A few minutes into The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales is enough to know you are in for a unique experience. You play as Etienne Quist, an author sentenced to writer’s block for an unknown crime by the city’s writer police. Then a mysterious voice on the phone tells Etienne that the shackles of the punishment can be broken, if he completes some highly illegal jobs, as a Bookwalker- someone who walks into novels and steals artifacts from within them.
The next thing you know, you’re literally diving into a book, transitioning from a first-person ‘reality’ into a 3D isometric book world. SIGN ME UP!
The Bookwalker is a bundle of surprises and mystery. It not only has a unique narrative, but it’s also beautiful, with gameplay that literally changes your perspective. By the time I stumbled across that artifact, I had already hit ‘buy’ and was dying to learn more. Especially when I found out that this piece of playable art was made by a tiny team of 3 developers.
Thankfully, Oleg Sergeev, the co-founder and game designer of DO MY BEST studios, and Mykyta Tsynklier, also a game designer, were willing to answer some of my questions. Here is a peek at what went into making The Bookwalker.
Developer responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How was The Bookwalker born? What was the inspiration behind the project?
Oleg Sergeev: After we finished the DLC for The Final Station, we immediately moved to the new project, which was a game set in a magic school setting that had unusual narrative ideas and mechanics. But after several tests, we agreed that not all of them were working as intended, so we started making more and more changes until we decided to rebirth this project as a new one, and that’s how we got to The Bookwalker.
The Bookwalker has a unique style that carries over in both the ‘reality’ first-person world and the ‘books’ isometric world. What were the inspirations behind the unique look?
Oleg Sergeev: To be honest, the majority of visuals were just a trial-and-error approach. We had no previous experience with games in 3D, so we just kinda started from scratch and moved forward with what we thought was cool looking.
How did you decide on the two different gameplay modes/screens for reality vs book?
Oleg Sergeev: The moment we decided on a general idea of jumping into books, the obvious next question for us was – where are we jumping from? At the start, we only had a locked-in camera over the hero’s table, without any ability to walk around the room. We thought it was totally unnecessary, but later on, the game started to grow and grow, until the real-world section turned into a full first-person experience.
How many books will we get to explore as Etienne, and what can we look forward to as we get further in the narrative?
Oleg Sergeev: We want players to figure that out for themselves. I think when you know when the game is going to end beforehand, it may affect your playthrough.
When creating Roderick, what were the challenges with striking a balance between a companion and a hint system?
Mykyta Tsynklier: The hint system was actually a late addition, implemented mere months before the release. We were toying with the idea of hint characters already, such as Mikail from book 3. After some playtests, we decided to add a full hint system that would allow for players who are lost to get a general idea of direction, without them having to leave the game and search for guides and walkthroughs. This is an optional, non-intrusive mechanic, and I think it does its job pretty well.
We haven’t really come across a game before that actively changes perspective in this way. It is very unique and the demo was a lot of fun. What do you think is the most innovative/coolest part of The Bookwalker?
Oleg Sergeev: For me, it’s hard to pick something. It is kinda our goal in general, as a studio, to make something new/unique in every aspect of the game. We started with our previous game The Final Station and carried it further with The Bookwalker. I know it sounds like a big statement. And while not everything ended up as I hoped, it is the foundation for our design. I hope we’ll keep following it with future games as well.
What was the most challenging part of creating the worlds within The Bookwalker?
Oleg Sergeev: Creating worlds was actually the most fun and interesting part of development. Working with game logic and some level design tasks was the toughest for me.
Was it difficult balancing the exploration and puzzle-solving within the narrative?
Mykyta Tsynklier: A lot of puzzles were actually designed as an extra flavor to the exploration, filling the empty areas and rewarding the player for being curious. Narrative and plot always came first during the development process, but we also wanted to make sure that the player is always engaged in gameplay and game systems.
There is a lot of humor and kookiness within the game, from the overly suspicious characters to the funny options we have as players. It’s a fun and surprising flavor in a seemingly serious game. What was the inspiration behind this?
Oleg Sergeev: Thanks for pointing this out. I think this approach naturally developed when we made the DLC for The Final Station, where we had a talking main hero for the first time (in the original full game we had a silent protagonist). I found myself writing more jokes than I was expecting, especially for a game with such a serious/grim tone as The Final Station. I guess it’s just something that I gravitated towards the most when I write, maybe I have some oppressed desire to be a comedian.
What is something you want the player to notice/take away while playing this game?
Mykyta Tsynklier: This might sound dull, but I’m really proud of the level of polish we were able to achieve with a team of just three people. It was really important for us to never break the immersion, this feeling of being inside a book (or even outside of it!), and we did our best to convey and protect it. In fact, I would rather the players not notice this at all and just fully immerse themselves in the story of Etienne Quist.
Within the demo, we were able to make some choices that seemed to change the way the narrative flowed. To what extent can the player impact the narrative within this game?
Oleg Sergeev: I think the perception of players on choices in the games is really varied. Sometimes having a couple of small choices and several low-effort endings can satisfy a lot of people. Even more than a game that consists of opportunities to choose your own path but has only one ending.
Our approach, in general, is to tell an interesting story and to give players some choices that will have certain consequences. But this is not a focus of our narrative and game design. The Bookwalker is not an RPG (original meaning). Our main goal is to entertain.
The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales is available now on Steam, GOG, Xbox Cloud gaming, and the PlayStation Store. It’s gloriously weird and refreshingly new, and I cannot recommend it enough.