Interview: Backfirewall_ "will push you to go rogue and wreak havoc into the system"

Tom West - July 3rd 2022

Backfirewall_ is a narrative adventure game coming to Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One later this year, and we reached out to Naraven Games for some more information about this tragicomic adventure.

After seeing Backfirewall_'s announcement during Summer Game Fest, we thought now would be a great time to reach out to developer Naraven Games ahead of the game's launch later this year on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and PC. Naraven co-founder and creative director Julia Jean and lead designer Lucie Robert were kind enough to spare some time to answer our Backfirewall_ questions.

What is Backfirewall_?

We'll step into the metaphorical shoes of an Update Assistant that's on a mission to help OS9, a smartphone's outdated Operating System. "It’s a narrative adventure about a smartphone’s Operating System who is absolutely flabbergasted that you would even want to update it," Jean tells us. "Also, the game has cool puzzles."

"Backfirewall_ is about the smartphones we use without thinking twice about the hardworking, tireless apps and software inside them that do their best 24/7 to try and please us."
It's a first-person adventure that leans heavily into narrative-driven storytelling and puzzle design, and tasks you with "immersing yourself inside of a smartphone (our version of what it could be at least) and getting into a crazy adventure to survive an update," says Robert. "To do that you’ll have to interact with colourful characters and mess with the environment with the help of some very cool cheat codes."

When does Backfirewall_ launch?

We don't have a release date for Backfirewall_ just yet, but we do know that it'll be coming to Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and PC sometime in 2022. If you have a PC or a laptop and don't want to wait until the full release, you can play a short demo of the game via the Backfirewall_ Steam page.

What is Backfirewall_ about?

"Tech jokes, programmed obsolescence and moral dilemmas. More literally, it’s about the journey of an app (the player) to survive their fate and discover the microcosm that is the phone’s system," Robert explains. "To make the adventure more fun, you’ll be accompanied by the current OS that will push you to go rogue and wreak havoc in the system with the use of his cheats codes." The current OS, OS9, is a sassy character that'll accompany you on your journey through the game, and while he might feel somewhat similar to Portal's Wheatley, Jean clarifies that the character wasn't an inspiration: "My favourite storytelling tool is constant comments and monologues by VO companions. About OS9, I just happened to have a good friend who sounds funny, and OS9 was born. True story. OS9 is not inspired by Portal’s Wheatley (though now I totally get why people think that!)." Robert also notes that "chatting with characters and discovering secrets and story bits scattered around the game might challenge your blind faith in him [OS9], and make you reconsider your choice of updating (or not)."

How does Backfirewall_ play?

Backfirewall_ focuses heavily on its storyline, with your gameplay actions complementing the overarching narrative, although you'll have plenty of opportunities to cause some chaos on the way. "The gameplay mechanics of Backfirewall_ are all about messing with the environment," says Robert. "With the help of some cheat codes — given to you by the current OS — you get to delete, invert, duplicate or colour mode elements around you. Those mechanics will be useful to make your way, but also to solve puzzles and annoy characters."

The adventure will have us travelling through the smartphone's OS, hunting down unwanted bugs, solving a host of puzzles with the aforementioned cheat codes, and manipulating the environment to terrorise the poor programs dwelling within. "We really wanted to have gameplay that supported the storyline and the characters, so we tried to balance it to keep it rather light so as to never lose the rhythm set by the narration," Robert explains. "The idea was to have puzzles and interactions that tell the story of the world throughout the game. So yeah, although the game is mostly narrative-driven, you can have for example some fun deleting stuff while you follow the story!"

Due to the game's deep narrative design, Jean tells us "that every word is translated via subtitles, be it VO or environmental text." Accessibility has been a key goal for the team at Naraven Games when developing Backfirewall_, and Robert tells us that they've tried to make the game " as organically accessible as possible while creating the environments and the puzzles." Of course, as with anything, there have been difficulties in implementing some of the features. "For more specific aspects, we realized during development that some ideas for accessibility features were way more difficult to implement than we first thought," Robert continues. "So we tried to focus on the main ones and hope to go even further in the future."

What's Backfirewall_'s world like?

With Backfirewall_ taking place within a smartphone, we'll be travelling around its core components, which act as themed areas. For instance, the phone's speakers act as a bar where the programs have a bit of downtime when not performing their daily duties. "As you make your way around the components of the phone (the RAM, the GPU, the Battery…) you will encounter all the apps and software that work there, and why they are so overwhelmed when a system is not updated," Jean tells us. We kind of feel bad for wanting to mess with them now, especially as they'll already be feeling "overwhelmed" with the lack of updates.

"Most of the characters you will encounter as a player are the apps you already know (and get super mad at) in real life," Jean continues. We feel a little better about messing with them now. "In a broader sense, we draw most of our inspiration from Pixar / DreamWorks kind of storytelling and worlds.

Any news on Backfirewall_'s achievements?

We don't have the Backfirewall_ achievements yet, but Jean tells us that Naraven plans "to have around 70 achievements, and none of them [will be] tremendously tedious to get."

Naraven Games' previous title was Another Knot, a narrative-driven experience that currently has a 'Very Positive' rating on Steam. When asked about the lessons that the team had learned from developing it, Jean told us that "you've got to playtest as early as possible, that nothing ever goes according to plan, [and] dev time takes x2 the time you thought it would. Lesson number one will always be 'the most important part of making a game is finishing it." With the team having learned those lessons previously, we're hopeful that Backfirewall_ will be just as entertaining in its full release as it is in the demo.

Will you be looking to cause some chaos when Backfirewall_ launches later this year? Let us know down below!