We sat down with Henry Hoffman, the founder and design lead at Newfangled, a new studio who is currently working on its debut game: Paper Trail. It’s a beautiful puzzle game where you can manipulate the world in a new way, by folding, with the aim of getting the main character Paige through a series of screens to university.
In his own words; “Paper Trail is a top-down puzzle adventure about leaving home, set in a foldable, paper world. You play as Paige, a budding academic, leaving home for the first time to pursue her studies. On the journey, you learn to fold the world, merging two sides to solve puzzles, explore new areas and uncover long-lost secrets.”
“What feels simple at first, folding and joining paths together to explore and progress, quickly becomes devilishly tricky! Alter the fabric of your world, contorting, spinning, rotating, twisting around – as you try to untangle the puzzle of the Paper Trail. Ascend the dizzying heights of ancient forests; wade through stagnant swamps, explore the echoing ruins and magical caves, meeting strange and wonderful characters along the way!”
How did you come up with the concept behind Paper Trail? It’s a very unique concept.
Generally, I have a mechanic-driven design philosophy, so I explore potential new game mechanics first, then build out concepts, characters and worlds from that. For example in my last game Hue, the core mechanic was about changing the background colour of the world, allowing objects in the field of play to visibly disappear against the backdrop, and exploring what that would mean if they physically disappeared too. This mechanic really constrained the aesthetic, as we could only use neutral blacks and whites against the coloured backdrop, and as such the entire aesthetic of Hue was borne out of these limitations. Then the whole narrative really leant into colour theory, and some philosophical aspects of colour perception. So what started as quite a simple mechanic, quickly grew into this almost encompassing theme which touches every aspect of the game.
Paper Trail follows a similar design trajectory, where we had a very simple idea of having paper levels with a front and a back size, which the player could fold over to merge the worlds. Originally my brother and I were brainstorming new game mechanics, and the idea was for the game to be more of a standard adventure game, but where you zoom out and can fold the map. After playing around with this, we found it much more interesting to fold the levels themselves, particularly when you folded corners and it rotated things on the reverse. We thought you could do all sorts of interesting puzzles where you maybe reuse items from the reverse, but can rotate and reposition them through folding.
What is it that keeps bringing you back to puzzle games? As previously you have worked on Hue and Qube, and now Paper Trail.
My passion is really developing new mechanics. As video games are still a relatively new medium, it feels like devising new mechanics is exploring this uncharted territory. So far I’ve found that these mechanics lend themselves better to puzzle games, but I would never rule out a genre. One of my favourite games of all time is Superhot, and they manage to incorporate their super cool time control mechanic into more of an action game. I’d love to one day make an action title with a mind-bending mechanic, even though it would be really out of my comfort zone!
Before Newfangled you’ve worked on a few well-known puzzle titles; Qube was a first person puzzle game, Hue was a 2D puzzle platformer, but Paper Trail is almost isometric or at a birds eye view. How important do you find perspective to different types of puzzles?
I try not to constrain myself by any fixed perspective, and let the game mechanic dictate the view. Paper Trail uses this tilted flattened perspective, and again this decision was borne out of the mechanic. The game is grid-based, and we have clearly defined walkable and unwalkable areas on the front and back of the paper, but for them to read, it’s important for the tiles to line up across the folds. This would have worked in a purely top-down perspective, but you lose some mind-bending escher-esque tricks when you do that! It also allows us to mess around with verticality a lot. The player can be on the ground, fold over the paper, and walk straight onto the roof of a building, which feels really gratifying. That allows us to lean more into the idea of ‘folding space and time’ by creating these wormholes between different spaces.
We’ve seen Paper Trail at a couple of different events over the last while. How do you best exhibit your game at events?
So this is the first time we’ve self-published a game, so doing all the events ourselves is new to us! We’re definitely still learning, but I think some of our early mistakes were making the intro too long, gameplay too slow, and difficulty spike too soon. We’re now working on making a much tighter demo, so players can get a more comprehensive snapshot of the game, without having to play for a full thirty or forty minutes. We’ve also been doing a lot of showcasing ourselves as the developers, and we instinctively have this laissez-faire approach where we watch from afar, scrawling notes on bugs and what to improve, instead of upselling and doing a better job of marketing the game. We’ve recently hired a new publishing lead who has been showcasing for us in Japan, and he’s much better at this, so we’ll probably just send him to all the shows now!
We are very excited to see the release of Paper Trail, which is expected to release early next year.