Haven caught the industry by surprise by capturing romance among the stars with a game that’s equal parts RPG, cooperative date night and sci-fi art piece. I sat down with Haven’s creative director, Emeric Thoa, to learn how the Game Bakers gave rise to such a fresh take on romantic gaming. 

Elijah Beahm: What was the initial inspiration for Haven?

Emeric Thoa: Haven is mostly inspired by the desire to fill a gap in videogame storytelling, and talk about love in an established relationship. Of course it’s inspired by our personal lives, but if I had to list games or books or movies that inspired Haven, I’d say Romeo & Juliet, Persona, Journey, Catherine, Saga, The Legend of Korra, Phantasy Star… even Mario Kart and Toe Jam and Earl!

EB: Did the vision evolve over time, or would you say the final game still holds close to the original concept? If the former, could you elaborate on some of the changes?

ET: While Furi is almost the result of a very clear initial vision, I can’t say the same for Haven. We looked for the recipe for a year and a half before it came together. At one point, we removed the gliding and Haven was a point and click. We have a playable prototype of that game! The romance part was always there, but the gameplay around was hard to find. Putting back gliding was really important, it was key to have a fun and chill traversal gameplay to make the story work. 

EB: Why do you think gamers are finally opening up to games with themes of romance?

ET: I think it’s an open question. It’s still a niche in games, but it’s evolving, probably because gamers are getting older. As gamers of 30-40 years old increase, they are looking for relatable thematics. I wish there were more romance in games that were not written “for kids”. 

EB: What would you say was the trickiest part to execute with Haven?

ET: Creating a game system for that particular storytelling was the biggest challenge. If we had gone all the way in the JRPG gameplay, we would have made a better “videogame” but a less accessible and relatable story. Of course we could have done many things better, but I don’t regret making a “light RPG”. So many games today have tons of systems that I feel are unnecessary. I finished The Last of Us 2 recently, and I loved it in many ways, but I don’t think grinding scraps to upgrade my gun from 1.1 to 1.2 reload speed adds anything to the experience. It’s just “expected features”. On the other hand, The Pathless is dropping all these features for a streamlined and chill experience, and I think it helped make the core experience shine. 

EB: On the other hand, what would you say was your favorite part?

ET: The writing and acting of the dialogue is what makes Haven special for me. Danger’s work on the soundtrack is exceptional, but Pierre Corbinais modern, fun and relatable writing of the characters makes Haven a unique experience. I laughed alone in front of my computer so many times during production. These dialogs really made Yu and Kay come to life.

EB: Much of Haven is experiential – the sights, sounds, and vivid animations. How did your team go about honing that free-flowing, breezy energy?

ET: Because it’s two characters lost on a deserted planet, we had to make it come alive. The movement of the grass and clouds in the sky was very important. I always like that something is moving even when we don’t touch the gamepad. Having them touch each other during gameplay was also important: holding hands while gliding. Kissing when standing for a while. Bright colors and a vibrating visual energy is almost a trademark of our games that I’m not ready to let go. We have enough grey and brown in real life. 

EB: Like Haven, we’re seeing an increasing number of RPGs using familiar systems to explore new subject matter. Do you have any thoughts on where you see the genre going in the future?

ET: I’m ready for more romance RPGs of course! I’ve seen lots of road trip games announced recently. Maybe we’ll see more social sims RPGs in the future. RPGs about utopias or around social matters.

EB: What, in your opinion, is the key to writing a romantic story?

ET: The key to all stories is always the characters, for me. A relatable or surprising character, with a relatable or surprising problem to solve, it’s the key to any good story. 

EB: How would you say the reception’s been for Haven?

ET: The story, the likeable characters, the acting, the music, the art have been unanimously celebrated. Players absolutely love the game and send us tons of love. Some critics are mixed, which is to me a good example of why ratings are a biased way of reviewing a game. We’ve read tons of reviews who clearly say the game is a great experience of a mature romance, an healthy relationship with relatable characters and great story and music and mood, yet they give it 7/10 because the gameplay is not on par with the state-of-the-art JPRGs. 

What we tried to do here is exactly what they described. So, to me, that 7/10 is a 10/10, but that’s not how people might see it. My favorite games are games who achieve one thing in a unique and memorable way, even if it comes with having some flaws. 

To find out more about The Game Bakers, you can visit their website or follow them on Twitter. Also, please check out Haven on PC, PS5, XBX, XBO, and Game Pass, with PS4 and Switch versions coming later this year.

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