Beacon Pines interview: Xbox Game Pass is "exciting and terrifying"

Heidi Nicholas - August 11th 2022

Beacon Pines had already caught our eye with its cute, storybook art style mixed with an unsettling, mysterious plot, and then we learned it was coming to Xbox Game Pass on day one, which immediately cemented it on our “must play” list.

Beacon Pines is "coming soon" to Xbox Game Pass — we reached out to developer Hiding Spot Games to learn more, with lead designer and creative director Matt Meyer and lead artist Ilse Harting having been kind enough to answer our questions.

What is Beacon Pines?

Beacon Pines is an adventure game which combines both cute and creepy elements together within a storybook world. It’s in development from Hiding Spot and is published by Fellow Traveller.

When does Beacon Pines launch?

We now have a release date for Beacon Pines, which launches for Xbox One and Xbox Game Pass on September 22nd!

Will Beacon Pines be on Xbox Game Pass?

Yes! Beacon Pines joins Xbox Game Pass at launch as a day-one addition.

“Getting Beacon Pines on Xbox Game Pass was largely thanks to our publisher, Fellow Traveller,” Meyer explains. “They have a seriously impressive catalogue of amazing narrative games, and as such have connections with platforms well beyond the scope of our little team. It’s both exciting and terrifying to think of the massive audience that this opens up to the game.”

What’s it about?

Beacon Pines is set within the pages of a storybook. We play as both the reader of the book and as its main character, Luka. From the Fellow Traveller site, we know that “Something strange is happening at the old warehouse, and Luka and his friends seem to be the only ones taking notice,” while the Hiding Spot site warns us to expect “Glowing trees, shady corporations, running for your life, and never knowing who to trust.” One key part of the game is that we decide how the story goes at key points: Luka can find golden charms around the world of Beacon Pines, and these charms let us, as the book’s reader, choose how to proceed.

What’s the gameplay like?

So, this is where it gets extra interesting. We play as both Luka, the main character of Beacon Pines, and as the reader of the book that it’s set in. “Early in development, it was all about exploring the town as Luka. You would find words, and use them in conversations with other characters,” Meyer explains. “The art style and word-play mechanic always reminded us of a storybook. After prototyping the book, it just clicked as a great metaphor to encapsulate the game. So now there are those two layers, the book which contains the story and is used to explore the branching narrative, and the world inside the book, where the story is played out as Luka.”

Luka will collect golden charms as we progress through the game, which we refer to at key points in the story to change what happens: one example given by the devs is the phrase, “We were just gonna go — for the day,” with the option for the missing word to be “chill,” “ponder,” or “hide.” These important moments play on even further — we’ll make use of The Chronicle, an “interactive story tree” that reacts to and grows with the choices we make. The Beacon Pines Steam page tells us that following one series of events can result in new charms to be used in another series of events, meaning we can explore different versions of this same main story.

“The game does not insist on players being careful with their choices. In fact, we’ve gone to great lengths to make it easy, and in many cases necessary, to go back and try different choices,” Meyer begins. “One of the core mechanics is something we call The Chronicle: a living tree of story branches in the book which the player uses to navigate through the possible paths they can take. It’s a bit tricky to explain, but internally we often talk about Beacon Pines as a Metroidvania in story form. Whereas you might progress through a Metroidvania by unlocking new abilities which open up new areas, in Beacon Pines you progress by unlocking new words which open up new branches of the story,” Meyer continues. “This often involves bringing a Charm (the words you collect) back to an alternate story path, and seeing completely different results based on that one altered word. By exploring all of the potential paths the story can take, you will piece together the various mysteries at the heart of Beacon Pines, and ultimately discover the most rewarding ways for the story to end.”

What’s the world like?

Beacon Pines is a mountain town made up of animal inhabitants. “The anthropomorphic characters are more of a byproduct of the original game concept than a deliberate choice,” Meyer tells us. “Believe it or not, the initial game concept was a rhythm-based RPG battler with a fantasy theme. It felt like a natural fit for the game we were making back then, and there were animal enemies and player characters to accompany that theme. As the prototype became more fleshed out, we fell more in love with the characters, and grew less interested in the rhythm battle mechanic,” Meyer continues. “So, we pivoted hard and decided to focus on the characters and their stories, dumping the entire rhythm-battle mechanic. Though the fantasy style went away over time, the anthropomorphic characters came along for the ride.”

The contrasting combination of cute and creepy in Beacon Pines gives that storybook adventure an unsettling theme. “From the get go the design of the world and characters had a cuteness factor to them that came natural with the anthropomorphic characters,” Harting explains. “As time went on the story proved itself to turn creepier and more dangerous for our characters but that never made us rethink our approach to the art direction. Sometimes small cosy towns and kind looking people can hide creepy and dark secrets. Having these contrasting each other only helped elevate them both in our opinion, so we doubled down.”

We wondered whether this unsettling contrast led to any difficult design decisions when it game to the game’s content. “Since the main character is a child, the game has a light film of child-like innocence in an otherwise very adult world. However, actions have consequences for adults and children alike. To us this didn’t seem a problem. If you’re playing as an adorable kid, you as the player would want to do anything to not let that happen! The high stakes offer engaging characters and story development,” Harting explains. “The main difficulty is having players misjudge the game due to the cute visuals. Even though it resembles a kid's game at times it very much isn’t.”

Beacon Pines’ eye-catching art style also stood out to us. “The art style has its inspiration from a couple different things. The initial direction for the world is inspired by miniature dioramas. All the places in town are their own little diorama making you, the player, see only glimpses of this world,” Harting begins. “This story is based on a childhood summer adventure — if you think back to your own memories you’ll most likely not remember everything, just the things that seemed interesting to you as a child. We wanted the art to reflect this by not showing you everything and fading the edges — you just experience the parts that are wondrous and important to little Luka. Along came the idea to turn the world into a book,” Harting continues. “Making all the places to explore look like images in a book just felt so natural and fits into the whole storybook narrative. Furthermore, the portrait art is very much inspired by the visual novel genre. The more we leaned into a narrative-driven game the more appealing the talking portraits became as a lovely way to show more of the characters — their expressions and gestures that otherwise would not exist with just the overworld sprites.”

Any news on the Beacon Pines achievements?

We don’t yet have the Beacon Pines achievements, but Meyer gave us an idea of what to expect. “Our first pass at achievements was a bit misguided. We tied most of the achievements to things that were just a natural part of gameplay,” Meyer explains. “After some thought, we went back and reworked the achievements based on actions that are less common, more difficult, or are flat out easter eggs. There are still a few low-hanging achievements in there, for good measure.”

Hiding Spot describes “feeling” as the “common thread” between all of its projects, and we wondered whether there was one particular feeling or thought the team hoped players would take away from Beacon Pines. “Oh, that’s such a tough thing to pinpoint,” Meyer says. “Is it a cop-out to say that ‘feeling’ is the objective in and of itself? If you twist my arm, I’d say that my hope is, by the end, players feel at peace.”

As for what Meyer is most excited for players to experience: “There are some pretty big secrets waiting for players to unravel. I’ll be giddily lurking on lots of Twitch streams, hoping to catch their reactions to some of the big moments. I’m also excited to see players make their way to the end of the game. I really hope they enjoy it.”

So, what do you think? Will you be diving into Beacon Pines when it launches into Xbox Game Pass? Let us know in the comments!

Track My Progress in Beacon Pines