2022 and 2023?
Max Wrighton: We are a small team so we generally tackle one project at a time. That being said, we are throwing around some fun ideas in the office at the moment to see what could stick for our next project. Nothing to report right now though!
Miketendo64: Last question of the day, is there anything you would like to say, or any additional comments you would like to add, for our readers and your fans? The floor is yours.
Max Wrighton: I can’t really think of anything, the questions were fairly comprehensive. I hope that players enjoy the game when it releases, we had a blast making it and we think we have made something very fun.
Max, you have been an absolute star and we cannot wait for Time on Frog Island. If the current eShop listing is to be believed, Time on Frog Island is set to release on Nintendo Switch, on May 24, 2022.
About Time on Frog Island:
Shipwrecked on a strange Island: A terrible storm ravages the seas around you, casting your mighty vessel into the perilous rocks of a nearby island.
You awake to find your ship in pieces, shipwrecked on a strange island filled with… frogs?
A spaghetti network of trades will take you all over this strange island as you seek out materials to fix your boat. You will meet a cast of friendly characters, solve head scratching puzzles, find hidden treasures, and much more as you explore the world of Time on Frog Island.
Explore at your own pace:
- Make your own path in this island sandbox, you never know what will be around the next corner!
- Get to know the froggy locals and help out where you can.
- Discover new items by fishing and farming, and concoct simple brews that will change how you traverse the island.
- Learn from the frogs and put your new skills to the test around the island.
Trade to fix your boat:
- Ask around for the items you need, but bear in mind that you might need to do a frog a favor to get what you want.
- Solve interesting puzzles to get your hands on required items.
- Try not to get too sidetracked by island life!
Experiment with everything!
- Run faster, jump higher, fall slower, anything is possible if you’re holding the right item.
- Discover different ways to complete those crucial trades.
- Each object you pick up could end up being the key to something bigger.