Before We Leave is a unique-looking city builder coming to Epic Games Store sometime in the near future. We had the pleasure of interviewing Balancing Monkey Games, the developers behind this potential gem.
Balancing Monkey Games are a small indie studio who are currently working on their first-ever game named Before We Leave. It's a pretty eye-catching city builder that went under the radar for many fans of the genre. Before We Leave is all about growing potatoes, protecting your people from giant space whales and exploring the depths of the solar system to find precious resources. How did Balancing Monkey Games come up with the idea? Were they inspired by Douglas Adams, and what prompted them to swap Steam for Epic Games Store? Sam Barham, the Chief Monkey at Balancing Monkey Games has answers to these and many other questions.
Can you tell us a bit more about the setting of Before We Leave and what players can expect from the game?
Before We Leave is set in a solar system that was devastated by disaster in the distant past. Your people are the descendants of an advanced civilization that had previously colonised the whole system, but were forced underground by the apocalypse. They've been underground for so long that they've forgotten nearly everything from their past, and need to start over building small huts and harvesting potatoes as they finally emerge from their shelter to start rediscovering their past and recolonising the solar system.
In terms of actual gameplay, Before We Leave is similar to City Building/Resource Management games like The Settlers and the Anno series - the player spends their time deciding what buildings to place where, and what resources to transport around, but relies on the people they're looking after to do the work of construction and gathering.
How did you come up with the idea of Before We Leave? The game looks pretty unique, what were your inspirations?
In my hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand every year there is a Winter carnival, where people parade around the centre of town with giant lanterns and things. One year I went there, and one of the lanterns was a huge whale with a city of skyscrapers on its back, and I immediately knew I had to do something with that image! I've also loved the idea of placing a game on a sphere for many years, so it was natural to incorporate that too.
Besides the looks, what would you say is the biggest difference from the other games in the genre?
Probably that we're making it (mostly) non-violent. City Building games aren't known for their violent gameplay of course, but it's common in the genre (particularly the sub-genre we're aiming at) to have rival tribes to fight for territory, produce weapons and so on. We're trying to get away from all of that. I say 'mostly' because there are still some forms of 'violence' in the game, such as the implied violence of colonising land (although in this case, you're not displacing an indigenous population), and the fact that Space Whales can come along and eat parts of your planet, including the people on it!
Before We Leave is mostly, a non-violent game like you've mentioned but planet-gobbling space whales do sound like a threat. Can you tell us more about these "enemies" and whether players will have other threats to look out for?
The Space Whales are inspired by the lantern I saw at a Winter carnival, like I said above. Despite being the primary threat of the game, they're not evil - they just happen to live by eating planets, which is unfortunate for anything living on that planet! There are also other threats in the game - various left over things from the previous advanced civilization that threaten your people until you can understand them. Despite clearly being advanced leftover technology, your people interpret them as things from myths and legends, such as Gremlins and the Sphinx.
Are your Hungry Space Whales inspired by Douglas Adams at all?
You mentioned ancient tech earlier. Does Before we Leave have ages to advance through?
Not as such. You do advance technologically as you explore the solar system and learn more about your past, but there aren't gated 'ages' to move through.
Can you tell us a bit more about exploration and how important it is to keep expanding? Will the planets eventually run out of precious materials?
Exploration in Before We Leave is more about discovering new places and accessing new knowledge and resources. Some of the resources you need to access the end-game buildings are only available in the edges of the solar system, so you need to keep expanding out in order to reach them.
How different are these planets? Will they feature different kinds of resources, where one planet has big mines of gold while others, for example, don't? Also, are there going to be different times of the year, weather etc?
Each planet is procedurally generated to have a set of islands, each of which has its own biome. Some of those biomes can occur on any planet, and some only occur on specific planets where they hide the rarest resources. Also, different planets have different stuff left behind on them by your ancestors. We don't have weather (yet!) but if we do, it will vary between planets, and even between locations on the same planet.
Potatoes are a pretty big deal in Before we leave? But What if my civ gets sick of mashed potatoes and french fries?
Yeah, eventually your peeps get sick of the same thing every day. One of the major lines of research you need to do is finding new ways to keep them happy - new types of food and drink, and other things like musicians and fountains to give them something beautiful to hear and see.
Recently, you announced that Before We Leave is coming to Epic Games Store before becoming available on other storefronts. Can you tell us more about that decision and what prompted you to make the switch?
Our aim with Before We Leave is to both make a great debut game and also to secure our future as a studio, because we want to be able to keep doing this for years to come! Releasing the game on Steam represented a big gamble for us - it's possible we would be successful and make lots of sales, but it's also possible we would strike out and vanish without a trace, whereas releasing initially on Epic ensures we have enough income that we'll be able to keep going after release.
The game is releasing on PC. Any plans for a consoles release?
As a tiny studio, it's important for us to concentrate on doing one thing well, so we don't have any plans to announce just yet. But once the PC version is out we'll evaluate which platforms make sense.
A massive thank you to Sam Barham from Balancing Monkey Games for his time.