Introducing: Across the Grooves Writer Interview
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Geoffroy Vincens, a writer and founder of Nova-box, the developer behind the upcoming Nintendo Switch title, Across the Grooves. We chatted about this game’s evocative aesthetic and narrative in equal parts, and Geoffroy offered deep insight into the project. Please enjoy our full conversation here.
Across the Grooves is striking, both visually and sonically. I really can’t get enough of this aesthetic. Can you talk a bit about the inspirations for the visuals and the music?
Well, with the visual aspects of the game, our art director and lead artist, Nicolas Fouqué, wanted to go for a rather realistic depiction of the characters and settings, both to root the story in reality and to make the locations visited by Alice easily recognisable. Thus, his process for this particular project was to work mostly with photographic references both for the character poses and for the cityscape and street views. If you ask me, I truly believe his personal style is strong and distinctive enough to come through whichever method he chooses.
During the production we had the good luck to work with Mélanie Ertaud, first as an art intern and then as a freelancer after the end of her internship. She’s very talented and has quite a striking personal style that ended up complimenting Nico’s own style beautifully. She’s responsible for most of the backgrounds from chapter 3 onward.
As for the music, once again we worked with Julien Ponsoda and Camille Marcos from the collective “Illustrason”. We’d already collaborated with them on Seers Isle and we were eager to further the partnership on this new game. Camille and Julien come from a documentary and movie soundtracks background, so this new project, which was referencing different styles of popular music from the last sixty years, took them a little bit out of their comfort zone. The process was very collaborative this time. I’m a record collector and I had a precise idea of the different aesthetics Alice will be able to evolve into during the course of the story, so I sent them a selection of tracks from different genres, from acid rock to jazz to shoegaze to weird folk, to help them find inspiration. Christelle Canot (who wrote and performed the title song from Seers Isle) also agreed to work with us again on this new project. She is quite a technical singer, so she was able to adapt to these different styles, and we ended up with an original soundtrack that sounds a lot like a pop album, which might be a bit unusual for a video game, I guess. Needless to say, we’re very happy with their work.
To round things up, we also used a couple of tracks from my back catalog (I’m a hobbyist musician and singer, I’ve been recording and releasing music since 1996): “Chaos” from my current band Asunder and “Down to the ground” from The Neo Tabou Project, my solo moniker from the early 2000s.
While I’m transfixed by the audio and visual components of Across the Grooves, I’m just as tantalized by the storytelling. I like the way that it hinges upon magical realism and places the narrative in Europe. What drew you to this setting and theme?
Well, Nova-box is located in Bordeaux and we always try to write about things we know and are close to our hearts, so setting the story in European capitals was really evident from the start. As for the magical realism tone, well, I wanted Alice to be a different kind of protagonist from Daphné (the main character of our 2016’s title, Along the Edge). Daphné was often brooding and overthinking things, and I wanted Alice to be more light-hearted and insouciant. To make it work, she had to not think too much about the extraordinary things that were happening to her over the course of her journey. The solution was to go for this magical realist tone, which sometimes gets dangerously close to vaudeville territory. I really hope the players will embrace this kind of storytelling, as it’s quite different from the kind of tone you usually find in video games, which tend to be more often rooted either in hard sci-fi or in fantasy.
From a gameplay perspective, I love how you’re able to make different decisions that’ll tangibly affect Alice’s life and the course of a playthrough. These sorts of “Butterfly Effect” structures have always interested me. From a practical perspective, what was it like to design such a complex and intertwined story? What were some of the challenges?
I tend to be quite an intuitive writer, with a kind of holistic view of the story flow. For Across the Grooves, Nico, with whom I usually share the creative vision, agreed to trust me and let me work mostly unsupervised, so I was able to progress very naturally, without having to rely on extensive narrative design documents or a detailed outline.
I started with a short treatment of the story, so I knew from the start where Alice would end up (more or less) and which stops she would make along the way. I always write in sequence, chronologically from the prologue to the epilogue, which gives me a lot of flexibility with the different variants of the story. I believe it makes the different narrative strands melt and diverge a lot more organically than they would with stricter methods of writing using a very defined outline and a “boxes and arrows” approach to the narrative structure.
The flip side to that method is that I always have to stay a step ahead of the artists, and it’s not easy to evaluate how much time it will take for me to write the whole text. It’s also next to impossible to make substantial changes in the story at the end of the production, because the whole narrative is quite akin to a house of cards, if you don’t mind the metaphor.
Considering that the story will largely become a function of the player’s decisions, did you ever feel a tension between that freedom and wanting to tell Alice’s story precisely the way you see it unfolding?
Not at all. I always try to make our stories interesting whatever the choices the players make, and the narration is really thought out to be an interactive experience from the start.
As soon as I began the trailer for Across the Grooves, I felt the emotion that the game conveys. What are you hoping that the player feels while playing, and what do you hope they walk away from the experience with?
That’s hard to say. I try not to think about that too much when I’m writing. I really enjoy writing characters going through transformative experiences, so most of what I’m writing gravitates around an exploration of the notion of identity. What makes “you”, “you”? Are “you” still “you” if you change this or that about yourself? I really hope these kinds of themes will resonate with the readers, but I won’t presume to guess what they might take away from the experience.
Thank you to Geoffroy Vincens for his time. Across the Grooves launches on Nintendo Switch on June 17th.